PowerShotS90FSL

I've been using Nikon Digital SLRs for years, but for a while I've been meaning to invest in a pocketable camera that I can take with me when a full kit of SLR and accessories is just too much too much to carry. And this is what I've decided on: the Canon PowerShot S90.

Launched in 2009 it sits almost at the top of Canon's compact camera range, with just the mighty G11 above it. The G11 is more expensive and ultimately more capable, but it isn't the better camera for me.

S90 v G11

Canon says its top-of-the-line G11 is a compact camera 'to capture professional images'. The G11's predecessor, the G10, became a favourite with pros for occasions when something more wieldy than a big EOS digital SLR was called for.

Like them, I was looking for something lighter and easier to carry than a DSLR, but capable of producing an image of publishable quality. The G11 fits that bill, but it's still wasn't as portable as I wanted: I was looking for something that would fit in a shirt pocket, and the G11 wasn't it.

G11vS90-524

Which led me to the Canon PowerShot S90, which is significantly smaller than the G11 – as the comparison image above illustrates. Canon quotes the G11's overall size as 112.1 x 76.2 x 48.3mm, compared to the S90's 100 x 58.4 x 30.9mm. There's a massive weight difference, too: at 355g the G11 weighs more than twice as much as the 175g S90.

The S90 uses the same CCD sensor as the G11 and it has the same DIGIC 4 image processing software, so you would expect the images produced by both cameras to be fundamentally similar. But the S90 also has a significant advantage over its big brother: an f/2.0 lens, which at maximum aperture lets in twice as much light as the G11's f/2.8. That should give the S90 the edge in low light (at short focal lengths, at least) and also adds the creative possibilities of shallow depth of field.

The S90 also shares the G11's ability to shoot RAW image files (not that I'm likely to use that) and the control afforded by a choise of auto or manual focusing and its range of exposure modes (from full auto via aperture priority and shutter priority to full manual).

Of course, the G11 has features the S90 simply doesn't offer:

  • 5x zoom lens with 140mm-equivalent telephoto end (compared to the S90's 105mm)
  • hot shoe for use with Canon Speedlite flashguns
  • optical viewfinder
  • 'Vari-angle' LCD which can be swung out when shooting at odd angles

PowerShotS90BCK

For me, the choice was simple enough. The S90's small size and light weight – not to mention its significantly lower price – wion out over the G11's longer telephoto lens and articulated LCD.

Avoiding the grey market – not as easy as it looks

'Grey market' or 'parallel import' cameras are cheaper, but sometimes there are irritating differences in specification – such as different plugs on chargers – and it can be more complicated arranging warranty repairs. I wanted to be sure I would get decent after-sales service.

PowerShotS90TOP

The S90 is listed by Canon UK at £479. Grey market S90s are currently available for around £260. Clearly the best price on a genuine, UK S90 is going to be somewhere in between.

There are plenty in the £280-£300 area which are carefully described by their retailers to make you think they are UK stock, when in fact they are nothing of the sort. Watch out for phrases like 'UK seller' or 'in the UK', which actually mean very little. If the retailer is selling proper UK stock, they'll be keen to say so.

Park Cameras sells nothing but genuine UK-market cameras, and were selling S90s for £319. I would have ordered from them if I hadn't spotted that the Canon S90 was available from Amazon for £308 – a price nobody else could match. In my experience Amazon's customer support has always been excellent, and that was the icing on the cake.

The S90 is due to be delivered any moment: we'll soon see if lives up to the hype.