I have used Nikon D90 as backup camera for several months. My impression is this is the ideal mid range DSLR camera. It is has most of the features you need, has great ergonomic and handling. But the most important of all is the excellent image quality especially in ISO 800 and above.
Body and Handling
Unlike its main competitor Canon 40D, Nikon D90 is not built from magnesium alloy, but it is still very solid and sturdy. There is no rubber grip like Nikon D300 or Canon 40D either. But texturized plastic is not bad either.
I feel the size of the camera is ideal for DSLR, it is not big, but not small. It fits in my hand like glove (I have average male hand). It is not heavy but substantial enough and well-balanced when you shoot low shutter speed without tripod or when you mount it with a heavy/long lens.
Nikon D90 has two dials, one to set aperture, the other to set shutter speed or any other setting. Unlike Canon or other cameras handling, Nikon camera requires you to press and hold the button and at the same time dial the setting that you like. This might be annoying if you are not used to it. It is made so to avoid user changing setting accidentally.
It also has four way controllers which function to change auto focus points or choosing options in the menu. D90 also has dedicated live view button to activated live view for either still photography or for movie recording. There is a dedicated info button to activate various important setting for the camera. By pressing the info button twice, you can view and change setting of some useful setting such as picture control, noise reduction setting, active d-lighting, assign function and AE-L/AF-L buttons.
The function button can be assigned to many useful setting such as particular metering mode, ISO speed, central focus point, RAW+JPG and some others. The AE-L/AF-L buttons can be assigned to be AF-ON, AE lock only, AF lock only, and some others.
D90’s viewfinder is not the best because (95% coverage). But it is big enough for me to manual focus accurately in many situations.
Least but not all, It has very good top LCD screen that shows a great deal of information: ISO, aperture, shutter speed, metering, picture quality, auto focus mode, battery, continuous shooting, white balance and also the current auto focus point position.
The only complaint about handling and control is there is no dedicated button for ISO. The position of ISO button is too low in the bottom of the camera, thus making changing ISO is painful and slow.
ISO and Auto ISO
Image quality in high ISO is very good, but it is best to shoot at ISO 800 and below. The great image quality in high ISO is due to Nikon sensor and software that control the chroma/color noise out of the image. The noise in Nikon looks more natural compared to camera of other brand.
What I like most is the Auto ISO limiter. You can effectively limit the ISO and minimum shutter speed. The Auto ISO works very well and accurate most of the time. My favorite way to use this is to set the camera to Auto ISO, and then use Aperture mode and let the camera adjust the rest for me.
It is 3″ LCD Screen with 920k res which is standard for mid range camera in the late 2008 and 2009 camera. It is very detailed and relatively good in bright light condition.
Like other Nikon cameras, I feel Nikon menu is pretty confusing because they throw all over items regardless if the item is popular item or not. Therefore, it might take you some time to find some of your favorite menu items. To be fair, Nikon has my menu tab, where you can choose and put the menu item in this tab. Overall, I feel menu could be improved. Canon cameras menu for example, is easier, more logical and simple to navigate.
Auto Focus system & Continuous shooting speed
Nikon D90 has 11 AF points. Not the best compared to older brother D300, 51 AF points, but it has 3D tracking that is pretty accurate. The AF speed also depends on what kind of Nikon lens you use. Old Nikon lenses usually slower in AF, same as customer grade AF-S lens like 35mm AF-S f/1.8G lens.
D90 has continuous shooting speed above the entry level camera (4.5 fps) but it is still not very ideal for sports photography or bird photography (6 fps or better).
Creative Lighting System & Lens Compatibility
Unlike lower class Nikon cameras such as Nikon D3000 and Nikon D5000 or older models, Nikon D90 have built-in wireless commander/trigger for Nikon flash units. The CLS system is not perfect because it won’t work in certain position and situation, for example in bright daylight, in a great distance, or if the line of sight to the flashes are blocked. But, CLS is fun to use and save you money. Nikon D90 also has built-in AF motor so it is compatible with older Nikon AF-D lenses which we often found in fixed focal length lenses / primes.
Nikon D90 is the first DSLR that has video mode. It record 720p quality video. Although it is not as practical as camcorder, because you need to manual focus and it is hard to stabilized the camera, It is great in low light situation and you can create truly creative video with very shallow depth of view with this camera (using appropiate lenses).
In 2009, the competitors of Nikon D90 includes Canon 40D. Their price is almost similar, but the function is a bit different. 40D has tougher magnesium alloy body and faster continuous shooting speed, so 40D is best for sports. But in other aspects, Nikon D90 beats Canon 40D. Read: Nikon D90 vs Canon 40D.
The new Sony A550 also threaten the Nikon D90 position. Sony A550 claims to improve their image quality in high ISO and have up to 5-7 fps continuous speed (AE/AF lock situation).
Sold slightly below $900 body only now, the Nikon D90 is the best digital SLR camera in mid-range category. Like Nikon D70 and D80, I bet this camera will remain very popular for the next few years. It is great for backup camera for your full frame camera as well. If I have to choose to keep only one DSLR camera for play and work, I will choose to keep this camera.
Sample images shot by Nikon D90
More pictures at my portfolio galleries
- 12 Megapixel image resolution
- Live view mode & video recording 720p
- 3″ LCD screen, 920k resolution
- Creative Lighting system / wireless flash commander
- 4.5 fps continuous shooting speed
- 11 AF points with 3D tracking
Subjective Rating – Relative to crop sensor DLSR cameras
- Image Quality: 5/5
- Features: 5/5
- Performance: 4/5
- Body and Handling: 4/5
- Value for money: 5/5