Pros: Excellent stills with low noise; good build quality; excellent viewfinder and AF system; responsive with 4.5fps burst option.
Cons: Rolling shutter is prone to skew and wobble; video compression artifacts; mono sound with no additional input option.
The D90 replaces Nikon’s hugely popular D80, and has many of the improvements you’d expect. As well as another two million pixels, and the switch from CCD to CMOS, the D90 adds auto-sensor cleaning and a superb high-res three-inch LCD, Live View, ISOs up to a native ISO 3200, along with one-stop expansion and bursts up to 4.5fps.
The big news, though, is that the D90 is the world’s first digital SLR to include high-definition video capture.
All this is wrapped in a plastic shell with the same dimensions as its predecessor, and only a tiny increase in weight, to 650g (for the body only). To compete with rivals Sony and Pentax, which have introduced models with in-camera image stabilization, Nikon has added a new DX-format 18-105mm Vibration Reduction (VR) lens to the range.
Although it’s a fairly bulky design, the two-ring lens barrel has no play, unlike some, and seems well-made despite the plastic mount. It’s a handy range, given the price, and a good choice for street and travel photography, though it can’t match the versatility or anti-shake performance of Nikon’s most popular zoom, the DX-format 18-200mm
f/3.5-5.6 VR II. The maker’s three-stop equivalent claim didn’t quite tally with our test results – we would say it was closer to two steps, on average.
Like the D80, the new model is small when compared with semi-pro cameras, but it’s comfortable in the hand, and the plastic outer feels more durable than most. Unlike the maker’s entry-level offerings, the D90 has auto-focus (AF) compatibility with all AF-Nikkor lenses, not just the newer AF-S types, greatly enhancing the appeal.
Sadly, the D90 doesn’t have the D300’s firmware-based support for manual-focus Ai-s lenses, nor its superior 51-point AF system. Instead, it has the same excellent wide-area 11-point focus detection module as the D80 and D200.
Unfortunately, the D90 lacks the detection-point grouping options of the D200, and other AF-area modes still have to be selected from the long list of options in the main menu. A function button located at the front can be programmed to access the AF modes, while most other day-to-day features can be selected from dedicated buttons. A new Info button is a real help to working the camera, duplicating the top-plate data panel on the three-inch rear screen.
One of the D90’s highlights is the excellent viewfinder. While it’s not as generous as the D700’s 35mm full-frame viewfinder, the image is big, bright and has enough contrast.
ISOs can be displayed as an option – this is especially handy with the excellent Auto-ISO feature enabled. The D90’s Live View options include both AF and manual focus with a decent magnified view, as well as a new face-detection mode. This isn’t likely to feature highly on most users’ priorities, but the Live View mode has another, more remarkable option: HD video capture at 720p at 24fps.
While the D90 is the world’s first digital SLR to offer video capture, much is already being said about the video capabilities of the forthcoming Canon EOS 5D Mark II. That model is a 35mm full-frame camera, packing 1080p at 30fps using the H.264 codec, but it’s listed at three times the price of the Nikon.
By contrast, the D90’s video is restricted to 2GB or five minutes, and captures AVI files with Motion-JPEG encoding. Data rates are pretty low –1.6MBps at the best-quality settings – lower-quality options drop the image capture size. While the D90’s ergonomics suit stills capture, the same can’t be said of video capture.