Canon Powershot S90
Thailand, my adopted home, is a great vacation destination for many activities, particularly photography. It's easy to get around and hotels are cheap. Using Agoda to book a hotel on-line will give you a great selection of hotels and the best deals. I always use Agoda to book my own hotels.
At first glance, the Canon S90 looks the same as the rest of the multitude of small P&S cameras on the market. The real difference lies inside with the sensor, which is significantly larger (1/1.7 inch) than most other P&S cameras.
As a result, image quality is excellent for such a small camera, especially regarding low-light shooting and noise.
In addition, the S90 offers a fast F1:2.0 lens, a high degree of user customisation, and a very useful control ring around the lens.
I was getting fed up lugging around a heavy SLR and interchangeable lenses. I would often leave my SLR gear at home because of the weight, but then I was frustrated when I saw a good photo opportunity but didn't have a camera.
The image quality of the camera in my mobile phone is horrible. I'd been looking around at compact cameras but they didn't give the image quality I wanted. The S90 was the camera I'd been searching for for a long time.
It lives with me constantly in a small pouch that hangs on my belt. There is enough room in the pouch for the camera, spare SD cards, and a spare battery. It's so light that I have to keep checking to make sure it is still there.
With the sample images on this page I haven't given the exposure settings but I have preserved EXIF information in the image files.
This information can be viewed with the software of your choice. I find the quickest and simplest way to view basic exposure settings is to use an EXIF plug-in with Firefox. There are a couple available and they are free to download.
What The S90 Is
It has a surprising number of features, it is highly customisable, and because of its size it is extremely convenient to carry around.
It is said that the best camera is the one that you have with you. This one is permanently in a small pouch on my belt. If I forget it I feel the same way as when I forget my mobile phone. I am lost without it.
Most of the time my DSLR gear is at home because it is too big, bulky and heavy to carry around permanently. My S90 is always with me.
A small camera also means a small tripod. If I want to use it for night shots I take a small tripod that I thought I would never use again because it is far too small for an SLR.
What The S90 Isn't
It's not an SLR. The lens has a limited range and it suffers from the delays that all P&S cameras suffer from. I was trying to photograph a cute pup but whenever it looked at the camera and I pressed the shutter, the dog had turned its face away by the time the photo was taken.
The S90 has limitations regarding sport and other fast-moving situations.
Compared To The G11
I've always liked the Canon G range, even though I've never owned one. However, they are quite large cameras. It would be more comfortable carrying around a G11 compared to an SLR but a G11 didn't really fit my criteria regarding size.
Both cameras use the same sensor and the S90 lens is actually faster at its widest focal length.
However, shortly after acquiring the S90, I reverted back to shooting in large JPG.
Most of the photos I take with the S90 are snaps and the image quality from JPG is fine. There is a huge saving with file sizes and there is less work in post-processing. But there are also other reasons.
Canon are fully aware that the lens on a camera like this isn't perfect, and so they have built lens correction software into the camera while it is doing its RAW to JPG conversion. Of course, this is only used when you shoot JPG and not if you shoot RAW.
Also, the fancy effects mentioned below are all done during the RAW to JPG conversion. You lose all this clever stuff if you shoot RAW. You can still get the effects by doing the work in post-processing but it can be very time consuming.
I still like the idea of being able to shoot RAW with the S90 but I think that with 99% of my shooting, JPG will be perfectly adequate.
Camera effective pixels - approx. 10 million
- Large and RAW - 3648 x 2736 pixels
- Medium 1 - 2816 x 2112 pixels
- Medium 2 - 2272 x 1704 pixels
- Medium 3 - 1600 x 1200 pixels
- Small - 640 x 480 pixels
- Widescreen - 3648 x 2048 pixels
- 640 x 480 pixels (30 frames/sec.)
- 320 x 240 pixels (30 frames/sec.)
ISO: Auto ; 80 ; 100 ; 125 ; 160 ; 200 ; 250 ; 320 ; 400 ; 500 ; 640 ; 800 ; 1000 ; 1250 ; 1600 ; 2000 ; 2500 ; 3200
White Balance: Auto ; Day Light ; Cloudy ; Tungsten ; Fluorescent ; Fluorescent H ; Flash ; Underwater ; Custom
Shutter Speed: 15" ; 13" ; 10" ; 8" ; 6" ; 5" ; 4" ; 3"2 ; 2"5 ; 2" ; 1"6 ; 1"3 ; 1" ; 0"8 ; 0"6 ; 0"5 ; 0"4 ; 0"3 ; 1/4 ; 1/5 ; 1/6 ; 1/8 ; 1/10 ; 1/13 ; 1/15 ; 1/20 ; 1/25 ; 1/30 ; 1/40 ; 1/50 ; 1/60 ; 1/80 ; 1/100 ; 1/125 ; 1/160 ; 1/200 ; 1/250 ; 1/320 ; 1/400 ; 1/500 ; 1/640 ; 1/800 ; 1/1000 ; 1/1250 ; 1/1600
Aperture: F3.2 ; F3.5 ; f/4.0 ; f/4.5 ; f/5.0 ; f/5.6 ; f/6.3 ; f/7.1 ; f/8.0
Images look great on the LCD, which is a 3.0 inch type TFT LCD color monitor with approximately 461,000 dots. The picture coverage is 100%.
This is a great innovation. A detented dial around the lens can be set up to control various functions. I use mine to zoom. On the top of the camera is a small button called RING FUNC. which can be used to change the function.
The default setting is to control the ISO setting. It can be set to control exposure compensation, manual focus, white balance or zoom.
The lens goes from a 35mm equivalent of 28mm to 105mm in standard steps - 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm. This is pure, optical zoom. SLR photographers will be more than familiar withese focal lengths.
By zooming to the maximum focal length with the standard zoom button, releasing it, and then zooming again, this will activate digital zoom up to 15x. This function can be disabled via the menu.
In addition there are two 'Digital Tele-converter' settings which give a fixed magnification of 1.4x and 2.3x with the fixed optical zoom focal lengths. This magnification is digital and therefore results in an image quality degradation.
Digital zoom will not work with the special low-light setting because image quality would just be too low.
Shortcut Button (S)
Not only is the control ring around the lens very useful, but there is also a very handy Shortcut button on the back of the camera. This is also customisable via the menu.
I have mine set up for the Digital Tele-converter so that with each click I go from no Digital Tele-converter to 1.4x and then to 2.3x and then back to no Digital Tele-converter. This is very useful.
The Shortcut button can be set up for: Face Select, ISO speed, Light Metering, White Balance, Custom White Balance, Servo AF, Digital Tele-converter, Red-Eye Correction, i-Contrast, AE lock, AF lock, Display Off.
As you can see, this button offers lots of possibilities. If you were shooting a mix of static and moving subjects, you could set it up so that one click swapped the focus between One Shot and AF Servo. I can't do this on my SLR.
Unlike an SLR, you cannot select a single AF point from a number of fixed AF points in the frame. You can select either the centre AF point or Face Detect.
Face Detect does just what it says. It detects faces anywhere in the frame and adjusts the focus accordingly.
To select a specific point in the frame, it would first be necessary to use the centre AF point and then to focus and recompose.
Holding the shutter button halfway down locks the AF (as well as the exposure). Focus can also be locked by pressing the shutter halfway and then pressing the button on the left of the rear control dial. By doing this, focus will be locked even if you take your finger off the shutter.
The camera can be set to focus on a static subject, or Servo AF can be used for subjects that are moving towards or away from the camera.
The three settings follow standard Canon convention.
- Evaluative - Suitable for standard shooting conditions, including backlit shots. Automatically adjusts the exposure to match the shooting conditions.
- Center Weighted Average - Averages the light metered from the entire frame, but gives greater weight to the centre.
- Spot - Only meters within the [ ] (Spot AE Point frame) that appears at the centre of the screen.
Mode Dial Settings
Like many Canon cameras now, the mode dial has a C setting to allow the user to use Custom settings. The camera can be set to Manual (M), Aperture Priority (AV), Shutter Speed Priority (TV), Program (P), and Completely Automatic (AUTO).
There is also a Low-Light Mode (which automatically reduces the image size to Medium), a Special Effects Mode, and a Movie Mode.
The camera features colour controls to suit different scenes and preferences. These are referred to as 'My Colors'. As with all special effects, the feature isn't available if shooting RAW. 'My Colors' can be turned off or set to one of the following:
- Vivid - Emphasises the contrast and colour saturation for a vivid impression.
- Neutral - Tones down the contrast and colour saturation for neutral hues.
- Sepia - Sepia tones.
- B/W - Black and white.
- Positive Film - Combines the effects of Vivid Red, Vivid Green and Vivid Blue to produce intense natural appearing colours like those obtained with positive film.
- Lighter Skin Tone - Makes skin tones lighter.
- Darker Skin Tone - Makes skin tones darker.
- Vivid Blue - Emphasises blue tints. Makes the sky, ocean and other blue subjects more vivid.
- Vivid Green - Emphasises green tints. Makes mountains, foliage and other green subjects more vivid.
- Vivid Red - Emphasises blue tints. Makes red subjects more vivid.
- Custom Color - The contrast, sharpness, color saturation, red, green, blue and skin tones in an image can be chosen and set from five different levels.
Special Conditions (SCN) Mode
Portrait mode - adjusts camera to get a soft effect and the best skin tones for portraits.
Landscape - in addition to setting the appropriate colours, this mode seems to select the smallest possible aperture to get the maximum depth of field.
Night Snapshot - the camera sets the ISO/shutter speed/aperture combination to record the background at night, and also pops the flash to illuminate the foreground subject (presumably a person).
The problem is that the shutter speed can be quite slow. If your subject remains relatively static the shot will be OK, but any slight movement is likely to result in motion blur as can be seen in the centre image below.
Kids & Pets - this one is designed for fast-moving action and selects the highest possible shutter speed. As I noted above, however, there are other limitations with the camera regarding fast-moving action.
Indoor - this one claims to shoot indoors with natural skin tones so I guess it adjusts the white balance for fluorescent lighting.
Sunset - some of the built in special effects don't work too well, but this one looks good. First, it drops the ISO to 80 (the lowest setting) and then underexposes the scene several steps.
This turns a lot of detail into silhouettes but saturates the colour in the sky. I also suspect that quite a lot of colour saturation is added to complete the effect.
I've taken shots of the sunset from this point before with an SLR and it can take quite a lot of guesswork to get the right effect. The S90 built-in special effects remove all the guesswork and make it very easy for anyone without much photographic knowledge to get good results.
Night Scene - this one is intended for use with a tripod. Using a tripod means that camera shake isn't an issue, therefore a low ISO can be used to preserve image quality in conjunction with a slow shutter speed.
The camera does all this but - left to its own devices - it also fires the flash. This doesn't make any sense at all and I have to disable the flash each time when using the camera in Night Scene mode. I think it's a bug and maybe it can be fixed with a firmware patch?
Fireworks - this one claims to shoot fireworks in vivid colours so I guess that the camera increases the colour saturation.
Beach - this one claims to shoot natural colours in bright sunlight so I guess it adjusts the white balance for daylight.
Underwater - I used to use a Sony P&S with an underwater housing to take photos while scuba diving. I bought an orange filter to use with the housing to make colours underwater more natural. The S90 seems to be able to achieve this by applying an orange cast electronically.
I don't have an underwater housing for the S90 so can't test this function.
Aquarium - I assume this is similar to the Underwater mode. The following photos aren't very good because the scene was too dark. With the widest aperture there isn't enough depth of field, and with a slow shutter speed there is motion blur.
However, the photos should give some idea about colour rendition.
Foliage - this one claims to shoot foliage in vivid colours. All it seems to do is bump up the overall colour saturation, especially green.
Snow - shoot natural looking snowy scenes. In this mode, I guess that the White Balance is set to cater for very bright scenes with sun reflecting off snow. I am in the process of adding sample photos here but snowy scenes could be a little tricky from my base in southern Thailand. Beaches are easy, but snowy scenes ....
Color accent - this is a great feature with which you can have a lot of fun. You can use the camera to select a specific color with an eyedropper shown in the display. When you take a photo of the scene, only the specified colour will remain and everything else will be recorded in black and white.
Of course, it is possible to achieve this in Photoshop (or another image editor) and the effect will look equally as good. However, if the selections are tricky it can take a lot of work in post-processing. Using the S90 feature, there is no work in post-processing at all.
Color Swap - Again, you can select a specific colour using the eyedropper function, and also another colour. The camera will automatically swap the original colour in the scene with the colour of your choice.
Nostalgic - used in conjunction with the control ring, you can set the adjustment to one of five levels to create the look of an old photo. If you have the control ring set for another function, it is temporarily disabled in this mode. For example, instead of being able to zoom with the control ring, you have to use the standard zoom buttons.
While in Nostalgic Mode, each click of the control ring fades the colours slightly more towards black and white. At the same time, increasingly more film grain is added to the image.
As with all these Special Condition functions, this is an effect that can be added with Photoshop in post-processing but if you are happy with what the S90 does it will save time.
Stitch Assist - if you wish to take multiple images for stitching together later to create a panorama effect, this setting alters the viewfinder display to make it easier to align the images.
This function seems so obvious but I haven't had it on any previous cameras. After taking an initial shot, the previous image is displayed on each subsequent shot so that you can align the images properly.
When I've attempted multiples shots for panoramas before, I have had to try to remember which part of the scene I covered with the last photo. This function takes away the guesswork.
The panorama above is four photos stitched together with the PhotoStitch application that comes packaged free with Canon cameras.
When using Stitch Assist the files use a different naming convention so that they are easier to locate and use.
Normally, the naming convention is IMG_nnnn.JPG where nnnn is a sequential number. With Stitch Assist, aach file begins with ST followed by a sequential letter and then a sequential number. For example:
SCN Mode Summary
If you don't understand the basics of photography (not everyone does), using these specially programmed modes will probably increase your chances of getting good photos.
Even for experienced photographers, they can be useful and/or save time. The Stitch Assist function is very useful and the Sunset mode gives pleasing results. If you can see that there is a problem (as there is with the night time modes), just switch to manual or another mode to fix the problem.
Digital photographers seem to belong to two schools. There are those who like to shoot RAW and then make all their adjustments in post-processing. And then there are those who set the camera up how they want and shoot JPG in order to do the least possible amount of post-processing.
It's a personal choice, and with the S90 you have the flexibility to do either. By shooting in RAW plus JPG you could even do both. It's a very flexible little camera.
I haven't done any real testing with the Canon NB-6L battery. All I know is that I carry the camera around all the time and take quite a few snaps. I also view quite a lot of images. Despite this, the battery doesn't need to be charged that often - certainly not once a day.
I bought an OEM battery for about one-third the price of a Canon original battery and it seems to work just as well. Because of the disastrously inaccurate battery gauge, I would highly recommend carrying a spare battery. They are so tiny and light that acrraying a spare is no problem.
The flash is tiny and not visible under normal circumstances; it pops up as required. It won't iluminate a concert hall but given its size, it is adequate for low-light scenes when the subject isn't too far away from the camera.
The photo here was shot against a pretty light background and I wanted some fill flash to illuminate the dancer's face.
I just left the camera in P mode but forced the flash on. It seems to have worked quite well and the balance between the flash and ambient light is fairly even.
With the lens in wide mode, the maximum flash range is 6.5m. In telephoto mode the maximum range is 2.5m.
The S90 is a great camera but not quite perfect.
- The flash pops up in a position where I tend to hold the camera. If it is obstructed, the camera needs to be turned off and on again to reset everything.
- The dial on the back adjusts exposure compensation when the camera is in shooting mode. No other button needs to be pressed in order for exposure compensation. Unfortunately, this is quite easy to knock and I often find that it has been accidentally altered.
- The camera tends to overexpose in bright sunlight. This is easy to fix with exposure compensation - if you remember - or it can be sorted out in post-processing.
- The battery indicator is a joke. It indicates fully charged for 99.5% of the time but as soon as it changes to partially charged you only have a very short time remaining.
I bought mine just a few weeks after buying an EF-S 10-22mm ultra-wide-angle lens. I was keen to use the lens, but after getting the S90 in my hands I didn't touch my SLR equipment for about four months.
I loved the fact that I could go out with a camera capable of getting great images, while being unaware that I even had a camera on me.
Of course, it is no match for an SLR set up. There are times when the S90 fails to get a shot that I know I could have got with my 40D. But that's not very often.
For the majority of shots it is perfectly adequate, and the convenience of being able to carry a small, light camera makes up for those times when the S90 isn't up to the job.
Am I planning on selling my SLR gear?
Definitely not. There will still be times when only an SLR will do, and my future photography plans will only be possible with an SLR. I am looking to invest in more SLR equipment rather than sell what I already have.
When I go out specifically to take photos and I want the best possible quality, I will use an SLR. However, the rest of the time when I'm not specifically looking to take photos - but when I want a camera with me - the S90 is perfect.
It's a little pocket wonder.
The bottom line is that (like camera bags) there is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution for cameras. The S90 can't do what an SLR can do, but I can't slip an SLR into my top pocket or hang it unobtrusively on my belt.
I'm happy to have both and depending on the situation, I will take whichever is more appropriate (or both).
Canon EF Lenses
Canon EF-S Lenses
Canon EF-M Lenses
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand