Top positive review
961 people found this helpful
Designed for serious shooting, but fun to use! Lots of customizations.
on October 20, 2008
Several months before the D90 came out, I bought a D60 to hold me over until the D90 was released. Well, I've enjoyed using both cameras, but this one is a huge step up and more suited to an advanced enthusiast, like me. It's a real pleasure to use.
ERGONOMICS - The D90 is solid, tight, and well-balanced with the 18-105 VR lens. It's always ready and it shoots very fast. I love all the direct access buttons; they're easy to press, with good tactile feedback. And since you're not going into the menus as much, you can work faster. It's heavier than the D60, but that's OK. It's still very manageable to carry around and it fits my average-sized hand better too. The shutter sounds different than the D60 (if that matters to you). It sounds more like a professional camera; more like a fast "whoosh" than a "click-click". And there are so many internal customizations that you can set it up exactly as you want.
LENS - Biggest surprise was the 18-105 VR lens which I expected would be ho-hum, but turned out to be pretty sharp and clear. Better results than the 18-55 VR. We've really come a long way from the days (30 years ago) when you were cautioned to ALWAYS to buy a prime lens, NEVER the kit lens because of it's poor image quality. With computer-aided design and new technology, that's not true anymore.
IMAGE QUALITY - I shoot RAW for maximum detail and the ability to adjust settings afterward if necessary - like exposure or white balance. Image quality is very good to excellent depending on your RAW converter. To my eye, best results are obtained with View NX/Capture NX, but Adobe ACR/Lightroom still do a very good job (2010 UPDATE; After using Lightroom the past year, raw conversions are beautiful and far quicker to achieve than Capture NX). When shooting JPGs using the Standard Picture Mode, images are sharp and colors are true, without over-saturation. You can always use different Picture Modes and customize any of them to get closer to the in-camera results you want. For example, you can boost saturation and contrast and save the setting as your default if that's what you like.
LIGHT METER - Metering is fine and seems to be quite accurate in most cases. I use matrix metering mostly. As with any camera, you have to get to know the meter. If I had to be VERY critical, I'd say when it's pushed, it's more likely to preserve shadows than highlights, usually when Active DLighting is on. To me that's a good thing. Another website mentioned a slightly "over-enthusiatic" meter in its review. The good news is: if you really feel exposure results are not to your liking (whether over or under exposed), the meter is fine-tuneable, so go ahead and customize it as you see fit. I would just work with the meter first -get to know the camera and adapt yourself to it before you start making any adjustments. That said, I've used the D90 in a very wide range of lighting conditions and I can truly say that while exposures may vary occasionally, they've always made perfect sense for the situation. I've never been shocked or puzzled by the output.
LIVE VIEW - is great for the occasional high or low shot. I didn't think would need it, but when I had the D60, I found myself in many situations where I really could have used it. Unlike a point-and-shoot, focus is slower in this mode and shooting seems somewhat clunky. I wouldn't use Live View if I were in a rush or trying to get an important shot. It's just a nice little extra.
MOVIE MODE - this is a nice novelty and may be handy in a rare moment, but I'm generally not a video camera person. I'm surprised to read that some people have made movies and commercials with the D90. I keep promising myself to use this feature more, but I don't have a tripod and I'm just too jittery and uncreative to get good cinema-like results. Moreover, from the little I've tried it, I'm not impressed - there's no autofocus during filming and the movie comes out over exposed and far from HD quality. The user manual is not very helpful either. But I didn't purchase the camera for this feature, so I'm not disappointed.
ISO - I really like the new wide range of ISO settings, especially when coupled with the Auto-ISO setting. Mine is customized to keep the camera at ISO 200, but kick in at 1/30. In this example, anytime lighting decreases enough for the shutter speed to drop below 1/30, the D90 will automatically compensate by raising the ISO high enough (up to an ISO limit you set) to help keep your shutter speed at 1/30. Once the ISO maxes-out at your limit, the camera has no choice but to start bringing down the shutter speed. Noise at high ISOs isn't an issue. In fact, you have to zoom in pretty close for it to be even slightly noticeable. I use Auto-ISO mostly all the time. Its an amazing feature! I only turn this feature off when I want to stick to a particular ISO at all times (if its on a monopod or I've stabilized the camera in some way).
ACTIVE D-LIGHTING - helps camera to preserve shadow and highlight detail. More important to use when shooting JPG because the exposure has to be right at the time of shooting, when the camera creates the JPG. RAW shooters can always adjust exposure in post processing. Even though I shoot RAW, I usually leave it on Auto so I can double check the exposure details on the LCD screen. It's available in various strengths from Low to Extra High. Again, another great customization.
-At this price, Nikon should include a robust image editing software, or at least a decent discount on Capture NX2, which works great, but costs extra.
-Kit lens is thick in diameter (67mm). Also, the front glass of the lens seems somewhat exposed, as if it's not recessed that much (it's just enough for a lens cap). I worry that it'll get scratched easily. Good thing Nikon included the lens hood.
AUTOFOCUS TIP - I customized the D90 to autofocus using the AF-L button instead of the shutter release. Now I can focus with one press of my thumb on the AF-L button and shoot with my index finger on the shutter release. This allows me to focus first, let go, then take the shot. Since the subject is already in focus, I can take multiple shots, recompose or go vertical. I'm not forced to continually re-focus for every shot or move the AF point around in the viewfinder. This minimizes AF mishaps on unintentional subjects. And since the VR system remains off until you half-press the shutter (it activates only when you're ready to take the shot, not while you're focusing) you save on battery life as well.
Also, with the D90 set to AF-C mode (continuous autofocus) you can keep a moving subject in focus by holding down the AF-L with your thumb and shooting with your index finger. If the subject becomes still, simply let go of the AF-L button; focusing stops and is locked where you left it. Then shoot when ready. Now your D90 can act as if it's in Single or Continuous AF mode without you having to change settings all the time. This gives you more immediate control over the behavior of the AF system Try it and you won't go back!
SUMMARY - Overall I'm extremely happy with the D90! It's designed for serious shooting, but it's still fun to use; noticeably heavier than the D60, but still not a burden. You do need to be committed to carrying around a solid DSLR in the first place. Once you get used to that, you'll come to appreciate that it's more substantial because it'll be less shaky during shots. Nikon really packed it with a ton of features and customizations. Now I finally have everything I want in a DSLR, without it being overblown and overpriced. I'm actually surprising myself with some really spectacular shots.
If you have your basic photography skills down, you can make any DSLR sing, however, I believe THIS camera, because of its superb sensor and spot-on feature set, can actually help you improve your technique and get better results. You'll take more chances and push yourself farther because now you have the tools (ie. features) to help capture more difficult, more creative shots. And you didn't have to spend $3,000 to get there!
8-MONTH UPDATE: Still love this camera which hasn't lost any of its original excitement. Very reliable - never frustrating. I'm not craving an upgrade - not contemplating a switch to Canon either - I'm perfectly content. Haven't discovered any hidden quirks. In fact, the longer I use it, the more I realize how well engineered it is. The only extras I bought so far were a light monopod and a 50mm 1.8 lens.