There's been a lot of talk about this particular camera body. I first handled the D90 at the start of the month and it didn't leave a lasting impression. From previous posts over the forum it was clear I didn't hold this camera in high regard. You might be guessing from the tone of that last sentence that that's no longer the case. The short answer - I'm still unimpressed. Here's why:
The D90's major selling point (in terms of pictures) is the higher range of ISO, and probable better low light performance.
To put that to the test, I compared it with the D80 using the 35-70 2.8 @ 35mm, f/5, 1/50, and MF at ISO 1600. Both were taken at Large-Fine Jpeg, AWB and factory settings.
Below are two of a few comparison images between the D80 and D90 (one is marginally out of focus and down to my MF):
100% crops from top right box:
The D80 is the second sample in both.
I'll let you be the judge on the image quality from this example. The WB would have been in between the two - the D80 is marginally warm, and the D90 is marginally cold.
But IQ aside the D90 body handles very similarly to the D80, and feels slightly more hefty and well-built. But when it comes to the buttons, the D-pad, dials and buttons on the D90 felt very plastic and had a lot of laxity and play to them. This was one of my observations when I first handled the camera at a promotional event. I'm not keen on them.
The menu system is much improved and is placed between the D80 and D300. It has many more options than its predecessor, but lacks the image banks we are accustomed to in the semi-pro models. The LCD makes scrolling through the menus a pleasure, and live-view has been streamlined a little and I think it's an improvement over the D300 and D3.
The biggest change is the incorporation of the video mode. As several videos are available on the internet, I didn't record one, but having tried it, it might be useful to some - just not me.
Video is limited to 5 minutes at the highest resolution to prevent sensor burning. The bottom right corner of the plastic body of the D90 actually warms up whilst you record, and this is where the battery is located. Battery drain was phenomenal - using an EN-EL3e with baseline power of 47% from the D90, 5 minutes of video on the D90 reduced it to 20%.
Battery aside, the video also might have impacted on how Nikon designed their mirror mechanism. The D90 makes a fabulously satisfying click when pictures are taken and really makes you want to take more - but this click is loud and transmitted through the body. You can even feel it, and that concerns me - for delicate tripod work the mirror movement will affect stability. There is no mirror lock up mode on the D90 other than one to allow you to clean the sensor.
As an overall impression though, I'm quite confused with the D90. It is a worthy successor by spec to the D80, and it takes fine pictures. On the other hand it is a flawed successor and feels like a deliberate compromise between performance and the budget. I wonder whether we'll see a similarly strong uptake of D90 cameras in the entry and enthusiast sector given how competitive the offerings are from Canon, Olympus and Sony. For those tempted by the gadgetry on the D60, which was a re-hashed D40x, the D90 represents an attractive proposition. For the more experienced photographer though, the flaws in the D90 can be spotted and make that decision to pay a little more for the D300 far more easily justifiable, especially when there is a collection of glass already.