Here it is, the Canon S90, arguably one of the best digital compact ever released. Forget what Nokia told you about how phones (like their flagship imaging phone N8) has surpassed digital compacts. The S90 not only spanks the N8 but does so in such a manner than one should laugh at anyone who ever treated the N8 as more than it is - yet another camera phone.
Where to begin. Well the S90 is easier to use. The N8 is a touchscreen smartphone with an awful camera application, that does not even bother to remember the settings you last used. There are no manual controls on the N8, where as the S90 has full manual controls and features that makes even some entry level DSLR blush with envy. More importantly, the S90 has buttons, and buttons always beat touchscreen. Always.
The S90 has two rings of control.The control ring allows you to easily control whichever function you want. Simply spin it and that's it. I've set the S90 onto Aperture Priority mode, and use the ring to select the aperture, and the back ring to exposure. The Canon is such a genius this almost always works. It is easier to use than my Nikon D90!
I hate writing about specs, but the S90 has the specs where it matters most. It has a very fast lens - in fact faster than Canon's flagship G12 prosumer digital compact. The lens on the S90 allows twice as much light as the G12, Nokia N8 and even my £500 Nikkor 20-35mm f/2.8 lens.
The Canon has the same sensor as the S95, G11 and G12 - a 10MP 1/1.7" CCD sensor, far bigger than those found on most none-EVIL compacts. The N8 on the other hand contains a smaller1/1.83" and packs more megapixels. Because of the S90's superior lens and sensor, the S90 can capture more detail on its 10MP sensor than the N8 could, and to do so with very little noise.
So what's missing. Well the S90 does not do HD videos, which will be a bummer to YouTubers - but a blessing to me. I like it that my D90 is shit at doing HD videos, and the same applies with the S90. I am glad that it doesn't, because digital cameras should shoot images and video cameras should shoot videos. Convergences means having to apply trade-offs. What next? MP3 playback in cameras?
The S90 isn't equipped with a hot shoe. This irked me at first, but then I thought why bother with a hot shoe on such a small compact. Besides the S90 is so brilliant at low light photography that I don't even bother with its xenon flash most of the time.
So what is this 'review' really about? Well, it is about busting the myth that smartphones are close to even succeeding good compact cameras. Yes, a N8 is convenient in that it allows me to only carry one device. But if you value memories, then you wouldn't mind carrying an extra photographic device. Sure the S90 isn't cheap, but you can easily augment the purchase by getting a cheaper phone.
All in all, if you are in the market for a pocket camera you can do a lot worse than the S90. While the S90 has since been surpassed by the S95 - it is still pretty much 99% the same camera, one that has retained plenty of value and sought after by photographers.
The Canon S90 vs Nokia N8 macro sample below is a real eye opener. The differences between the two cameras are astounding: