Five Lesser Known (but very cool) Features on the Canon S90

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I find the Canon PowerShot S90 one of the most interesting compact cameras available today. No doubt you've heard about some of its most popular features: records in Raw, sports a programmable click-stop Control Ring, and uses the same sensor and image processing as the Canon G11. But as I've worked with this camera, I've discovered a number of more subtle features that I think are noteworthy, and that you might appreciate.

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Versatile Erase Options - When you shoot in Raw+Jpeg, as I often do, you have three erase options when you press the trashcan button: Raw only, Jpeg only, or Raw+Jpeg. I think it's so intelligent having complete control over what you delete.

Semi Auto White Balance - In auto white balance, you have the option or rotating the Control Ring to tweak the white balance in the blue or red direction. If you hit the Display button, you can also adjust green and magenta too. This is much more precise than using the presets. And it makes Auto White Balance truly useful, because it is now an intelligent starting point instead of the final destination.

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Smart Self Timer - In the standard self timer mode, I can set how long I want the timer to run (between 1-30 seconds in 1 second increments) and for how many shots (between 1-10). So if I want a 5 second delay for 4 continuous shots, it's not a problem. Why haven't we always had this?

Manual Flash Output - When you shoot in Manual exposure mode, the flash exposure compensation scale changes from the standard + and - to a flash output control. You can manually set the flash to 1/3, 2/3, or full power. Works great! It's also more intuitive than flash exposure compensation.

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Low Light Shooting on Mode Dial - The S90 performs admirably well in low light (see my ISO tests for more information), and you have lots of exposure controls to choose from. But if you want to quickly switch to low light shooting, just choose the candle icon on the Mode Dial. This enables all of the S90's low light functionality with a single, easy-to-get-to setting. The downside, it only records in Jpeg in this mode.

So how do I configure this camera for my every day shooting? After trying lots of combinations, my favorite way to work is to set the mode dial in Aperture Priority (AV); set the Control Ring to Step Zoom so I can click stop between 28, 35, 50, 85, and 105mm focal lengths, then adjust the f/stop with the Control Dial on the back of the camera. I set the Shortcut button to enable the Exposure Lock. With this set up, I feel like I'm shooting with DSLR that just happens to be very, very small.

More Articles About the Canon S90

Did Canon Really Improve Image Noise with the PowerShot S90?

"Compacts for Serious Shooters" - Digital Photography Podcast 201

Is the Canon S90 the New G11?


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9 Comments

One of the other interesting things I've seen is that ISO is adjustable in ⅓ stop increments. This is something usually reserved for DSLRs and I think it helps offer greater control, while keeping noise as low as possible.

For me: I've been using the LX3 for a year and now I need a hot shoe. I can live without flash for a lot of things, but when I do certain events, it's very useful. No flash, or a real gun is how I go. :)

Yeah, I don't need the hot shoe on this camera. If I'm going to carry an external flash, then I'm taking a DSLR or my E-P1.

This is really helpful article, but am I wrong in thinking that the Low Light mode operates at a reduced resolution? Do you think it might be better to initially use Auto ISO at an indoor event like a performance, and save the Low Light mode as a last resort?

Craig, you are correct. Low Light mode is Jpeg and lower resolution. So I agree that if you have time try the other options you have on this camera for dealing with low light, do those first. But, when in a hurry, this Low Light setting on the mode dial is darn handy... and fast.

Thanks for the continued information on the S90. I've been looking at a few options to replace my current point and shoot and I think the S90 will do the trick.

Derek, this is slightly OT, but when I see discussions of RAW format it reminds me of an idea for a future piece from you:

It's been a while now since DNG came out. Lots of us are still on the fence and continuing with our RAW workflow because it's unclear (despite a fully documented file format, etc.) whether DNG will still be around in 5 years.

What's the latest? Is DNG being adopted more? Are there significant cameras that use it natively? Is it any more or less prudent now to consider converting to DNG and dropping RAW from our workflow? I don't hear as much about it these days.

Since you're probably always looking for post/podcast topics . . . :)

But does this camera have an intervalometer? I can't confirmation online anywhere. Thanks.

Hi Aaron, I hadn't bought a true compact for quite some time. I had been using my Canon G9 in that role, but it is a little bulky when I'm dressed up for dinner. The S90 is proving to be a camera I can have with me in any situation. I'm still learning its subtle features, but I like the power it packs in such a small package.

@Ian...the S90 does not have full intervalometer functionality. It will only do 'X number of photos, Y seconds apart", where X is a maximum of 10 and Y has a maximum of 30 seconds.

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