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.
This detail of the lens area shows the VR switch and AF/MF switch just above. Interestingly, the lens and body have AF switches.
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.
The Nikon D90 is small and light although I think the lens is a little too big.
The top plate is styled like the D80 so current users of that will find the layout familiar.
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.
Active D-Lighting can be turned off if it isn't needed.
The High setting on Active D-Lighting is as far as you can go on the D3, D700 and D300.
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 handling
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.
Colour boosts are great on this shot of the colour chart with all primaries saturated to a good level.
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.
The portrait image.
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.
The portrait image in aperture-priority with flash.
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.
The ISO lo test. (ISO100 equivalent)
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 test.
The ISO3200 test.
The ISO high test. (ISO6400 equivalent)
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.
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"
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.