Do new DSLRs still have a place in a market that’s been overtaken by mirrorless? Michael Topham reviews the new Canon EOS 90D to find out
Canon EOS 90D review: Performance
The 90D’s layout of 45 autofocus points is grouped quite tightly in the viewfinder. The central gathering of AF points are arranged in a 3×5 grid with the top and bottom line sitting a fraction higher than the two groups of 15 AF points either side. You’re required to press the AF selection button first before you’re able to shift the AF point around the frame. If you’d prefer to move the AF point instantly with the joystick you’ll need to enter the CnFn III Operation/Others option in the menu, head to the Custom Controls and change the function of the Multi-controllers from off to direct AF point selection. I’m quite surprised it’s not setup this way as default as I can see many users expecting it to operate this way straight out of the box.
In situations where you’d like to focus close to the edge of the frame where there isn’t an AF point you’ll either need to focus and recompose or switch over to shooting in Live View. In the latter you’re provided with much wider 100×88% vertical and horizontal frame coverage with as many as 5481 AF positions to choose from. As well as spot AF, 1-point AF and Zone AF, there’s also tracking AF in Live View, with the option to turn face and eye detection on from a touch of the the Info button.
Real-world testing revealed the 90D can identify and track faces effectively, even at long distances. Eye detection becomes active within approximately 2m of a person, with the smaller of two white squares indicating which eye the camera has locked onto. You can tell the camera which eye you’d prefer it to focus on by flicking the joystick left and right, but you will notice that Eye detection becomes less effective when the person you’re photographing turns and isn’t facing the camera straight on.
I was particularly impressed by the success rate of sharp shots I managed to achieve in low light when shooting indoor go-karts approaching head-on using the viewfinder. Sports and wildlife users will appreciate the advanced autofocus settings on offer too such as the option to refine the responsiveness of the tracking sensitivity, although being able to choose from various AF case sensitivities for different subjects is a feature that remains exclusive to higher-end EOS models.
Reliable metering is another of the 90D’s strengths. You can trust the camera to deliver well-exposed images in evaluative metering mode and I rarely found myself having to dial in more than -1EV to prevent highlights being clipped in the brightest areas. For scenes where evaluative metering isn’t the best option, there’s also partial, spot and centre weighted to choose from. If you happen to underexpose an image a little too far for the highlights, the 90D’s wide dynamic range gives you the scope to pull detail back at the editing stage without introducing unbearable levels of noise.
It goes without saying the number of shots that one can get out of the battery pack depends on many different factors, such as the temperature of the environment the camera is used in and how often power-hungry functions like Wi-fi are turned on. Checking the battery info when the battery icon began to blink told me you can get close to the estimated 1300 shots per charge if you use the viewfinder for a majority of your shooting. While this battery life is impressive and surpasses many smaller mirrorless cameras, it’s let down slightly by the fact a newer USB Type-C interface for in-camera charging, like you get on Canon’s new EOS R models, isn’t supported.
Canon also provides a good amount of control over image processing settings. The default Auto picture style determines what it thinks is the best processing and rendering settings for any given scene and there are seven other picture styles to choose from that can be tweaked to your liking. If you’d like your shots to reflect the scene naturally as you see it with your eyes, faithful or neutral are a great place to start. Hit the Quick menu button in playback mode and you’ll be presented by a number of icons on either side of the screen, processing raw files in-camera and ranking multiple images with a one to five star rating being two such examples.
Loading the 90D with a UHS-II card and testing its speed performance resulted in 25 raw files being captured at 10fps using the viewfinder before its buffer was reached. Switching the file format over to Canon’s C-Raw format saw this number rise to 40 frames. Firing off a burst of large JPEGs resulted in 52 images being recorded to our card before the buffer required a breather. For the sport, action and wildlife photographers Canon is aiming the camera at, this buffer performance is a little underwhelming, though we must remember we’re looking at an enthusiast camera here, not a pro-spec model. Ultimately, users will need to judge when to start shooting a burst carefully to ensure the buffer limit isn’t reached partway through an action sequence.