2019 April 11       Film      Camera Reviews

Introduction


In the early 2000's, Canon offered a series of compact 35mm cameras with autofocus and zoom.  These included the Canon Sureshot 80u, 90u, 105u, and 115u.

Is the 90u worth using now for 35mm film photography?  Let's find out.


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In This Article



Some Specs

Autofocus

Batteries

Ergonomics

Film Advance

Filters

Flash

Gallery of Photos

Lens

Price / Value

Repair Issues, Common

Similar Cameras


Conclusion



Some Specs


Aperture Range:  f/4.7-10.5
Bulb mode?:  No
Close-Focusing Distance:  2 feet in regular mode;  1.5 feet in Macro
ISO / ASA Range:  25-3200, DX only
Film Type:  35mm
Flash:  Wide and Tele modes; Auto fill flash; Red eye reduction; can be turned off.
Focusing:  3-point "passive AI AF" autofocus
Lens:  38-90mm zoom (2.3x)
Light Meter
Made In:  China
Metering / Exposure:  Automatic
Self-Timer:  Yes (10 sec.)
Shutter Speeds:  1/480 sec. to 2 seconds
Viewfinder:  Zooming viewfinder, about 84% coverage
Years Manufactured:  2003-?





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Autofocus


This camera uses a passive 3-point AI AF system that selects the best three out of a possible five AF points.  It can detect and focus on a subject that's off center in the frame.

It seems to work well.  So far, I've never seen it make an error in focusing.  But if it did, that would probably happen where there were no areas of vertical contrast on which to focus.

"Action" mode uses Servo AF to focus on moving subjects. 


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Batteries


Single 3-volt "CR2" battery.

Canon says it will last for 16 rolls with 50% flash use.  For outdoor shooting with flash disabled, it'll probably last for a good 40 or 50 rolls.  "Action" (servo AF mode) would probably decrease battery life.

The LCD screen on top of the camera has a battery indicator. 


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Ergonomics


It's compact, it's light, and it handles well.  It lacks the "heft" of the early AF compact cameras such as the Minolta HiMatic AF2.  That can be an advantage, because this camera is almost as compact as some of the point & shoot digitals.

The edges and corners are slightly rounded.  This makes it easy to retrieve from a camera pouch or a photo-vest pocket.


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Film Advance


Automatic.  Film rewind is automatic at end of roll;  you can rewind it sooner by pressing the film rewind button.

I had never noticed before, but on the latest roll of film, the numbering was upside-down. 



That's because the film canister goes on the right side of the camera... "upside down".  So it's not on the left side as you would find on most of the 1980's compact cameras.  One good thing about it:  if you ever forget which rolls of film you shot with this camera, just look for the upside down frame numbering.


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Filters


None.  These point & shoot zooms were not designed for them.


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Flash


It has a built-in flash with three modes: On (flash always fires); Auto; and Off. 

Auto flash mode uses fill-flash whenever needed, such as when there's backlighting.  If you set the camera to Backlit / Night mode, the camera will use the fill-flash plus a slow shutter speed.  So if you photograph someone with a sunset in the background, the photo will have both the sunset and a well-lit photo of the person.  This mode definitely requires a tripod.

Flash "Off" does indeed turn off the flash.  When you turn the camera off and back on again, the flash will be enabled again. 

As you might expect, there is no flash hotshoe on this camera.


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Gallery of Photos


Here's one from the gallery;  this is a slight crop, but you can see the lens sharpness is not stellar by any means.  There are situations where it does a little better, but not that much better.




More photos here.



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Lens


The zoom lens is not as sharp as the 38mm primes that you'll find on the earlier compacts. 

There is noticeable corner softness.  Not quite Holga blurring, but it's not sharp in the corners.

The picture below is a crop.  Left-hand side is from the bottom middle of the original frame.  Right-hand side is from the bottom right-hand corner of the frame.  You can see the corner softness or blurring.  It does this throughout the zoom range, from what I've seen.



In the early 2000's, production for the cheaper cameras was just starting to move from Japan into China.  It is not an easy thing to start up a factory somewhere and start cranking out perfect zoom optics overnight, even with computer design.  In fact, it's kind of a tall order.  A compact 38-90mm zoom that extends automatically each time you turn on the camera... that's really a tall order.  (That's why there weren't compact cameras with auto-extendable 38-90mm zooms in 1970...)

As it is, the optics are usable, even if they're not great.  If you want better, get a fixed-focal-length compact such as the original Canon Sure Shot, also known as the Canon AF35M.


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Light Leaks


There aren't foam light seals for the most part.  Instead it uses plastic rails that overlap.  So light leaks shouldn't be an issue in the back of the camera, although I don't know about the zoom barrel light seal.  Let's hope it's better than the one they used in the Olympus Stylus Epic.


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Light Metering


Really, the question is "Is the metering accurate enough for slide film?"



Mostly, yes.

From my experience with this camera, I would not be sure that it's going to get the metering right in every picture on the roll.  On one of the frames where it messed up, it was asphalt but not really dark asphalt.  (That was an outtake photo of the metal cart shown in the Canon 90u Gallery.  Even the one shown there was a bit overexposed.)  Most other cameras I can think of would have gotten the metering right on that kind of scene.

The metering is auto, coupled to the autofocus.  So it probably weights the in-focus object to the highest priority in terms of metering.  Fancy, hi-tech, but in some ways much inferior to earlier and simpler types of metering. 


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Price / Value


These auto-everything cameras become useless if something goes bad.  There is no manual mode, no manual focus or aperture control.

Right now this is a cheap camera that's not in huge demand.  There are also many other cameras in the 35mm Sure Shot series.  Occasionally they go for as little as $5 on the 'bay.  A very typical price is $20.  Very much worthwhile at that price, or maybe even if it were $40 or something.  But this is not one of those $200 compact cameras.

The lens on the Sureshot 90u is optically not that great, so it's not going to be an expensive camera. 


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Repair Issues, Common


This camera has firmware.  That means sometimes, you can just reset the camera and it will fix certain issues. 

Mechanically, the zoom mechanism would be the most likely to have repair issues.  It's much the same today, with digital "travel zoom" cameras.

I have noticed that the metering is wrong sometimes.  It seems to be more often than any other camera I've tried (unless you count a Trip 35 where it's the whole roll because the selenium meter is just bad.)  It could just be the way this metering system weights different areas of brightness and shadow. 

This is one of those cheap cameras that's still too nice to take apart when it's working.  So I haven't tried to figure out the workings of it, thus far. 


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90u vs. 80u, 105u, etc.


For a camera so recent, you'd think there would be more spec sheets and manuals floating around.

The higher numbers in the series have more zoom.  The 105u goes up to 105mm;  the 130u zoom goes up to 130mm, etc.


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Similar Cameras


There were tons of compact 35mm point & shoot cams made from about 1999 to 2005.  Many of them have zoom lenses of about the same range as the Canon Sureshot.  Even within the Sureshot series, there were a number of variants.  Here's a Sureshot 80u:



Pentax, Minolta, Olympus, and Fujifilm all made compact 35mm zoom cameras that I know of.  They might not have been as compact as the Sureshot 80u/90u/etc, but they're still in that general category.  None of these cameras has been around long enough to be really a "classic"-- and they tend to be mediocre overall cameras-- so the prices are comparatively low.  If you just want to take pictures, though, these types of cameras are plentiful in the $5 to $30 range.


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Conclusion


The Canon 90u is a fun little camera.  The lens is not fantastic, but it's OK.  I wouldn't rely on it exclusively for something important, but it's a great backup camera. 

In fact, it might even be that elusive "glove compartment camera" that I've been looking for all this time.  Get one and try it out.



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