Canon's EOS 550D offers a more affordable alternative to the top-of-the-range APS-C-format EOS 7D, but can it compete against the slightly more mature Nikon D90? We find out in our test: Canon EOS 550D vs Nikon D90

White balance and colour

It can be difficult to distinguish between a camera’s white balance response and its interpretation of colour, and while both cameras’ automatic white balance systems appear to be very capable, it is interesting to see how differently the two DSLRs can render the same scene.

In its automatic white balance setting the D90 tends to produce slightly more neutral images than the EOS 550D, which generally produces warmer images. The end result can sometimes be that the Nikon camera’s images lack some of the atmosphere of the original scene, or look a little cold.

550 vs d90 auto white balance. These shots were taken using the cameras

Image: These shots were taken using the cameras’ automatic white balance settings. The Canon EOS 550D has produced a slightly warmer result

In direct sunlight the D90 sometimes produces slightly more yellowy images than the EOS 550D, which generates redder results. I found this particularly noticeable when photographing a patch of snowdrops. With a Sigma 105mm f/2.8 lens mounted on each camera, I got in very close so that the white petals of a single flower occupied most of the scene while the rest was filled with green foliage and grass.

550 vs d90 snowdrops. I had to increase the exposure by 0.67EV with the Canon EOS 550D, while the Nikon D90 got the exposure correct by itself. Neither camera managed to get the green of the snowdrop quite right, but it was soon adjusted using Photoshop

Image: I had to increase the exposure by 0.67EV with the Canon EOS 550D, while the Nikon D90 got the exposure correct by itself. Neither camera managed to get the green of the snowdrop quite right, but it was soon adjusted using Photoshop’s Hue/Saturation control

Although the whites look good in both sets of images, the greens benefit from a little post-capture attention using Photoshop’s Hue/Saturation control.

In its Standard Picture Style, the EOS 550D produces punchier, more saturated and higher-contrast images than the D90 in its Standard Picture Control mode. As usual, there is scope to adjust the output from both cameras by altering the contrast, sharpness and saturation of JPEG images, so the default settings are just a starting point.

In addition, the D90 provides options in the Retouch menu to brighten shadows, adjust the colour balance, create monochrome images, correct lens distortion and level horizons. In their default arrangements, though, the EOS 550D produces images that look more print-ready than those of the D90.

  1. 1. Canon EOS 550D vs Nikon D90 at a glance
  2. 2. Features
  3. 3. Build and handling
  4. 4. Resolution, noise and sensitivity
  5. 5. White balance and colour
  6. 6. Page 6
  7. 7. Viewfinder, LCD and Live View
  8. 8. Dynamic range
  9. 9. Autofocus
  10. 10. Verdict
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