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...
Nikon D90 performance
Nikon D90 Review – Recording HD Video
Accessing the Nikon D90’s HD video facility is acheived via the live view button on the rear, which aside from the obvious benefit of saving on extra buttons also allows you to view the scene on the LCD screen prior to recording. Not only that, but as you start in live view mode you don’t need to manually focus on the initial scene, as you can pre-focus using the shutter release button (as if you were live-view focusing). However, as focusing in the D90’s video mode is acheived solely via the lens ring it can often be a two-step process – in that you may need to focus, reposition your hand and then continue focusing if you haven’t quite reached the desired point. This requires little effort in itself, though in the context of video capture it can mean a less-than-smooth transition when focusing from a defocused area, or vice-versa.
The extent to which this is a problem will depend on the particular lens you’re using, how much of your hand you can fit around the focusing ring and so on, but it was something we noticed when mounting the 18-105mm kit lens to the D90 body. A tripod may also be necessary in certain situations when shooting video with the Nikon D90, as the physical movement of the focusing ring and the fact that you’re holding it with less stability may introduce unwanted movement in the feed, and on a couple of occasions we also managed to get a stray finger into the shot.
Considering that the Nikon D90 is the world’s first DSLR to introduce an HD video facility, and that up to 20 minutes (at reduced quality) may be recorded at a time, the system in itself is perfectly usable – so long as you keep in mind what its limitations are. For anyone shooting indoors in a controlled environment, where perhaps a shot may be retaken and refocused, I can’t envisage too many problems, but for on-the-fly capture it just may take some getting used to, as compared to a video camera.
Nikon D90 Review – Live View Focus
Live view focusing with the Nikon D90 is pretty much on a par with the competition, with the camera working quickly and efficiently as it goes through each ‘step’ to find focus. The more standard focusing system is largely unchanged from the D80, and while it’s not terrible it’s also not quite up to the standard of recent models from other manufacturers.Particularly in low light the D90’s Auto Area AF setting took longer than we anticipated to firstly work out where to focus, and secondly to then confirm it.
As we found with the D700, the Nikon D90 can also occasionally apply different white balance settings to two images taken in quick succession. The cause seemed to be the same, whereby the Auto Area AF setting would choose a single AF point for one image and multiple points for another, and between the auto white balance, metering system and Scene Recognition the D90 clearly thought it knew better. Thankfully, we only encountered a couple of instances where this happened.
Nikon D90 Review – Viewfinder
The Nikon D90 has possibly the best viewfinder we’ve used on an APS-C based DSLR. It’s just about the right size to see both the scene and exposure information, and with Nikon opting for a pentaprism rather than a pentamirror construction it’s also both bright and clear, too. What’s more, it serves as a perfect match to clarity of the LCD screen, whose performance has already been well commented upon with Nikon’s D300, D700 and D3 models. This partnership, together with the clear but concise menu system, makes the Nikon D90 one of the best in its class from a usability point of view. Furthermore, it’s very encouraging that these features are now not simply the preserve of the enthusiasts and professional markets and that they can now be expected on models further down the line.
Nikon D90 Review – Custom Functions
What we can also now expect on a DSLR such as the Nikon D90 is an extensive Custom Functions list. While the D80 was impressive, the D90’s list contains more options than the average photographer will probably ever need to call upon. Many of these – such as reversing the direction of the + and – indicators and assigning a function to the Func button – concern customising the camera rather than offering any additional features, though within all these Nikon seems to have an answer for everything. It’s perhaps a little strange that one custom function – though admitedly the first one you come to – relates to changing between the dynamic, single-point and auto AF modes. Odd because the same function is accessed via a dedicated dial on its three higher-end models. Fortunately, not only can you assign this to the My Menu tab, but also to the Func button around the front of the camera.
Nikon D90 Review – Kit Lens
As for the new 18-105mm kit lens, Nikon claims that it offers three steps of usable shutter speed lower than would be otherwise possible, thanks to its Vibration Reduction technology. At the telephoto end, this equates to a shutter speed of around 1/20sec, when the focal length magnification factor is taken into account. We managed to shoot the odd image at around 1/25sec with good sharpness, though we did find a higher success rate at around 1/30-1/40sec. The lens also performed well in other areas, too, though barrelling is quite noticeable at the 18mm end, particularly if shooting close-up. Overall sharpness is good, as is control over fringing, with the latter only presenting a sliver of itself in high-contrast situations.
Nikon D90 Review – Memory Buffer
We were also impressed with the D90’s 4.5pfs burst rate, which with a SanDisk Extreme III SDHC card showed no slowdown to 100 frames, when capturing large JPEGs at their fine compression setting. By contrast, we only managed 16 frames with a Class 2 SD card, though both cards captured seven simultaneous Raw and JPEG images before any slowdown occurred. While shooting 100 JPEGs in a continuous burst is surplus to most requirements, but if nothing else is a testament to high-speed memory card performance. For action shooters in particular, this difference is certainly something to bear in mind – in part for the right choice of card, but also the knowledge that the Nikon D90 is more than up for the job!