Digital SLR cameras are getting better and cheaper. A case in point is the Nikon D90 DSLR. By packing more features at half the price of the excellent Nikon D300S makes the D90 stand out in its class.
The Nikon D90 has an image quality as good as the D300S, the exact same rear LCD, and adds several very useful ergonomic features for faster handling. These handling improvements will let you react faster to conditions, meaning you’re more likely to get better pictures by being better prepared. And it makes movies, too!
Nikon D90’s Position in the D Series
Nikon is a brand that should be familiar for most people since it was a leading brand way before the age of digital cameras. Once DSLR cameras started to reign supreme among professional photographers, Nikon responded in 2004 with the Nikon D70 which was one of Nikon’s earliest midrange digital single-lens reflex cameras with the Nikon DX format sensor. A year later, the D70s was released with a larger screen and better battery capacity. Then the following year saw the release of the Nikon D80 which had the same price tag as the D70 when it was first released, yet offered an improved feature set. Finally in 2008, the Nikon D90 was introduced and maintains its “prosumer” label which basically makes this appealing for both professionals and conventional consumers alike.
The Nikon D90 looks a lot like the older Nikon D80 which also received a lot of praise from seasoned photographers. Just about all the controls are positioned in the same spots so upgraders should have no trouble operating the Nikon D90. As for new users, the controls should give you the convenience of taking good shots once you are more familiar with the camera.
Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice 3 holes just above the D90 logo which serves as the microphone for using some of the limited HD video features. You can also see some new ports if you check the left side. There is an HDMI-out port and the Audio/Video out port which basically replaces the standard Video-out port of older models. The small rubber door under the ports contains a new GPS-in port as well. On the right side is where you can easily insert the SD card. The top portion of the camera is where you have access to all the commonly used settings. Not many changes have been made to the bottom portion as well which is where you insert the battery and plug in the tripod accessory.
There are a few significant changes in the back view which should excite a lot of Nikon lovers like the new “Lv” button which conveniently switches the LCD viewing mode to “Live view mode” without going through the interface menus. The “OK” button has been repositioned to fall on the center of the directional pad which is common among point and shoot cameras and the multi-controller lock sports a new reduced size look that is easier to use with one hand.
“I’m a professional photographer and have used the D80 and the D3 at work. This D90 incorporates many of the features of both as well as some from the D-300. It may not have the “full” chip, but I have not found that to be a problem. The size and weight of the camera is perfect for good photos. Some of those small ultralite cameras are hard to hold steady. The preview feature of the big screen is great. I opted for the extra grip that holds a second battery so it extends the time between recharging. It’s a great camera.” – MyKolg (CA, USA)
The Nikon D90 is capable of taking pictures up to 12.3 megapixels or 4228 x 2848 max resolution images. It comes with many clever features like a multiple-shot self timer and a 72-image and calendar display if you keep zooming out on playback.
It uses the same DX format CMOS sensor that was responsible for good macro photography and telephoto sessions, but includes some improvements such as ISO 6400 support.
It also manages to incorporate some features from the more powerful Nikon D3 and D300 like the larger 3.0-inch TFT-LCD display capable of displaying “Live View” with contrast detect making it a worthy point and shoot camera. The built-in face detection in the “Live View” makes it excellent for taking portrait or group shots. The LCD has a nice 170-degree wide-angle making it ideal for playing back slideshow images or watching recorded movies.
It is also the first camera that is capable of taking videos with a maximum resolution of 1280 x 720 (720p) at 24 fps. Mono sound can be captured as well thanks to the built-in microphone. It isn’t the most impressive feature compared to lighter cameras with video recording, but surely a welcome addition.
More significant features include quick continuous shooting at 4.5 fps along with a swift 0.15ms power-up and an impressive 65ms shooting lag. In simple terms, this is an excellent camera for capturing decisive moments and split-second action.
When it comes to image quality, the Nikon D90 excels with an 11-point AF system for improved autofocus accuracy combined with Nikon’s very own Scene Recognition System for sharper photos regardless of condition. This is also combined with the Nikon 3D Color Matrix Metering II for exceptional exposure accuracy based on an existing database of around 30,000 scenery shots within the camera. The shutter is built with high precision in mind withstanding over 100,000 cycles for long term accuracy. The EXPEED processor plays a huge role for the speedy image processing no matter what size the photos are.
The D90 also comes with Active D-Lighting. It is Nikon’s dynamic range optimization tool that attempts to squeeze the full dynamic range of the sensor into JPEGs. It was present in the D80 too, but only as a post-capture solution. The D90, by contrast works “on the fly” before the in-camera processing engine converts the raw image data into JPEGs. The available settings are Off, Auto, Low, Medium, High and Extra High. The Auto setting combined with 3D Colour Matrix Metering II usually produced excellent results, with no major blown highlights or blocked shadows seen in the pictures.
But even with all of those features fused in, sometimes the picture may not look perfect for printing and some photo editing might be needed. Fortunately, the Nikon D90 has some nice image editing features that you can do straight from the camera like Fisheye effect application, Red-eye reduction, Image Overlay, and other useful filter settings.
It is extremely easy to use for taking still pictures, but the movie function may not be up to scratch. There is no autofocus because focus won’t track. This makes it very hard to capture movies where the subject moves about a lot. The sequences often suffered from color moiré, jagged diagonals and some other artifacts.
As a stills camera, the D90 handles beautifully. It feels solid with all the controls comfortably positioned. The AF speed, accuracy and speed of handling are as good as any DSLR in its class, and the boost in continuous shooting is a real benefit to action photographers. Like the higher-end Nikon DSLRs, the 3″ LCD screen is a joy to use, rendering fine details in playback and allowing smooth fonts in the well laid out menu system. The combination of an upper screen and the Info option for the color monitor also ensure most shooting details are readily available, while the Quick Access bar at the bottom of the screen makes changing key settings very easy.
In terms of image quality, the D90 is on par with the semi-pro D300 as they share identical image sensors. It does a good job of reducing colored fringing with in-camera processing. Pictures are sharp and colors appear spot on. Automatic white balance worked rather well, not only in natural light but in halogen lighting too. Noise did not pose any real problems until above ISO 1600, and even then it remained low enough to to allow small to mid-sized prints to be made.
Lateral chromatic aberrations were corrected extremely well by the EXPEED image processing engine to the point that they did not appear at all in the out-of-camera JPEGs.
Nikon D90 Extras
With the GP-1 GPS Unit accessory you can take advantage of the Geotag feature. Altitude, latitude, and longitude information are recorded each time a shot is made. The Nikon D90 is the only mid-range amateur camera that supports this feature. In night shots with long-exposure noise reduction turned on, the D90 also performs well with no hot pixels evident.
The Nikon D90 is a relatively complex camera but highly intuitive to use. The extra functions such as ultrasonic sensor cleaning, 3D focus tracking, 50% faster continuous shooting speed and Active d-lighting are well worth the upgrade for D80 users and the excellent quality of the images means there is no need to go for the more expensive D300. The bottom line is that if you are looking for a high-performance yet affordable DSLR for taking high-resolution still photographs the Nikon D90 is the camera for you.
• “This is my second Nikon DSLR and a big step up from my fine D70S. The D-90 is about the same size and weight which is important if you’re holding this camera throughout a busy day. The focus is fast and accurate in most cases. The d-lighting is a nice feature for compressing highly dynamic lighting. Shooting 4.5 frames per second is wonderful. The rear screen is sharp and bright. The ability to shoot 720P video is nice but is limited by a lack of automatic focus. The resulting video is very sharp as the DSLR’s lens are bigger than anything short of a professional video camera. Nice for an occasional video but not a full replacement.” – P.Claxton (RI,USA)
• “The Nikon D90 is an almost perfect SLR. I still do not like Nikon’s 1.5x multiplier with lens focal length, but I have gotten used to it. Unless you happen to be doing a lot of smaller room photography (which I do, as a Real Estate photographer) then this is a negligible gripe. Video and live-view are awesome additions over the D80, though for some reason I would like to see 1080p @ 30fps. I don’t know why, but since it’s a standard, I think it would have been easy enough for a 12.3 MP camera to include…
Other than those two small gripes everything else about the D90 is flawless. 12.3 MP is enough for one of those Big-Macs you see on the side of the McDonald’s semi trucks, and unless you crop like crazy in your graphics editor, you should rarely ever need more than 6 MP. The live-view is awesome, especially if you are trying to photograph over the tops of crowds at sporting events. (Something that was impossible to get right with a D80.) The huge screen is large enough to watch the entire Star-Wars saga on. Okay, I exaggerate, but it is very beautiful. Button placement is perfect, and coupled with the literally thousands if not millions of Nikon accessories out there, it is a no-brainier. While the D90 is a very large camera, it has everything to do anything. If you are looking at cameras, please stop and just get this one. You really won’t regret it. “ – H.Koch (AZ,USA)
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