Nikon D90 Review

Nikon D90 Digital SLR


What's in the box?

Nikon really have got their packaging sorted. The gold box embellished with a blind embossed D90 logo really makes you feel great when you open it. It’s a well engineered carton that reveals new treasures as you delve deeper. The Nikon Software Suite disc is the first item to emerge. This Mac and PC compatible disc holds the key to unlocking the power of the Nikon D90 RAW files. I use Adobe Lightroom in my workflow and after downloading the version 2.2 upgrade I was good to go without any changes to my routine. The manual was next out, at A5 it is far bigger than the ones I’m used to but all the better for it. The manual for the Nikon D90 digital SLR is very informative. It goes way beyond the controls and their functions and delves into why you need them. It freely gives shooting advice and is well illustrated throughout.

So, what’s not in the box? A memory card. I’m a pro shooter and have nearly 100Gb of Compact Flash cards to hand in various sizes but this camera takes SD cards. So I had to go out and buy another card for this review. There is a distinct lack of an HDMI lead. You will need a mini HDMI to normal HDMI if you are going to use an HDMI enabled screen or device in real time with this camera. You can of course download video content or the pictures you have shot to your computer using the USB lead supplied.

"The gold box embellished with a blind embossed D90 logo really makes you feel great when you open it."

How does the Nikon D90 feel?

The camera is about 20% smaller than a Nikon D300 but feels great. It’s lighter and even I, with my big clumsy hands, enjoyed holding and using the camera on an all day shoot. It just feels right to hold. The camera body is well contoured with all the lumps and bumps in the right places.

Nikon D90 Sample Shot

Rada is beautiful. Cheekbones like these deserve hard light. I've kept the picture cool in tone to match her expression. Nikon D90, ISO 200, f/16, 1/125th, 70 - 200 mm f/2.8 VR lens at 70mm

As I have come to expect from Nikon, this camera is well put together with a robust casing made from the right materials that look great and will last. There is no doubt that the Nikon D300 and the Nikon D3 are made using more durable materials but at this price point the Nikon D90 certainly didn’t leave me disappointed.

"even I, with my big clumsy hands, enjoyed holding and using the camera on an all day shoot."

How did the controls of the Nikon D90 feel? The short answer is okay. I’m quite used to Nikons having shot 10,000 frames on a Nikon D3 last year and I own a Nikon D200 digital SLR with over 100,000 frames on the clock. It was relatively easy for me to get used to changing the ISO, aperture and shutter speeds in M mode as well as switch between the P and A modes. The one control I like the most is the info button. It’s well placed and instantly shows you all you need to know on the excellent rear screen.

I feel really comfortable using this camera. Despite it’s small size it does everything a pro would demand of a DSLR. There are many small but significant improvements Nikon have made to the handling of their cameras over the years and the one I liked the most with this camera is the redesigned focus switch to the left of the lens that toggles between AF and MF. It is now almost impossible to knock it accidently and it is still easy to use without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.

Nikon D90 Sample Shot

The grey background can be used to create fabulous blacks when it's unlit. Nikon D90, ISO 200, f/16, 1/125th, 48mm lens setting.

I used the Nikon D90 exclusively on a Studio Lighting workshop I was running. I had 8 delegates most of whom are full time professionals, two professional models and even in this situation under this pressure to produce top flight images I felt completely comfortable with the D90.

Nikon D90 Sample Shot

The Broncolor packs provide a fast pulse of light that freezes the action. Useful for pictures like these. Same settings as the shot above.

I hope you agree that the Nikon D90 is a remarkable image making tool; the picture quality exceeded my expectations. I would have no worries shooting a wedding with this camera or having it as a second body for my everyday commercial shooting.

What is the visual interface like?

I found the viewfinder was bright and showed me all the information I needed including ISO. The screen on the top plate is smaller than I’m used to yet it too shows all the relevant info needed. All in all there are no surprises or short comings when it comes to information display, which brings me neatly on to the main screen. There are two main characteristics of the latest generation of Nikon main screen. It is big and it is bright. However I found it slightly over optimistic on sharpness and it showed my pictures brighter than they appeared on my colour managed monitor. The first point about the sharpness is just one of the characteristics you will come to learn. If you are not careful you could be left thinking that a picture is sharp only to discover there is slight subject blur when you view it at 100% on the computer. The camera produces sharp enough pictures that’s for sure, it’s just me that needs checking up on! So I opted to zoom in on pictures I wanted to keep at the time of shooting just to be sure. It’s a good practice to get into. The second point about the screen brightness is easily remedied. I took a jpeg of my house exterior, downloaded it to the computer, opened it in Photoshop and put the SD card back in the camera. I pressed play on the camera and viewed the same picture on both screens. I then dived into the LCD brightness menu and set it to -1. The range goes from -3 to +3 and I found a setting of -1 gave me the best match of the same image on the camera screen.

Before using the Nikon D90 I was warned of potential overexposure problems, but I found that the D90 metering was spot on most of the time using the matrix metering setting in conjunction with the central AF point selected. In fact I’d say the metering is very competent indeed.

Nikon D90 Sample Shot

A Grey background roll and three hard lights did all the work here. Nikon D90, ISO 200, f/14, 1/125th, 62mm lens setting.

When I received the camera it had been set away from the default sRGB colour space. I find Nikons produce the best skin tones using an sRGB setting and this camera is no exception. The Nikon D90’s manual would have you believe that Adobe RGB colour space is desirable if you are going to post produce your images, but I find the factory default sRGB is still the best for people pictures.

"the Nikon D90 is a remarkable image making tool; the picture quality exceeded my expectations."

During the shooting process I found the Nikon D90 autofocus to be identical in speed of action to my Nikon D200 even in very low light. I always use the central focus zone and reframe after focusing. The autofocus on the Nikon D90 was good enough for me so this passes the acid test. Now, let me explain how I tested the AF capability. I was shooting low key studio images focusing using just the modeling lights in the flash heads, and the cameras autofocus system performed well.

I found the speed of the shutter was fine for me too. The Nikon D90 didn’t leave me wanting more frames per second and I never felt I’d missed a moment. I charged the battery the night before the shoot and it lasted all day and barely got down to half empty after 8 hours of shooting and reviewing images. I’m used to the EN-EL3e cell and the D90 was very efficient with it’s use of power.

Nikon D90 Sample Shot

I just used the modeling lights for this exposure. Nikon D90, ISO 1600, 1/8th, f/5.3, 80mm lens setting.

One other feature that has been in the wings for some time is auto ISO. It is a sensible feature to have and the Nikon D90 takes this feature seriously allowing a fair degree of customisation of it’s parameters. Auto ISO represents a major change in the way photographers traditionally use their cameras and now that high ISO capability is as good as it is on the D90 we have four stops of in camera auto ISO adjustment to utilise.

Nikon D90 - My conclusions:

Best bits of the Nikon D90 digital SLR:

  • Small size and light weight compared with a Nikon D300
  • Fully featured camera leaving nothing out.
  • Outstanding picture quality even at ISO 1600.
  • Good handling even with big hands
  • Well made with good materials.Built to last.
  • Built in fully featured remote flash commander.
  • Fast and accurate autofocus.
  • Good battery life.
  • HD Video capability.
  • Customisable auto ISO feature.
  • Well laid out menu system.

Worst bits of the Nikon D90 digital SLR:

  • No PC socket

Is the picture quality of the Nikon D90 good enough to impress the judges of a 20”x16” print competition? Yes. Does it represent good value for money? Yes. Is it cool? Yes. If I was in the market for a DSLR with in my pocket would I buy this camera? Yes.

The Nikon D90 really is a great camera that produces wonderful pictures. I want one.

Nikon D90 Rating:

10/10 value
 8/10 build quality
 8/10 image quality
 8/10 features
 8/10 handling

Overall:Overall 8 out of 10

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