Canon 90D Conclusion
Canon 90D Conclusion
Over the years, Canon has had quite a few options for the intermediate-level photographer, ranging from the higher-end Rebel series with something like the Rebel T8i up to the well-equipped EOS 7D Mark II. The Rebel series, even the more advanced models, swing towards the entry-level segment, while the 7D II hits squarely into the more experienced camp of photographers. In fact, the 7D II is squarely in "enthusiast" territory, though it's arguably still a solid choice for the loosely-defined category of "intermediate" photographers.
EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ISO Nano USM: 119mm, f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 250
Sitting right in the middle of this arena, however, has been Canon's long-running "XXD" series of EOS models, such as the 60D, 70D, 80D and now the 90D. The new Canon 90D, like its series of forerunners, hits right in a sweet spot for price, features and build quality. Offering more features, more controls and sturdier construction, the 90D is a more enticing option for more experienced users. Yet, the camera isn't too high-end nor as expensive as, say, the 7D II that it's overwhelming for a somewhat more beginner-level photographer. The 90D is a versatile camera, offering a lot for a wide range of creators, whether you're taking your creativity to the next level or you simply need a reliable, lighter-weight backup camera to a higher-end rig.
The Canon 90D finally refreshes the line, replacing the now somewhat dated 80D from 2016, and with it comes an all-new imaging pipeline, new performance features and better video recording options. In most ways, it certainly beats out its predecessor, but interestingly, it also overtakes or matches the similarly-aging 7D Mark II, which debuted back in 2014 and is still technically Canon's flagship APS-C DSLR.
Read on to see just how the Canon 90D stacked up in our review...
Design & Usability
In general, the Canon 90D looks a lot like its predecessor from its outward appearance, but as a mid-sized DSLR, it's hard for it not to have that familiar shape. Indeed, for the most part, the 90D is strikingly similar to the 80D, with the same basic control layout, hearty handgrip (that's now deeper and even more comfortable), a top-deck info display, dual control wheels/dials, and an articulating rear touchscreen display.
There have been a few minor tweaks, such as revisions to the mode dial and a few rearranged buttons. But the most notable update button-wise is the reintroduction to the handy joystick control, a staff favorite here at IR. Canon did away with the joystick when the 60D came around and it remained absent on subsequent new models until now. It's a really useful control for both menu navigation but most importantly, also for quickly moving the AF point around the frame. And, we're happy to not only have the joystick back, but also for the fact that Canon didn't need to remove other helpful controls to make room for it. The 90D maintains the same rear command dial and multi-directional button control from the 80D as well as all the other primary buttons. That said, you can't customize the functionality of the joystick and multi-controller buttons separately; the two controls are essentially duplicates of each other, which is a bit disappointing.
Elsewhere around the camera, the physical features and, by extension, the overall user experience is very similar to that of the 80D. The controls are plentiful and are easy to operate, and the camera offers plenty of user customization. The viewfinder and the LCD screen are the same as those on the 80D, however. But we're fine with that, as both are great. The viewfinder is excellent for an APS-C DSLR; it's large, crisp and provides nearly 100% frame coverage. Likewise, the rear LCD is perfectly fine. The 3-inch touch-panel is big (most cameras have at least 3.0-inch displays), has a decent screen resolution (not exceedingly high-res, but usable) and offers a very responsive touch performance.
All in all, the Canon 90D offers a pleasing and familiar handling and usability experience -- another classic Canon DSLR.
Image Quality & Video
Now, when it comes to image quality, that's a whole new story compared to the predecessor. With a new 32.5-megapixel sensor, the 90D is Canon's highest-resolution APS-C DSLR released so far. In fact, other then the 50MP 5DS and 5DSR models, the 90D, and M6 II are currently Canon's highest-resolution stills cameras across the board.
EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ISO Nano USM: 135mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 500
With a high-res sensor and a new image processor, the 90D should be able to capture images with excellent fine detail, and for the most part, this is true. Especially at lower ISOs, the Canon 90D offers excellent image quality, with images showing lots of detail, pleasing colors and decent dynamic range performance with good exposure and tonal adjustment flexibility. However, like most Canon DSLRs, the 90D's sensor includes a fixed optical low-pass filter. And while that's handy for combatting ugly moiré and aliasing artifact, it robs some of that finer detail resolving power, and we just don't see as much resolution and detail from this 32.5MP sensor as we'd have hoped. Canon gave us more megapixels, but they are hampered by the low-pass filter.
As the ISO rises, we run into another issue with this higher-resolution sensor, albeit not a severe one by any means. Thirty-two megapixels is a lot of pixels to cram onto a relatively small APS-C sensor size. Generally, all things being equal, the smaller the pixel size, the higher the noise for a given ISO compared to a similarly-sized sensor with a lower resolution (and thus larger pixels). As such, we do see more noticeable noise in 90D images, even at relatively mid-range ISOs, like 800-1600. As mentioned, the 90D is certainly not bad at high ISOs, and we found images are perfectly acceptable even up to around ISO 6400-12,800. But, the Canon 90D is certainly not class-leading when it comes to high ISO performance.
18mm (29mm eq.), 1/60 sec. @ f/3.5, ISO 8000
On the video side of the equation, so to speak, the Canon 90D offers a nice set of upgrades over its predecessor, most notably the ability to now shoot in 4K UHD resolution. Further, Full HD recording gets a boost with framerates up to 120fps. Technically, the 90D offers standard Full HD recording up to 60p, while 100/120p is a special high-speed recording mode that automatically plays slowed-down video at 30p. 4K UHD video is offered at up to 30p, though the camera was strangely devoid of the popular 24p (23.98p) framerate for both 4K and 1080p when the camera launched, but Canon quickly and thankfully fixed that issue with a firmware update.
Quality-wise, the Canon 90D shoots pleasing video. 4K footage is crisp with lots of fine detail, as does 1080p. There's also clean HDMI out up to 4K, HDR video at 1080p, in-camera 4K time-lapse and movie filter effects. And just as with previous models, the 90D's Dual Pixel CMOS AF offers fantastic video autofocus. However, the 90D does lack a number of more advanced video features, such as Log recording, multiple bitrate options, higher-quality compression, and unlimited video recording (camera is still capped at 29:59). All that said, for this class of camera, the 90D is well-versed for the casual to advanced video creators. If you're already shooting video with Canon DSLRs, the 90D offers a clear upgrade, especially if you need 4K video.
Autofocus & Performance
The dedicated phase-detect AF system on the 90D remains unchanged compared to the predecessor, offering 45 all cross-type AF points. However, thanks to the camera's updated metering system, the 90D now offers face-detection even when using through-the-viewfinder focusing -- a rare feature on a traditional DSLR. The camera also sports Canon's awesome Dual Pixel CMOS AF system, and an updated one at that, for Live View focusing. It offers well over 5000 user-selectable AF points and nearly full AF coverage across the sensor. Whenever you're shooting through the viewfinder or with Live View, the 90D offers a fantastic AF experience and generally excellent performance. We found AF was fast, accurate, does very well for tracking fast action subjects and works great in low-light conditions. As mentioned, the Dual Pixel CMOS AF tech works wonderfully for video AF, too.
Thanks to its faster, more powerful processor, the Canon 90D certainly offers a bit more oomph than the predecessor model and, in fact, goes square up against the higher-end (though aging) 7D Mark II in terms of performance features for the most part. Continuous burst shooting is now up to 10fps with C-AF using the optical viewfinder, which puts the 90D on-par with the 7D II and faster than the 80D -- pretty impressive given a) the high-resolution sensor and b) that the 90D manages all this with a single DIGIC 8 processor whereas the 7D II required two DIGIC 6 chips. The faster UHS-II card slot (compared to the UHS-I slot of the 80D) surely helped here as well. With Live View shooting, you can get up to 11fps but that's with focus locked at the first frame; you get just 7fps with C-AF here.
EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L: 70mm, f/16, 1/100s, ISO 125
Our lab testing showed the 90D easily met Canon's burst shooting specs right on the nose, and buffer depths and clearing times were both impressive, particularly given the high-res images. In addition to the traditional Canon RAW format, the 90D also offers a lossy compressed C-RAW option, which offers a smaller file size and deeper buffer depth. And in our testing, we could barely make out any image quality loss compared to the standard RAW file. Canon states you'll get about 39 C-RAW files before the buffer fills, but our testing showed as much as 43 frames. Standard RAW buffer depth slightly exceeded spec as well as did JPEG. Overall, the 90D offers generous buffer depths, fast clearing times and generally pleasing all-around performance, especially considering the resolution.
While at first glance, the Canon 90D might just look like the same old DSLR you've seen from the past half-decade or so, and in some ways, you'd be correct. It's a classic Canon DSLR. The 90D offers comfortable ergonomics, great durability, lots of physical controls and user-customization, and of course, familiarity for a lot of photographers out there, plus compatibility with a veritable boatload of Canon EF lenses. No growing pains here like with a number of newer mirrorless camera platforms.
Under the hood, however, there's a clear technological progression for Canon's intermediate-class DSLR. The 90D provides lots of improvements over the previous model, particularly with AF, burst shooting and video recording. The 90D bests the 80D easily, and even matches or exceeds the older 7D Mark II, Canon's reigning flagship crop-sensor DSLR, in many regards. The new 32.5MP sensor is a bit of a head-scratcher, however. Image quality is still generally excellent, but 32.5 megapixels feels a bit excessive for an APS-C-sized sensor. There's still a low-pass filter on the sensor, so you're missing out on some of the resolving power potential, and all those super-tiny pixels hamper the 90D's high ISO performance, at least compared to competing cameras.
All that said, the Canon 90D is still a fantastic camera at the end of the day. Sure it has a few drawbacks, but the camera is still capable of taking great photos, shooting pleasing high-res video, and has excellent AF and performance for all but the most demanding subjects. Combined with excellent build quality and ergonomics, the Canon 90D is an all-around winner, especially for those already in the Canon world. If you want to take your creativity to the next level, going beyond a simple point-and-shoot, an entry-level Rebel camera or, heck, even the previous 80D, the new Canon 90D offers lots of upgrades and new features that are worth considering.
All told, the Canon 90D gets the nod as a Dave's Pick in our book.
Pros & Cons
- Highest resolution Canon APS-C camera yet, alongside M6 II
- Very good image quality, especially at low ISOs
- Decent high ISO performance (but see Con)
- Dynamic range is similar to predecessor
- C-RAW (compressed raw) saves space with very little observable quality loss
- Excellent AF performance with both optical viewfinder & Live View
- Face Detection AF with Viewfinder AF
- Dual Pixel AF provides fast AF performance in Live View mode; Works great for video
- Excellent performance for this class of camera
- Fast startup time
- Low shutter lag
- Fast 10fps burst with C-AF
- Electronic shutter option allows for faster 1/16000s shutter speed
- Faster continuous burst shooting than predecessor; similar to flagship 7D II
- Generous buffer depth & fast clearing times
- UHS-II card support
- Dust- and moisture-resistant construction
- Improved ergonomics with deeper handgrip
- Lots of physical controls with good user customization
- Joystick control reintroduced
- Large, responsive touchscreen display
- 4K video added (up to 4Kp30)
- 24p framerate lacking at release but added with firmware update
- Full HD video at 60fps & 120fps (but see Con)
- High Frame Rate Movie (creates slow-mo video in-camera)
- HDR & 4K timelapse movie modes
- Excellent battery life, especially with optical viewfinder (improved battery life over 80D)
- 3.5mm microphone & headphone jacks
- Built-in Wi-Fi & Bluetooth Low Energy
- Dynamic range and high ISO performance are pleasing, but both still lag the best of competition
- Images are a little soft compared to cameras without an AA filter even with a sharp lens (but they contain fewer aliasing artifacts)
- Live View burst shooting tops-out at 7fps if you want C-AF
- Video not available with higher quality ALL-I format (IPB or IPB Light options only)
- Video format limited to just MP4
- 29min, 59sec continuous video recording limit
- 1080p120 video reserved for high-frame rate mode only
- Single SD card slot (but understandable for this class of camera)
- No in-camera battery charging