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The T90 was introduced in 1986. It was a brave move on Canon's part to bring out an all singing all dancing top of the range manual focus camera as other manufactures were releasing autofocus cameras. Although the camera was discontinued in 1991 it is still a very sort after camera, with good condition bodies going for more than the body with a 50mm lens went for when new.
With shutter speeds from 30 seconds to 1/4000 of a second, flash sync up to 1/250th, enough exposure modes to almost make the manual option redundant and a choice of metering options (centre weighted, partial and multi spot) this camera contains almost every feature imaginable except autofocus. It has a built in 4.5fps motor drive and with the 300TL dedicated flash gun you get TTL (Through The Lens) flash metering.
The view finder has three circles etched in the middle. The smallest is the spot metering area (about 3% of the field of view). This circle is split across the middle horizontally. If you line this up across a vertical straight line and the line is split the picture is out of focus. When the line is complete it is in focus. The next largest circle is etches with a pattern of small triangles. When the pattern appears dark and the subject behind them is fuzzy the photo will be out of focus, when they appear clearer and the picture behind isn’t fuzzy then the shot should be in focus. The view finder is bright enough that it is easy to see it the image is sharp. There is a third, slightly larger, circle which covers the area that the partial metering reads from. At the bottom of the view finder is a red LED display with shows the shutter speed, aperture, an ‘M’ if you are not using an automatic mode and an indicator to show the flash (if fitted with the 300TL flash gun) is charged. Down the right side of the view finder is an indicator for the spot metering and a frames remaining counter.
The metering is accurate, the centre weighting copes admirably with landscape shots or evenly lit scenes. If your subject is in front of a bright background, switch to the partial metering and the camera takes it’s readings from an area in the centre of the view finder covering about 13% of the field of view. In tricky lighting situations (such as a bride in a bright white dress and a groom in a dark black suit against a brightly lit backdrop) you can take readings from individual points (up to six) of the scene using the spot metering button and the camera will average the exposure using them.
T90 is a large camera and, at almost 1 kg without a lens, not a light one. This is not a problem as it is beautifully balanced, especially with the Canon 70-210mm FD lens. The camera sits perfectly in your hand with all the controls easily accessible with a slight movement of a finger or thumb. The weight translates it’s self to a feeling of solidity and quality. Although you can’t forget you’ve got it hanging round your neck, it is not a problem carrying it around all day.
The T90 is a joy to use, fitting perfectly into your hands (or mine at least) and feeling so right that just using it is half the pleasure of taking photographs. There are times when I almost resent having to use a tripod, but as my ability to hold a camera steady is not what it used to be I’ll have to suffer. All the controls fall easily to hand, working smoothly and precisely. The shutter makes a very satisfying, softly damped click as it opens and closes. The film winds softly on to the next frame, ready for the next shot. A camera, no matter how good, cannot make someone a good photographer. What it can do is to maximise your potential as a photographer. The exposure modes and metering options leave you free to compose the perfect shot, confident in the knowledge that no matter how poor your photo is it will at least be perfectly exposed. The T90 makes you look and feel like a professional photographer (well in my deluded imagination it does).
For all it’s features the T90 is a very easy camera to use. The dials and buttons are well laid out and clearly labelled. There is an exposure mode for almost every situation. Stick the camera in program mode, select centre weighted metering and, with the exception of focusing, it can be used as a point and shoot camera.
I have had my T90 since 1990 and it has only let me down once. I stopped to take a picture of my motorbike, pressed the shutter and nothing happened. All the displays were alive, but nothing could make it work. This was very annoying as I was off to the 1996 World Superbikes racing at Donnington the next day. I still took my camera anyway and it worked perfectly. I had the camera serviced and a new internal battery fitted (at approx £50 for the battery this is the one drawback to the T90, and it has to be fitted by Canon as you can’t get to it). The shop did advise against replacing the battery as it should last at least 10 years and they had not heard of one that had gone flat. The camera hasn’t missed a beat since.
The T90 was aimed at professionals when it was released, and it wasn’t long before it became a favourite with sports photographers and the paparazzi. Professionals need a camera that will get the shot every time you push the shutter. The camera’s life is supposed to be 250,000 rolls of 36 exp film - so if you take 10 rolls of film every month, the camera will still be going strong in 2000 years time. It also means that it is a good second hand buy. A pro’s ex camera is easy to spot (lots of metal showing through the black paint, rounded off buttons etc) and there were a lot of T90s bought by enthusiasts – who will have looked after camera and only upgraded because they thought they wanted one of the new autofocus cameras. Even if they averaged 100 rolls of film every month of the year there is still a lot of life left in it. Just remember that the battery will probably be coming up for replacing. T90s go for anything from £250 upwards. Ones worth watching having cost £300 - £400 for the body only. Totally mint boxed bodies (if any actually exist) will probably command prices over £500.
If you can live without autofocus, I would defiantly recommend a T90 to anyone. The camera still looks modern (helped by the fact that Canon have given their EOS range similar styling) and gives you access to the excellent range of Canon FD an L lenses, which there are plenty available second hand. It handles superbly, looks good and produces perfectly exposed shots almost every time (it is still possible to select the wrong exposure mode, or take a reading from the wrong area – as I prove regularly). Since buying mine I have not wanted to replace it and I don’t think I ever will. The day mine breaks down irreparably will be a very sad day indeed.
Good review (-: ................................. Darko
Nige7Whit 29.12.2002 18:12
I agree competely with your comments on hte T90, I had one until recently, when I went entirely to autofocus cameras.
It was quite a hard decision parting with the T90, as it was such a superb design, but I am now using Canon's EOS cameras, and the design ethos from the T90 is still evident today.
Saturn 25.10.2001 21:20
Good op. I agree absolutely, I have had mine for 14 years and it has been through hell and still works perfectly.