Image quality

The Canon EOS 90D has a new 32.5MP APS-C sensor - the highest-resolution chip in its class. Image quality is noticeably improved across the board compared its 24MP predecessor and Raw IQ is on par with the best of its APS-C competition, mirrorless or DSLR. JPEG color from the 90D continues to be a favorite, but high ISO noise reduction is sloppy, blurring away detail.

Key takeaways:

  • Excellent Raw detail capture and high ISO noise performance
  • Pleasing JPEG color
  • Aggressive JPEG noise reduction smears away fine detail
  • Good raw dynamic range for class

Studio Scene

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you'll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

Note: As of September 26th 2019 the skintone targets in our test scene have been removed and replaced temporarily by fresh prints drawn from our archive. As such, these targets should provide an accurate way of assessing the 90D's color response, but should not be used to compare the 90D against previously-tested cameras. This is an interim measure, and we're working on a permanent solution.

The 90D's 32.5MP sensor has about 8MP more resolution than most its APS-C competitors (11.5MP more than the Nikon D7500). As a result it shows better detail capture at base ISO, noticeable in the legibility of the very fine text. You can also see greater Raw detail from the 90D in the etching as well as in the drawing of the old man's face.

The 90D's lack of moiré suggests the presence of an anti alaising filter, unlike the a6400 (and D7500). So not only do you get class-leading Raw detail capture, you get it without the fear of moiré.

As the ISO increases, noise levels appear on par with the competition and slightly improved over its predecessor. This is true even at very high ISOs. Likewise, in very dim lighting you can see a clear improvement in noise levels compared to the 80D.

Switching over to JPEG mode, Canon colors continue to be a favorite with nice deep reds and yellows look less green than those of the a6400 - though we still prefer Nikon's yellows. Canon's greens don't pop quite as much as Sony's greens, but as a whole, we're seeing really good color here, similar to that of the 80D.

Base ISO sharpening for JPEGs is fairly well-judged, though the Canon's not quite pulling as much fine detail as Sony. But we're also not seeing any stair-stepping in straight lines, a tell-tale sign of over-sharpening, which is good.

As the ISO value increases, Canon's noise reduction kicks in with a heavy hand that only gets heavier, blurring away more and more fine detail as the ISO value increases. By the time you hit very high ISOs JPEG detail capture falls noticeably behind both the Nikon and Sony. So despite capturing similar or greater levels of Raw detail at high ISO compared to the a6400, the 90D is unable to parlay that detail into its JPEGs the same way the Sony does.

Canon tends to focus on suppressing chroma noise, but takes a lighter approach to luminance noise, visible as grain. More sophisticated context sensitive noise reduction systems, like the a6400's, do a better job smoothing luminance noise while maintaining fine detail. And while the 90D's noise reduction may appear improved over the 80D's, the reality is it's starting with much more resolution, so there's a good chance noise reduction is largely unchanged.

Dynamic Range

The 90D has pretty good, but not outstanding dynamic range. In our ISO invariance test, we shoot at ISO 3200 and then use the same exposure values at ISO 100; any differences in noise must come from the camera (which is then being overcome by the additional amplification being applied at the higher ISO setting). In the 90D you can see there is some difference, but it's relatively small: viewed at a common output size, the result is comparable to its peers, though not class-leading. This opens up the option of using a lower ISO setting if you're trying to shoot a low-light scene with bright highlight detail you'd like to capture: there will be a slight noise cost but you'll retain multiple stops of extra highlight detail by not adding amplification.

The other way of exploiting a large amount of dynamic range is, in bright light, to reduce exposure to capture additional highlights, then brighten the shadow region. Reducing the exposure like this inherently increases the noisiness of your images, since you end up capturing less light and hence are more likely to see the randomness of the light (photon shot noise). However, some cameras perform better than others due to lower read noise. If we compare the 90D's images shot this way in our exposure latitude test, it's again competitive with its APS-C peers, but not class-leading.