Review: Nikon D90 first impressions


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On semi-impulse I bought a Nikon D90 kit last Thursday from Amazon after nearly four years with my trusty D70. I sat down with the manual over the weekend and got to know it a little better. There are plenty of great in-depth reviews of the D90 out there with tech comparisons and sample photos. This is not one of those. I'm just going to give you my first impressions of the D90, especially things about it that made me smile, from the perspective of a D70 upgrader:

  • Live view! Giant LCD! 6.7x image review zoom! Awesome. The D70 screen looks like a postage stamp now.
  • It is perceptibly faster and lighter.
  • I turned on the viewfinder grid, turned off the focus beep, and switched to selected area for focus because that's how I roll.
  • The default image processing settings are fairly neutral and true to life. In Flickr terms: boring. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but I'm not particularly interested in absolute truth, photographically speaking. I prefer my photos to have a little more pop so I adjusted the default to Vivid which boosts both the contrast and saturation. Speaking of which, you can record up to 9 custom image processing settings in the camera and save them off to SD cards to store or share.
  • Turned on custom setting d3 which shows the ISO setting in the viewfinder instead of the remaining frame count. Maybe that will stop me from shooting entire rolls at ISO 500 instead of 200. I doubt it. But one must try to be optimistic. I said "rolls." How old am I?
  • The self-timer can be set for 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 seconds and you can adjust the number of shots (up to 9). So you can set the self-timer to go off in 5 seconds and take, say, 3 shots (which it does at what feels like the low-speed frame rate).
  • The new AF-A focusing mode which automatically chooses between AF-S (single) and AF-C (continuous) focus depending on subject movement seems really good on paper and so far it has worked out well in practice. And thank you Nikon for the AF selector button on the body.
  • I must say I'm a fan of active D-lighting. In almost every test shot, the D90 makes better exposures than my D70 at default settings. Matrix metering and auto white balance are markedly improved, especially in difficult lighting situations. The D70 has a strong bias against blown highlights, so much so that I routinely shot my D70 with an exposure compensation of +0.7. The D90 isn't nearly as overprotective (especially with active D-lighting enabled, strength: Normal). At the moment I think the D90 will work quite nicely at +0 or even -0.3.
  • It can record RAW + JPG FINE for every exposure. On an 8GB SDHC card I get a readout of 361 available images at that setting (539 RAW only, 1.1k JPG Fine only).
  • Built-in image adjustment and RAW processing. Pretty cool, though it's no Photoshop/Lightroom/Gimp obviously. Post-processing lets you do the usual stuff: crop, rotate, adjust white balance, exposure compensation, choose picture controls (e.g. vivid, landscape, portrait, custom, etc.). In addition, you can apply D-lighting, red-eye removal (although I couldn't get the D90 to give me red-eye), convert to black and white, sepia, cyanotype, filter effects (skylight, warm, red, green, blue, cross screen), resize, quick retouch (contrast + saturation), adjust distortion, and add fisheye effect. Each adjustment creates a new JPG and leaves the original untouched. It's a nice-to-have for a guy like me who doesn't particularly like post-processing images.
  • Strobists take note: The D90 has built-in flash commander support for up to two groups + the built-in flash + adjustable channels (1-4)! It's almost like getting an SB-800 thrown into the kit for free. Awesome news for folks with multiple strobes.
  • No complaints about the 18-105 kit lens. The VR works well, it has the same field of view at the wide end as the 18-70, and it has produced fine bokeh so far. Plastic lens mount but, hey, it's the kit lens. Exactly the same lens hood as the 18-70 kit and takes the same filter size (67mm).
  • Movie mode is a fun, fun, fun little battery drainer. Image quality is excellent, sound quality is acceptable (what you'd expect from a dinky in-camera microphone). I'll post a video sample soon.

As I said, I've only had the camera a few days. More impressions as I learn more about it. Some weekend shots below, from my Flickr account:

Tower 4

Huntington Beach Condos

John is the original founder of Photodoto, but after running it for 4 years he had to focus on different things. If you're interested in what John has been up to recently, you can check is personal blog or browse his photo blog.
  • http://www.jorgeq.com Jorge Quinteros

    I’m currently a proud owner of a D80 which I happen to end up placing on Ebay this morning because I decided to upgrade to the D90. 12MP sounds great but my biggest reason for the change was decided heavily on the ability to record HD movies with the camera.

  • http://www.diyphotography.net Udi Tirosh

    Hi John,
    I am bout to do the same “mistake” and buy a D90 to replace my D70. This review has been a great help. say, did you consider the D300?
    udi

  • http://photodoto.com/ John Watson

    If the D90 didn’t exist, I’d probably end up with a D300 eventually. But the D90 has many of the features that attracted me to the D300, it’s cheaper, and it shoots video.

  • http://spatter.typepad.com June

    Can you share settings used for these pictures? Std, Neutral, etc and sharpness and saturation levels. Thanks

  • http://photodoto.com/ John Watson

    June, you can see all of the settings by clicking the photo and then clicking the “More properties” link on the sidebar.

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