It may be a curvy compact camera dinky enough to stow in a jacket or jeans pocket, but make no mistake: the Canon S90 is serious stuff.

Lurking within its metal innards is the same high-sensitivity sensor that helped make the Canon G11 such a tasty snapper – and it’s married to a lens with a big ol’ f/2.0 aperture.

Raw power

Seasoned photographers will appreciate the ability to shoot in RAW as well as JPEG – which essentially means access to a digital negative of each shot you take, giving you much more scope for editing in the likes of Photoshop or Aperture.

And they’ll drool over the full array of manual controls for adjusting shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation and more.

It’s not the sort of stuff you’ll find in the average compact digital camera, and nor is the Control Ring that surrounds the lens. This can be set to control one of a number of functions (manual focus, zoom, white balance and EV, for example), and you can then adjust this by rotating the ring left or right. It makes using the S90 that little bit more of a tactile experience.

Because of the camera’s smaller size there isn’t room for the amount of buttons and dials as you find on the G11. The G11’s control layout means you can change almost any setting in a matter of moments, but with the S90 you’ll occasionally have to spend a little longer tweaking.

Good low-light ability

The large aperture (which, to clarify, is only f/2.0 when the lens is zoomed out to its widest focal length) means more light hits the sensor, so shutter speeds can be faster even when the amount of natural or ambient light available isn’t ideal. So, basically, the Canon S90 can perform effectively without a flash in low light.

It’s not a low-light master capable of performing the same snap-stacking feats as the Sony HV5X, but high ISO shots do come out fairly noise-free.

Shooting in better light reveals the Canon S90 to be mightily impressive for a compact camera. Colours boast a vibrancy and richness that’s lacking on most compacts and detail is sharp. The macro mode can focus as close as 5cm from the lens too, enabling some pin-sharp extreme close-ups of flowers and the like.


Review continues after the break…


No HD video

The S90 does also video capture, although not at HD resolutions. 640x480 is your maximum resolution here, but to be fair it does look pretty decent played back on a computer monitor – you may not want to stick it up on your 42in HDTV, mind.

Other criticisms? Well, the optical zoom is limited to 3.8x, whereas most compacts (including a lot of cheaper models) feature 5x. It’s not a huge loss to be honest – we barely noticed it, although obviously there’ll probably be situations where a bit more reach would come in handy.

Stuff says... 

Canon PowerShot S90 review

Hits the mark with its design, features and performance. A top-class compact

Where to buy Canon PowerShot S90: