S100 vs S90 Review – Real World Testing

Canon Powershot S90 vs S100

I’ve been a happy user of the S90 for over two years, and when the S100 was released, it was enough of a difference to justify an upgrade.

The S95 was essentially the same sensor housed in the same body with a few new features. But the S100 added a slew of new features such as both wider and longer lens, more megapixels, 1080p HD video, slimmer body, and more. Many S90 and S95 users may be faced with the question of whether to upgrade or not. After using the S100 for about a month, I feel justified in being able to write down some comparative impressions, along with showing some sample images from the camera.

Let me preface this mini-review by saying that the S90 has been an absolute beast over the past two years. I’ve dropped it from waist height on the pavement no less than 10 times – and it continues to work fine. The lens did get stuck once, and I had it repaired for $15 at a local camera shop (prices are cheap here in China) but otherwise it has kept on churning out pictures like a champ.

Body – The S100 has a much nicer finish than the S90. And although it’s taller, it’s slimmer and feels quite a bit smaller. Kudos to Canon for reducing the size of an already small camera. However, the body does not feel as sturdy as the titanium of the S90. The front control ring of the S100 seems to be made of plastic, whereas the S90 was metal. I don’t know if the S100 could withstand the beating that I’ve given my S90, but time will tell!

Ergonomics – Canon made some notable improvements here. Firstly with the front and rear “grip” which gives you just a tad bit more comfort while shooting. The rear control wheel has also been significantly improved, now that it has detents. (The S90 wheel feels awful to rotate in comparison) The other buttons are a bit better as well, as the rise up out of the camera more than on the S90, especially the center set/func button. However, one downgrade was the removable of no less than two external controls (those being the self timer and the shortcut button). Granted, you can reprogram the ‘Ring Func’ button as the shortcut button, but you’re still left with two less external controls that you had on the S90. But with the addition of a direct video recording button. The mode dial is also much easier to rotate than the S90’s, which at times I was unable to rotate  (especially with sweaty hands!)

S90 vs S100 Rear Layout

Lens & IQ – First let me say that it’s been very nice having the wider lens of the S100. I noticed it right away – being able to fit more into the frame, especially buildings and architecture shots. However I must say that I prefer the default 28mm of the S90 at least for taking casual people shots – as it fills the frame a little better. There is no way to set the S100 to open at a set focal length of choice  – it’s always at 24mm. The extra reach doesn’t make a huge difference, as you can see from the examples below.

As far as image sharpness goes, I’ll have to give the edge to the S90. I felt initially that it’s files just weren’t as sharp, and now after comparing them on a 27″ iMac screen, I can say that the S90 is indeed sharper. Maybe that’s the pitfall of the extra megapixels. On the other hand, there seems to be about one stop of noise improvement, which is always welcome and useful in low light social situations.

Other – I’m a bit disappointed in the operating speed of the S100. My S90 seemed much quicker and more responsive to button presses – whereas the S100 seems to lag behind, and throws too many symbols in front of the image as I’m trying to compose. The video record button also has a noticeable lag that I never noticed on my S90. I also find the S100 harder to lock focus, and I’m getting more OOF (out of focus) shots. Perhaps this is just my copy.

Now for some comparison shots…click for full size resolution.

Let’s first check the wide angle and telephoto, shot through the window in my studio on a rainy day. All camera settings were identical.

Wide Angle

In this one you can see that the 24mm of the S100 is able to fit the entire building in the background in the frame, while also capturing a bit more laterally. Of all the new features of the S100, this is probably the one that I enjoy the most (being a frequent wide angle shooter).

S90 @ 28mm

S100 @ 24mm


Although the S100 jumped from 105mm to 120mm, the difference in most situations is marginal – just see below. That being said, the extra 15mm of reach is nice to have and I surely did feel limited by the maximum reach of the S90.

S90 at 105mm

S100 at 120mm


The S100 has a minimum focusing distance of 3cm compared to the 5cm of the S90. In the real world, this makes a difference. Here is as close as I could get to the keyboard while getting that first button in focus. If you’re a macro shooter, the choice is clear, upgrade to the S100!

S90 at closest possible focusing distance

S100 at closest possible focusing distance

ISO Tests

Now for everyone’s favorite. From these 100 crops (after clicking on the image to enlarge) you can see that the S100 has about one stop of noise improvement over the S90. Not to mention, the S100 has ISO 6400 which is not even pictured here.


If you have an S90 or an S95 and you’re pondering an upgrade to the S100, you can’t go wrong. You get a host of new features, including wider angle, more reach, smaller body, better ergonomics (despite the loss of a direct-access button or two), 1080p HD video, and a few more bells and whistles. I think the upgrade makes perfect sense for those who take their photography seriously. Don’t get me wrong – you can continue shooting great images with the S90 or S95 – indeed I was a bit nostalgic to let mine go. But the S100 has that extra edge in almost every department that almost any photography junkie would certainly enjoy.

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