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Nikon D90 Review


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October 2008

Review based on a production Nikon D90 with firmware V1.0

Almost exactly two years after the D80 was announced comes its replacement, the rather predictably named D90. The D80 has been one of Nikon's quiet successes, and even today, despite being positively Methuselah-like in digital camera terms it continues to sell and often makes its way into our top 10 most clicked on cameras. Because it looks so similar to the D80 the D90 appears at first glance to be one of those rather subdued incremental upgrades, but dig a little deeper and you'll find there's plenty to keep Nikon fans happy.

First and foremost there's a new CMOS sensor, which Nikon claim produces D300 quality output at up to ISO 6400 and - one of several features to 'trickle down' from higher models - the same highly acclaimed 3.0-inch VGA screen as the D3/D300. Naturally it has Live View with contrast-detect AF and it would have been surprising had it not sported some form of dust removal system. More surprising is the inclusion of the world's first DSLR movie mode (720p HDTV quality, no less) and HDMI output, though as we'll see later it does come with some limitations. A lot of the core photographic spec is the same as or very similar to the D80, though there is a new shutter and an implementation of the 3D tracking AF seen on the D3/D300.

And it's not just the high end models that have lent features and technology to the D90; the user interface has been given the same user-friendly treatment as the D60, as have the retouching options. As it was explained to us the D90 is intended to appeal to the broadest audience of any Nikon SLR, from first-time 'step up' customers moving from a compact to serious amateurs wanting comprehensive photographic control without the cost and weight of a D300. Whether the D90 is as capable as its feature set suggests, we'll see as the review unfolds.

Nikon D90 Key Features

  • 12.9 megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor (effective pixels: 12.3 million)
  • 3.0-inch 920,000 pixel (VGA x 3 colors) TFT-LCD (same as D3 and D300)
  • Live View with contrast-detect AF, face detection
  • Image sensor cleaning (sensor shake)
  • Illuminated focus points
  • Movie capture at up to 1280 x 720 (720p) 24 fps with mono sound
  • IS0 200-3200 range (100-6400 expanded)
  • 4.5 frames per second continuous shooting (buffer: 7 RAW, 25 JPEG fine, 100 JPEG Normal)
  • Expeed image processing engine
  • 3D tracking AF (11 point)
  • Short startup time, viewfinder blackout and shutter lag
  • Slightly improved viewfinder (96% frame coverage)
  • Extensive in-camera retouching including raw development and straightening
  • Improved user interface
  • New optional compact GPS unit (fits on hot shoe)
  • Same battery and vertical grip as D80
  • Vignetting control in-camera
  • 72 thumbnail and calendar view in playback

Nikon D90 vs D80: Key Differences

Although it's had a bit of a design refresh with slightly sharper lines, the D90 is externally very similar to its predecessor (dimensions are identical, though it is heavier). Looking at the differences it's obviously a solid incremental upgrade rather than a total reinvention of the popular D80, with several key improvements (most importantly the sensor and screen) and a welcome smattering of must-have 2008 features (live view, dust removal). Oh yes, and of course there's that one little new feature sitting at the back of the classroom with its hand waving in the air, shouting 'Sir! Sir!'; the 'world's first' DSLR movie mode.

  • 12.3 MP CMOS sensor (D80: 10.2 MP CCD)
  • Dust removal system
  • Bigger, better screen (as D3, D300)
  • Live View with contrast detect AF
  • Movie Mode
  • Wider ISO range, upgraded AF system (3D tracking, face detection)
  • Active D-Lighting, vignetting control and extra retouching options
  • Automatic chromatic aberration correction
  • Picture Control presets
  • Faster continuous shooting and larger buffer
  • Pictmotion slideshows

Compared to the Nikon D80, major feature and specification differences

As you can see from the table below the D90 carries some quite significant improvements compared to the D80.

Nikon D90

Nikon D80
Sensor • 12.3 million effective pixels
• 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS (DX format)
• 10.2 million effective pixels
• 23.6 x 15.8 mm CCD (DX format)
Image sizes • 4,288 x 2,848 (12 MP)
• 3,216 x 2,136
• 2,144 x 1,424
• 3872 x 2592 (10.0 MP)
• 2896 x 1944
• 1936 x 1296
Sensor cleaning • Image Sensor Cleaning
• Image Dust Off reference data (optional Capture NX 2 software required)
• Image Dust Off reference data (optional Capture NX software required)
Autofocus • 11 area TTL
• Nikon Multi-CAM1000
• 11 area TTL
• Nikon Multi-CAM 1000
Lens servo • Single-servo AF (AF-S)
• Continuous-servo AF (AF-C)
• Automatic AF-S/AF-C (AF-A)
• 3D Tracking AF (11 points)
• Manual focus (M)
• Single-servo AF (AF-S)
• Continuous-servo AF (AF-C)
• Automatic AF-S/AF-C (AF-A)
• Manual focus (M)

• ISO 200 - 3200
• ISO 100-6400 with boost

• ISO 100 - 1600
• Up to ISO 3200 with boost

Built-in flash Guide number 17 (ISO 200) Guide number 13 (ISO 100)
Active D-lighting Can be selected from Auto, Extra high, High, Normal, Low, or Off No
Continuous • 4.5 fps
• 23 / 6 frames (JPEG / RAW)
• 3 fps
• 23 / 6 frames (JPEG / RAW)
White balance • Auto
• 6 presets
• Kelvin color temperature
• Manual preset (immediate or from photo)
• Auto
• 6 presets
• Kelvin color temperature
• Manual preset (immediate or from photo)
Image presets • Standard
• Neutral
• Vivid
• Monochrome
• Landscape
• Portrait
• Storage for up to nine custom Picture Controls

• Normal
• Softer
• Vivid
• More Vivid
• Portrait
• B&W

Viewfinder Frame coverage • Approx. 96% • Approx. 95%
LCD monitor • 3.0" TFT LCD
• 920,000 pixel TFT (RGB x 3 colors)
• 170 degree viewing angle
• Removable protective cover
• 2.5" TFT LCD
• 230,000 pixel TFT
• 170 degree viewing angle
• Removable protective cover
Dimensions 132 x 103 x 77 mm (5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in) 132 x 103 x 77 mm (5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in)
Weight • No battery: 620 g (1.4 lb)
• With battery: 703 g (1.6 lb)
• No battery: 585 g (1.3 lb)
• With battery: 668 g (1.5 lb)
Image processing engine • Expeed
• 12 bit
• New for D80
• Based on D200 / D2X
• 12-bit algorithms, 2-channel
In-camera retouching

• D-Lighting
• Red-eye reduction
• Trimming
Monochrome & filter effects
• Color balance
• Small picture
• Image overlay
• NEF (RAW) processing
• Quick retouch
• Straighten
• Distortion control
• fisheye

• D-Lighting
• Red-eye reduction
• Trimming
• Overlay
• Monochrome and Filter
• Small picture
• Image overlay

Movie mode Yes No
Live View Yes No
Others • Scene Recognition System
• Face Detection
• Calendar Display
• New information display on main LCD
• Vignetting control in-camera

Foreword / notes

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read some of our Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / recommendation / ratings are based on the opinion of the author, we recommend that you read the entire review before making any decision. Images which can be viewed at a larger size have a small magnifying glass icon in the bottom right corner of them, click to display a larger image in a new window.

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Dpreview use calibrated monitors at the PC normal gamma 2.2, this means that on our monitors we can make out the difference between all of the grayscale blocks below. We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally also A, B and C.

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