Nikon D90 Review

First published on: Thursday, 16 October 2008

Last update (Oct 02, 2009): The correct version of the Phottix wired / wireless remote for the D90 is the Cleon N10.

This is my on-going user review of the Nikon D90.

Image Quality

To me, the overall image quality I get with the Nikon D90 is superior to what I’ve had from my previous cameras, and this list of cameras include the Nikon D70, Nikon D300, Canon EOS 40D and Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi / 450D. I’ve also used a relative’s Nikon D200 and Nikon D40 extensively. A borrowed Nikon D60 completes the mix.

This conclusion of mine comes from taking into consideration several factors, which are:

  1. Automatic White Balance performance (AWB)

  2. Exposure

  3. Color

  4. Tonality

  5. Detail, sharpness, resolution

  6. Image noise levels and “character”

The other cameras might have an advantage or two in one or more of the factors listed, but as a whole, the combination of sensor performance, features and functionality in the D90 allows me the ability to capture the best images I can in the best possible way, more than any camera I’ve owned before.

See below for the link to my post where I share full-sized photos.

Original Nikon D90 files for download

You can download full-sized, unedited (mostly) files shot with my Nikon D90, just visit the Nikon D90 photos and Nikon D90 movie clips pages.

Image Preview and Review

Just like with the Nikon D300 that I have sold, the preview image comes up instantly after a shot is taken.

Unlike the D300 however, the D90 lacks the ability to zoom in on the focused area at 100% with a press of the center of the multi-selector (the OK button on the D90). I really miss this piece of functionality. To check focus on the D90, I have to press the playback zoom in button a couple of times to enlarge the image, and then use the multi-selector to navigate to the portion of the image that I want to check the focus on.

Also, you can’t program the D90 to maintain the direction of image review after you delete an image. On the D300, you can. For example, let’s say you have 10 images on the card. You start by reviewing image 10, then 9, then 8, and you decide to delete image 8. On the D300, I can set it up to display image 7 after image 8 is deleted. On the D90, I can’t, so the camera displays image 9, that is to say, it didn’t display the next image in the direction I was originally previewing them. This slows down image deletion as I sometimes want to quickly delete a series of images in reverse order.

I do like the RGB color histograms on the D90, though. The histograms (a luminosity histogram is also shown on the same screen) change to show information related to the zoomed-in portion of the image you’re currently viewing, quickly and automatically.

I also like the calendar thumbnail view a lot. With this, you can quickly jump to any day on the calendar (which is displayed on the left side of the screen) and view the photos taken on that particular day on a vertical strip shown on the right side of the screen. This is very useful when you’re on a long vacation or trip and don’t upload the photos from the card to your laptop or storage device at the end of every day, and want to view pictures shot on a specific day of the trip.

The blinking highlights screen on the D90 is of the standard type, nothing revolutionary. I wish that Nikon would also show lost shadows, just like you’d get on the Pentax K10D and K20D.

I’ve created a video that shows you the core image review and preview functions on the D90:

Nikon D90 Image Preview and Review from David Chin on Vimeo.

RAW (NEF) file compatibility

November 5th, 2008 update: Apple has just released the Digital Camera Raw Compatibility 2.3 update. Editing D90 RAW / NEF files in Aperture or iPhoto is now possible. Read a related forum discussion here.

At the time of writing (20-Oct-2008), iPhoto and Finder on the Mac platform cannot recognize D90 RAW / NEF files. You’ll get an error message if you try to import a NEF file:

The following file could not be imported. (The import failed.)

Software that can be used to edit Nikon D90 NEF files are Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.1, Adobe Photoshop CS3 (you must install the recently-released Camera RAW 4.6 — see this blog post for details) or Nikon Capture NX 2 (not even the older Nikon Capture NX can be used).

To be able to quickly get an idea of the advantages of RAW files for post-editing, download Nikon Capture NX 2, which has a generous 60-day trial copy — read this post for details.

Movie Mode

The movie mode on the D90 was one of the main reasons I sold off my D300. It’s a very handy piece of functionality to have, and I find myself taking many short clips of my twin girls doing stuff toddlers do in their growing years. Throw your D90 clips into iMovie, add some background music and you’re on your way to creating a movie to remember those precious moments:

My Kids from David Chin on Vimeo.

Here’s a quick video on how you’d activate activating the D90’s Live View mode, start and stop movie recording, and then play back what you’ve just recorded:

Nikon D90 Movie Mode — The Basics from David Chin on Vimeo.

The one glaring artifact that surfaces in D90 clips is the horizontal lines you’ll see traveling vertically through the frame when you shoot under artificial lights.

Accessory Terminal

On the left side of the body, near the base, you have the accessory terminal. A cap protects the contacts when the terminal is not in use. Official accessories that can be used with this terminal are the Nikon MC-DC2 remote cord and the Nikon GP-1 GPS Unit.

Unfortunately, the Nikon MC-DC1 remote cord that is used for the Nikon D80 and D70s cannot be fitted into this new port on the D90 due to size and shape incompatibility. In the photo below, I’m holding the connector of the Phottix Cleon N6, a third-party wireless radio frequency shutter release that was designed for the D70s and D80, and you can see that the new terminal on the D90 is larger than the connector. The correct version of the Cleon for the D90 is the N10.

The new remote port on the Nikon D90 cannot accommodate Nikon MC-DC1, Phottix Cleon N6 and compatible connectors -- R0010354

To state the obvious, the new MC-DC2 remote cord is not backwards-compatible with the D80 and D70s.

Take multiple photos in self-timer mode

This is an extremely useful feature that was introduced with the D90. I’d use this if I wanted to be included in a group shot, and would like to take multiple shots for insurance (you know how someone always closes their eyes in such a situation).

You can indicate how many shots are to be taken as soon as the self-timer completes the countdown. The default is one, and the maximum is nine. The D90 will take the specified number of shots in a burst. The burst speed is controlled by the Continuous Low Mode Shooting Speed custom function which has a default of 3 frames per second (fps) and a maximum of 4 fps.

Here’s a video that shows an overview of how this function works:

Nikon D90 Self-Timer Mode with Multiple Shots from David Chin on Vimeo.

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