The Canon EOS 90D is the latest in a long line of higher-end APS-C EF+EF-S mount DSLR cameras from Canon. While I’ve tried out the 80D, I don’t recall that much about the camera. So I’ll be going into this with a fresh perspective. Given that mirrorless cameras have started to really advance and expand in the market, we are seeing somewhat of a return to DSLRs with this camera and the new 1DX series body just released. Nikon got in on it with their D780 as well.
This camera and the mirrorless EF-M mount M6 Mark II both have the new, densely packed, 32.5 megapixel APS-C sensor. They also added full sensor 4k video recording (yeah, even 24 fps with a firmware update…). Are these DSLR cameras still worth checking out in 2020? Let’s take a look at the 90D.
Notable Specification Differences of the 70, 80, and 90D:
|Mega-pixels (1.6x APS-C)||32.5||24.2||20.2|
|Diffraction Limited Aperture||f/5.2||f/6.0||f/6.6|
|Pixel Unit Size||3.2 um||3.72 um||4.1 um|
|Optical Viewfinder||100% at 0.95x||100% at 0.95x||98% at 0.95x|
|SLR AF Points||45||45||19|
|SLR AF Center Point Sensitivity at f/2.8||-3 to 18 ev||-3 to 18 ev||-0.5 to 18 ev|
|SLR AF Peripheral AF Sensitivity at f/5.6||-0.5 to 18 ev||-0.5 to 18 ev||0 to 18 ev|
|Maximum Shutter Electronic||1/16000th||N/A||N/A|
|Continuous Photos||10 fps||7 fps||7 fps|
|Max Burst (JPEG/RAW/CRAW)||57/24/39||77/20||40/15|
|SD Card Support||UHS-II||UHS-I||UHS-I|
|Battery Rating (SLR/LV)||1860/510||1390/340||920/210|
|RAW Support||CR3 & CRAW||CR2 (3 sizes)||CR2 (3 sizes)|
The 90D has a newly developed sensor with 32.5 effective mega-pixels. This is pushing the boundaries of how many photo-sites are being placed on a sensor of the APS-C size. You can see in the table above that each photo-site on the sensor is a good deal smaller than previous models in the lineup.
In the related video I compare it to the M50 in sample images and vlog style video clips. I’m trying to give potential users a good idea of the new sensor versus many years worth of Canon 24 megapixel APS-C cameras. Below is a 100% crop of a photo taken at ISO 6400 on the 90D and M50. Given the added resolution of the 90D sensor, it appears to be doing very well in comparison. Though, take one single result with a gain of salt.
The optical viewfinder in the 90D had a nice clear view. The TTL SLR based autofocus system felt quick and covered a decent area of the frame. Compared to the 80D, at least based on specifications, they are very similar, but there is one important change in the metering device.
One substantial difference in the DSLR based autofocus and subject tracking system of the 90D versus the previous models comes with the metering sensor. The 90D has a 220,000-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor, whereas the 80D has a 7,560-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor.
The metering system is the main way that camera companies can add smart automatic focusing technology to their traditional SLR systems. Canon has a form of face and body detection using that larger pixel array in the 90D metering sensor (called “EOS iTR AF”) compared to what they called “Color Tracking” in the 80D that attempted to focus on what looked like skin tones to their algorithm. The 70D doesn’t have anything like the other two cameras in this regard.
The sensor is dual-pixel autofocus capable as are the other two bodies. In this case you get Canon’s latest APS-C technology here on the 90D. I didn’t have much time with the camera, but when I was tapping on the screen to focus it was quick and comparable to the M50 that I’ve used a lot. Expect cameras with this new sensor to have best-in-class APS-C live view autofocus.
You will have to look elsewhere to get more information on tracking performance, both in standard SLR mode as well as live view. I don’t currently have access to gear besides through my local camera shop or things that I buy, so that restricts how much testing I can do and how much time I have with the equipment. For now, I just have to leave that up to other people that have the resources and connections for those types of tests.
The body design of the 90D is extremely similar to the 80D and 70D. There is a built-in flash and a hot-shoe port. It uses the well known LP-E6N battery. That’s as expected and a good choice by Canon. It can use the existing BG-E14 battery grip, which is a big plus for existing users.
I like the design of the strap lugs on this series of cameras. I prefer them over the small nubs with holes that use a second metal piece (usually a triangle shape that connects the camera to the strap). These are easier and don’t make noise by design. For some reason, most camera companies switch between the nub style holes and these larger slot style holes meant to directly have a strap installed in them. My Canon EOS M5 uses the smaller style nub holes, but the M50 uses the slot style (I wish they were a bit wider in that case…).
The grip on the 90D felt average. With the weight and grip size, it presses a bit on my middle finger. A more compact lens would be easier to manage and less tiring on the hand. Of course, all of this is personal preference and hand size related.
Coming back to a higher-level DSLR from a mirrorless camera, like the M50, is a shock and significant size difference between the two cameras. The M6 Mark II would feel even smaller due to lacking a viewfinder, though that camera at least has more direct controls than the M50 does.
The 90D has a vari-angle fully articulating screen. That means it can face the lens or angle high/low in portrait mode. You can reverse the screen so it faces inside the camera. It’s nice to protect the screen if you plan on only using the viewfinder. Or to break that “chimping” habit, lol. The back screen is fully touch enabled. You have menu navigation, setting control, and touch-to-focus.
There are ample buttons and dials on the camera. Going back to this is really.. really nice. Especially the joystick for AF point position adjustment. If you do photography in conditions where using the touch screen is a challenge, having this much direct control is great.
I would have liked one extra dial on the camera to cover the entire exposure triangle, but I understand they are trying to stick with the same ergonomic design as previous models. My Canon EOS M5 does have the extra dial, but is lacking the AF joystick nub, so in some ways I think the 90D would be easier to use in the winter. Everything is simply larger and more spaced out compared to a small mirrorless camera like he M5 or M6 Mark II.
A few other physical aspects of the 90D:
- There are ample ports on the camera. Microphone port, headphone port, cable release, mini HDMI (not the smallest size port thankfully), and USB. The 80D is the same here, but the 70D is lacking the headphone port.
- It has a dedicated AF-on button along with an AF selection joystick nub that also acts as a button.
- The on/off switch is an actual switch and is near the mode dial. That means no one-handed operation unless you are using a strap or other way to prop up the camera.
- There is a top LCD screen for adjusting settings or quickly seeing a few important ones. It has a back-light button for that screen. A traditional DSLR layout here. The buttons up there are: AF selection, AF, Drive, ISO, and Metering. The ISO button has a bump so you can position your finger without looking away from the viewfinder.
- There is a physical ‘Q’ button. This allows you direct button access to their quick menu system besides the touch based icon. Canon puts various important settings in that on-screen adjustable screen border display.
- There is a button in the bottom front area of the mount on the grip side. It defaults to the depth of field preview.
- There is a photo/video switch with a start/stop live view toggle button. The button acts as the start/stop video record button in that mode. A logical control scheme.
- There is a lock on the back bottom right for the multi-control.
- One SD card slot. It’s on the side of the camera, so it’s easy to access. At least it’s UHS-II compatible.
- C1 and C2 custom setting save modes on the dial. Custom modes are an important photographer feature. They allow you to save the majority of current cameras settings into those save slots. It’s a quick way to do different styles of photography like action or portrait work with a change of the mode dial.
- With the info button you can access a built-in horizon level that is shown on the back screen.
Wifi/bluetooth with the Canon Connect app…
It felt a bit quicker to make that initial connection than the M50. Getting into the wireless control mode felt the same if not a bit slower. That requires switching from bluetooth to wifi. Canon’s app is well featured. You can touch to focus through the app and adjust most settings. There is a photo and video mode.
A few interesting menu items and features:
- There is CR3 RAW format and C-RAW that will compress these large 32.5mp files. It looks like they dropped the small/medium RAW thing of previous models.
- It has a minimum shutter speed setting that is part of the ISO speed settings. This is an important feature when using modes like aperture priority so you can be sure that you don’t have a shutter speed that is too slow for your liking. You can also give it a 7 value weighted preference if you don’t want to set an exact value. I’ve seen reports this doesn’t work quite as advertised under some conditions, so if it’s super important to you then verify how it works in practice.
- Multiple exposure (additive, average) from 2 to 9 frames. It automatically merges multiple photos together. A fun digital version of something people do with film cameras.
- HDR mode (auto, plus 1, 2, or 3 ev) with various effects from normal to art embossed. Auto align is an option.
- Interval timer. You can select the amount of time between photos as well as number of total photos.
There are ample video modes in the camera…
- 4K modes: 29.97 and now 23.98 fps. 4K can be cropped or uncropped. The cropped mode is higher quality. The M6 Mark II does not include the cropped 4K mode. Rated 120 Mbps movie bit-rate for both cropped and uncropped.
- HDR 1080p movie mode. It appears to take two samples per frame to avoid loss of detail in extreme lighting conditions. I didn’t try this out. The bit-rate for this is 30 Mbps, so I wouldn’t expect a lot from it.
- 1080p from 23.98 fps to 59.94 fps. Bit-rates go from 60 to 30 Mbps.
- There is a slow motion option at 1080p. It records at 119.88 fps and generates a stretched out 29.97 fps movie file. There is a recording limit of 7 minutes and 29 seconds. You also do not get autofocus, audio recording, and digital IS. The bit-rate for this is 120 Mbps.
- Timelapse movie mode. It’s a convenience feature in the 90D that allows you to select the number of frames and interval where the camera will construct a 4k or 1080p video out of the frames. In the case of the 90D it has a standard interval photography mode where you can take frames on your own if you prefer that.
- Digital video stabilization with the usual none, “enable”, or “enhanced”. The normal setting works decently well for most situations, at least with my older M50 cameras. With the 90D you get 90% of the frame on 4k/1080p full sensor, or 75% with 4k crop mode. The Enhanced is 70% or 58%.
- The camera can output HDMI in a clean format at 1080p up to YCbCr 4:2:2, 10-bit (BT.709, BT.601, BT.2020).
- Keep in mind that you might need to update your firmware to get 23.98 fps support in the camera. This was added a few months after the camera released, likely due to very vocal user feedback.
- Normal video modes are limited to the usual ~29 minute thing. It’s too bad Canon isn’t removing that restriction like Sony has on their latest cameras.
Custom Function Differences:
90D C.Fn I: Exposure additions over the 70D and 80D…
- #7, Exposure compensation auto cancel (p558)
- #8, AE lock metering mode after focus (p558)
90D C.Fn II Autofocus
There a various differences between the 70D, 80D, and 90D for AF related custom functions. More so between the 70D and the other two. Refer their respective manuals for details. The main difference I noticed is in face detection using the traditional SLR based AF system.
“Auto AF point selection: EOS iTR AF”: This setting allows for face tracking through the viewfinder and related autofocus system. You’ve got “EOS iTR AF (face priority)” that constantly prioritizes faces in the photo when the camera is allowed to select focus points, “Enable” prioritizes people in the photo or the nearest object, and “Disable”. In the case of the 80D it has “Auto AF point selection Color Tracking”, which isn’t as advanced, but it attempts to recognize colors equivalent to skin tones. The manual said you will notice more of an initial delay with the feature enabled (for processing and face detection I assume).
90D C.Fn III Operation/Others
“Audio compression”: New for the 90D is a setting to decide if you want audio compression in video clips. You can enable or disable it. The manual states that you will get higher quality audio when it’s disabled. Though some features like the “video snapshot” will always have compressed audio.
Is the 90D worth checking out?
I see this as peak DSLR technology in the mid-range category. I’m not sure what they could do besides adding physical features like a second SD card slot or IBIS. Though, I don’t know if new DSLR models will continue to be released long enough for us to find out.
In many ways this camera achieves the ideal combination of current technology on the DSLR and sensor technology side. It has robust DSLR features with that traditional optical viewfinder, but also has a fully featured DPAF sensor with all of the benefits that come with Canon’s live sensor camera implementation.
The drawbacks I see are for people that find value in an electronic viewfinder with its “what you see is what you pretty much get” exposure estimation benefits. The ergonomics of using the back screen for focusing are not the same as using a viewfinder of some sort.
Another potential drawback is not having access to RF mount lenses. While the EF range is massive, Canon is breaking new ground with RF in some respects. You will know if it matters to you. The M6 Mark II has the same problem as the 90D with RF mount glass. It’s not physically compatible with the EF-M mount.
If you are a huge fan of the 80D or 70D and have a set of EF/EF-S lenses, but want more… I think this camera is a no-brainer. Unless you want a specific upgrade like dual card slots or three dedicated dials for exposure triangle control, then I do think it’s worth checking out.