Canon T90

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The Canon T90 was Canon's top of the line T-series multi-mode camera, with ground-breaking design and features which became the basis for all modern SLR cameras.


Introduced in 1986, the Canon T90 was the last serious, high-end manual focus FD mount SLR designed by Canon. The T90 was the most sophisticated automatic exposure camera developed prior to modern DSLRs. It include a top mounted LCD panel with pictographic representation of the multiple metering modes, multiple exposure modes, shutter speed, aperture, and other settings. There was a 7 segment LED display visible in the viewfinder for shutter speed and aperture information and a 3 segment LED display for AE lock and metering information. A battery pack containing 4 AA cells powered the camera and the built-in 4.5 FPS autowinder. The camera could autoload film as well as read DX code information from the film can. The camera had a conventional pentaprism and interchangeable focusing screens.

Metering and Exposure

The T90 did not introduce any fundamentally new type of metering but it was the first time a single camera combined so many methods of metering. The camera used multiple silicon photo cells for through the lens (TTL) metering. Meter coupling range was EV 0-20 with ISO 100 film and an FD 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens. An ISO range of 6—6400 was supported with ISO 25—5000 set automatically in ⅓ steps based on DX coding. Exposure compensation could be set in ⅓ increments for +/- 2 steps. A Highlight/Shadow control was offered in ½ increments for +/- 4 steps in certain modes.

Metering options included:

  • Center-weighted average metering
  • Partial area metering (13%)
  • Spot metering (2.7%)
  • Multi-spot metering (8 spots, based on the Olympus OM-4)
  • Highlight and Shadow spot metering (based on the Olympus OM-4)

Exposure modes offered:

  • Shutter priority AE with selectable safety shift function
  • Aperture priority AE with selectable safety shift function
  • Standard program AE
  • Variable shift program AE with 7 program options
  • Manual
  • Stopped down AE
  • Stopped down with fixed index
  • Flash AE with A-TTL Canon Speedlites


In the 1980s, computerized cameras were becoming common and Canon felt they were becoming too complicated and difficult to use, necessitating a major redesign of the SLR camera. To do this, Canon engineers collaborated for the first time with an outside designer. German industrial designer Luigi Colani, known for his use of biodesigns, was asked to rethink the camera. His initial design was so different that Canon engineers could not accept it, Colani had reoriented the camera so that it could be held ergonomically with the wrist in a natural position, much like a modern camcorder. Canon engineers brought the design somewhat back into the mainstream but kept many of the futuristic features including the smooth biodesign surfaces and curved edges.

Canon engineers also put everything the latest technology of the 1980s could provide into the T90 and worked out innovative ways of making the complex technology easily accessible. Many of these innovations, such as pictographic LCD panels and thumbwheel controls were used on nearly all brands and models of SLRs and DSLRs designed afterwards. The thumbwheel control was considered so useful, it was adopted by Sony and Blackberry for other types of consumer devices. The camera was also designed to stand up to use in harsh environments. It was considered so sturdy that it was given the nickname of Tank in the Japanese market. Product design expert Adam Richardson says of the T90, "few products have had as profound an effect on their category as the T90 had on the modern SLR, not the least of which is the interface paradigm that it introduced and which is copied almost verbatim on every SLR on the market today, 20 years later."[1]

Canon's response to another recent camera innovation just one year later, cut the T90's life span short. The T90 was introduced just before Minolta's Maxxum autofocus system changed the SLR landscape forever. Canon immediately announced the EOS autofocus system, rendering all its FD lenses and cameras, including the T90, obsolete. So while the T90 had a huge effect on camera design, it was quickly forgotten by most photographers who moved on to autofocus camera systems.




Canon Cameras
Japan Camera Grand Prix
Camera of the year

1984: Nikon FA | 1985: Minolta α-7000 | 1986: Canon T90 | 1987: Canon EOS 650 | 1988: Kyocera Samurai | 1989: Nikon F4 | 1990: Canon EOS 10 | 1991: Contax RTS III | 1992: Pentax Z-1 | 1993: Canon EOS 5 | 1994: Minolta α-707si | 1995: Contax G1 | 1996: Minolta TC-1 | 1997: Nikon F5 | 1998: Pentax 645N | 1999: Minolta α-9 | 2000: Canon EOS-1V | 2001: Minolta α-7 | 2002: Canon EOS-1D | 2003: Canon EOS-1Ds | 2004: Nikon D70 | 2005: Konica Minolta α-7 Digital | 2006: Nikon D200 | 2007: Pentax K10D | 2008: Nikon D3 | 2009: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | 2010: Olympus Pen E-P1 | 2011: Pentax 645D | 2012: Nikon D800 | 2013: Sony DSC-RX1 | 2014: Nikon Df | 2015: Canon EOS 7D Mark II | 2016: Sony α7R II | 2017: Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II | 2018: Sony α9 | 2019: Lumix S1R | 2020: Sony α7R IV | 2021: Sony α1 | 2022: Nikon Z9 | 2023: Sony α7R V

Special Prize
1990: Konica Kanpai | 1991: Fuji Cardia Travel Mini Dual-P | 1992: Konica Hexar | 1993: Nikonos RS | Sigma SA300 | 1994: Olympus µ[mju:] Zoom Panorama | 1995: Ricoh R1 | 1996: Fujifilm GA645 | 1997: Canon IXY | Contax AX | 1998: Olympus C1400L | 1999: Nikon Coolpix 950 | Tamron AF28-300mm F3.5-6.3 LD Aspherical IF MACRO lens | 2000: Nikon D1 | Konica Hexar RF | 2001: Bronica RF645 | Fujichrome 100F/400F film | 2002: Minolta DiMAGE X | Nikon FM3A | 2003: Fujifilm GX645AF | Hasselblad H1 | 2004: Canon EOS Kiss Digital | Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG Aspherical HSM lens | 2005: Nikon F6 | Epson R-D1 | 2006: Ricoh GR Digital | Zeiss Ikon | 2007: Sony α100 | Adobe Lightroom software | 2008: Sigma DP1 | Fujichrome Velvia 50 film | 2009: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 | Casio EXILIM EX-FC100 | 2010: Sony Exmor R sensor | Canon EF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM lens | 2011: Fujifilm X100 | Epson MAXART PX-5V (R3000) printer |

2012: Sony NEX 7 | 2013: Canon EOS 6D | Sigma DP1 / DP2 / DP3 Merrill 2014: Olympus OM-D EM-1 | Canon EOS 70D | Ricoh Theta