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.
As soon as capture starts, you can’t adjust exposure, apart from using EV shift control – though to be fair, the D90’s metering is pretty accurate. But exposure control is sluggish, easily blowing highlights while you try to adjust it. Nor can you change the aperture once capture has started, though you can take advantage of the limited depth of field of wide-aperture optics by setting the desired F-stop before recording.
Auto-focus is disabled, but manual focus is available and can be used quite effectively. The 24p framerate is prone to motion-blur, and with sudden movement the D90’s CMOS rolling shutter is susceptible to skewing and wobble, leading to the ‘jelly cam’ effect. Most – if not all – of these issues can be avoided by using a tripod and decent fluid head.
Despite that, given the size of the sensor, video quality isn’t up to scratch. While fine for Web use or viewing on a smaller screen, it’s heavily compressed at up to 1:49, and is pretty artifact-laden as a result. A full-resolution still can be taken while filming, but video capture stops and doesn’t automatically resume.
We’ve no real concerns with white balance or low-light performance, but the mono mic picks up handling noise and there’s no extra input option.
But while there’s little here for the indie filmmaker, the D90 is a hugely capable stills camera. Output is similar to the D300, and – with a greater range of Active D-Lighting (dynamic-range optimization) options – in some ways better.
Colours are punchy by default, but the maker’s Picture Styles presets allow greater adjustment than earlier models. But there’s no 14-bit capture nor lossless uncompressed Raw option – Raw files are lossy 12-bit only. It makes a difference to burst rates, even though the D90 is limited to 100 consecutive JPEGs at a blistering 4.5fps, with Raw capture it’s 11 frames.
Captured at IS) 6400
Captured at ISO 200
Noise levels are similar too, both from in-camera JPEGs and ACR conversion of Raw files, but you’ll have to switch off high ISO NR before the D90 can deliver those frame rates. With NR enabled, you can shoot confidently up to ISO 1600, maybe even ISO 3200; images are rather gritty at ISO 6400 equivalent. It all goes to show what a remarkable camera the D90 is. As a stills camera, the D90 outclasses similarly priced rivals. While it may lack features required by professional filmmakers, the addition of 720p/24 video is a real bonus.