Sony DSC-S90 Review

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S90

Steve's Conclusion

The Cyber-Shot DSC-S90 is Sony's 2005 upgrade to the S60 we reviewed in 2004. Like its predecessor, the S90 is an affordable point-n-shoot model that offers many features that are usually only found on more expensive digicams. It boasts a 4-megapixel imager coupled with a high-quality Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 3x optical zoom lens. Beginner to intermediate users will have the ease of a fully "Auto"matic exposure mode plus 7 pre-programmed scene modes when they want to be more creative. Program AE mode allows more advanced users to change settings for exposure compensation, focus mode, ISO, white balance, sharpness, saturation, etc. Manual mode gives you total control of the aperture and shutter speed values, but Aperture and Shutter-priority modes are not provided.

The S90's body and controls are identical to the S60's. The controls are well-placed, leaving plenty of room for your right thumb and preventing accidental activation. The menu system is logically organized and will be quite familiar to current and past Sony users. The camera's back is dominated by the large 2.5-inch LCD, essentially the only component upgraded from the S60. The LCD is quite bright, usable in bright outdoor conditions except when angled so that the sun reflects off it. In dim lighting the live image is intensified a bit, but in many cases you'll prefer to use the optical viewfinder.

The Carl Zeiss 3x optical zoom lens produced sharp images corner-to-corner throughout its 39 to 117mm (equivalent) range. We noticed a moderate amount of chromatic abbreviation (purple fringing) present in high contrast areas at wide angle, and a lesser amount at the telephoto end of the zoom range. There was a moderate amount of barrel distortion at full wide angle, and a lesser amount at the telephoto end of the zoom range. For those who need a broader focal range, Sony offers three conversion lenses for the S90, The VCL-DH0730 0.7x Wide angle, VCL-DH1730 1.7x Telephoto, and VCL-DH2630 2.6X Super Telephoto, none of which were provided for this test.

Shooting performance was quite good for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured just 2.4 seconds. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter release and capturing an image, averaged 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 3/10 of a second including autofocus; both times include an approximate 1/10 second delay in the presentation of the live image on the LCD. The shot to shot delay measured a fast 1 second without the flash and between 2 and 10 seconds using the flash, depending on subject distance. The S90 offers two sequential shooting modes (Burst, Multi Burst.) In Burst mode, I was able to capture 4 frames at 6/10 second intervals, with buffer clearing to the Memory Stick PRO taking 2 seconds; the LCD briefly displays the last captured image between shots. Using Multi Burst with the interval set at 1/30, I captured 16 frames in 3/10 of a second; these frames are then saved as a single 1-megapixel animated image. Our tests were done using a SanDisk Extreme III 1GB Memory Stick PRO, Large/Fine quality, Program mode, flash off, preview off, and all other settings at default (unless noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

I was pleased with the image quality of the S90's 4M Fine mode. Outdoors images were well-exposed and sharp with true to life colors. Our indoor shots were well illuminated by the flash, which seemed more powerful than the 12.5-foot range claimed by Sony. Portraits had realistic skin tones, and the red eye reduction flash mode proved effective. Autofocus worked quite well in dim lighting, helped by the focus assist lamp. Flash power was well controlled at close range, making the S90 a good candidate for capturing images of small objects for online auction listings.

The S90 also features a high-quality MPEG VX 640x480 sized movie mode. You can choose either standard (15fps) or fine (30fps) quality as well as a 320x240 mode that's great for posting on the web or sending movies via email. Our movie samples were nice and sharp with very little compression noise. The autofocus system does an excellent job of keeping up with fast moving objects, and wind noise was not an issue due to the good positioning of the built-in microphone. When using the 640x480 Fine mode, it consumes about 1.3 MB per second; a Memory Stick Pro is required for its faster write times.

The S90 is powered by two AA batteries, and Sony includes a pair of NiMH batteries plus a charger in the package. After capturing about 150 images using a pair of 2500 mAh NiMH batteries, the S90 indicated about 1/2 of their capacity remained. With the average file size of its 4M Fine images being around 1.7MB, we recommend the purchase of a 256 - 512MB Memory Stick; the S90's 32MB of internal memory only allows you to capture about 16 large/fine images.

The Sony Cyber-shot S90 is a good all-around performer. Its very good image quality, useful features, 2.5-inch LCD, and good shooting performance belie its low $249 MSRP. And with 4-megapixels of resolution, you can create high-quality 8x10-inch or larger prints. The S90 is a cut above the average entry-level digicam, and would be an excellent choice as a family's first step into digital.

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