Canon S90

I don’t own this camera, but based upon the specs it has to be just about the ultimate on-the-bike shirt-pocket camera for serious shooters. Check out the specs:

  • 28mm-105mm (eqiuv.) f/20-4.9 lens
  • 3″ 3:4 TFT LCD monitor
  • 15-1/1600 sec. shutter
  • 10.0 Megapixel, 1/1.7-inch sensor
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Auto, P, Av, Tv plus full manual shooting modes
  • Lens control ring
  • Raw capability
  • 3.94 x 2.30 x 1.22 inches (100.0 x 58.4 x 30.9mm)
  • 6.942 oz. (196.8g) with battery and card

Canon USA
DP Review
Ken Rockwell

23 Responses to “Canon S90”

  • brad says:

    Not just for biking, I think for any serious photographer it’s likely to be the ultimate compact camera. I’ve had my eye on this one ever since it was announced early this year, and apparently so have a lot of other people: word on the street is that it’s going to be in short supply with long backorders. This seems to be pretty close to perfection: large sensor, pocketable camera that’s there when you need it. Yum….

  • Andrew says:

    Ricoh also makes an excellent go-anywhere camera, virtually the same size and weight as this. At the time I was buying (for backpacking in Africa and Asia), it was the R8, which I got because of the stellar 28-200 mm lens and tiny form-factor. It has since morphed into the CX-2, which is up to 28-300 mm, and has an improved CCD (probably not as nice as the Canon, though), and in-camera HDR which is intriguing.

  • Ronan says:

    I see several problems with this camera:
    – not that easy to hold one-handed. A ridge on the left or ride side would be helpful. I think I saw somewhere some kind of strap to help for this use.
    – the video mode is bad according to several reviews, which is a huge drawback for a 450€ camera. I ride a recumbent, so one hand filming is easy (and gives very good results once post-processed to add some stabilization),
    – it costs 450€… which means that it is too costly to be used when it rains, or on dirty tracks, or when a fall is a possibility.

    I have found that a good zoom range is not that important to have on the bike.

    For me, a good camera for on-bike use should:
    – cost half of the price of this one, have a video resolution of 1280*720, allows the use of optical zoom while filming, be easy to hold one handed, have an optical stabilisation, be able to go quite high in ISO with a reasonable quality;

    does not need:
    – that big a zoom range, more that 5m pixels.

    it might be a good camera to carry on the bike and use once stopped, but not really a “on the bike” camera. This kind of use KILLS the camera (I need a new one nearly each year), and this one is just too costly.

  • Rick Steele says:

    Don’t buy one yet, many people are getting bad copies and returning them. I tried one at Best Buy and was quite impressed. Some copies are coming in from Canon with specks or little scratches on the lens. Think Canon is beginning to push product out a little too fast to make the holidays. S90 shares the same 10MP sensor as the new G11, and shows a lot of promise. I’ll keep my Panny LX3 for now.

    True Canon Fan
    Rick Steele
    Gold Country Cyclery

  • Alan says:

    “This kind of use KILLS the camera (I need a new one nearly each year), and this one is just too costly.”

    That’s interesting. I have to wonder why. I absolutely abused a Canon S3IS for 2+ years on the bike with no issues, and my current Canon G10 has seen fairly rough, daily use on the bike for over 7 months. I hope to get at least another year out of the G10 – we’ll see how it goes! :-)


  • Tom Nostrant says:

    Its like a curse. Every time I want to take a picture a ask myself “What would Alan do?”. Having no idea I sigh, point and click. I think that Alan should buck up, buy on of these and post a review :)

  • Alan says:


    That’s awfully nice Tom… thanks. :-)

    The new S90 is similar to my G10 ( ) but smaller, lighter, and with an updated sensor that has lower noise at high ISO settings.


  • sygyzy says:

    Definitely the spotlight king for a compact with some serious low light prowess. I own the DMC-LX3 which held the crown unchallenged for the past year. Canon finally steps up and makes a f/20 camera. Competition is good. My buddy has one and loves his. I used it at dinner and it’s a great camera. That little control ring in front is awesome.

    I would never take either camera on a bike. There are plenty of cameras half as expensive that I can take and with those I won’t feel as bad if I dropped it or crashed.

  • Roland Smith says:

    I’ve been using the IXUS 970 IS for about a year now. I got this one after some relatives were very positive about it, and I concur.

    I find myself carrying it in my cycling bag everywhere I go. And the picture quality is good enough for me. I hardly ever bother carrying a DSLR anymore because those are so bulky and heavy.

    The zoom lens while mechanically impressive is also quite fragile. Drop the camera with the lens extended and it will cease to function. A relative of mine inadvertently tested that more than once. I don’t think it would be realistic to expect that such a lens would survive such a beating, but it is good to be aware of, especially on these small and easily dropped cameras

    The only downside is the quite slippery finish. This makes is even harder to keep hold of the camera. Therefore the first thing I do when getting the camera out of its pouch is put the wrist strap on.

    On the other hand, the combination metal/plastic housing has stood up very well under daily wear and tear, but the fact that I keep it in a pouch probably helps.

  • ronan says:

    ““This kind of use KILLS the camera (I need a new one nearly each year), and this one is just too costly.”

    That’s interesting. I have to wonder why.”

    Here are the stories of the KIA cameras.

    The first was dropped to grab the brake. I have a long strap which goes around my neck, so the camera did not hit the road, but it hit one of the bottles on the side of my seat(remember, i ride a recumbent, and it is quite laid back). The screen did not survive. it is now the camera i use when one fails, before getting a new one.

    Another camera, it was during a ride with friends, and we got drenched. I had the camera inside a small bag on my belly, and some water got inside and now it no longer read memory cards (and has other problems).

    The third just stopped retracting the lense when I powered it down. After two months, the lense was badly scratched. i crashed with the camera in the bag two weeks before the malfunction; it might be related.

    Careless use + electronics= dead electronic.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    sygyzy – I have the DMC-LX3 as well; just got it recently. Can’t imagine anything better than this camera for bike photos and beyond; in function, image quality and manual control it rivals many DSLRs. I got it for a very good price, so I have no problem carrying it on my bike and even taking pictures with it while cycling, one-handed. I am not overly fond of Canon products (I am a fan of Nikon), so it would take a lot to convince me that the S90 is comparable to my Lumix. Would love to try it though.

  • MDI says:

    I am glad to see another f/2 compact with a relatively large sensor (compared to other compacts). Competition is good, even if it did take over a year for someone to bring the fight to Panasonic.

    I was making this choice a month ago and went with the LX3 instead, but I certainly gave the S90 a good, long look. The LX3 advantages for my situation include a 24mm focal length at f/2 as opposed to a 28mm. At 60mm, (which is the maximum telephoto range for the LX3) it is at f/2.8 while the S90 @ 60mm may have slipped further toward its fairly dim f/4.9–although I admit that I do not know exactly where it would be. [Of course the reverse is also true, the S90 is at f/2 at 28mm while the LX3 is at f/2.2-2.3, which matters if you really like 28mm.] But what really cemented the LX3 for me is that I don’t need a telephoto lens at all, preferring to shoot at 24, 28, 35 and occasionally at 50mm. There are other small differences, for example the Leica lens and a bit larger sensor in the LX3, but I admit that these are more subjective. I think the S90 is quite a bit smaller, and that’s hugely important for many people.

    I use my LX3 primarily in aperture priority (or manual) mode with spot autofocus (focusing manually on the LCD is slower for me than spot AF with the LX3–how is the S90’s lens ring in this department?). Perhaps I should visit and take a peek at the high-ISO and low light comparisons. The LX3 is good until ISO 400 and very good at ISO 200. I wouldn’t go to ISO 800 on the LX3. The stabilizer is good until around 1/15 and sometimes 1/10, if you do multiple takes.

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    “I am not overly fond of Canon products (I am a fan of Nikon), so it would take a lot to convince me that the S90 is comparable to my Lumix.”

    Camera companies are leap-frogging one another at a blistering pace these days. Today’s wunder-camera will be tomorrow’s has-been, regardless of who makes it. This has been the case ever since cameras turned into computers and took on a 12-18 month life-cycle. Your LX-3 is a fine, fine camera, but as with all digital cameras (especially compacts), something “new-and-improved” is always just around the corner. :-)


  • jnyyz says:

    The most comprehensive reviews of the camera have been very negative about the user interface, in particular the multimode ring on the back. I like Canon cameras, but I’ll wait until they get this one right.

    I’d also agree with people about an on-the-bike camera: it can’t be too small, and there can’t be poorly placed buttons. My Lumix FX-35 is fine off the bike, terrible on the bike.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Alan – You are right of course, and my favouring one make over another is just a personal preference. Some of my best friends are Canon-users : )

  • skpedaler says:

    I am very intested in this camera, but some of the other models I am considering at a lower price point do not have raw capability. What is the advantage to Raw? I saw the review at one of the links in this posting say that the reviewer did not care if it had raw.

  • Paul Rivers says:

    While this entry is about an “on the bike camera”, I don’t think he necessarily meant a camera to take a picture while physically biking (though I’ve used my s90 for that), I think he meant it sounds like a camera with the best specs that’s also small and light enough to carry with you while biking.

    That being said, while there are more ergonomic cameras (though you can buy some Richard Frantenic or something grip for it to help), one nice thing about the s90 is that if you are taking a pic while riding, with full manual controls (including shutter priority mode) you can set the shutter speed high enough to compensate for your movement on the bike to take a picture, whereas on other compacts it may be difficult to coax the camera into a high enough shutter speed (as a fully automatic camera often sets shutter speeds based on the assumption that you’re either standing still or walking, at most).

  • Alan says:


    “What is the advantage to Raw?”

    Shooting raw gives the photographer much greater control and flexibility in post production. In other words, raw image files effectively contain 100% of the image data collected by the sensor. JPG files, on the other hand, are subject to in-camera processing and are compressed in a lossy format that reduces file size by throwing out some data, which limits the post processing potential of the file.


  • Alan says:

    @Paul Rivers

    “I think he meant it sounds like a camera with the best specs that’s also small and light enough to carry with you while biking.”

    You got it! :-)

    Happy Holidays!

  • Patrick says:

    I recently purchased the Canon S90 and I’ve been taking it everywhere. For one-hand operation, the smooth surface can be a bit slippery. But there is a custom-machined grip for the S90 available for $36. With the grip attached, the S90 goes from being a great compact to the ultimate compact. It provides enough grip leverage to confidently work all the controls one-handed. With the palm wrapped around the grip, I can set the exposure with the lens ring, zoom in/out with the zoom dial, change the mode via the mode dial, change the ISO using the “Shortcut” button, and change the aperture via the rear circular dial. All that with just one hand while the other hand is steering the bike.

    Here’s where you can purchase the grip.

    After using the S90 with the grip, I have to wonder why Canon didn’t make the camera with a similar grip shape.

    Now off to find a good camera mount for the bike.

  • Alan says:

    Hey Patrick,

    Thanks a bunch for the hands-on review!

    Best regards,

  • Ahmad says:

    A nice addition to the S90:

  • James says:

    The successor to this camera, the S95 is pretty temping to me as an everyday camera to take with me on the bike. As others have mentioned though, the lack of a grip is a pretty big concern. A G12 would be bigger and not as easy to stow in a pocket, but I am concerned about handling the S95 on the bike. It looks like it would be about as easy to grip as a bar of soap…not ideal for panda portraits.

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