Written by Gordon Laing
The Nikon D90 is the long awaited successor to the company’s best-selling D80 Digital SLR. Announced in late August 2008, the D90 follows a similar strategy to its predecessor, aimed at a slightly higher level than many of its rivals. This understandably makes it more expensive, but that same gamble paid off with the earlier D80, where many new buyers saw the value of spending a little extra on a better-featured camera which would last them longer.
So down to business: the Nikon D90 is the company’s latest mid-range DSLR which features an inevitable boost in resolution over its predecessor, this time from 10.2 to 12.3 Megapixels. The D90’s sensor employs CMOS technology and we understand it’s the same DX-format chip used in the semi-pro D300, or at least one based on it.
As such the field-reduction factor remains 1.5 times and the sensitivity range is also the same as the D300, running from 200 to 3200 ISO in a standard range, with Lo-1 and Hi-1 options extending it to 100 and 6400 ISO. Like the D300, the D90 also offers anti-dust facilities by vibrating its low pass filter.
The next new, but expected feature over the earlier D80 is of course Live View. Unlike Live View on the D300 and D700 though, the D90 features a dedicated button on the rear to activate the feature, and there’s now three contrast-based AF modes to choose from.
Sticking with the sensor, the big new feature for the D90 is video recording – indeed it’s the first DSLR to offer the facility. The D90’s D-Movie mode captures progressive format video at 24fps in a choice of three resolutions: 320×216, 640×424 and a high definition 1280×720 mode. Video is stored in the Motion JPEG AVI format with mono audio.
Video recording often involves compromises on still cameras, and indeed Nikon warns autofocus and ‘some other functions’ are not available when recording movies on the D90. But as a DSLR, the D90 features one literally big advantage over other still cameras, and indeed all consumer camcorders: its sensor is physically much larger. This gives the D90 dual advantages of greater sensitivity in low light and potentially much smaller depth of fields, along with the opportunity to swap lenses and zoom while filming.
Continuing Nikon’s strategy of delivering higher-end performance, the D90’s continuous shooting isn’t stuck at the typical entry-level rate of 3fps, nor the slightly boosted 3.5fps speed of the Canon 450D / XSi or Olympus E-520. Instead the D90 shoots at a noticeably quicker rate of 4.5fps, which is close to the 5fps of semi-pro models like Sony’s Alpha A700.
The D90 doesn’t just share sensor resolution with the D300 – it also features the same excellent 3in monitor with 920k pixels. So unlike the 320×240 pixel resolution of typical 230k screens, the D90 boasts 640×480 pixel resolution which allows Live View, replayed images and menu items to look highly detailed and absolutely superb.
Like the D80 before it, the D90 employs a pentaprism viewfinder to deliver a large, bright view, and like other Nikon DSLRs, there’s LCD grid lines which can be switched on and off as required. In terms of autofocus, the D90 is equipped with the same Multi-CAM 1000 11-point system as its predecessor, and there’s also now optional face detection in Live View.
Completing the picture is an HDMI output for connecting to HDTVs and a port for the new optional GPS-1 accessory, which fits onto the D90’s hotshoe and allows the camera to store location, time and altitude details in the EXIF data. Finally, Nikon has introduced a new kit lens for the D90: the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR. So it may be shorter than the 18-135mm commonly supplied with the D80, but it does now feature the crucial addition of Vibration Reduction to help counteract camera shake.
So once again Nikon has delivered a DSLR which out-features many of its rivals, albeit at a slightly higher price point. In our full review we’ll look into all these new features, test them out in practice and see whether it’s worth the paying the extra, or indeed if the step-up to a semi-pro model is a better choice. And as always you can see the camera’s highlights in our Nikon D90 video tour.
We tested a final production Nikon D90 running Firmware versions A 1.00 and B 1.00. Following our convention of using default factory and best quality JPEG settings to test cameras unless otherwise stated, the D90 was set to its best quality Large Fine JPEG mode with Auto White Balance and the default Standard Picture Control, Normal High ISO NR and Active D-Lighting set to the default Auto. We have examples showing the other High ISO NR and Active D-Lighting settings in the review.