The most important new DSLR from Nikon proves a meaningful update. (April 18th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Nikon
Price: $1,000 (body only)
- Compact, totable design.
- Image quality nearly as good as D300.
- Effective pop-up flash.
- ISO 6,400 limit with low noise up to ISO 1,600.
- Video capability a nice bonus.
- Good 18-105mm kit lens option.
- On the verge of being too small; battery grip helps.
- No autofocus in video mode; "Jell-O" effect in fast pans.
- Still uses SDHC cards in place of faster CF.
- Awkward video start/stop controls.
- 18-105mm lens uses a plastic mount.
When Nikon released the D90 DSLR, it promised a huge step towards the future of the mid-range digital photography with the release of a 12.3-megapixel camera that combined high image quality with options that would still appeal to beginners or simply curious creatives, such as live previews and (for the first time in a DSLR) HD video. Electronista takes a look at the D90 and its 18-105mm VR lens kit to see whether the camera succeeds on all fronts.
Opening the box finds everything needed to get up and running... with, unsurprisingly, the exception of a memory card. The D90 uses SDHC cards, which are ubiquitous but potentially unusual for those used to CompactFlash in anything above point-and-shoots.
Of course, Nikon's View NX software, and other members of the Nikon software suite are on the enclosed DVD. Also along for the ride are HDMI hookup cables, the charger for the enclosed battery, and finally the ubiquitous Nikon woven camera strap, which is one of the most useless straps available in the industry. This strap is made of a slippery non-grip material on the underside, which will easily allow the camera to slide off your shoulder at a moment when you might least expect it. A better solution would be the Domke Gripper camera strap, which has several rubber strips woven through the length of the strap to prevent such mishaps.
design, controls and the battery
In the grand scheme of things, the D90 falls strictly into the mid-sized segment of DSLR cameras, above compact models like the D40, D60 and D5000; the D300 and D700 would rank as full-sized members of the fleet, while the D3 and D3x are simply massive. It fits comfortably in mid- to large-sized hands, and has a reasonable heft to it… not too light, nor too heavy.
If you have ever experienced Nikon cameras before, you’ll find controls familiar and well placed, consistent with earlier cameras. Ergonomically, the grip on the camera’s right side is just a touch small for our oversized mitts, but should be fine for most users. A master control switch surrounds the shutter release button at the top of the grip, surrounded by metering, exposure compensation, drive rate and autofocus controls. As on its larger siblings, there is a command dial resting under the thumb, and a sub-command dial under the shutter release. A large-ish LCD panel at top displays shooting modes and other functions, while a mode dial sits to the left of the viewfinder pentaprism.
Controls for the three-inch color monitor at the camera’s back also show the image review button, menu, zoom in and out controls and ISO button on the left side of the screen while the right side is home to the Live View, multi-selector and OK buttons, the last of which starts and stops the new HD video recording function. These buttons in turn, lead to other controls that allow for color correction on the fly as well as color effects, star filters and fisheye effects. It will all be familiar to owners of modern, entry- to mid-range Nikon DSLRs, particularly those who've already used the D80, though the video option is somewhat awkward and does add a small layer of complexity -- notably, the new D5000 simplifies access to the same feature despite arriving only a few months later.
Power is supplied to the D90 by Nikon’s standard EN-EL3e lithium-ion battery and yields up to approximately 850 shots on a charge (or any combination of flash, video, or other means of imaging). That's very long and a potential advantage for all-day photo shoots. The use of the MB-D80 battery pack allows for extended usage with an additional EN-EL3e or the use of six AA batteries for higher frame rates. It also balances out the feel of the camera for use with longer lenses, and provides a vertical shutter release when using the camera in portrait orientation.