Friday, July 30, 2010

Long Term Review: Canon S90

The Canon PowerShot S90 produced all the pictures you saw in my photo album. Lisa mostly shot the on-the-bike and food pictures using full-auto mode in JPG, while I shot most of the hiking pictures off-the-bike in RAW mode. Over the course of 5 weeks, we shot 2695 photos, which took up 4 8GB SDCards or about 22GB of storage. The photos were post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, Geotagged with data from the Garmin Edge 500 using Jeffry Friedl's Lightroom Geotagging plugin using Garmin Connect to convert .fit files from the Edge 500 to GPX format.
From Tour of the German Speaking Alps 2010

If you've seen the Grindelwald section of the alps photos, I think the results speak for themselves. In the hands of a competent photographer, the camera is capable of producing results that are stunning for a point and shoot. I did not have any of my usual photo gear with me, no filters, tripod, or external flash, but I was very pleased with what it could do. Being able to shoot in RAW mode meant that in cases where an ND grad. filter was necessary, I could process it in Lightroom and get more than acceptable results.

Kekoa had a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 which would take better pictures because of its much larger sensor, but because of the size of the camera, he had to stop and take it out of his handlebar bag every time he wanted to shoot, which meant that Lisa shooting from the back of the tandem would shoot more often and therefore get more shots. For a cycle tour, I think it is far better to carry a camera you can keep in your jersey pocket so you can shoot on the move. You will throw away more photos, but as the late Galen Rowell once said to me the difference between amateurs and professionals is that professionals throw away more film.

There were complaints about the S90. Lisa complained that the camera took a long time to startup and take shots. Shot to shot times were also slow in JPG mode, and in RAW mode they took even longer as the file sizes were 10X larger and took a correspondingly long time to write. I don't expect any better from any camera that fits nicely into a jersey pocket, though you should see below for alternate recommendations.

Others have complained about the camera battery. We experienced no problems. 500 shots per charge was more than acceptable, and we never ran out of charge during a day. I was very careful to charge the camera after big days like both hiking days in Grindelwald, however.

Note that this camera is only useful if you're going to shoot RAW. I think there are far better cameras if you're a casual photographer and want to shoot JPG, for instance, my brother's Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7has built in GPS tagging, 720p video, and costs less. My other brother's Sony DSC-HX5V also has GPS, 1080i video, and a burst mode that will capture a full panorama with one sweep without having to bother with shot-to-shot waits. Those are the cameras I would take if I wasn't willing to pay for Lightroom, or bother with shooting RAWs and post-processing them. That means that the S90 is for better or worse, a photography enthusiast's camera, not really a casual user's camera.

I did knock the rear adjustment dial once or twice while shooting. This was not a problem for Lisa in full auto mode. I usually caught the problem and immediately reshot or dialed it back before shooting, but in the cases where I did not, Lightroom brought back the shot very nicely. This is another reason why if you shoot in JPG on this camera you are just asking for heart-break, and possibly a waste of money.

Having said all that, the rating for this camera is highly recommended. If you're willing to put in the effort, there is no doubt that this is the camera for you.

(See the Original Review)

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