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Canon Digital IXUS 90 IS SD790 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 04/05/2008
Rating: Recommended
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Introduction: Announced on the 13th of March 2008, the Canon Digital IXUS 90 IS / SD790 is one of Canon's new ultra compact, ultra stylish digital cameras with image stabilisation, and features a 3x optical zoom lens, a 3" screen, VGA video recording, a 10 megapixel sensor and face detection focus. The Canon IXUS 90 IS is available from around £205 which makes it average value for money. The camera is enclosed in a metal silver body. The camera measures approx. 91.6 x 56.8 x 20.9mm (excluding protrusions), and weighs approx. 155g. excluding battery and memory card.

Canon have this to say about the camera:

"A new benchmark in crafted camera design, the Digital IXUS 90 IS has a smooth, solid feel. Its chiselled look is complemented by a bright 3.0” PureColor LCD II screen and unique flat control panel. As if carved from a single chunk of metal, the Digital IXUS 90 IS feels solid in the hand. The smooth flat key control panel enhances the camera’s unified feel. A Multi Control Dial makes it quick and simple to change settings, review images and scroll through menus."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Canon Powershot SX100 IS)

Front / side view - camera off, AV / USB out. Upright view here.

Front view - camera on, focus assist lamp, flash.

Back - 3" screen, mode switch, print, play, 4-way controller / scroll wheel, function / set button, display, menu.

Top - microphone, on/off, zoom control, shutter release.

Left side - speaker.

Bottom - battery and SD memory card compartment, metal tripod mount.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.

Size comparison.

Size comparison.

Size compared to Ricoh R8.

Specifications / Features:

  • Chiselled design with Multi control Dial
  • 10.0 Megapixels
  • 3x zoom with optical IS (equiv. 35 – 105mm)
  • 3.0” PureColor II LCD, 230,000 dots
  • Motion Detection Technology
  • Face Detection Technology
  • Red-Eye Correction
  • DIGIC III processor and iSAPS
  • 19 Shooting Modes
  • Movie options - Smooth VGA movies (30fps)
  • 3cm Macro mode
  • ISO AUTO, High ISO Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Wrist Strap
  • Battery charger
  • Lithium Ion Rechargeable Battery NB-5L (1120mAh, 3.7v)
  • AV Cable
  • USB Cable
  • 32mb SD Memory card
  • Software CD ROM
  • Basic Printed Manual

Average box contents - a larger memory card would be nice, as would a case. A case, and a large memory card is recommended.

Battery usage: Battery life is rated at 330 shots according to CIPA standards. I was able to take around 235 shots and there were still 2 out of 3 bars showing as the battery life.

Camera Operation and Options: The main camera mode is selected using the mode switch on the back. This allows the choice of: Video, Scene, and Photo mode. There's also a play button to get you into play mode. In photo / scene mode you can use the scroll dial to choose between: Auto, M (Manual), Digital macro, Colour accent, colour swap, and Panoramic Stitch Assist, with the Scene options being: Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, under water, ISO3200, Kids and Pets, Night snapshot, Sunset, and Portrait.

Photo mode/menus:

Photo mode, function menu (rollover) Photo / Record Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown above) The screen resolution with 230,000 pixels is good, but the screen is clear and colours are good, and can be seen clearly in bright sunlight. In the display is - shutter speed, aperture setting, ISO, focus area, shots remaining, surrounded by camera settings. You can quickly change ISO, Focus, Flash, and Shooting mode using the buttons on the back.

Optical Viewfinder: There is no optical viewfinder.

Function Menu: Pressing the Function button brings up an overlay of some of the most commonly used options, such as: Exposure compensation, White balance, My Colours (Vivid, Neutral, Custom (Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, Skin tone), etc), Exposure mode, Image Quality, Image Size.

Photo / Record Menu options: AF Frame (AiAF, Center, Face Detect), AF Frame Size (Normal, Small), AF-Point Zoom, Digital Zoom (Off, Standard, 1.4x, 2.3x), Flash settings (slow sync, red eye correction, red eye lamp), Self-timer (delay, shots), AF-assist beam, Review, Review info (Off, detailed, focus check), Auto category, Display overview (Off, Grid lines, 3:2 Guide, Both), IS mode (Off, Continuous, Shoot only, Panning), Set print button (can be set to: None, face-select, exposure compensation, WB, Custom WB, red-eye correction, Digital Tele-converter, Display overview, record movie, Display off, play sound effect).

Face Detection Focus Features: I felt the need to detail this, because there seem to be a huge number of new Face Detection focus features on this camera, some of them may actually be useful! (this section from the SX100)

Before taking the photo - it can show you how many people were detected in the photo. After taking the photo - you can check that all people were in focus - rollover for the zoomed view.

Because I don't have this many friends, I've used a photo of people from the internet. 16 faces detected out of 17 isn't bad - on another try I was able to get the camera to detect all 17 faces! Wow, that's progress for you, how did we ever manage to take photos without face detection focus? ;) Personally, I see little real benefit in Face Detection focus, however being able to check the focus of people after you've taken the photo is a clever idea, and the playback face checker view mode could be a useful feature for quickly checking that all your subjects are in focus, especially if you're lucky enough to have so many friends, or if you regularly take group photos!


Playback - rollover for detail Playback - scrollwheel

Playback (Review) mode options: Scrolling through the photos is very quick. The zoom is quick. There are numerous views available, zooming out will get you a 9 thumb view. Pressing the display button you get a normal view, with basic information, one screen of more detailed information (EXIF information, including highlight view), and a face detection zoom view. When zooming in you can set an area to zoom into, and then scroll through the photos with that area magnified by using the scroll wheel.

Playback menu Setup menu

Playback menu: Slide show, My category, Erase, Protect, red-eye correction, trimming, resize, my colours, sound memo, sound recorder, rotate, erase all, transfer order, set play button, resume, transition.

Print menu: Print, Select images and quantity, select range, date, category, folder, all images, clear all selections, print settings.

Setup Menu: Mute, Volume, LCD brightness, Power saving, Time zone, Date / Time, Clock display, Format, File numbering, Create folder, Auto rotate, Lens retract, Language, Video system, Print method, Reset all.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of pictures will fit onto the 32mb of provided memory,

Number of Photos Stored / Quality
L 10mp (3648 x 2736)
Wide 16:9 (3648 x 2048)
M1 6mp (2816 x 2112)
M2 4mp (2272 x 1704)
M3 2mp (1600 x 1200)
52 (Date stamp)
S VGA (640 x 480)

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size or use higher compression options to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes and compression options.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 1gb memory card, if you intend to take JPEG images, and preferably a 2gb memory card, or larger. The larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. You can use SD or SDHC memory cards - I tend to use Sandisk Ultra II Plus USB SD memory cards as these let you plug the memory card straight into a USB socket making it easy to transfer images onto any computer, they are available as 1GB SD cards, or 2GB SD cards. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Canon Digital IXUS 90 IS:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 1gb (1000mb): £2, 2gb (2000mb): £2, 4gb (4000mb SDHC): £18 (with USB reader)
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is very quick to switch on and take photos, from off, to taking a photo in 1.3 seconds (with flash off). Focusing seemed very quick, except in very low light when the flash-assist is used - this takes a little longer to focus depending on the subject. The playback mode is also very quick. The camera shutter response seemed instant when pre-focused responding in 0.1 seconds or less - and shot to shot time was fairly quick, with a delay of around 1.8 seconds between shots without flash (with review off). The flash recharge time was quite quick allowing a shot to be taken every 3.4 seconds, flash is also available in the continuous shooting mode, with a good shot to shot time of around 1.2 seconds. The cameras menus seemed quick. Continuous shooting is average, at roughly 1.3fps for multiple shots at the highest resolution.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, especially in the AUTO mode and has a number of scene modes that helps get good shots. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward. The menus are responsive and are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly, although built in help would have been nice. The modes are fairly easy to access, mainly thanks to the large screen, and a lot of the options can be accessed using the buttons on the back. It's easy to see when photos are in focus, and the image stabilisation means that more of your shots will be sharp.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The layout of the buttons and controls are good, with the most commonly used options reachable with your right hand. The zoom control and shutter release is good. The scrolling wheel has multiple functions and in play mode is used to compare magnified sections of one image with the previous or next, making it simple to decide which shot is the one with least camera shake (much like the scroll wheel that's been common on DSLR for several years). I thought the camera felt very good ergonomically, it feels solid and very well built, but there is little in the way of a hand grip. The camera fits very easily into pockets, however some of the controls (mainly the scroll wheel and function button) seem a little bit small.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Canon Digital IXUS 90 IS / SD790 Sample Photo Gallery!


Heather and Flower (ISO200) Flash photo (ISO200)

Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo. It has a very good flash, and copes well with group photos, however there was some red-eye in some group photos, but for the most part red-eye was quite low. On AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept quite low in these photos (ISO200), however noise was noticable, and better results may be possible by using a lower ISO setting, especially if the subject is close to the camera. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light. There is an focus assist lamp to help focus. Colour is quite richly saturated, and can be increased using the "Vivid" setting - this produces high saturation, and good contrast levels, on the normal setting images were less colourful and seemed to lack contrast. This can all be customised to your tastes.

ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (ranging from ISO 80 - ISO1600), and manual ISO settings (ISO: 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600), with ISO3200 available in the "ISO3200" scene mode.

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops, viewable at 100%, from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 10 megapixel Ricoh R8, and 10 megapixel Olympus Mju Stylus 1030SW.

Ricoh R8 (10mp) Canon IXUS 90 (10mp) Olympus Mju 1030SW (10mp)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Ricoh R8 on the left, Canon Digital IXUS 90 IS in the middle, Olympus Mju Stylus 1030SW on the right. Any tonal difference is due to white balance or lighting / metering differences.

Ricoh R8 (10mp) Canon IXUS 90 (10mp) Olympus Mju 1030SW (10mp)
ISO64 - Actual Pixels ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO80 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels
ISO3200 - NA ISO3200 - Actual Pixels (2mp) ISO2500 - Actual Pixels (3mp)

Noise results: The Canon and Olympus cameras have relatively low noise upto ISO200 / 400 with the Olympus having slightly less noise, but also slightly less detail, and smoother images overall. The Canon and Olympus offer almost usable ISO800 results, and all cameras struggle at ISO1600, with the Olympus offering the best ISO1600 results. The Ricoh shows the most noise at all ISO settings, with especially poor results at ISO1600, this is quite dissappointing as even ISO100 shots outdoor seem to suffer from noticable noise - and whilst it's not possible to alter the noise settings - it could be possible to get better results by setting the camera's sharpening setting to soft. Both the Canon and Olympus offer addidional ISO range, albeit at lower resolution, with the Canon's results being quite acceptable for small 2mp pictures, and the Olympus' results being overly soft, but still potentially useful. Noise results from the Canon and Olympus are quite good considering the camera's both have 10 megapixel sensors, and overall aren't particularly worrying, however it's a shame the same can't be said for the Ricoh's results.

Image Stabilisation: The Canon and Ricoh both offer built in optical (Canon) / CCD-shift (Ricoh) image stabilisation so for blur free photos you can still use the lower ISO settings to try and avoid image blur. The Olympus lacks built in image stabilisation, so to avoid image blur you will need to increase the ISO Setting, or use the digital image stabilisation mode, which automatically increases the ISO setting for you.


Liverpool shops (ISO80) Bold St, Liverpool (ISO80)

Outside: The camera has quite rich, saturated colours. There was very good detail, and the camera took a number of very pleasing images outside, with good contrast, and very little chromatic aberations or purple fringing. In general 'normal' quality jpeg artefacts are not easily seen, however areas with strong contrasts benefit from use of the highest quality setting.

Zoom: This lens provides a 3x optical zoom starting at 35mm equivalent which is great for 'normal' everyday photography, zooming to 105mm. I've included examples below to show what the zoom is capable of. An example of digital zoom can be seen as well. Digital Zoom basically takes a crop of the centre of the frame and enlarges the image, degrading image quality, and is therefore best avoided.

Wide-angle 3x Optical Zoom Full optical and digital zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas as well as the lighter areas - exposure in other photos was generally very good. Vignetting was not noticed in these photos. It can be useful to under expose images with bright backgrounds (eg; sky) with use of exposure compensation, as some of the clouds in these photos are slightly over-exposed.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens makes some noise, and gives you roughly 6 steps between wide and telephoto - this gives average control over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing / Chromatic aberration was rarely seen.

Macro Lens Performance:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO125)

The camera can take macro photos where the subject is only 3cm away from the lens. Colour and detail is very good, and there appears to be low noise at ISO100 and below. Setting the white balance manually helps achieve better results. The camera can also take macro photos when zoomed in slightly.

Video mode: The camera features a good video mode - it records VGA videos at 30fps with sound as AVI files, and using the optical image stabilisation videos appear very smooth and shake free. The camera also features a time lapse video mode. However, compared to other digital cameras the Canon can't fit very long videos on the memory card, as it doesn't use very high compression, such as MPEG4, and will only fit 16 minutes on a 2gb card, or 30 minutes in 640, 30fps LP mode. The video mode doesn't let you use the optical zoom whilst recording.


Image Quality: Image quality is very good - with excellent colour, with high levels of saturation, contrast and detail. Noise is controlled quite well considering the camera features a 10 megapixel sensor. There was also some red eye in group photos, but overall red-eye was generally quite low. The camera did a good job focusing even in low light thanks to the focus assist lamp, and had a high success rate due to the built in optical image stabilisation. There was no noticable vignetting (darkened corners), nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, aspect ratio, and a good choice of compression options. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good. The camera gives good control over image quality - selecting different picture modes allows you to change the colour mode (Vivid, Neutral etc), saturation, contrast and sharpness. (8.5/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is available in silver and is has a compact and very stylish body. The camera has a very good 3" screen that is visible even in bright sunlight. The camera feels well built, and is comfortable to hold. The camera is easy to use, and has quick access to the most commonly used options. The layout of buttons and controls is good, although there is no hand grip.The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, quick playback mode, quick menus, quick continuous shooting, and quick flash recharge time. The camera has a wide range of features that should suit every person, such as face detection focus, numerous scene modes, good video mode, excellent macro mode, optical image stablisation, etc. It's a shame this camera doesn't feature a wide-angle lens. (8.5/10)

Value for Money: The Canon Digital IXUS 90 IS from around £205, is quite expensive, especially when compared to the Canon Digital IXUS 80 IS - it's available from £142, and has similar features, but has a smaller screen, 8mp sensor, and optical viewfinder. There are also compact 10 or 12 megapixel digital cameras available from all of the competitors for considerably less, although they don't necessarily offer a 3" screen, such as the 12mp: Sony Cybershot W200 (£170), Fujifilm FinePix F50fd (£140), Casio Exilim EX-Z1200 (£165), Olympus Mju 1200 (£130), and 10mp: Casio Exilim EX-Z1080 (£125), and Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 (£190). (7/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Canon Digital IXUS 90 IS / SD790 is an ultra stylish compact camera that provides an impressive 3" screen, 10 megapixel sensor, 3x optical zoom lens and image stabilisation. Noise is controlled quite well considering the camera has 10 megapixels, and image quality is generally very good. The camera's screen works well even in bright sunlight and battery life is quite good. Overall this is a fairly appealling camera however it's price could put a number of people off buying it, especially when other cameras from Canon and other manufacturers often offer better value for money. Another area where this camera could be seen as lacking, is in the lens department, especially as most new cameras now offer a more wide angle lens. However, if you want a genuinely good camera with a large 3" screen that works in the sun, then this is recommended!

Canon Digital IXUS 90 IS / SD790 Rating: Recommended (8/10)
Available for £205 - or Get the best price below!

What I like:

  • Very good image quality
  • Optical image stabilisation helps in low light
  • Excellent 3.0" screen - works in sunlight
  • Compact, stylish, solid metal body
  • Orientation sensor
  • Good battery life
  • Focus assist light
  • Excellent macro mode
  • Quick performance

What I don't like:

  • Expensive compared to competition
  • Lacks wide angle lens
  • Slightly small scroll wheel and function buttons

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Canon Digital IXUS 90 IS SD790 IS Sample Photo Gallery.

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