Nikon D90 review
Review Date : Thu, 16 Oct 2008
Author : Matt Golowczynski
The Nikon D90 - the world's first DSLR with HD video functionality - offers technology borrowed from its more expensive D300 and D3 siblings at a price that will appeal to serious enthusiasts, as well as those looking to experiment with video at an affordable pricepoint. The What Digital Camera Nikon D90 Review...
|Pros:||LCD screen, viewfinder, image quality, burst speed|
|Cons:||Movie mode has its limitations, fiddly acess to AF modes|
The Nikon D90 is the world's first DSLR to introduce 720p high definition video to the market, whilst successfully upgrading the popular mid-range Nikon D80 model. And yet already, with the D90 barely on the shelves, internet forums have been steadily filling up with arguments from both sides of the 'video/photo' fence. Some argue the Nikon D90's dive into HD video makes both economical and practical sense, allowing effortless transition between the use of both mediums. Predictably, the opposing argument has been just as vocal, with people stating that they don't need DSLR video capture. Like it or not, it looks like DSLR video is here to stay - but as the Nikon D90 is the first model of its kind, exactly how high should we be setting our expectations? The What Digital Camera Nikon D90 review... (Dec 2008: In a matter of months the Canons 5D mkII DSLR offered Full HD video)
Nikon D90 Review - More Than Just a Nikon D80 With Video
It would be easy to assume that the main attraction of the Nikon D90 lies within its video capabilities, but there have been a number of changes to the core photographic side of things worthy of attention. Predictably, many of these trickle down from the Nikon D90's professionally orientated siblings - the D300 and D3 - helping to bolster the Nikon D90's overall value as a mid range DSLR.
Nikon D90 Review - 12.3-Megapixel CMOS Sensor
The Nikon D90 matches the more expensive D300 for resolution, in offering a newly designed 12.3MP DX-format sensor. Unlike the Nikon D80, the Nikon D90 uses the CMOS sensor technology that has been implemented in all three of Nikon's current professional DSLRs, signalling that CCD chips may soon be confined to entry-level DSLR models, if they are used at all. The D90's sensor has been fitted with a self-cleaning unit to minimise the effects of dust incursion on images, while the Nikon's EXPEED processing concept handles image processing and operation.
Nikon D90 Review - ISO Range and Active D-Lighting
The Nikon D90's sensitivity ranges from ISO 200-3200, and may be extended a stop each way to ISO 100 and 6400. Working with this is Nikon's Active D-Lighting function, which essentially optimises dynamic range for enhancing otherwise-lost detail. This may be either left to an auto setting or configured manually, and - for the first time in the Nikon D90 - the function sees an 'Extra High' option, for those oc
casions when you want it to have an even greater effect
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Nikon D90 Review - Kit Lens
As with all other
Nikon DX-format DSLRs, the Nikon D90 applies a 1.5x conversion factor to any mounted optic. Given that the model comes as an option with the new 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED VR kit lens, this gives it an impressive focal range equivalent to 26-155mm. Although the D80 did have a longer reaching 18-135mm lens as a kit option, the new lens boxed up with the Nikon D90 is still an eminently useful focal range for a kit lens. What's more, the inclusion of Nikon's Vibration Reduction technology makes it arguably more useful for low-light photography, and whenever the telephoto end is necessary.
Nikon D90 R
eview - Picture Styles and Scene Recognition
The Nikon D90 allows for images to be captured in one of six Picture Styles, ranging from Standard and Neutral to the new Portrait and Landscape modes, or alternatively in a customised style of your choosing. In either case, the D90's Scene Recognition system optimises exposure, white balance and focus, and also works in tandem with face recognition technology. All of this is aided by the camera's 420pixel RGB metering sensor, which offers a standard evaluative matrix pattern in addition to centre-weighted and spot options.
Nikon D90 R
eview - Viewfinder
The Nikon D90 has the same pentaprism viewfinder as found with the D80, albeit with a slight increase in its coverage. But perhaps a more immediate improvement is the 920,000dot, 3in LCD screen - a wonderfully crisp and high resolution for viewing video on your DSLR. This is identical to the ones used on Nikon's professional DSLRs, and its inclusion here qualifies the D90 as the cheapest DSLR to have ever been released with such a high-resolution LCD screen; only the Sony A700 is currently able to match it at this price point. As well as images and the graphic user interface, the LCD displays the live view feed which allows for autofocusing, but only via contrast detection. We imagine the c
onfidence Nikon has in its performance has ruled out phase detection as a live-view option for the Nikon D90, and once other manufacturers deem their own contrast detection sufficient it's likely
they will do the same.
Nikon D90 Review - AF System
The Nikon D
90 utilises the same Multi-CAM 1000 focusing module as found in the D80, with the only apparent addition being with the 3D Tracking function. Auto, single-point and dynamic options are also available, with a dedicated focus-locking switch on the rear to stop the focus point from being changed unintentionally. The D90 also sees an increase to its burst rate over and beyond the D80, increasing f
rom 3fps to 4.5fps.
Nikon D90 Review - HD Video from a DSLR?
Nikon D90's crowning glory: 720p HD video from a DSLR. Video files may be captured at a rate of 24fps in a 1280 x 720p resolution. The HD video function also allows sound to be recorded alongside (though only in mono) and clips are limited to either five minutes at its optimum setting or 20 minutes at a reduced resolution. A further caveat is that autofocusing isn't possible, though with a healthy range of lenses to choose from you do benefit from being able to zoom optically during recording (something still not possible on the majority of compacts) and also the ability to explore a range of perspectives. Tilt and shift movies, anyone?
Nikon D90 Review - In-Camera Editing
The Nikon D90 also contains a range of in-camera editing options, ranging from the necessary to the novelty. T
hese include ‘non-active' D-lighting and black & white image conversion, as well as control over distortion and a fisheye effect. Sitting alongside this is the welcome addition of Raw processing, which encompasses options for adjusting exposure, sharpening, and white balance options among other fact
ors, with all effects saved as a separate file allowing you to keep the original, unadjusted image.
Nikon D90 Review - Wireless Transfer
Finally, in a
ddition to SD and SDHC media, the Nikon D90 accepts Eye Fi memory cards which allow for wireless transfer of images to a computer or website. Most SD-supporting cameras now accept the cards, but, as with its D60 model, Nikon has worked with Eye Fi to enable the camera to control the card's properties, directly from its menu system.