Over the past few years, the army of mirrorless cameras has been on a warpath. New camera releases are dropping at breakneck speed in an effort to finally rid the planet of DSLRs! However, Canon’s brand new 90D is a voice of defiance, yelling back,“We’re not dead yet.” But is this the camera equivalent of your forty-something aunt still shopping at Forever 21, hitting on your best friend and swearing she’s still “got it” despite graduating high school during the Reagan Administration?
Okay, yeah my opening statement was probably unfair and a little bit biased towards mirrorless cameras. The funny thing is Canon is playing a part in this mirrorless takeover. Their new EOS R is super exciting and, in many ways, pushing the envelope. Why Canon decided to release a follow-up to the famed 80D is a bit of a conundrum, especially when the spec sheet reads very similar to the EOS R — well except the EOS R is a full-frame camera whereas the 90D is a mere ASP-C.
But despite the perplexing nature of Canon’s decision, there are some neat upgrades that make the 90D worth discussing and a legitimately interesting camera for photographers and those of you who like to vlog. Yes, this camera’s video capabilities seem to be targeted right at vloggers.
Three years after the release of the 80D, the 90D captures the largest image of any Canon APS-C sensor camera at 32 megapixels. It also has an impressive RAW image that can bust at 10 frames RAW a second. The 90D is a sports photography camera first with some cool video features. However, since this is a publication on video production, we’ll mainly focus on the video side of things.
When it comes to the quality of the video there really isn’t much new or exciting in the grand landscape of cameras. The 90D records 4K (3840 x 2160) at 4:2:0 8-bit mp4 at 29.97 fps and HD also at 4:2:0 8-bit but with increased frame rates up to 120 fps. While this would have been thrilling 10 years ago when I first bought my Canon 7D for filmmaking, today this isn’t super impressive. 4K and higher frame rates are expected.
Like many other mirrorless and DSLR cameras, the 90D does output 4:2:2 via an HDMI C port. If you’re even a half-serious filmmaker, you better take advantage of this option. The 90D also has a 3.5mm headphone jack and 3.5mm audio input. Honestly, aside from a few extra buttons, the 90D feels super similar to my old 7D.
In the field
Please allow me to make one point abundantly clear: The video making capabilities of this camera are laser targeted towards vloggers. Period. That is not a bad thing though; there are lots of us out there who vlog. And when making digital content we don’t have time for professional setups; we don’t have crews and we don’t have time to color grade. The 90D is for those people. The imaging right out of the camera is ready for content delivery. It’s clear, sharp and bright. The downside is that if you are a filmmaker and meticulous about your image, this isn’t the camera for you. The look is likely already baked in. We’ll dive into the details about the image later.
Realizing right away who this camera is targeting, we structured many of our tests around who would be using this camera: vloggers.
Realizing right away who this camera is targeting, we structured many of our tests around who would be using this camera: vloggers. This a great camera to use as a selfie cam. The LCD screen swivels around to the front so you can see exactly what you are shooting. While it’s not uncommon, that’s a feature that’s not universal among cameras — looking at your Sony. Even without a small flexible tripod, I was able to easily use this handheld for selfie vlogging.
A big downside to this camera is also that same LCD screen. It is the only way you can see what you’re shooting (unless using an external monitor). Because this is a DSLR, the viewfinder is optical, not electronic. That means when shooting video, you cannot look through the eyepiece and see anything. While the touch screen LCD screen is nice, it is not nearly bright enough for broad daylight. If you’re backlit while shooting, forget about it. The screen is also a great mirror, reflecting not just my ugly mug when trying to look at it but whatever is behind me. We found the screen at times useless due to its low brightness and high reflectivity.
Now, if you are looking for an upgrade to your current 80D and wish to stick with DSLRs instead of moving towards mirrorless, you will find the 90D right in your comfort zone. Neither the layout nor the menu departs too far from any of Canon’s previous cameras. Enough though I hadn’t shot on my old 7D in a very, very long time, I quickly fell into old habits and was right at home using the newer 90D.
Also, the autofocus is fantastic. While we will dive a little more into it later, it worked great and did basically exactly what we needed it to. The autofocus capabilities on this thing are perfect for vloggers. The focus tracking worked pretty quick and almost flawlessly. Seriously, if you are looking for a vlogging setup you could do worse than the 90D.
If you have used a Canon camera before, then you have basically used the 90D, though there have been some changes. I believe this is the first mid-range camera to utilize a toggle button on the back. Plus, the dual rotating dial on the back is pretty nifty. However, the overall design is straight-up Canon through and through.
Like the cameras that came before it, the 90D feels solid, like it can take a beating. And if it’s anything like my old 7D, it can. I put that old 7D through hell and back — like accidentally throwing it in the mud and against rocks — and never had a problem. The camera is apparently lightly weatherproofed and dust-sealed. The body is large, though not too big, and feels study in my hands. I would be very confident taking this on the field for sports photography or into the elements for nature photography. Really, it feels like every other Canon camera I have ever used. That goes for the menu system, as well. Even though it’s been five years since I regularly used a Canon, nothing about the 90D felt alien.
The actual specs for the body are as follows: Without a lens, it weighs about a pound and a half and measures 5.5 x 4.1 x 3 inches That makes it larger than most mirrorless cameras, yet not as big as many others. Specifically, it’s much smaller than the Panasonic Lumix S1H, though it also lacks many of that camera’s features.
A major plus is the fact that the 90D takes the standard Canon LP batteries, the same as my old 7D. These are super easy and cheap to find, so much so that other equipment, like monitors, uses them.
The touchscreen is possibly one of the worst aspects of the camera. In an ideal shooting situation, we’re sure it’s fine. However, when shooting outdoors, trying to get exposure or focus is a pain in the butt. The screen is not that bright and is super reflective. The plus side is the touch interaction functions pretty well for a camera. It’s not a smartphone, but it’s pretty responsive. While the button layout is super similar to every other Canon camera, there are surprisingly no custom buttons. NONE! What the hell, Canon? All the button shortcuts are locked in.
Okay, this is a major point of contention for me. The picture profiles seem almost identical to my old 7D. You have the option of “Standard,” “Portrait,” “Landscape,” “fine detail,” “Neutral,” “Faithful,” “Monochrome” and three user defaults you can set. Not a single Log format or even one that tries to mimic log. Each of these looks very similar to the others. This is a problem; many other cameras in this price range offer some kind of “log” simulation or actual log gamma curve. The fact that Canon doesn’t include this in their mid to lower-end cameras is unacceptable.
This normally the section where we talk about all the great tools the camera comes with to help you nail your shot. However, since the Canon 90D only has focus peaking and a rule of thirds grid, this section is a bit short. Seriously Canon, would it have been that hard to include Zebras, a waveform or histogram?
The Canon 90D takes standard SD cards and since it tops out at 120 Mbps in 4K, almost any cheap card you buy at a big box store will suffice. That is the silver lining to the fact this camera records in such a compressed format. Another issue is there is only ONE slot. One! While many cameras these days come with two for continuous uninterrupted recording Canon chose one. Also, you still have a thirty-minute record limit. Hurray. Again this is fine if you are a low-budget vlogger, shooting selfie videos for YouTube but horrid if you’re a serious filmmaker.
Looks really are everything
The footage out of the Canon 90D is mediocre at best. We’ll get into the science stuff here in a second, but just scrubbing through clips they look amateur. The highlight roll-off is god awful. It’s unnecessarily sharp in a video kind of way. While the colors are true to life, they still look simulated. As far as dynamic range goes you have around ten stops according to our tests. That’s it. The whole image looks like my old 7D upconverted to 4K. As a working DP, I was less than impressed. Again if you are a vlogger shooting basic stuff for YouTube this would be alright, but I would never use this camera for anything I remotely cared about.
Due to its compression at 4:2:0 8-bit, you cannot use this camera for any VFX work or if you are doing any color grading. This is especially true since there are several other options in this price range that yield great results. Several other cameras including the GH5 and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K both are in this price range and can do 4:2:2 10-bit recording in a log format. Remember 10-bit is four times the amount of information as 8-bit! When it comes to image quality, there is no improvement from previous models other than the ability to record 4K. And honestly, the original BMPCC that came out years ago is a higher quality and more pleasing image than the Canon 90D. And it was priced cheaper.
I know what you are thinking: Tweaking the “User Defined” customizable picture profiles by reducing sharpness and contrast helps make the image “flatter.” We did that. We tested this camera with every stock profile and even tweaked the best we could to improve the image. But since we are not actually changing what the sensor is capable of capturing, this is only superficial treatment.
Keep in mind that all this only applies to “in-camera” recording; you can output 4:2:2 to an external recorder. However, all of our tests reflect what you can do with recording with just the camera, not some other accessory.
High speed shooting
Okay, so while the overall footage looks amateur, the high-speed functionality is alright. We did several tests, and while I would not say I am impressed, I was happy with the results. There are even a couple small things I really enjoyed. The Canon 90D can record 4K in up to 60p fps and HD in up to 120 fps. I am happy to report that when shooting at lower ISOs in high-speed, it was just about as clean as the 24p 4K footage. We was shocked the noise level wasn’t dramatically higher. Again because of the compression issues and overall image quality, We would not use the high-speed stuff on any professional project. However, it holds up against anything else the camera shoots. A really great and surprising feature was that when shooting in 120 fps, the camera plays back in 120 fps. This isn’t a standard feature with many cameras, certainly not at this price. We really appreciated this, Canon. Thank you.
This is not what you would call a low light camera. At all. While the ISO tops out at 12,800, we would never use the camera above 1600. It’s just too noisy. Honestly, we would keep the 90D at or below 800 ISO. The camera does perform slightly better in HD versus 4K. However, it’s still noisy above 800. When using crop mode in either 4K or HD, the image was a bit noisier as one would expect.
Here lies the conundrum with this camera though: On a professional project, you are spending the time to properly light your shots and generally don’t need to crank up the ISO. However, if you are a true professional, you are likely not using this camera. Unlike the mid-range Sony mirrorless cameras that you can afford to run and gun and not worry as much about light, the 90D is a very thirsty camera. You will need to be shooting in bright light. At low ISOs, the camera’s noise level is fine and definitely usable, but once you pass 800, it starts to look unprofessional.
The 90D has a rolling shutter as opposed to a global shutter. Therefore it WILL have rolling shutter problems. Some cameras are worse than others, however. Through my tests, the 90D falls somewhere in the middle depending on what settings you’re using. The best results were achieved in non-crop mode in either 4K or HD (I didn’t notice a difference between the two). But when you go into crop mode, the image gets very jelly-like with any side to side motion. If you’re shooting in crop mode you cannot pan even at a moderate speed without the image bending. This is a problem, though we would avoid crop mode altogether if you can as the image is generally noisier anyway.
This camera does have image stabilization built-in. The downside? It’s digital. That means that, instead of a sensor that literally moves across five axes to stay stable, the digital image is being processed much like applying a warp stabilizer — and it looks like it. You do get two options, standard and enhanced, just in case the regular wasn’t warpy enough. The digital stabilization on the regular setting works really great to keep the image stable. It just looks like post stabilization. The enhanced setting, however, is so jelly looking it’s unusable.
The Canon 90D fortunately takes standard Canon EOS lenses. This is fantastic and not surprising. Canon mount glass is one of the most widely available of any on the market and there are options at every price point. That’s not to mention Canon is famous for terrific lenses.
Dual Pixel autofocus
This was an area that really surprised me. The autofocus and focus tracking were pretty fantastic. However, this shouldn’t be a surprise as Canon is famous for great autofocus. This is no exception. We tested the camera primarily with three lenses: the kit 18-135mm, a Canon L 17-40mm and a Zeiss 50mm. However, all our autofocus tests were done with the kit lens. Maybe I was surprised because I didn’t have high expectations, but the tracking was great.
The touch screen on the back allows you to touch the spot you want the camera focused on. In tracking mode it will track that spot however it moves. We tested this out in several scenarios, however the most impressive was a couple of swans swimming in a pond. I was shooting from shore with big, tall grass poking into frame in the foreground. As the swan moved from camera left to right and passed behind the blades of grass, the camera was able to keep tracking the same swan.
The face/eye-tracking did even better. We did several tests where the subject would enter and leave the frame side to side, up and down, and walk quickly from the background to inches from the camera. While it slipped a few times, it was really good. If you are using this feature for your vlogging style YouTube channel, then this is a great feature. However, we would never ever use the autofocus this camera offers on a professional project; it slips and is unreliable. But for vlogging, it’s perfect.
One thing that is really great about DSLRs is that the batteries usually last a bit longer than mirrorless cameras and the 90D is no exception. I took the camera for a hike that took about three hours. I was using the camera constantly but turning it off intermittently. I still had a little juice at the end. A big plus with this camera is that it takes the very standard Canon LP series batteries. They are relatively cheap and you can find them anywhere, even many big box stores.
Okay, I know I have spent most of this article slamming the Canon 90D. You may be asking, “Alight. Cool story bro but, aren’t all cameras in this price range just as bad?” Good question. Let’s dive in. The Canon 90D is priced, at the time of this writing, at $1,150 for the body. So, to be fair, we will keep all other considerations within a couple hundred dollars. If you are considering this camera, it’s likely because you are a vlogger and that flip-around screen is important to you, so all other comparable cameras will have this feature, as well.
First up is the Panasonic GH5 at $1,400. This little camera, and I do mean little as it has a Micro Four Thirds sensor, is an obvious other option with a boatload of impressive features. First, the image is incredible for the money. It records 4:2:2 10-bit 4K video internally and offers frame rates up to 180 fps. It also has 5-axis image stabilization built into the sensor. None of this digital stabilizer nonsense. Again, the image out of the GH5 is incredible for the price.
What’s the downside you ask? Well, it’s a Micro Four Thirds sensor. Because it’s much smaller, you will have a harder time getting that beautiful shallow depth of field. Plus, the face detection autofocus on the GH5 isn’t nearly as good as on the 90D.
Next up, we’ll compare this to the Sony Alpha 6600, priced at $1,200. There are many reasons to love it for vlogging. First, Sony’s image quality is a bit better than the 90D. It’s more organic looking and has a higher dynamic range. This is especially true when shooting in Slog. Yes, the camera comes with the ability to shoot log. The sensor is also an APS-C. Just like the GH5, this has a 5-axis stabilizer on the sensor for optical image stabilization. However the 90D wins again when it comes to autofocus and focus tracking; it just works much better than the a6600.
Without a doubt, the best feature of this camera is the autofocus. It just works great, even when compared to Panasonic’s brand new S1H ($4,000). If you are vlogging as a one-person crew, then this is a really important feature to you. The image quality is subpar when compared to any contemporary camera in this price range. So who is the camera for? Well, if I haven’t said it enough, this is a vlogger’s video camera. That is unless you’re a photographer. In that case, this is a fantastic little photography camera — but that’s a different article.
- Surprisingly good autofocus
- Flip-around scree
- Mediocre image quality
- Documentary Filmmaking and Journalism
- Corporate and Event Videography
- Marketing Video Production
- Lens Mount: Canon EF-S
- Camera Format: APS-C (1.6x Crop Factor)
- Pixels: Actual: 34.4 Megapixel, Effective: 32.5 Megapixel
- Maximum Resolution: 6960 x 4640
- Aspect Ratio: 1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9
- Sensor Type: CMOS
- Sensor Size: 22.3 x 14.8 mm
- Image File Format: JPEG, Raw
- Bit Depth: 14-Bit
- Image Stabilization: Digital (Video Only)
- Exposure Control
- ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 25600 (Extended: 100 to 51200)
- Shutter Speed: Mechanical Shutter: 1/8000 to 30 Second, Bulb Mode, Electronic Shutter: 1/16000 to 30 Second
- Continuous Shooting: Up to 10 fps at 32.5 MP for up to 25 Exposures (Raw), Up to 10 fps at 32.5 MP for up to 58 Exposures (JPEG), Up to 11 fps at 32.5 MP, Up to 7 fps at 32.5 MP
- Interval Recording: Yes
- Recording Modes:
- MP4/H.264: UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p, Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p, HD (1280 x 720) at 50p/59.94p
- External Recording Modes
- 4:2:2 8-Bit: UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) up to 25p/29.97p
- Recording Limit: Up to 29 Minutes, 59 Seconds
- Video Encoding: NTSC
- Audio Recording: Built-In Microphone (Stereo)
- External Microphone Input (Stereo)
- Audio File Format: AAC
- Autofocus Points: Phase Detection: 45 (45 Cross-Type), Phase Detection: 5481
- Recording Modes:
- Viewfinder and Monitor
- Viewfinder Type: Optical (Pentaprism)
- Viewfinder Eye Point: 22 mm
- Viewfinder Coverage:100%
- Viewfinder Magnification: Approx. 0.95x
- Diopter Adjustment: -3 to +1
- Monitor Size: 3″
- Monitor Resolution: 1,040,000 Dot
- Monitor Type: Articulating Touchscreen LCD
- Memory Card Slot: Single Slot: SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II)
- Connectivity: 3.5mm Headphone, 3.5mm Microphone, HDMI C (Mini), Micro-B (USB 2.0)
- Wireless: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
- GPS: None
- Operating Temperature: 32 to 104°F / 0 to 40°C
- Operating Humidity: 0 to 85%
- Battery: 1 x LP-E6N Rechargeable Lithium-Ion, 7.2 VDC, 1865 mAh (Approx. 1300 Shots)
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 5.54 x 4.13 x 3.02″ / 140.7 x 104.8 x 76.8 mm
- Weight: 1.54 lb / 701 g (Body Only)