DPInterface Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S90 Review
Brad Soo - August 7th, 2005 (Updated March 28th, 2006)

The Sony Cyber-shot S90 is the most high-tech of the 3 new "S" digital cameras that Sony introduced this year, in early 2005. Though this is a great beginner's camera, Sony has at included some features which will please intermediate and some novice digital camera users such as a high-quality Carl Zeiss lens, unlimited VGA movies at 30 FPS and great battery life. The "S" means stamina, so it's no wonder that the DSC-S90 has such excellent battery life.

Size and Weight

Let's compare the S90's size and weight to other cameras of its class:

96.6 x 64.4 x 40.1 mm (202 g) - Sony Cyber-shot S90
90.7 x 64.0 x 38.4 mm (180 g) - Canon PowerShot A520
109.3 x 52.8 x 36.6 mm (144 g) - HP Photosmart M407
85.0 x 60.0 x 35.0 mm (130 g) - Nikon Coolpix 4600
95.0 x 55.5 x 27.5 mm (115 g) - Olympus Stylus Verve
100.5 x 63.5 x 32.9 mm (178 g) - Panasonic Lumix LZ1

The Sony Cyber-shot S90 is a considerably large camera - The largest of the bunch above.

Open up the Box

In the box, you'll find the S90 plus

  • Two AA NiMH rechargeable batteries
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM
  • User's manual

Storage and Power

The S90 uses two AA batteries which provide a battery life of 210 shots (Alkaline) and 420 shots when using NiMH batteries! Amazing compared to some other cameras of its class. Though rechargeable batteries are included, you may still want to get another set of AA NiMH rechargeable batteries as spare.

You may want to start off with a 256 MB Memory Stick since 32 MB of internal memory isn't much. As with most Sony cameras, the S90 doesn't take advantage of high-speed cards but does when using Memory Stick Pro cards. VGA 30 FPS movies require Pro cards while VGA at 16 FPS does not.

Extras

The S90 is compatible with a ton of accessories, which include:

  • Conversion lens adapter
    Enables you to use the conversion lenses and filters with the Sony S90
  • Wide-angle conversion lens
    Reduces focal length to 0.7x (About 27 - 81 mm)
  • Telephoto conversion lens
    Increases focal length by 1.7x (About 65 - 194 mm)
  • Super telephoto conversion lens
    Increases focal length by 2.6x (About 99 - 297 mm)
  • Filters
    Various filter kits
  • External slave flash
    Boost the flash illumination range
  • Sports jacket

Camera Tour

The Sony Cyber-shot S90 only comes in silver.

The Sony Cyber-shot S90 has a nice Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens with a focal length of 39 - 117 mm and aperture value of F2.8 - F5.2. The S90 has a shutter speed of 30 seconds to 1/2000th of a second.

The AF-assist beam, also the self-timer light, is located to the underneath the flash. It's bright and orange, and it helps the S90 focus in low-light. The built-in flash on the S90 has a maximum range of 3.8 m - Quite good. The optical viewfinder is slightly off-center above the lens.

On the back, the Sony Cyber-shot S90 features a large 2.5 inch LCD. It looks bright & clear, though in reality it's only 115,000 pixels. Like the S40, the S90's LCD is okay outdoors and is good in low-light. There is an optical viewfinder on the Sony Cyber-shot S90 above the LCD.

The zoom controller zooms in and out when framing photos plus shows thumbnails or zooms into taken photos. The display button turns the LCD on/off and toggles the amount of info on the LCD while the MENU button, well, brings up the menu.

There's the 5 way controller which allows you to select and customize camera settings in the LCD menu. When the menu is closed and you're in any one of the shooting modes, the 4 of the 5 buttons act as shortcut buttons:

  • Up - Flash setting
  • Down - Self-timer
  • Left - Quick review
  • Right - Macro

The mode dial on top is wrapped around the shutter button and does the following:

  • Playback
  • Shooting
  • Programmed auto
  • Manual
  • Scene modes
    Twilight, twilight portrait, candle, snow, beach, landscape, soft snap
  • Movie

Also at the top is a power button.

Shooting

The ISO speeds selectable on the Sony S90 are ISO 80, ISO 100, ISO 200 and ISO 400. The S90 has the average digital zoom and, unlike other cameras (And like most other Sony cameras), the Sony Cyber-shot S90 has Smart Zoom which avoids image quality loss with the catch being it only can benefit from small-sized photos. You get the full potential of Smart Zoom when taking VGA sized stills. The S90 has 10x Smart Zoom. The Sony Cyber-shot S90 has a simple battery indicator and a whole lot of preset functions (Aperture and shutter priority and manual focus). Preset functions mean that you don't have full control, just a few options, over those features.

Recording

The S90 is capable of taking VGA movies up to 30 FPS (Only 16 FPS with a normal Memory Stick) which is limited only by the Memory Stick capacity. The zoom lens cannot be used while recording a movie. Movies are recorded in the space-saving MPEG format.

The video and audio quality were both acceptable.

Performance

The Sony Cyber-shot S90 starts up and is ready to go in 2 seconds. It takes 2 seconds to focus in normal conditions and almost the same in low-light. In burst mode, the S90 took 4 photos (Full resolution) at about, according to my tests, 0.9 FPS. The lens goes from wide-angle to telephoto also in 2 seconds.

Image Quality

Noise levels are low and there is a little bit of chromatic aberration (Color fringing) which is rather yellowish. Photos are rather soft and slightly over-processed. Noise levels are reasonable at ISO 200 and ISO 400 - This is a good thing. The S90 produces some red-eye. Just some reflection. Movies are overall sharp and smooth.

Playback

In playback, the Sony Cyber-shot S90 can playback stills and movies (With sound) as well as perform these functions: Protect image, print marking, direct printing (The S90 is PictBridge enabled), slideshow, resize, trim, rotate and edit movies. You can also zoom up to 5x into still photos taken and take a look around using the 4 arrow buttons. Choose to see no info, basic info or lots of info about your photos. When it comes to histograms, the S90 shows a histogram in both shooting and playback. Excellent compared to some ultra-compact digital cameras which only show a histogram after the photo is taken.

Conclusion

The Sony Cyber-shot S90 is a great camera, comparable to others in its class. Battery life is excellent, especially given the large LCD on and using only 2 AAs. The S90 feels tough, even on the memory card and battery doors. The grip is good though its surface is not rubber based. Though they are limited and preset, the S90 still has some useful manual controls. Much of the S90's features were nice except the limited controls and slow, limited continuous shooting. Noise levels were very low - A good thing, in fact.

What's hot:

  • Pocketable
  • Value for money
  • Excellent movie mode
  • Excellent battery life
  • Low noise levels
  • No red-eye
  • Flash with average range
  • USB 2.0

What's not:

  • Limited manual controls
  • Photos a little soft
  • Slow, limited continuous shooting
  • Startup time a little slow

Recommended Accessories

  • 2 AA NiMH batteries
  • 256 MB Memory Stick Pro card
  • Camera case

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