With the announcement of the new Canon 90D DSLR, I thought it might make a good 2nd camera for NFL games. I use the Canon 1DX as my main camera mostly mounted on a Canon 400 f2.8. When needing extra lens length, I use the Canon 1.4 tele extender ( Version 3 ) on the 400mm for an effective length of 560mm ( with a one stop loss ). The Canon 90D being a 1.6 crop lens, using it on my 400mm gives me 620mm f.2.8 lens.
So it was off to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA for the San Francisco 49ers 2019 regular season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers to put the new Canon 90D through it’s paces to see if it could handle the fast pace of NFL action.

Before we get to the images, a couple technical notes. The Canon 90D images were captured in full JPG & CRAW. All the images in this post were made from the full sized JPG’s, with the exception of the one 1DX file which was converted from a full RAW file. Shooting in full JPG and CRAW allowed at continuous blast of at least 30 images in the high speed auto servo setting. The files were captured on a Sandisk 64GB Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-1 card with a write speed of 170MB. I turned off any extra features the camera provides so as to increase the fps. That included turning off Noise Reduction and Anit-Flicker option. All the images were made using the Optical Viewfinder.
The files were processed in Lightroom 6 and then cropped and logo added in Photoshop CS5. Yeah, that’s right, I don’t pay Adobe every month to use their software. The settings the files were batch processed in LR were as follows: Exposure +.2, Highlights -10, Shadows +38, Blacks -5, Clarity +17, Vibrance +10, Saturation +4, Sharpening 100, Masking 35, Noise Reduction Luminance 29, Color 25 and Post Crop vignetting -13. Once in Photoshop some of the photos had more minor adjustments made, but the batch processing was a pretty good starting point.

Pittsburgh Steeler #39 Minkah Fitzpatrick leaps by San Francisco 49ers fullback #44 Kyle Juszczyk at Levi's Stadium - September 22, 2019

Canon 90D on Canon 400mm f2.8 – ISO 200 – 1/1250 – f4.0.

Full frame view of top image.

900 pixel x 600 pixel section from full sized file of 6960 x 4640 pixels.

900 pixel x 600 pixel section from file sized down to 4000 x 2667 pixels.

San Francisco 49er running back #31 Raheem Mostert tries to elude Pittsburgh Steeler defenders at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA

This image of San Francisco 49er running back #31 Raheem Mostert was made with the Canon 1DX on 400 mm f2.8 lens – ISO 200 – 1/1250 – f3.5.

This 900 pixel x 600 pixel section was taken from the full frame 5184 x 3456 pixel 1DX file. Just my two cents, but the 90D full sized file shows more grain and isn’t quite as sharp as the 1Dx file. That said, if you reduce the much larger 90D file down to the 1DX file size, I think they look about the same. No scientific methods were used for this determination, I’m just eye balling it.

San Francisco 49er #18 Dante Pettis puts the ball across the goal line for the game winning touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 22, 2019 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA.

This was the game winning touchdown by #18 Dante Pettis against the Steelers. This image was captured with the Canon 1DX on a Canon 70-200 f2.8 lens. On previous series when either team was close to the end zone I used the 90D on the 70-200 to get the extra reach. On this series of plays there was no need for extra reach as the 49ers were inside the 10 yard line. The other main reason for using the 1DX over the 90D is that you do get a higher frame rate ( 10 fps vs 8 fps )  and better auto focus.

Pittsburgh Steeler kicker #9 Chris Boswell puts his foot into a field goal attempt against the San Francisco 49ers on September 22, 2019 at Levi's stadium.

Field goal attempt by Steelers kicker #9 Chris Boswell with 1.4 tele coverter on Canon 90D and 400 mm lens for an effective lens length of 896 mm.  The math being 400 mm x 1.6 crop x 1.4 converter. The field goal image is cropped to appx. 75% of the horizontal full frame image. ( Hope that makes sense  – I was shooting horizontally, and the picture you see is about 75% from top to bottom of the frame )

Canon 90D on 70-200 zoom at 200 mm for an effective lens length of 320 mm. ISO 250 – 1/1600 – f4.0.

This is a continuation of the play shown in the very first photo of this post. Steeler #39 Minkah Fitzpatrick sailed by 49er #Kyle Juszczyk and missed that tackle, so now Steeler #34 Terrell Edmunds hangs on while other Steeler defenders help make the tackle. There were 31 images made during this continuous burst. This image was the 18th.

San Francisco 49er quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo passes against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA.

Nothing award winning about this image, but does show the reach of a Canon 90D on a 400mm lens. San Francisco 49er quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is standing on about the 45 yard line of the 49ers. That makes him about 70 yards from my position in the Pittsburgh end zone. In the full frame file, the quarterback fills about 75% of the horizontal image.

49er cornerback #25 Richard Sherman breaks up a pass intended for #19 Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. This play happened about 80 to 90 yards down field from my position and is a pretty good sized crop from the file created by the Canon 90D on my 400 mm lens.

The second pick in the 2019 NFL draft #97 Nick Bosa from Ohio state university.

With the 2nd pick in the 2019 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected #97 Nick Bosa from Ohio State. This image is the 5th in a series of 27 continuous photos. I was doing an isolation shot of #97. I didn’t realize till looking at the data from these photos that this series was made with Canon 1.4 tele converter on.

San Francisco 49er #97 Nick Bosa lunges through the air during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 22, 2019 at Levi's stadium.

The 14th photo in the series shows #97 Nick Bosa leaping, lunging, or falling. Looking closely at the time stamps for the series, there was a 10 fps portion of images. I think this was accomplished because I was just focusing on a single players who was essentially running towards the camera instead of a more herky-jerky motion normally involved with football.

Pittsburgh Steeler #23 Joe Haden attempts to tackle San Francisco 49er wide receiver #18 Dante Pettis.

Canon 90D with 1.4 tele converter on 400 mm lens – ISO 500 – 1/1000 – f5.6. Note: those chairs in the background are about 125 yards from my photo position.

Full view with 1.4 converter on the 400 mm and Canon 90D. 49er quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is taking the snap from #58 Weston Richburg about 90 yards from where I am positioned.

Pittsburgh Steeler running back #30 James Conner tries to elude San Francisco 49er defensive end #91 Arik Armstead at Levi's Stadium on September 22, 2019.

Canon 90D on 70-200 zoom at 160 mm – ISO 400 – f4.0 – 1/1250. Normally from this position on the field I wouldn’t be using the 70-200, but instead using the 400 shooting vertical. With the 1.6 crop, 160mm becomes 256 mm.

Levi's stadium and lights reflect in the visor of Pittsburgh Steeler #55 Devin Bush.


Levi’s stadium and stadium lights in Santa Clara, CA. are reflected in the visor of #55 Pittsburgh Steeler Devin Bush. Image made with Canon 90D on 400 mm at ISO 500 – f3.5 – 1/2000.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. admin

    Just my 2¢, maybe a used Canon 1DX would be better for basketball. The auto focus is definitely better than the Canon 90D, and it’s full frame vs 1.6 crop. Just checked the current prices, and a used 1DX with a somewhat low shutter count will certainly cost most than a new Canon 90D at $1200, but will perform better. While using both the 90D and 1DX for NFL games with a Canon 70-200 f2.8, I felt there was noticeable difference with the auto focus speed with the 1DX the clear winner.

  2. Jim Good

    Thank you Keith for a great review! I’m not a pro, just an enthusiast & shoot various college sports teams that I transport on my charter bus. My 7DII is getting some age on it & I have been trying to read reviews on the 90D to see whether it would work for me. The lenses I currently use for outdoor is the 70-200 2.8 or the 100-400 II. Just curious if you think the 90D would be a serious contender for indoor basketball games? Your amazing pics sealed the deal for me….

  3. Ronnie

    This was awesome to see. Thank you for posting these pics and info!

  4. Paul Cox

    Hi there, loved this review and the shots (excellent, if I may say so).. I am a complete amateur, but snap my local rugby team – just for my own benefit (although the club and players get something out of it) – currently with my 70D and am on the verge of upgrading to the 90D; I think your review has confirmed that I should crack on and just get it (especially as I can get a pretty decent deal on a body only option)

  5. Ken

    Excellent review. Very detailed images so looks like this camera is a winner. Not a 7D2 replacement but I think it out performs it in many ways. Might consider in a trade in, my 7D2 is feeling a bit old after 5 years.

  6. admin

    I’ve had every Canon 1D model from the original to the 1DX. I would say they are a “tougher” build than the 90D. As should be a camera that costs 5K vs a 1.2K camera.
    Don’t forget the crop factor of 1.6 vs full frame of the 1DX. Suddenly that lens that normally worked for motocross is too long. And this is just my 2¢, but I think the auto focus on the 1DX on the close range of a 70-200 is superior to that of the 90D. Just something to think about if you are up close shooting turns with a 70-200 zoom.

  7. Scott Heidbrink

    So, the consensus is the 90D is capable of pro-level images, yes? (that’s how it looks to me)

    I shoot motocross/supercross — and the environment is hard on a camera, so an affordable 90D makes more sense than a 1D X Mk II

  8. admin

    Thanks for the kind words.

  9. Mark Moreno

    The portfolio that held my attention is only further evidence that you are a rare talent with many
    weapons in your arsenal. Thanks for inspiring me towards excellence.

  10. David Mazoff

    Wow!!! Thanks for this excellent review!!!

  11. admin

    I hope to add a couple high ISO pictures to the post in the near future.

  12. Jason A

    Great review ! So nice to see action shots using the 90D. How did you find the AF compared to other cameras you’ve used (I’m particularly interested in 7D Mk II as it’s often a sports shooter standard for APS-C) ?

    Would love to see more photos taken at higher ISO just to see how you feel that compares with Canon’s other offerings.

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