By January 20, 2009

Nikon D90 review

Have Nikon identified a need to shoot video with a DSLR?


So here we have the much talked about successor to the very popular Nikon D80, the D90. The latest mid-range DSLR from Nikon, launched in late August just prior to Photokina, is their first DSLR to have HD video capability, so will this be regarded as a useful added feature to ensure success in a very competitive market place or just a gimmick?


The Nikon D90


What’s in the box?

The camera arrived as a kit complete with the D90 body and Nikon’s new 18/105 kit lens. Also in the box is a branded camera strap, front and rear lens caps and a body cap. Cables consist of a USB connection and av leads. The battery is a Lithium ion cell and comes complete with a mains charger. You also get the user manual (in book form) and a software suite, with an installation guide.


Nikon D90 Specification:

  • Style: Digital SLR
  • Megapixels: 12.3
  • Print Ratios: 3:2
  • File Formats: JPEG RAW
  • Memory Cards: SD/SDHC
  • Shutter Speed: 30 seconds to 1/4000 + bulb mode
  • Sensitivity: Auto, 100 – 6400
  • White Balance Settings: Sun, Shade, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash, Preset, Fine Tune colour temperature setting , Auto
  • Exposure Compensation: Plus or minus 5EV in increments of 1/3, 1/2, 1
  • Viewfinder: Pentaprism
  • LCD Screen: 3 inches
  • Flash Modes: Auto, Red-Eye reduction, Off, On, Slow sync, Rear-curtain sync
  • Shooting Modes: Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Sports, Night Portrait
  • Maximum Movie Resolution: 1280 x 720 pixels
  • Maximum Movie Frames Per Second: 24 fps
  • Metering: Multi, Spot, Centre-weighted
  • Manual Controls: Manual exposure, aperture priority, shutter priority
  • Self Timer: 2, 5, 10 or 20 seconds
  • Video Out (TV Playback)
  • Computer Connection
  • Batteries: Lithium-ion Rechargeable (supplied)
  • Dimensions: 132 x 103 x 77mm
  • Weight: 620g


The back of the body is dominated by the 3 inch high resolution LCD screen, and to the right of this are four controls. The top one, marked LV, displays the live view on the screen, and below this is the multi-selector which allows navigation and selection on the chosen display. Next is the focus selector lock which allows locking on to a chosen focus point and at the bottom is the Info. Button and this displays the picture taking information on the large LCD. To the right of the screen are five buttons. These, from top to bottom, are; the playback button to view pictures on the screen, the button to display menus on the screen, the help and image protection button, the playback zoom out button and the playback zoom in button. Above the screen are two buttons; to the left is the delete button to remove images in playback and to the right is the auto exposure lock.

Nikon D90 rear view

The Nikon D90 rear view


On the front of the camera is the button to raise the flash and to select the flash mode, the bracketing selection button, the lens release button and the MF/AF switch. Also on the front of the body are the microphone for video, the infrared receiver for remote operation, the AF assist/self timer lamp and depth of field preview button. To the top of the camera we find the mode dial, which allows selection of scene modes, these include the usual selection of landscape, portrait, macro and sport. It is also possible to select aperture priority, shutter priority and programme mode on this dial along with the two fully automatic “point and shoot” modes, one utilising auto flash and the other disabling the flash. On the opposite side is a small LCD displaying picture taking information and a series of buttons including exposure compensation, selection of metering mode, shutter release selection and AF mode selection. Forward of these are the power on switch, shutter release and command dial.

Nikon D90 front view

Nikon D90 front view


All connections are to the side of the camera, and include a DC connection and connections for USB, HDMI, video and accessories.


Nikon D90 side view

The ‘top’ of the camera is home to hotshoe for the flash and a secondary LCD status panel that tells us shutter speed, ISO, aperture, battery level, white balance and number of remaining shots among other things.

Nikon D90 top view

Nikon D90 top view


On the bottom you’ll find the battery compartment and the screw connector for a tripod.


Nikon D90 bottom view



  • Performance
  • Balance and Build quality
  • High specification
  • HD Video capability

Lowlights :

  • Weight increase
  • No auto-focus on video
  • Price


I have used the D90 nearly everyday during the last couple of weeks, this has involved a variety of lighting conditions from simulated daylight, dim artificial lighting in workshops and outdoor work. From the start I felt comfortable with the camera, the D90 feels robust and well balanced, a view echoed by a number of DSLR owning work colleagues. Most controls fall easily to hand, especially those most often used, and information and menus are displayed clearly on the 3 inch high resolution LCD screen.

Although very similar in design, Nikon have improved on the popular D80 with the introduction of some new features, and by adding others from their professional range, particularly the D300.

First of all the most significant introduction is that of hd video capability to a DSLR for the first time. The only other manufacturer to currently offer this is Canon on the EOS 5D mk2, but this is a much more costly alternative. I know many may argue that this is not necessary on a DSLR, but I have found it very useful. Video has never been a priority of mine but the ability to record short videos whilst out with my DSLR definitely scores highly. You could criticise the video option for its mono sound reproduction and lack of autofocus, but it should not be judged against digital camcorders as it is first and foremost a very capable DSLR. The hd video function should be judged as an added feature, which could well become a standard feature on other DSLR cameras in the future.

The major upgrades from the D80 are not ground breaking but, as mentioned earlier, inherited from the highly thought of professional range. This is no bad thing, of course, resulting in a mid range DSLR with many of the specifications found on much more expensive equipment.

These include, the high resolution screen which is identical to those used on the Nikon professional range and a 12.3 MP CMOS sensor replaces the 10 MP CCD sensor seen on the D80. Although the same resolution as those in the higher DSLR range from Nikon, this is in fact a new design with a self cleaning unit fitted. The eleven point autofocus system is similar to the one used in the D80 but with the added feature of 3D focus tracking from the D3 and D300. The D90 can save images as RAW or JPEG files and can also do this simultaneously giving the best of both worlds. We also see an increase in burst rate over the D80, with the maximum increased from 3fps to a very respectable 4.5fps. Nikons D lighting function, which originally had only three settings, for enhancing details that could otherwise be lost in the shaded areas, now has an extra high option added, giving the user even greater control. This has resulted in an increase in weight over its predecessor to 620g. Although this does not make the D90 a heavy weight in comparison to others, any increase will be viewed as a negative point. In practice though I didn’t find it a problem. I carried the D90 with me over a 2 week period both at work and during long dog walks etc. Usually a bridge camera is carried and used for my work activities, which is considerably lighter than the D90, but the gain in useful specification, balance and general handling of the camera more than makes up for any weight increase. I did find that some of the information is very small on the top plate LCD, particularly burst rate, and I found it easier to press the info button which reproduces the information on the large LCD screen.

The kit lens incorporates vibration reduction, Nikons version of an anti shake feature, which controls any blurring from slight body movement and works well on the D90.

Now for performance; this was consistently good throughout the time I used the camera, both in terms of sharp focus and balanced exposure. Noise is controlled throughout the ISO range steadily rising towards the top end. There is a noise reduction option but this can result in some loss of detail at the highest setting. Saturation and general colour reproduction were impressive in a wide variety of situations.

Finally one small thing, I liked the substantial impact resistant screen protector. It just clips on giving excellent protection to the large LCD screen, and if it gets too marked you could remove it and clip on another. Why don’t all DSLR bodies have this option?


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Nikon D90 sample photos



From reading this review you may have realised that I was very impressed with the D90, and this is from someone who has never bought or owned a Nikon camera. My allegiance has always been elsewhere but the D90 could easily change this. The camera is aimed predominantly at the family man with a keen interest in photography, but this is not its only market. Indeed, I feel it has a place in the professional’s kit as a spare body with the ability to video if required. However, the D90 could also be considered by anyone with a budding interest in photography looking for their first DSLR; by utilising the two fully automatic settings clear, well exposed images can be captured immediately. Providing the budget will stretch this far, the D90 will allow the user to expand and grow into the camera without the need to upgrade.

Would I buy one? As an all round, versatile DSLR it takes some beating, and when you consider what the D90 has to offer it is competitively priced. Certainly if I was in the market for a mid range DSLR this would probably be the one I would go for, and would have no hesitation in recommending it to others.


Review By: Ian McKenna

Posted in: Cameras

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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