Hands on: Canon EOS 90D Review

Is there still a place for a new mid-range DSLR in a mirrorless camera world?

First Impressions

For those who continue to prefer the advantages of DSLRs over mirrorless – long battery life, good handling and a wide choice of native lenses – the Canon 90D is shaping up to be a promising all-rounder for improvers and amateur enthusiasts. However, despite the addition of some modern features such as Eye autofocus, it still feels dated in others and looks pretty expensive compared to mirrorless rivals. Still, with strong build quality, a fully articulating screen and promising 4K video features, it could yet prove that there’s still a place for mid-range DSLRs.

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £1209.99
  • 32.5-megapixel APS-C sensor
  • 10fps continuous shooting (11fps in Live View)
  • 4K movie shooting with Dual Pixel CMOS AF
  • 1300-shot battery life
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

The DSLR isn’t dead yet, at least according to Canon – three years on from the debut of its classic, mid-range Canon 80D, the company launches a 90D successor for ambitious amateur photographers.

To say the camera world has changed a little in those three years would be an understatement. Mirrorless cameras now trump DSLRs, both in terms of innovation and new bodies, so is there still a place in the world for the Canon 90D?

A look at the 90D’s specs sheet would suggest there might just be. On paper at least, it brings a promising shooting engine, with a new 32.5-megapixel APS-C sensor joined by Canon’s latest Digic 8 processor – a combination you’ll find inside its mirrorless twin, the new Canon M6 Mark II.

This brings improvements across the board including burst shooting, video powers and focusing, with features such as Eye AF showing that DSLRs haven’t yet been left in the dust by their younger mirrorless whippersnappers.

Canon 90D

The Canon 90D is chunky by today’s mirrorless standards, but has a generous grip and feels well-balanced with the EF18-135mm lens here.

But is this enough to justify the Canon 90D’s wince-inducing £1210 (body-only) price tag, which is £340 more than the M6 Mark II and the same price as the Canon 80D with an 18-135mm kit lens?

After spending a couple of hours with a unit at a Go Karting track, I found that if you’re a very particular type of photographer – namely, a Canon user with an existing stash of EF lenses, who regularly shoots action or wildlife with long zooms – then it might just do enough to convince you.

That is, if you haven’t already decided to go mirrorless with the Canon M6 Mark II or one of its many rivals…

Related: Best DSLR

Canon EOS 90D design – It has a comfortably familiar body that suits long lenses

The Canon 90D feels like a camera that knows it’s never going to be cool again. As such, it has doubled down on its comfortably familiar style: chunky, tough and very comfortable with longer lenses such as the EF70-200mm f/2.8 I tried it with.

The main difference between the Canon 80D is that the 90D has a multi-controller joystick on its back for moving your focus point in Live View, which is a handy new addition. It’s also a smidgen lighter than its predecessor, but still weighs in at a fairly hefty 701g, which isn’t far off twice as much as the Canon M6 Mark II.

Canon 90D

Look familiar? The Canon 90D hasn’t changed much at all from the 80D (itself a conservative design upgrade), but it does add a handy joystick on the back.

That extra weight isn’t necessarily a downside, though, depending on what you’re used to. In fact, it brings three fairly sizeable benefits.

First, it gives the Canon 90D room enough room to hold an LP-E6N battery, which is the same one as the 80D but has now apparently been stretched to 1300 shots on a single charge (according to the industry standard CIPA ratings). That’s more than four times as many shots as the M6 Mark II or most mirrorless cameras without a battery grip, which makes quite a difference on a day out in the field.

Since the Canon 90D is slightly less concerned with weight than its vainer mirrorless sibling, its hardier aluminium alloy body and design is also water- and dust-resistant. This is a tried-and-tested design that feels like it could survive most situations – bar being dropped overboard.

Canon 90D

The 90D’s size means it has room for a fully articulating touchscreen, which is particularly useful for video and shooting from tricky angles.

Lastly, the larger body also has room for a fully articulating touchscreen – the same 3in, 1.04m-dot one from the 80D – rather than one that simply tilts.

This means you can fold it inwards to keep it safe from scratches, but also flip it out to the side for easy vlogging. In fact, if shooting video is your thing, then the 90D is likely a better bet than the M6 Mark II, since it also has a 3.5mm microphone input.

Still, the main difference between a DSLR like the Canon 90D and its mirrorless rivals is that it has an optical viewfinder, rather than an EVF.

This is something that comes down to personal taste, and while I struggle to go back from the advantages of electronic viewfinders – previewing exposure changes, for example – the Canon 90D’s viewfinder could be just the ticket if you’re used to having absolutely no worries about lag when shooting sports or wildlife.

Canon 90D

Here you can see the size difference between the Canon 90D (left) and its Canon M6 Mark II mirrorless brother (right).

Of course, there’s always the Live View mode too, and Canon has made some improvements here to what was always one of the 80D’s strengths as a DSLR…

Canon EOS 90D specs and features – A jump forward in some ways; a sideways step in others

The Canon 90D is in many ways a successor to both the Canon EOS 7D Mark II and 80D – if you’ve been waiting to upgrade from either, you’ll be impressed with its specs in some ways and disappointed in others.

The 90D inherits the same 45-point AF system as its predecessor, which isn’t great by today’s standards. And while burst shooting has been boosted to 10fps (or 11fps in Live View), there’s been no real boost to its buffer, which can maintain those speeds for 58 JPEGs or 25 Raw files, which is some way short of even the 7D Mark II’s performance.

Canon 90D

Like the Canon 80D, the 90D has both microphone and headphone inputs for shooting video – these have been placed to ensure full articulation of the screen when external components are plugged in.

The latter also has dual card slots, and this is again something the Canon 90D lacks, which may make it less appealing to those who fancy using it for pro work such as weddings – or just like having an extra one there for backup or overflow.

Still, if you use Live View via the screen then you do get the benefit of Canon’s excellent Dual Pixel CMOS AF, and the good news is that this now works when shooting 4K video, too. Most Canon cameras, such as the Canon 250D, switch to a less effective contrast-based autofocus system in 4K, so this is a bonus for video shooters.

Canon 90D

Unlike most mirrorless cameras, the Canon 90D has a secondary monochrome display on the top plate for quickly checking basic settings.

While they’re nothing new, the Canon 90D also inherits its predecessor’s handy features for shooting fast-moving objects or subjects in difficult lighting (both of which were issues at my Go Karting preview event).

The working range of the autofocus (-3EV-18EV) helps maintain AF locks in gloomy conditions, while flicker-detection tech also handily times shot to coincide with the peak brightness of your tricky light source.

You also get the benefit of Dual Pixel CMOS AF when using continuous autofocus in Live View, which means you can choose to focus on a subject then keep a lock on it through the frame while half-pressing the shutter. Again, not a new concept, but very handy for shooting sports and wildlife.

Canon EOS 90D image quality – The camera has a new sensor, but it’s too early for conclusions

It’s a little too early to make any judgements about the Canon 90D’s new 32.5-megapixel sensor or its image quality.

While the extra resolution certainly brings benefits, such as greater flexibility when cropping into your photos, the concern when moving to a higher megapixel count on an APS-C sensor is the effect it can potentially have on high ISO performance and dynamic range.

Canon 90D

Shot at 1/1000sec at f/2.8, ISO 6400.

Most of these photos were taken at ISO 6400, wide open on the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. They suggest that, like its predecessor, the Canon 90D is certainly capable of producing acceptable shots from the get-go at this relatively high ISO setting and in challenging shooting conditions, with the right lens.

Canon 90D

Shot at 1/1000sec at f/2.8, ISO 6400.

Still, this is something I’ll look at in more detail in our full review when we can properly inspect the Raw files and shoot in a wider variety of settings.

Canon 90D

Shot at 1/1000sec at f/2.8, ISO 6400.

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