The rear of the camera is mostly taken up by a large, 461,000 dot, 3.0″ LCD display. With the half-VGA resolution, the images and interface appear crisply (most point and shoots still come with Quarter-VGA LCDs). To the right-hand side are the main controls, including the standard four-direction pad, a customizable shortcut button (which I have set to custom white balance), a review button, a display button and a menu button. The layout is standard Canon. The mode dial is above the controls, and below it sits a bump in the casing, presumably to help the holdability of the camera. The design needs it. The front of the camera is quite bare – there’s no grip, and the casing can become somewhat slick.
A zoom toggle is placed around the shutter release button, and a power button and a ring function button are towards the center of the top panel. A flash housing to the left of the panel rounds out the top of the camera.
When I first picked up the camera, the shutter release didn’t quite fall naturally under my index finger. This was because I held the camera in both hands, with the right hand gripping only a small portion of the camera. In this position, my index finger landed somewhere between the mode dial and the shutter button. However, as I’m discovering that the camera is easily holdable in one hand one, I can shift my hand a bit to get a better grip, and the shutter release now falls under my index finger. The downside of this is that it’s nearly impossible to access the rest of the controls on the back of the camera, with this hand position. By comparison, the LX3’s shutter is closer to the left side of the camera, meaning the hand grip allows easier access to the controls on the back, with the thumb.
One of the highlight features of the Canon S90 is its customizable control ring around the lens. Theoretically, this could be set to zoom, to mimic the feeling of ‘twisting’ the lens to set the focal length. I choose to set it (usually) to the default for each of the modes, such as aperture in Av mode. I figure there’s no need to duplicate the zoom functionality when the zoom rocker around the shutter release can’t be reassigned to another function. In the manual modes (Av, Tv, M), as well as Program Auto mode, other ring settings include ISO, White Balance, exposure compensation, or manual focus. It provides a satisfying click (like a physical groove) at each position. The control ring is a pretty cool feature, as it means one less dial or wheel is needed on the back of the camera to provide the same level of control.
Speaking of wheels on the back of the camera, Canon has put a control wheel around the four-directional button pad. While this means more functions can be performed without touching the menu system, it is unfortunately extremely finicky. The wheel is very loose and even pressing on the direction buttons can causeÂ inadvertentÂ scrolling. Furthermore, there are no ‘clicks’ to indicate how far one must spin to exact a change. I often find myself overshooting, simply because I have no idea how far I need to spin in order to get to the setting I want. From a handling standpoint, the control wheel is, by far, my biggest complaint about the camera.
Features and Functions
The ability to control how an exposure is taken was a key criteria in my search. Canon lists the following as supported shooting modes.
Auto, P, Av, Tv, M, C, Portrait, Landscape, Special Scene (Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, Night Scene, Indoor, Color Accent, Color Swap, Kids & Pets, Underwater, Nostalgic), Night Snapshot, Stitch Assist, Low Light, Movie
With the aperture, shutter priority, and full manual mode, I have pretty much all the control I need. The Fuji F200EXR had a pseudo aperture priority mode, but only offered two aperture values for any given focal length, using a neutral density filter-like system. Not much control. The S90 gives a range of aperture control, between f/2.0 and f/8.0 at the wide end, and f/4.9 and f/8.0 at the telephoto end. Shutter priority allows shutter speed selections between 1/1600s and 15s.
Autofocus can only be set as center area or Face AiAF. Continuous AF Servo can be enabled to allow subject tracking. A manual focus mode is also available. When enabled, the center of the screen zooms significantly, to give you a better view of how in-focus the subject is. Three frame bracketing is also possible, allowing exposure or focus bracketing. That’s a pretty cool feature to have in this class of camera.
In the manual modes, RAW support is enabled. For now (as of October 18, 2009), you’ll need Canon’s DPP version 3.7, which comes on the CD, in order to fully work with the RAW files generated by the S90. Lightroom 2.5 seems to support the S90’s RAW format to an extent, but you won’t get autocorrection of the ample barrel distortion that is present at the wide-angle setting.
On auto, the camera continuously autofocuses, and is able to switch from normal range to macro mode automatically. In this mode, the only things you have control over are the flash mode and the image size. ISO, aperture, and shutter speed are all determined by the camera for you.
There’s also a bevy of scene modes, including Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, Night Scene, Indoor, Underwater, and Nostalgic. Nostalgic is the only one I could see myself using, which desaturates photos from full-color all the way to high-contrast black and white, with different desaturation levels as you turn the lens ring control.
Finally, there’s pretty standard VGA video recording at 30 FPS. This can’t begin to compare with the HD (720p) video recording coming standard on many cheaper cameras these days. It’s a shame Canon didn’t include it in their latest PowerShot lineup (S90 and G11), but I’m not too bummed out about it. I rarely take videos, and those that I do take are just short clips; certainly, there’s no cinematic intention for them.