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.
image quality and the 18-105mm lens
The D90 is optimized for the ISO range of 200 to 3,200, which can be extended to a special Lo 1 mode for ISO 100 in bright situations that merit reduced noise or a Hi 1 mode, at ISO 6,400, for very dark environments. The high range is theoretical. In reality, we're comfortable with the D90's imaging chip up to ISO 1,600; ISO 3,200 and above are more for truly dire, no-flash situations. If thatís not good enough, we're more likely pull out several of Nikonís Speedlight flashes to take advantage of the wireless Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS). Still, the range is broad enough that the D90 is a tangible upgrade in light sensitivity over most current entry DSLRs and certainly most point-and-shoot cameras.
At the front of the camera are bracketing controls and an on/off button for the built-in iTTL flash system that also acts as a commander when multiple strobes are used. The pop-up flash by itself is sufficient for party photos and such casual situations where bounce isn't needed, but remember to remove any lens hood that may be on the lens: it may cast a shadow because of the built-in flashís low angle. Add an accessory Speedlight such as the SB600 or SB900, and that problem goes away.
Nikonís 18-105mm VR (vibration reduction) kit lens is a good walk-about lens that provides enough mojo for a beginner, and possibly even a semi-professional. Not having the extended range of the 18-200mm, it is also a lens that calls for a little extra care in composing the shot; those used to ultra-zoom lenses on high-end 'prosumer' cameras may be surprised. Unlike the higher-end lenses, the 18-105 has a polycarbonate lens mount instead of the stainless steel version found on this lensí big brother, so it won't be as rugged as more expensive glass.
general use, live view and burst shooting
In shooting modes, the D90 shines on several levels. As a still camera, it features the same chipset as that found in the D300. Known for its low noise and high quality, it is already legendary and worth the price of admission alone; images are clean and compensated for by features like Active D-Lighting, which partly brings out otherwise missing detail in shadows or in over-bright highlights. Add to this the at times undervalued ability of the chip to compensate for chromatic aberration, and you have a camera that will make nearly every lens look better than it already is.
As we stated before, if you have previously shot with a Nikon, picking up the D90 will feel like returning to an old, familiar home simply by virtue of its conservative design changes. That said, live view is a welcome addition here. Already present on compact cameras, itt allows you to place the camera on the ground for low angle photography or above your head in a crowd, enabling the user to preview the shot on the LCD screen rather than scrunching oneís face up to the optical viewfinder, especially in tight spaces. However, it's not a complete substitute for using the eyepiece. In this mode, the camera continues to autofocus but won't give as much control over the scene.
Drive capabilities enable the D90 to shoot up to a top speed of 4.5 frames per second (fps) when using a sufficiently fast SDHC card. For reference's sake, the first Nikon pro film SLR, the Nikon F with motordrive, had a top speed of 2.5 fps, or 3 fps with the mirror locked up. The D90 has the ability to shoot in several sizes of JPEG, as well as NEF RAW, at which point the buffer can accept up to 9 continuous images; it's not a full sports or photojournalist camera as a result of either its top speed or its photo buffer, but it's not meant to be.