Digital life: Powerful pictures in a pocket-sized package
Published 19/01/2010 | 05:00
Canon PowerShot S90, €500
In cameras, as in life, size matters. But the important size is not the one you might think. Don't fall for the hype that more megapixels equals better pictures.
The quality of your pictures has much more to do with the size of your camera's internal image sensor. While the typical compact camera makes do with an image sensor smaller than the nail of your pinkie, professional cameras use something as big as a postage stamp.
The upshot is startlingly better photos, albeit from an expensive, bulky camera. That's where Canon's new 10-megapixel PowerShot S90 comes in -- great pictures from a pocketable snapper. Its image sensor is nearly 50pc bigger than that of the typical compact camera without the body being noticeably bigger.
Incorporating a superb lens (another key factor in image quality), the S90 puts every other compact to shame purely for the calibre of its pictures.
In dim light, it's in a class of its own, with sensitivity rating up to an astonishing ISO 12800 (compared to 1200 on a typical compact, if you're lucky). Only Sony's excellent Cybershot WX1 comes even close to the S90's performance when darkness falls, or indoors.
Yet not everything is rosy in the garden for the Canon. We like the surprisingly minimalist body but ergonomically it's awkward to grip firmly, with the shutter button oddly placed.
The 'control ring' around the 3.8x zoom lens can be handily set to change your choice of function such as shutter speed, exposure compensation or focus. But despite its clicky motion, it's too sensitive to select some options accurately.
Other more disappointing shortcomings include unexceptional battery life, slight shutter lag and the lack of high-quality video recording.
It's still possible to love the S90. Any keen photographer will appreciate its image prowess in automatic mode and relish its full range of manual controls.
The cheaper Sony WX1 may be preferable for some people, requiring less fuss but at the expense of image quality.
As always, shopping around will cut the price tag, with the S90 going for about €400 online.