Product review: Canon S90 & Canon S95

Hello fellow photographers !

Today a quite important review for me since I'm testing, and you'll see later, approving, the largely spread Canon high end compacts: Power Shot S90 and S95.

Long story short : I'm getting both, one for my mum, one for my lady as a back up camera for our trip to India (my main will be a Fujica GA645). Considering how demanding I am (I shoot medium format film most of the time), it means they are excellent compact cameras. keep one thing in mind before finishing the review : I only care about photography related features. Automatic editing features and other goofy useless digital function will be ignored because they are just marketing sales point. For digital editing: lightroom or photoshop element.

Now the rational !

- Overal positioning of the product.
These are clearly aiming at the solid amateur or pro who wants to have a pocket size compact, but without giving up on good optic quality and manual control. A beginner within a budget constraint who can't afford a DSLR should also look into those. I can never say it enough, the guy holding the camera makes the picture: this should allow you to do 90% of what an amateur would do with a DSLR. It won't off course compare to a MF camera or a D3X, but it's as good as it gets on a compact.

- Optics, sensor and stuff related to picture quality:
First of all, the S90 and S95 are strictly the same cameras when it comes to images. Same lens, same sensor. This should be the only thing that matters when choosing a camera, ergonomics is a bonus. So why are they such good compacts?
Don't get fooled by big x10 zooms. In optics, the larger the zoom, the lower the quality since it can't be optimized for such large scopes. This camera was built for people who know photography, and it is smartly done. In regard to this, get the S90 VS S95: cheaper, same stuff.

Image quality compares to a DSLR with a basic zoom lens, noise is better than an entry level DSLR in my opinion. It outperforms my Nikon D80 when it comes to noise (a 4 year old mid range DSLR).
If you stop down the lens at f2.8, you can shoot at ISO 1000 and maintain good picture quality.

It offers matrix, zone and spot metering that performs very well.

- Ergonomics and other stuff that are not related to picture quality:
It is small, same as a pack of cigarettes. Very convenient for the candid shooter who hates being without a camera, and for bag pack traveling.
Downside : as it fits my tiny GF's hands, my never ending fingers (easy ladies !) find it a tad small for great handling. I prefer the Nikon F5 for handling, but it's a huge bulky piece of metal. Can't have everything.

Menu is smartly done, intuitive, easy access to many functions etc. The great thing is the ring on the lens: you can use it for whatever you want, you program it the way you like: MF, aperture, ISO, etc. It's great when shooting with one manual parameter and the rest automated (what I use the most).
The screen is as big has the camera allows it, and when shooting full manual, brightness on the screen adjust so you can sort of meter with your eyes.
Access to set up is easy even during shooting, I won't go into details, but I found everything first time without opening the manual.

- Sample shots:
More soon to come, forgot the memory card home this morning :) I had no time to shoot proper pictures since I nearly live at work, but I'll try something more arty / normal light conditions with it during my next photoshoot.

ISO 1000 @ F2.8

ISO 1000 @ F2.8

8% of the image cropped at F2.0 ISO 800: rather extreme awful conditions, it remains fairly acceptable.

- Recommandations:
Get one.
How does it perform compared to the G12, G11 etc.? I don't see the advantages of those over the S90. I've tried the G11 quite a lot and in terms of image quality, nothing worth chasing differences. I prefer the ergonomics of the S90, and mostly the size. Having a good compact to back up a DSLR or film camera on a trip is precisely about sizing. G12 is too big to fullfil that purpose. If you consider a G12, get a DSLR.
So if you are a accomplished photographer looking for a pocket size friend, go for it. Will never bit your Pentax 67II (let's be serious :) ) but it will do the job well.
You're a beginner with a little money willing to get started, or you want to offer a really really nice compact, go for it. This price gap between this and a DSLR that would be significantly better remains quite high. S90 will be a good first camera for digital fans.
Of course if you want to start photography and train yourself, I'll never insist enough that the way to train is to get a Nikon FE, FE, FA etc, a 50mm lens, and some film...but once again, not being snobbish about film being so cool and vintage: I'm sure there is somewhere someone pulling mind-blowing shots out of an S90. A camera is just a pencil or a brush: if you suck, it won't help you :)

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