Hands on review: Nikon D90 £799
28th Aug 2008 | 10:23
We get our hands on Nikon's brilliant new bargain DSLR
The Nikon D80 was released more than two years ago, which is a lifetime in enthusiast DSLR terms.
Since then Nikon's competitors have wasted no time in marketing alternatives of their own, like the Canon EOS 450D, the Pentax K200D and Olympus' E-420, but even on the eve of its replacement, the D80 looked far from dated.
Its successor, the D90, has been widely rumoured for some time, and key specifications leaked onto the Internet some time before the official launch. But even professional Nikon-watchers were a little taken aback when its specification was confirmed.
The D90 offers the same 12 million pixel resolution as the D300, D700 and D3, the same 920,000 dot LCD screen, and a very similar scene recognition system, which enables 3D AF tracking using 11 AF points.
Top draw feature set
An inbuilt dust-reduction system, improved AF in Live View, including Face Detection and a wireless-enabled pop-up flash would round off a very attractive feature set, even without the D90's not-so-secret weapon - video capture.
Yes, that's right, video capture. It was only a matter of time before someone worked out how to incorporate video capture in a DSLR, and here it is. As well as full-resolution 12 million pixel still capture, the D90 can capture 1280x720 High-definition video, with (monaural) sound in five minute bursts.
The official reason for the five minute limit is to prevent heat build-up in the DX-format CMOS sensor, but rather conveniently, this limit also means that the D90 is categorised as a stills camera with an HD video capture function, rather than the other way round, which means that a lower rate of duty is payable on the bodies, keeping the price down for consumers.
And at £699.99 body only, the D90 is remarkably competitively priced compared to offerings from other manufacturers.
In use, the D90 feels like an exact cross between the D60 and D80. The chassis is polycarbonate (although shutter reliability has been increased to bring it in line with the professional D300) but body seams are tight, and the camera feels well-built and surprisingly solid.
We were relieved to see that unlike the D60 and D40, the D90 does feature a body-integral AF motor, which makes it compatible with older and third-party Nikon-fit optics without a built-in motor of their own.
Lightning fast AF
Normal phase-detection AF speed and responsiveness is good, and as far as we can tell is on a level with the D300. In Live View mode though, the D90 is on a different level. Contrast-detection AF feels much faster and more positive than the systems we're used to in Nikon's other DSLRs, and Face Detection really works, accurately picking out subjects within a second of the function being activated.
Although we have not yet had the opportunity to examine video shot with the D90 in detail, the sample that we handled worked well, and the function certainly seems very promising.
Focussing is manual only in video mode, and exposure is set upon initiation of filming, but apart from these two limitations, the D90 operates much like a conventional video recorder.
The advantage of a large sensor is that it is possible to control depth of field with extreme precision. I can see the D90 being on the Christmas lists of many a budding film student, since with an inexpensive fast-aperture lens fitted, it will allow them to achieve effects that they simply couldn't (or couldn't afford) with conventional video equipment.
All in all, then, the Nikon D90 is a really interesting camera. Watch out for a full review as soon as we can get our hands on a full production sample.