The 32MP sensor in the EOS 90D not only tells us about Canon's APS-C future but also puts pressure on other camera makers to move beyond the 24MP Sony Semiconductor chips that have underpinned so many models

If you've bought an APS-C camera in the past few years, there's a reasonable chance it was built around one of the 24MP sensors from Sony Semiconductor. Since the first version arrived, back in the NEX-7 and a77, it's been at the heart of a series of excellent cameras from Nikon, Pentax, Ricoh, Fujifilm and, of course, Sony itself.

But the arrival of two newer, higher pixel-count sensors, both of which outperform those 24MP chips in meaningful ways, is likely to herald the end of the 24MP era.

The sensor in the NEX-7 expanded on the excellent low noise, high dynamic range performance of the 12 and 16MP CMOS 'Exmor' chips but, especially in its later, copper-wired version, helped usher-in the era of 4K video shooting. But time and technology move on, and the impressive results we saw from Canon's new 32MP sensor move the battle to higher resolutions, which will push other camera makers to demand more from their own suppliers.

Closing the gap

Canon's own 24MP sensors closed much of the DR gap that had existed between their cameras and the Sony Semi-based ones, but our DR testing of the 90D suggests the disparity is now even smaller. There's still a visible difference, but it's getting small enough that it'd only keep you awake at night if you shot two cameras side-by-side.

And offering more

Having all but caught up in this previous area of weakness, the 32MP Canon pulls ahead in other respects: paired with a sharp lens, the new sensor will resolve recognizably more detail than a 24MP camera can. Its high ISO noise performance looks good, too, when compared at a common output size. And that's without even considering the lower risk of artifacts that Canon's dual-pixel design offers, compared with other on-sensor PDAF implementations.

Even scrutinized at 1:1 level (which isn't necessarily the most natural use of 32MP), the 90D's sensor can produce impressive amounts of detail.

Canon 90D | 16-35mm F2.8L II | ISO 100 | F5.6 | 1/640 sec
Photo: Dan Bracaglia

4K keeps rolling

We were rather less impressed with the Canon chip when it comes to video. Its full-width output is noticeably less detailed than most of its contemporaries. Some of this may be down to overly conservative sharpening and a desire to avoid aliasing, but the resolution capture appears to be lower even when compared with cameras natively sampling a 3840 x 2160 pixel region, let alone the results from a chip that oversamples.

But this chink in Canon's armor doesn't leave room for the 24MP chip to strike back. Because, even in its faster, copper-wired iteration, the Sony Semiconductor sensor is starting to show its age. Rolling shutter is visible (often to an unpleasant degree) on many of the cameras that try to pull 4K from these 24MP sensors. However, it's not just the Canon chip that they have to now compete with.

The 26MP sensor in Fujifilm's X-T3 not only delivers 4K 60p, for those who need it, but it also delivers detailed 4K 30p with impressively low rolling shutter rates.

For video, the best APS-C chip on the market is arguably the 26MP chip in Fujifilm's X-T3 and X-T30 model. These are almost certainly Sony Semiconductor products, too, capable of much less jello-prone oversampled 4K and even 4K/60p if you can live with a bit of a crop.

In some parallel universe, it would be the 4K-capable 28MP chip from Samsung's NX1 that we'd be recognizing here. Sadly its low sales and Samsung's withdrawal from the market meant the 24MP era lasted rather longer

With the 24MP sensors looking outdated in terms of both stills and video performance, it's likely we'll see more cameras moving to these newer, higher resolution sensors. Despite what you may have heard, the 'megapixel race' is far from over. And new cameras will be all the better for it.