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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.


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.


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.


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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If you want to take advantage of iPhoto's latest capabilities, but don't want to commit your master images to its internal database, there is a way. You can set up a referenced library scenario that allows you the freedom to switch among any non-destructive photo manager -- such as Aperture, iPhoto, Lightroom, and Adobe Bridge -- for the same set of original images. And none of them will alter your originals in any way. It's not an approach for the average consumer. But photographers desiring lots of flexibility might be interested.

In my latest Macworld article, Store photos outside of iPhoto's library, I show you how to set up a catalog of master images on a separate hard drive, then "point" iPhoto to them. Instead of ingesting your masters into its internal database, iPhoto notes their location, then refers to them when you need to work.

There are lots of insightful comments that accompany the article, and I encourage you to read them all. One very important point that comes up in the ensuing discussion is that you should test this method of image management first before committing your entire library to it. But for certain people, this approach allows you to play with new iPhoto features such as geotagging and face recognition, while still having the flexibility to use other applications with that same set of images.

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In the article, The Conversation Has Shifted from Megapixels to Image Noise, I observed that we've moved on, at least temporarily, from the megapixel wars. Case in point with my own cameras. The Canon G9 that I reviewed on Oct. 2, 2007 squeezed 12.1 megapixels on to a 1/1.7 inch CCD sensor and processed the information with a DIGIC 3 processor. Now, two years later, both the Canon G11 and S90 have upgraded to DIGIC 4 processors, but only 10 megapixels on the same sensor. Why step backwards? Well, in part because we asked Canon to. Our theory was that if you cram fewer photosites on to the same sized CCD, you'd generate less heat, and therefore have less image noise at higher ISO settings.

Improvement with the S90? You betcha! Side-by-side comparison of ISO 1600 shots with the Canon S90 and two year old G9. Even in these smaller shots (click on image to enlarge) you can see a big difference. Go to the full-sized comparisons to see more detail.

Were we right? I decided to run a comparison between the Canon G9 (a camera near and dear to my heart) against the new PowerShot S90. I mounted each camera on a tripod, set the aperture to 5.6, and took shots of the same subject in the same lighting at ISOs 80, 400, 800, and 1600. I then published full sized comparisons that you can view at 100 percent and judge for yourself. No image editing of any kind for these shots. They were high quality Jpegs that I spliced together in Photoshop, and then left it at that.

My conclusion? No contest. The S90 is clearly the better camera at ISO 400 and above. In this case, Canon found a way to make our theory correct. Take a look at the posted samples and decide for yourself.

As for me... well, I'm impressed with the image improvements in the Canon PowerShot S90. There are plenty of other features I like too, and I'll touch on those in a subsequent post.

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Tutorial for Creating Your Own 3D Images


I just read a short, but informative tutorial titled, How to Create 3D Images, where Mark Evans encourages you to hang on to those 3D glasses you used at the movie theater. Why? Well, you can quickly create your own 3D pictures in Photoshop and put those wonky glasses to use. Take a peek... it's easy.

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For the last few years, many of us photographers have been watching the megapixel wars and wondering when camera manufacturers would call a cease fire. Yes, resolution is great. But not to the point where it degrades image quality, especially when working in low light.

Well, the cease fire is here. Nikon has remained conservative on the resolution in its DSLR line, focusing on image quality, and has had great success in 2009. Olympus has stuck with its 12 megapixel ceiling and produced the high ISO performing E-P1 and E-P2. But the real shocker for me was when Canon actually stepped back on resolution for the PowerShot G11. The previous model, G10, sported a 1/1.7-inch CCD that provided 14.7-megapixels of resolution. The new G11 has dropped the megapixels to 10.4 on the same size sensor. All of this as part of an overall effort to improve image quality, especially at higher ISO settings such as 400, 800, and even 1600.

How much noise is too much? This shot at Grand Central Station was captured with an Olympus E-P1 at ISO 3200. Would I have been able to get the same shot with a flash? You can see the entire set on the TDS Flickr page.

In real world use, this means that we can turn off the flash and shoot existing light more often without our images being as compromised by image noise. We use that term a lot, image noise, but what is it really?

In the article, Noise: Lose It, Part II on Digital PhotoPro, John Paul Caponigro explains that there are three patterns of noise: random, fixed-pattern, and banding, that has two components -- brightness and color (luminance and chromatic). Much of this is a byproduct of boosting the ISO setting on our cameras. For example, John writes:

"Random noise is most sensitive to ISO setting. Again, digital cameras have one native ISO setting; higher ISO settings artificially boost the signal produced by the sensor and the noise accompanying it. The results? You get a brighter picture from less light and exaggerated noise. Since the pattern is random, it's challenging to separate the noise from the image, especially texture, and even the best software used to reduce it through blurring may compromise image sharpness; how much depends on the level of reduction."

For me personally, image noise isn't always a terrible thing. Sometimes it provides the subtle grit that works with a photo. By the same token, I do want to have some control over how much noise appears in my photographs. And I don't want to spend lots of time in post processing to tame it.

So I'm glad the megapixel wars have given way to the image noise challenge. I think many of the latest cameras are going in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing how things play out up the road.

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Super compacts that pack a big wallop are useful additions to any photographer's arsenal. Yes we need our DSLRs for serious shooting, mostly planned activities. And the new system cameras such as the Olympus E-P2 and Panasonic GF1 are great when we want to travel a little lighter. But a compact that slides into your front pocket as you're heading out the door for dinner is important too. It allows us to capture the shots we don't plan. And if it can produce a high quality image in Raw format, then that unexpected shot could become a prize winner.


In this podcast I discuss three super compacts that have pro level capabilities: the Canon PowerShot S90, Panasonic Lumix LX3, and the Leica X1. The Canon is selling for around $430, the Panasonic in the $485 neighborhood, and the Leica, well, it's a Leica ($2,000). There are other interesting cameras in this category, but these three really caught my eye, and I explain why in the show.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (28 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Wrinkles is the Nov. 2009 Photo Assignment. Keep in mind that side lighting increases texture and front lighting hides it. So you should be thinking angled lighting for this one. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is Nov. 30, 2009.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. It's a blast!

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If you travel with a roller suitcase, then you can easily convert it into a tripod for long exposures through the hotel window and for general photography work around the room. And the best part is, this conversion only adds another 6 ounces to your travel load.

All you have to do is position the suitcase where you need your "tripod," extend the handle, then attach the Pedco UltraClamp Assembly ($23.25) and mount your camera. The UltraClamp can support any compact camera, and most light DSLRs such as the Canon Rebel T1i with kit lens. I've used this rig for years, and the UltraClamp works as well today as it did when I first bought it. Plus, you can mount it to chairs, tables, or anywhere else the clamp will tighten. Unlike other rigs of this ilk, the UltraClamp includes a ball head, so chances are you'll be able to position the camera exactly as you need.

When I'm in big cities, I love taking night shots through hotel windows. I'm usually up fairly high and have a good perspective on the hustle and bustle below me. Be sure to turn off room lights if you're shooting through glass, and get the camera lens as close to the window as possible. I also recommend using the self-timer to ensure you don't jar the camera when you press the shutter button.

But wait... there's more! I also make sure I have a few heavy duty rubber bands packed when I travel. They come in handy for all sorts of tasks, including making this portable mic stand from the extended suitcase handle. The one thing I don't want to do is hold the mic when I record TDS podcasts on the road. Those rustling sounds are quite annoying. So I mount the microphone on the suitcase handle and sit on the edge of the bed to record the show. It works great.

Roller suitcases are definitely handy in the airport as you travel from one terminal to the other. But they're also useful once you reach your destination... that is, if you've packed a few key accessories to transform them into creative tools.

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Now that we've been shooting with digital cameras for a while, we're starting to see interest in going back into our archives and digitizing old snapshots too. This process requires some of the same organization as we're already using to keep track of photos on our computer. Plus, there are a few other things to consider that are unique to scanning.

In my Macworld article, Four smart tips for managing scanned photos, I discuss how iPhoto can be an excellent tool for managing recently digitized images. One you add the scan to your library, you can correct the capture date, add location data, and make a few basic image edits too.

You'll also want to think about how you're going to archive this material. One thing that I like to do is organize the original photo in a binder with archival sleeves, and note the file name and location of the digitized version with it. That way, not only can you extend the life of the original print, you always know where the digitized copy is too.

Any of the photo management applications can work for managing scanned photos, Lightroom and Aperture are great examples. But everyone who has a Mac has iPhoto. And even if you're not using it to organize shots from your digital camera, it's a good tool for projects like this.

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While I was in Washington DC, teaching at the Photoshop LIVE conference, the good folks over at We Love DC put together an evening photowalk. And they were kind enough to invite me. We had a great time. So, as you've read in earlier posts, when I go street shooting, I often decide which rig I want to use, then try stick with it the entire time. This outing, I went with the Canon 5D Mark II and my trusty 85mm f/1.8 lens.

An interesting side note about the 85mm f/1.8. One of the photowalk participants noted my glass, then he said with a smile: "As yes, the 85mm f/1.8 -- my favorite lens that I rarely use." If you fall into this category, then I say break it out of storage and get to shooting with it. It's been around for a while, but it's a beautiful lens.

I began the evening while there was still some light in the sky, so I set the ISO to 800. As it became darker, I moved to ISO 1600 and even shot a few frames at 3200. Most of the time, I was in Aperture Priority mode, locking the camera in at f/1.8 and letting it figure out the best shutter speed. I overexpose by a half stop in these conditions, just to keep the blacks from plugging up too much. Another trick to help corral those wild tonal extremes is to shoot in Raw, then process in Aperture. (People keep asking me if I still use Aperture. Well, yes! All of my Canon Raw files are processed with it. By the same token, I use Lightroom and ACR for the Olympus E-P1. I'm just trying to use the best tool for the job at hand.)

I did pack a monopod, but as is often the case, I never pulled it out of my Lowepro Fastpack 250. I love monopods, but they sometimes slow me down while street shooting. So I usually opt for bracing myself against a wall or a poll during capture instead of mounting the camera on a stabilizing device. Plus, I think it's important to experiment with a variety of shooting angles, and I can become trapped into shooting everything at the same level with a monopod.

Photos by Derrick Story. Captured with a Canon 5D Mark II and an 85mm f/1.8 lens. Click on picture to zoom to larger size. More images from this collection are available at the Digital Story Flickr page.

For example, the shot of the red scooter was taking shape about 50 yards away. So I had to sprint into position, then get down low on one knee to frame the shot the way I wanted. I probably would have missed it all together with a monopod. And I hate missing shots!

You can see larger versions of these images, plus more frames from this shoot by visiting the Washington DC set on The Digital Story Flickr page. The last seven shots in that set are with the 5D Mark II, and the first five, recorded earlier that day in a different part of town, were with the Olympus E-P1.

And thanks to all the DC folks for their great hospitality during my visit! It's quite a friendly town for such a big city.

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Olympus has announced the E-P2, micro four thirds digital camera. In large part, the basic specs are quite similar to the E-P1, with a few interesting changes:

  • Black metal body more like the original PEN camera
  • Accessory port to accommodate the included detachable VF-2 Electronic View Finder (EVF), or optional external microphone adapter EMA-1
  • New Continuous Autofocus (C-AF) tracking system follows the subject across, or back-and-forward through the frame
  • Two new art filters, Diorama and Cross Process, that can be applied to both still images and HD videos
  • iEnhance to automatically adjust color and contrast for a more dramatic effect
  • Full manual control of shutter speed and aperture setting in movie mode
  • HDMI control of camera's playback functions using the TV Remote when the camera is connected to an HDTV

Electronic Viewfinder VF-2

Of all the new features included with the E-P2, the VF-2 electronic viewfinder was the most interesting to me. Here are a few of my notes from testing it with a pre-production model.

  • Very bright. In fact, when you look at a very low light scene, the VF-2 illuminates it like a night vision scope. This makes it great for composition and focusing, but if you want to judge how the image will be recorded, then switch to the LCD for a quick peek.
  • The VF-2 works in perfect concert with both the 14-42mm and 17mm lenses. On the 14-42, it responds in real time as you rotate the zooming ring and focus. You can see you camera setting icons, and it even responds to changes such as white balance settings, though not as accurate of a rendition as on the LCD.
  • If you switch to Playback mode, you can review your images while looking into the VF-2.
  • It's one or the other when it comes to viewfinders -- either you have the LCD on, or the VF-2. You control this with the button on the back of the VF-2.
  • There's a diopter ring on the VF-2 that allows you to adjust it for your eyesight. It's very sharp.
  • The eyepiece on the VF-2 rotates upward to 90 degrees. I think this is one of the most practical uses of this accessory, allowing you to position the camera at low angles and look down into the eyepiece.
  • The VF-2 slides into the hot shoe, but communicates through the data port on the back side of the hot shoe. Olympus provides a cover for the data port when it is not in use.
  • The VF-2 comes with a protective pouch that can be attached to the camera strap. It is very lightweight.


The black body is quite attractive, in part because it's multi-toned. Olympus designers did a nice job with this design.

Works Great with the 17mm Lens

Not only does the 17mm lens work just as well as always on the E-P2, it looks more dramatic against the black body, and the optical viewfinder looks good as well.

What Hasn't Changed with the E-P2

The LCD is still the 230,000 pixel version that shipped on the E-P1. Image resolution, drive speed, and exposure control remain the same as before, except that you now have manual exposure control in movie mode, which is a big deal.

Bottom Line

All of the new features on the E-P2 are indeed welcomed, but the most interesting to me are the VF-2 electronic viewfinder, audio input module (separate accessory that uses the new data port), and the black body. The new kit should be available in December 2009 for a street price around $1,100, that includes: E-P2 Body with ED 14-42mm f3.5/5.6 Zuiko Digital Zoom Lens, and the Electronic View Finder.

If these new features aren't required for your type of shooting, then the original Olympus E-P1 might be a better choice with its lower price tag (currently around $799 for body and zoom lens).

I'll keep you posted as we learn more.

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