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

Build and handling

The Nikon D90 is only a few millimetres larger in every dimension than the EOS 550D, and although it doesn’t look significantly bigger the difference is noticeable in the hand.

The fingergrip of the EOS 550D, for example, only really has enough room for two of my fingers, so when my index finger is poised on the shutter-release button, my little finger must curl under the camera’s body. The chunkier grip of the D90, however, can accommodate three of my fingers. I find both cameras comfortable to hold and use over a long period of time, but those with larger hands may prefer the D90.

The extra 90g in weight of the D90 also helps the camera feel a little more robust than the Canon model, but this may only be a perception as the EOS 550D doesn’t show any sign of weakness or emit worrying creaks when its is gripped firmly. However, when shooting continuously, the mirror movements feel better dampened in the Nikon D90.

I don’t have any major issues with the control layout of either camera, but I prefer the more direct method of selecting the AF point with the D90. Using the four-way control pad seems more intuitive than pressing the EOS 550D’s AF point selection button before using its navigation buttons. The Nikon control pad is also a little easier to use with the camera held to the left eye than the Canon camera’s buttons.

I like the fact that once the D90’s Live View button has been pressed to bring the scene up on the LCD, video recording can be triggered with a second press. With the EOS 550D, the main mode dial needs to be rotated to the video icon before video recording can be started with a press of the Live View/video button. However, some may prefer this approach as it avoids accidentally recording video from the Live View mode.

Although the EOS 550D has a pretty good collection of custom options for an entry-level camera (12 in total), the D90 has 41 divided into six groups covering autofocus (seven options), metering and exposure (four), timers and AE lock (five), shooting and display (12), bracketing and flash (six) and the controls (seven). These options contribute to making the D90 versatile and adaptable.

However, the EOS 550D feels a little more approachable and user-friendly, as befits a camera that is aimed at novice photographers who aspire to learn about their new hobby.

The Quick Menu screen, accessed with a press of the ‘Q’ button, is easy to use and allows the routinely used features such as white balance, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, Auto Lighting Optimizer and metering mode to be adjusted.

Pressing the D90’s information (Info) button twice provides a quick method of changing a few features such as the level of noise reduction and Active D-Lighting, as well as assigning the purpose of the Fn and AE-L/AF-L buttons.It seems a rather strange mix of options.

In summary, while I like the handling of the EOS 550D and appreciate its small size and weight, the level of customisation and the ease with which the AF points may be selected on the D90 make it a more logical choice for enthusiast photographers.

  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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