What I got my wife for Christmas

Posted: 15th January 2010 by Jacky Yong in Photography, Silly me
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This, a digital camera, worth almost RM1,500 a pop! In reality I owe her this since her birthday last year, so it’s well overdue actually! 😛

This is the camera, the new Canon Powershot S90.



Canon Powershot S90

Canon Powershot S90

Remember when I mentioned that I wanted to buy a PnS? I wasn’t kidding!

Why did I choose this camera? Well there is a lot of reasons actually. For one thing, I must confess, that I am a huge Canon fanboy. And another thing, being a techie that I am, I know for sure that I am getting top quality pictures with this baby. On papers the camera boasts some incredible numbers:

  • 10 megapixel sensors (and not just any sensors. It’s the sensor used in its much larger brother the G11. The size of the sensor is the biggest among point-and-shooters among its class, which should translate to lower noise)
  • 28 mm – 105 mm equivalent IS (image stabilized) lens
  • Fast f2.0 – 4.9 aperture. (Faster than my EF-S 17-55 f2.8 IS at 28 mm!)
  • RAW shooting! (Yay~!)
  • 3.0 inch LCD screen, 461,000 pixels. Not exactly the high resolution screen found in newer DSLR’s, but good enough.

The rest of the advertised features (dual-noise removal, DIGIC IV smile detection, scene detection etc) are merely marketing gimmicks.

First impressions and ergonomics




3 inch screen, enough for most shooting conditions, except in strong sunlight

Pick the camera up and you will know that this is not just another point-and-shooter. It weights quite heftily in your hand (197 grams, the official figure, including card and battery) and for a camera this size, it sure feels solid. There is no noticeable grip for my hand when holding this camera, and it takes a conscious effort to hand-hold it securely. Fortunately you can always wrap the camera’s lanyard around your wrist to prevent it from swinging out of your grip.



Small camera

Being small (no bigger than an IXUS) the grip was rather insecure. But being small is exactly what my wife wants!

In operation

This is where the camera stands out. The S90 distance itself from the competitors with a rather unique way of interacting with the camera; using a front ring system. It works similar to how you would operate an aperture or zoom ring of an old SLR camera. You turn on a ribbed ring to change settings, like exposure, zoom or aperture, depending on the mode of operation that you are in. And yes, the function of the ring is customizable.

There are the usual “up-down-left-right” buttons that doubles as the secondary ring dial behind the camera. What I do not like about the secondary ring is that it turns far too easily. I have set the secondary dial to adjust the ISO values, and I often find myself accidentally knocking the ISO value off when operating the camera.



Lens ring

Notice the ring around the lens

Sample pictures

Enough talk. Let’s get to some real world scenario, the camera in action. As mentioned, the reason this camera is so different is the sensor. It’s big, and the lens is bright, so taking pictures in the dark will not be an issue. And I am glad to say focusing in the dark does not pose a challenge at all for this baby! I know of some DSLR that still hunts (searches forever without getting a focus lock) in the dark.

It focuses properly in the dark, but will the picture turn out noisy? I would be lying to myself and to everyone else if I said that the picture are noise-free at high ISO. This is, after all, still not a full fledged DSLR! I’ll let you see some sample pictures:



Hui Yan and mommy ISO 3200

Hui Yan and mommy, ISO 3200

How does it looked like zoomed in?



100% crop

100% crop. Details are lost around the hair

Another picture taken at maximum ISO:



Care for a cuppa ISO 3200

Care for a cuppa? ISO 3200

Here is a detailed view:



lost details

100% crop, again details are lost

Another picture …..



Jonker Street ISO 800

Jonker Street, ISO 800, perfectly use-able! Only processed in Canon DPP

Detailed view:



Some noises

Some noises are there, but only if you pixel peep

Did I mention that this baby also takes pictures in exposure brackets? Yes, this means I can do HDR with this camera, albeit a bit slower. The maximum in can go between frames is about 1 second. And the maximum EV it can go for exposure bracketing is only ±1 EV, a total of 3 shots. But combining with RAW file format, it does wonders!




HDR was combined with Photoshop and Photomatix

Another thing that I noticed is that this camera tends to overexpose its shots when encountering a tricky shot. The shot below was shot using P mode, 0 EV:




Overexposed is the norm, it seems

I find that for these situations, I must always remember to dial down the EV to compensate:



Under a bit

Have to dial down the exposure a bit

Personally I am impressed with this baby! Its ability to still take decent pictures in the dark is one of its major selling point. If I were to complain, it would definitely be the rather dismal performance of the battery. After only about 3 hours of shooting, the battery complains of tiredness. 🙁

All in all, a very good camera. The advantage it has sometimes even outweighs a DSLR (small size, light, shoots video). Being small it is also very stealthy, I can take discreet pictures without the guard shooing us away, something that always happen to me when I use the DSLR.


See more pictures taken with this little camera at Kit Yan’s field trip.