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Nikon D90 Digital SLR Review

Nikon D90 Digital SLR Review - Matt Grayson went to swinging London to see the new D90 DSLR from Nikon. Groovy.

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Category : Digital SLRs
Product : Nikon D90
Price : £650
Rating :
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Just in case you were wondering, yes the D90 does replace the D80 and has some pretty good new features on it.

Nikon D90 Nikon D90: Specification

  • Resolution: 12.3Mp
  • Sensor type: CMOS
  • Image size: 4288x2848
  • Sensor size: 23.6x15.8mm
  • Autofocus points: 11
  • Crop factor: 1.5x
  • Lens mount: DX AF, Type G and D AF Nikkor full compatibility
  • Metering system: TTL using 420px RGB sensor
  • Drive: 4.5fps
  • Sensitivity: True ISO200-3200 (ISO100 & ISO6400 equivalents)
  • Screen size: 3in
  • Card format: SD/SDHC
  • Battery model: EN-EL3
  • Weight: 620g
  • Size: 132x103x77mm
  • Autofocus system: Multi CAM 1000 with TTL phase detection
  • Screen resolution: 920,000 dot (307,000px)
  • File formats: JPEG/RAW
  • Connectivity: USB 2.0
  • Flash type: Built in
  • Flash metering: i-TTL
  • Flash sync speed: 1/200sec
  • Image stabilisation: No, lens based
  • Integrated cleaning: Yes
  • Live view: Yes
  • Shutter speed: 30 - 1/4000sec
  • Viewfinder coverage: 96%
  • Movie mode: Yes

The D90 sits between the D60 and D300 in the market place with Nikon aiming it at Photo enthusiasts. However, they're confident that they can broaden the desirability of it with the new video feature.

Nikon D90 This detail of the lens area shows the VR switch and AF/MF switch just above. Interestingly, the lens and body have AF switches.

Nikon D90



This side view of the D90 shows the port cover for the many connections the D90 needs including HDMI for the new video feature and the GPS socket at the bottom.

Nikon D90
The Nikon D90 is small and light although I think the lens is a little too big.
Nikon D90
The top plate is styled like the D80 so current users of that will find the layout familiar.
Nikon D90

Nikon D90: Modes and features
The top plate of the D90 is the same as it's predecessor, the D80, apart from a slight restyling with things such as the shape of buttons. However, the back has had quite a large revamp. Apart from the bigger rear screen, the D-pad has been lowered to accommodate the live view button. The sliding lock switch is now a rotating type and the left side doesn't curve in towards the bottom making for a slightly more boxier look. All the buttons that were down the left side still are, but the OK button has now been placed in the centre of the D-pad with a new info button being given pride of place where OK used to be.

The usual upgrade of the resolution has been boosted from the 10.2Mp on the D80 to 12.3Mp which is more in line with the rest of the range.

The D90 features a new lens in the shape of the 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 G DX lens which is a good deal different to the typical 18-55mm standard lenses offered with DSLRs. The 1.5x ratio factor means that in 35mm terms this lens will offer a range of approximately 27-158mm.

It has built in Vibration Reduction for image stability but carries on the age old tradition of having a plastic mount. The lens has an AF/MF switch and this doesn't sound all too unusual until you take into consideration that the AF/MF switch is body based and, indeed, the D90 has the same switch on the camera body.

AF won't work when one of these is set to MF which could indicate a nod towards AF being converted over the being lens based. The existing body switch will be for compatibility with older lenses.

Unfortunately the Multi CAM 3500 AF system from the D3 , D700 and D300 hasn't been used on the D90. Instead it incorporates the MultiCAM 1000 system which is slightly better than the MultiCAM 900 seen on the D80. The number 900 represents the amount of contrast detecting elements in the system. It's a shame that the MultiCAM 3500 system hasn't been used for improved performance but then it gives a definite separation line from the pro specification cameras that currently use the system.

Although the Nikon D90 has an expandable ISO from the true ISO200-3200 to a more generous ISO100-6400, that's not as high as the D300 or above and I actually thought they might at least put it to ISO12,800.

Colour control is being introduced a lot to newer DSLRs and it's a feature that allows you to place a different setting to the creative modes. The Nikon D90 has settings for neutral, vivid, mono, portrait and landscape. These settings can, in turn, be adjusted as well by choosing the manage tool just below the selection.

The Nikon D90 is GPS compatible and needs the GP-1 GPS unit attaching to the GPS socket on the left side of the camera and then the unit will fix to the hotshoe. When the unit is activated and has a clear signal, the GPS icon will appear on the display screen. It records the positioning data while that icon is shown.

One of the newest features of the D90 is an additional setting to the Active D-Lighting. Even the D3 and D700 don't have the extra high setting found on the D90, it's that new. This has been added to the camera to aid images with really high dynamic ranges where even the high setting can't cope.

Nikon D90
Active D-Lighting can be turned off if it isn't needed.
Nikon D90
The High setting on Active D-Lighting is as far as you can go on the D3, D700 and D300.

Nikon D90
The Extra High setting punches a little more light into the image and adds slightly more exposure to the branch.

 

The EXPEED processor has been optimised for the D90 to help with noise control and also generate a lower power consumption. This will be a great feature when using the D90 and it's unique vantage feature, the HD video capture.

Nikon are really cooing about the fact that the Nikon D90 is the first DSLR in the world to offer video recording. But it's not just video recording, it's HD video recording. If you're asking yourself why a DSLR needs a video function, you're not alone. I asked the same question but it may seem that we're in the minority. Nikon claim to have been asked for this feature repeatedly by users. They added that the first request was placed two years ago and they've had it in mind ever since.

During testing I saw at the launch, I thought I noticed some red artefacts in low key areas but I'll have to wait and see when I get a review unit and put it through a performance test.

Recently I've been a little pessimistic when companies mention HD as it seems like everyone's jumping on a bandwagon and using a term that they know the public are going mad for. I questioned Jeremy Gilbert about this and asked him if it was a gimmick to pull in more customers. He said: "The Nikon D90's High-Definition video runs at 720p which is a recognised HD setting. It's not as good as 1080 but still has the HD classification."

Advantages that the new video feature has is that it benefits from Nikon's lens system, it has a shallow depth of field as well as the higher ISO settings. On the downside, it only records in mono sound and has a maximum 20 minute running time. The reasoning behind the capped recording is because of tax purposes. If the camera recorded constantly it would've been classed as a camcorder and been placed in a higher tax bracket which would've pushed the price of the camera up.

Nikon D90: Build and handlingNikon D90
Carrying on with keeping current users happy, the D90 is the same size as the D80 but at 620g is a whole lot heavier.

It's not difficult to use and Nikon are proud of the one touch video to stills capability. This means after shooting your video instead of switching out of video mode similar to a digital compact, pressing one button takes you back into the still mode. While being a clever idea, it isn't new as Casio have had this feature available on their compacts for a good while now.

The shutter has been tested for 100,000 cycles which, Nikon say, is double the standard testing amount for a camera of in this class. It has a top speed of 1/4000sec and a flash sync speed of 1/200sec.

Nikon D90: Performance
It appears that the processor works overtime on the colours with red, blue green and yellow all coming out richer than I've seen before. All the colours jump out from the screen and this really impresses me. The mono tones are balanced and the earthy colours have given a nice result too. I would say that the skin tone tile is a little pale but the protrait images will test that theory as the proof will be in the pudding.

Nikon D90
Colour boosts are great on this shot of the colour chart with all primaries saturated to a good level.
Nikon D90
The level of detail is good on the landscape image but what really impresses me is the complete lack of CA on the white bars.

The colour reproduction from the D90 is exceptional as the landscape image shows. Greens are accurate and there's even a hint of blue in the sky. Enlarging the white bars to full size and there's no indication of chromatic aberration anywhere which is great news for this brand new lens. Even after focusing on the balance beam it looks a little soft and could do with a slight sharpen.

Nikon D90
The portrait image.
Nikon D90
The portrait in aperture-priority.

Looking at the portrait image and there's not a great deal of difference between portrait mode and aperture-priority. Portrait mode appears to add a little warmth to the face while the hair is a bit more under exposed than the aperture-priority version.

Nikon D90
The portrait image in aperture-priority with flash.
Nikon D90
A lovely shot brought down slightly by the lens flare that's entered the frame.

Using flash has filled in shadows caused by floppy hair and ambient light coming from the subjects right. It means that no shadows exist on the face or neck but in their place, a new one is created on the wall. A shadow such as the one on the wall is easily avoidable but it's not very strong if you're restricted with space.

Pete took the Nikon D90 out with him on a shoot in Derbyshire. He shot entirely in RAW and these shots have been converted to JPEG.

Commenting on his opinion of the Nikon, he said: "I've not had time to get fully conversant with all the custom functions, but there are a lot and it seems I could set the camera up to do more or less anything I want. I really like the handling, it feels solid, the grip is comfortable and the buttons are in the right places. I'd have no qualms recommending the Nikon D90."

Despite RAW being renowned for it's lack of processing, the cropped image of the waterfall has produced some lovely colours in the foliage to the left. However I'm disappointed with the lens flare that has come through on the other shot and this can be seen at the top of the image.
 


The colour on the foliage has come out brilliantly despite taking the shot in RAW format.

This shot of Will Cheung has benefitted from a burst of fill flash from the Nikon's built-in flash.

Nikon D90: Focus and metering
The Nikon D90 has a whole menu system dedicated to separate areas of the focus system. They can be accessed by going to the custom setting (denoted by a pencil) options in the menu. You can choose the AF area you'd like to work with such as single point for off-centre shooting, dynamic area, auto area or 3D tracking for those moving subjects.

You can also adjust the size of the centre focus point, change the AF point illumination or amend the live view options from face detection to wide or normal area.

Scrolling down a page brings you to the metering options, but there are only four, or if you're going into the menu for the first time it's the option below focusing. The EV steps can be changed from 1/3 to 1/2. You can activate the easy exposure compensation and adjust the centre-weighted area.

To adjust the actual metering patterns, you have to press the metering button just sat behind the shutter release. You can choose between 3D Matrix, centre-weighted or spot metering. The spot metering mode uses around 2.5% of the centre of the image in a 3.5mm circle while centre-weighted uses the whole area but gives weight to the centre of the image. Around 75% weight is given to the exact centre and the size of this area can be changed in the previously mentioned custom menu to a 6, 8 or 10mm circle.

The 3D colour matrix metering system works only on compatible type G & D lenses. For other CPU lenses, you lose the 3D capability.

Nikon D90: Noise test
In a similar vein to the previously released D3, D300 and D700, the D90 has standard ISO sensitivity settings and boosted equivalents going below and above the true settings in 1/3 step increments. This gives the D90 a total of 19 separate ISO settings to choose from.

The true settings on the Nikon D90 range from ISO200 to ISO3200 with the equivalents going down to ISO100 and up to ISO6400. Shots at ISO100 equivalent look good with a nice, smooth finish and plenty of detail in the petals. In fact images look good and don't appear to change through the range until around ISO800 where a slight sharpening begins to appear. Granted, it's only noticeable slightly on the grey square when magnified to full size, but it's there nonetheless.

ISO1600 statrts to show black specks as the processor starts to strugglebut this seems to come under control at ISO3200 with the loss of some detail in the petals. At the top ISO setting of ISO6400 equivalent, white and coloured spots are appearing in the low key areas.

I also took two images at ISO100 and ISO6400 in RAW. These images are too large to link here and can be found in the download section. Simply click the links for the ISO100 image or the ISO6400 image to download them. A thumbnail of the images can be seen below.

Nikon D90
The ISO lo test. (ISO100 equivalent)
Nikon D90
The ISO200 test.
Nikon D90
The ISO400 test.
Nikon D90
The ISO800 test.
Nikon D90
The ISO1600 test.
Nikon D90
The ISO3200 test.
Nikon D90
The ISO high test. (ISO6400 equivalent)
Nikon D90
RAW files compared side by side. Click on the links above to download the full size images.

DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Nikon D90.

Nikon D90: Verdict
It's a nice, entry level camera that now has an additional feature to appeal to anyone progressing from a compact that don't want to lose the versatility. The HD video can also be useful for professionals as something to give a different edge with. Offering short videos from the same viewpoint of the photographs will give a unique edge to the product.

I don't like the lack of a true ISO100 and it suffered slightly from lens flare which is unfortunate. Colour rendition is good and the lens, although coming with a plastic mount, is a good one too.

Nikon D90: Editors comments
I took the Nikon D90 out on a waterfall shoot in Derbyshire. I had not handled the camera at all previously, so I was getting to know the camera while using it. The menu system, like all Nikon SLRs, is intuitive and it only took a few seconds to work out how to get the camera into my preferred RAW shooting mode and forced ISO200 sensitivity. The rear LCD display is clear, even in bright conditions, so I had no problems with this. It's also large text and high contrast so reading glasses are not necessary.

The exposure mode dial clicks solidly into aperture-priority and then, without changing presets, I had the aperture control on the front dial where I like it. I started taking photos and previewed a few to find that the exposure meter appeared to be overexposing, so I set it to minus compensation. It seems the display is brighter than I'd realised and the metering was probably closer in reality than it looked on the preview. That will teach me not to confirm with the histogram!

I'd only been shooting for about five minutes when the camera gave up on me. The top-plate LCD showed an error and the camera was locked. I had to switch the camera off and take out the battery to get it up and running again. This happened twice more in the space of 15mins. It's not happened since.

I took over four hundred shots and the battery is still showing half power so thumbs up there!

As the day progressed the rain came, I got soaked and the camera coped. The light was dull so I took a few shots with fill in flash to prevent subject movement. It illuminated the subject two metres away which was fine considering the low power. The dull conditions also gave me chance to try the high ISO settings and see how impressive ISO3200 is. I would have never considered going anywhere near this speed with film, let alone digital. And here I got a virtually noise free shot, albeit a little flat in contrast, but nevertheless totally acceptable.

Nikon D90: Plus points
Good low ISO performance
HD video capability
Extra high D-Lighting feature
Excellent battery life
No CA from the kit lens

Nikon D90: Minus points
Plastic lens mount
HD isn't "full HD"

FEATURES

HANDLING

PERFORMANCE

OVERALL

The Nikon D90 will be availble from September 2008 with the body only having an RRP of £699.99. If you want it with the 18-105mm lens then you're looking at an RRP of £849.99.

Now watch the video review below:

 

Go to ePHOTOzine.tv for other video reviews.

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Comments


IanA 11 3.0k 12 England
27 Aug 2008 6:24PM
The D80 had a CAM900 module, so this is an upgrade as far as the Dxx line is concerned!

Ian

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IanA 11 3.0k 12 England
27 Aug 2008 6:38PM

Quote:During testing I saw at the launch, I thought I noticed some red artefacts in low key areas but I'll have to wait and see when I get a review unit and put it through a performance test.


That was the champagne matt!! Wink
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
28 Aug 2008 8:55AM

Quote:The D80 had a CAM900 module, so this is an upgrade as far as the Dxx line is concerned!

Ian



I had a look around on the net and I could only find one reference that said it was the CAM1000. You live and learn. Wink
BOB S 12 2.6k
28 Aug 2008 2:43PM

Quote:It's a nice camera and is up against the 50D which I've previewed here


I do not see how you can compare this with the 50D which is 500 more expensive i.e. nearly twice the price ??!!

BOB
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
29 Aug 2008 4:13PM
I'm simply basing it on the standing of the camera against another company.
The EOS450D vs the D60, the EO50D vs the D90, the EOS 5D vs the D300, the EOS1D vs the D3.
Of course it's open to personal interpretation, for instance what is the D700 against? Which EOS 1D? I just look how I would compare if I went into a shop to buy one and use my own retail experience. What would I compare if I were selling this camera. The manufacturers change the goalposts all the time too.

That's how I base it. Sometimes companies try to get away with pushing the price up just for the badge as well, though I'm not saying thats the sole factor. Smile

What would you compare it against? The 450D seems a little under spec...? Smile
Foxfire 10 322 United Kingdom
30 Aug 2008 11:32AM
I do not understand why a camera producer, with a known reputation to supplying photographic imaging products to the profession, want to add senseless gimmicks, such as video recording. I rather they develop the tool for its purpose, e.g. DSLR for Still photography; Video: Cam and Video recorders: Voice: Voice recorders.

Stop adding tea-making facilities and other such nonsense. Rather give us the best in DSLR and an affordable price.

Perhaps if they cut out all the gimmickry they could make the D90 available at a much lower price. not to mention the D300.
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
1 Sep 2008 9:39AM
It was only a matter of time...
BOB S 12 2.6k
1 Sep 2008 2:27PM

Quote:What would you compare it against?


Why do we have to have a comparison, quite clearly this camera is not comparable to the 50D either in spec, or price, so why this meaningless comparison ?

Only my opinion.

BOB

PS I think it uses the EN-EL3e battery by the way.
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
1 Sep 2008 5:11PM
You've got a point actually, cameras are drifting away from one another in terms of specification. I think it'll be worth having a think about that.
It used to be a simple case of someone releases a camera and everyone else releases one to compete with it. Now they seem to be taking matters into their own hands.
Saying that though their are still people out there who'll want to know what Canon is out that would do the same job. They're not that dissimilar, both have CMOS, are within 3Mp of each other, same true ISO scale, just one notch up on the Nikon starting at ISO200, same resolution screen, both lens based IS, both with Live view, both with self cleaning and similar vf coverage. The Canon has a faster burst rate but that's only with a UDMA card.
Only scratching the surface I know, but until anyone sees performance tests, that's all we can do. Smile
stuwhitt 10 1.4k United Kingdom
1 Sep 2008 6:54PM
Historically when Canon introduced the 300D Nikon's answer was the D70, these days the successors to these two cameras are the Canon 450D and soon the Nikon D90, which I would say target the same market ie high end consumer.
The Canon 10D had an equivalent model in the Nikon line up in the shape of the D100, and as we all know in todays money we have the 40D and the D300, to compare these two cameras is in my view is totally fair as both are the top APS sensor cameras in their respective ranges and both share similar standards of build and greater durability.
It is important because as well as understating the 40D's credentials, comparing the 40D to lesser cameras skews the market in as far as people tend not to be told that there is an alternative that may offer better value for money to the D300.
Of course there have been models both above and below these two classes and I would suggest that up until the D700 the 5D was in a market of its own, the same with the entry level Nikon's until the 1000D's arrival.
5 Sep 2008 11:12PM
I tend to agree with Stuwhitt. I have shot a film SLR for 30 years and am only now purchasing my first ever DSLR. I did not want an entry level camera that I would outgrow quickly so I compared the 450D and the D80. These to me were "equivalent" in terms of market position. With the D90 there are now more features in favour of the Nikon than the Canon. However both are mid-level cameras, plastic build and not aimed at the pro. For me, in my research, the 40D and D200 were never in the mix as I saw them as entry level pro models.

The full review of the D90 will be interesting. link
qrs 6
6 Sep 2008 9:14PM
I am experienced at the "digital" side of the photograph, studying the technological part of it. So, first of all, the digital quality of D90 for example in A/D conversion can not be compete with a 14 bit machine like canon 40d or 50d. Nikon D300 is also not a complete 14 bit machine at all. This is especially important for photon based studies such as astronomy or very low light conditions requiring high ASA settings. Of course standard examples of these machines in a digital manner are indistinguishable for eyes.
We interpret the body, and the other side "lens" as You know, could make the quality higher as well.
Best regards.
BobEH 9 14 United Kingdom
16 Oct 2008 7:57PM
Well I have just bought a D90. Its very good. Almost as good as my 5 year old 5mp Kodak compact. But of course far more versatile. Im only joking about the Kodak, but there is a serious point. Pixels are not everything. Ease of use etc is important, good exposure on auto, handling, weight and lenses all have a place. I have not yet tried the video and have no desire to do so. The supplied lens is a cracker. The camera is very easy to use, however the exposure info on the rear screen on the D40 was much better. I am still not used to that stupid little display on the top screen of the D90, I suggest Nikon gets rid of it. I printed some pictures from a friends Fuji 6mp jobby last w/e to A3. The resulting prints were amazingly good. (Epson R2880 Jessops matt paper).
Colin Smale 11 427 England
5 Jan 2009 7:11PM
Did 'the public' really demand video recording ??? I find this very hard to believe.
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
7 Jan 2009 1:07PM
That's what Nikon said. They went on a few road shows and asked the people what they want. they said that they've also received a lot of correspondence by mail over the past two years requesting it.
mstrat 5
23 Jan 2009 4:13AM
I took my D90 out on a test run the other evening (about an hour after buying it)...I must admit that it blows away my Canon 450D that I bought in South Africa, the Olympus (which I never did like), and my older Nikon D50...while I know that the Olympus and D50 are in a different bracket altogether, I also have great thoughts on them. I took some of the pictures, and printed them at 24"x36" and they were AMAZING in quality. I'm 100% impressed.

I understand everyone's hyper-active reaction to having HD Video on a DSLR camera and how horrible it is that Nikon is actually selling these cameras...I'll be the first to admit that I like that they added it. Is it because I'm a trader? No...I was simply sick of carrying a compact camera for the sole purpose of taking the few random video clips that I wanted...to top it off with excellent footage (looks crystal clear at 54" TV level)...I'm a fan! Oh...and did I mention that you don't need to use it? I'm simply not a fan of people complaining that the option to use it exists...and I'll be honest, I'd pay extra for it...it saves me from buying a point and shoot camera (I'm going to sell it now!!!!)
BarFly 5
14 Apr 2009 10:25PM
I bought a D90 a few weeks ago and the video function is a feature that I wanted. I've got a family and when I'm not taking pictures, I use to it to take clips of, for example, the kids mucking about and it's great for this. Sure it has limitations such as no autofocus but I see this as a challenge and it's actually fun to try and master how to make decent little clips. So if you're out and about with the D90, the ability to shoot a little movie snippet is only two button presses away and what can be wrong with that? Even without this feature, the D90 is an excellent camera and IMHO better than the Canon EOS 450D so why be negative about it?
sasam 10
21 Apr 2009 7:13AM
I bought a D90 as an upgrade from my D80 and I love the camera. The main point is taking pictures and it does, brilliantly. One can just forget about the movie and keep shooting stills. As for me, the movie addition is worth noting. BTW, there are thousands of cameras in the market to choose from.
ettk 5 1 Singapore
23 Jun 2009 2:53PM
I had the same experience as mentioned in the editor's comment:

I'd only been shooting for about five minutes when the camera gave up on me. The top-plate LCD showed an error and the camera was locked. I had to switch the camera off and take out the battery to get it up and running again. This happened twice more in the space of 15mins. It's not happened since.

As I was shooting in continuous high speed for about a few minutes, similar things happen - "ERR' message shown, the camera was locked and some other indications began to blink together. And the aperture reading displayed as "F90"??
And I tried to switch off the camera and took out the battery, but it won't work. So I simply switch it off again, and let it 'rest' for a few minutes - as if it is like the overheating fault that you experience with your automobile; since the battery was slightly warm.

And surprise!!! My D90 came back to life again. Would anyone able to advise me on any possibe reason for that to happen ever since I own it since Nov 2008, with no such problem till now - though it does not reoccur till this very moment. Or anyone has the same experience to share?
4 Jul 2010 9:31PM
I bought this camera last week, having gone to look at the canon 550D and finding it quite fiddly to navigate. The salesman recommended I take a look at the D90 and immediately it felt more robust than the canon. After a bit of a chat, and learning that my old manual focus lenses could be used on this model (although this disables the metering - however shots are immediately available to preview) I went for it and have been really pleased.
I've been mainly using manual settings and been pleased with the ease of control, although i've tried out both the autofocus and AP and found great results.
Not yet had a go with video, and it wasn't a reason I bought the camera, but I can see it may be useful on occasion.
I still have 3 rolls of film to develop and had stopped taking photos recently but have taken more this week than in the past 6 months so very pleased i made the leap.

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