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Brian Tobey
Nikon D90

NIKON D90

12MP DX 4.5 FPS | NEW $900 | AVG USED: $490

# PIXELS:
 
9.0
TRUE ISO:
 
8.4
BUILD:
 
8.6
VALUE:
 
9.4
OVERALL:
 
8.9

PROSCONS
Excellent Image Quality
Great Value in 2012
Full Control

Last Updated: November 7, 2012 | By Brian Tobey Email Google+

SUMMARY


Nikon D90 Front

INTRODUCTION

The D90 was first introduced in the summer of 2008. It features a 12MP DX size sensor. It was a huge improvement over the other Nikon DX cameras at that time. Its image quality and level of control exceeded the more expensive D300, which was heavier and bulkier. The Nikon D90 added new capability including active D-lighting and enhanced picture controls to get more colorful, rich JPEG images right out of the camera. Further, the D90ís RAW files provide 12 bit color per pixel data that has excellent dynamic range for landscapes and improved ISO for low-light shooting.

Although I would look elsewhere for video, the D90 was one of the first Nikon DSLRs to offer video. It can shoot in HD at 720p 24 fps. The D5100 offers much better video capabilities at 1080p 30 fps.

WHY THE D90 IS STILL A GREAT CAMERA IN 2012

You will find most of the internet chatter raving about the D7000 and D5100 or even D3100. However, much of this is hype and not about photography. These exuberant reviews influence you to believe that the cameras of the past are not good enough. To me, this concept is crazy. I still love my D90. It takes fantastic pictures that can be blown up 4ft wide with rich colors. The controls on the D90 also allow me to change things quickly on the fly. This level of control is not available on the D5100 or D3100, as they rely more on menu systems.

Menu systems are no fun. They usually require you to memorize settings in order to change them quickly. The D90 has buttons right on the camera to modify things like ISO, WB, and Image Quality. Additionally, it has a convenient info button which allows you display useful information on the LCD. Press it twice to change button functionality such as AE-L button, function button, and preview button, along with the ability to modify picture controls, noise reduction settings, and color space. The D90 provides all this control in simple one or two button pushes. This is what separates it far from an entry level DSLR.

WHY THE D90 IS STILL A GREAT CAMERA IN 2013

The Nikon D3200 offers great image performance in a compact lightweight package. The D5200 is not worth the cost, as its differences are not significant. The D90 provides more controls than either of these cameras. If control is important, as it is to me, than the D90 is a better bet than either of these.

However, if you have the cash and are really camera hungry, the Nikon D600 provides the next best value. The D600 outperforms all of these cameras. Heck in some instances it outperforms the D4. For 2013, I recommend the D3200 for lightweight portable applications, the D90 as a valued enthusiast camera, and the D600 for those looking for the full frame advantage.



USABILITY


Nikon D90 Back


LAYOUT OF CONTROLS

Unlike the D5100 or D3100, the D90 has a top LCD that shows important settings, battery level, and the number of remaining photos. It also features two control wheels that allow you to control both aperture and shutter speed simultaneously. As previously discussed, it provides more button control for white-balance, ISO, and image quality. The D90ís controls are far superior to entry level digital SLRs.


THE TOP

The image below shows the top of the camera. You can see the level of controls they have implemented. Additionally, the mode wheel features some automatic presets that can be useful for those not familiar with the main controls. To me, the LCD is the most important aspect of the top of the camera, providing important information about the current settings, along with the dual control wheels for adjusting both aperture and shutter speed.

Nikon D90 Top



PERFORMANCE


OVERALL

The image performance is outstanding. Yea sure the D7000 or D5100 may have a few more megapixels, which is not as noticeable as youíd think. When discussing area, doubling the apparent resolution requires four times the pixel count.


DYNAMIC RANGE

The D90's dynamic range is capable of exceeding 12EV (stops) of dynamic range. This means it can capture ~12 stops of information from its darkest shadows to its brightest highlights.


ISO PERFORMANCE

The ISO noise performance is nearly equivalent to that of the D7000 or D5100, at least in RAW. Nikon only improved the ISO performance of the D7000 in JPEG output. Using the Expeed 2 processing engine, the D7000 or D5100 produce slightly better noise reduction when using higher ISO settings in JPEG mode. However, the D90 is no underperformer. The D90 produces great images, usable up to ISO 1600 in RAW. The same performance is true for the D7000 or D5100.

[Read more about ISO]



COLOR / PICTURE CONTROLS

The color I get right out of the camera is excellent. The JPEG output is dependent on the picture control setting. I prefer standard or neutral with some color saturation +2. In RAW, you can process the colors in post processing.



Nikon D90 SD Card Slot

MEMORY CARD SLOT

Although the D7000 has dual memory card slots for data redundancy, I find it to be a bit unnecessary for casual use. Perhaps for professional use, dual memory cards are pertinent, but I have never had any issues with my memory cards. The D90 utilizes SD cards. They are commonly available and fairly inexpensive.



AUTO WHITE BALANCE

When using auto white balance, the D90 generally gets the white balance accurate. There have been some improvements with this in the newer D5100 or D7000. However, I usually donít rely on auto white balance. I prefer to calibrate it or shoot in RAW mode and adjust for it later. Overall the D90 does a great job at white balance.



AUTOFOCUS

The D90 features a built in autofocus motor inside the camera. This allows you to focus lenses that do not have an autofocus motor, such as AF or AF-D lenses. The D5100 and D3100 do not have this capability. Some may find this insignificant with the abundant AF-S lenses available today with built in silent wave motors (SWM). However, you can pick up some older AF-D lenses at huge discounts that are optically excellent. This can save you some money.


PERFORMANCE CONCLUSION

Honestly I could go on and on about the performance of the D90. But I do not need to, the D90 is a proven camera. Many photographers agree that the D90 is a powerful camera that provides 99% of the capability and features required to take excellent photographs. Sure the D7000 may have a slight performance edge, but it costs twice as much! The D90 should be considered, you can find plenty of them on eBay.


SAMPLES


The samples below were all shot in RAW, and therefore processed afterwards using Adobe Lightroom. The sample photos were taken from a variety of places including Greece, Baltimore, Virginia, and Myrtle Beach. You can click each one to enlarge them. The point of these shots is to show the RAW sensor capability of the D90 and its ability to extract shadow detail and color. Most of the samples were shot at ISO 200, however there are a couple at 400 and 800.

Nikon D90 SampleNikon D90 Sample
Nikon D90 SampleNikon D90 Sample
Nikon D90 SampleNikon D90 Sample


CONCLUSION



RECOMMENDATIONS:

Nikon D90 Packaging Box

It is hard not to recommend the D90. The controls are well laid out and highly useful. The image quality is plenty capable, producing photos that can be blown up 4ft with rich vivid colors. It is hard to list situations that the D90 canít handle. I have taken mine around the world, on many trips, and itís still firing away at over 75,000 shutter actuations.

Not to say that the D7000 is not an awesome camera, it is just that the D90 comes at such a low price, and you get so much. The difference is subtle when comparing the two.

The D5100 comes at a similar price point as the D90, however the D90 offers more controls. For those who just like to leave the settings on auto, the D5100 or D3100 is perfectly adequate. For those interested in how to take better photographs, the controls of the D90 provide a better interface to adjust important settings.

NIKON D90 VS D3200

In terms of image quality, the Nikon D3200 is phenomenal and should be considered before purchasing a Nikon D90. When comparing the Nikon D90 and D3200 they compete on different classes. Although similarly priced, the D90 provides excellent control for intermediate level photographers, whereas the Nikon D3200 provides modernized image quality and ultimate light weight portability. At this point I would only consider these two cameras for DX use, and would not recommend the D7000, D5000, D3000, D3100 or D5100, as these are not a good value at this time.

If your photography is dependent on control and more event driven, the D90 is perfect and still attains excellent image quality. However, if your purpose is more ambiguous, then the D3200 may provide better versatility for the future. New technologies like live view are mastered in the D3200 but are just a first try for the D90. In the D90, I stayed away from live view except for movie recording. But in the D3200 I use it more often and is more appealing to use.

PRICING - PURCHASE SUGGESTIONS


PRICING HISTORY:


Current eBay Auctions
NIKON D90 12.3 MP DIGITAL SLR CAMERA BODY ONLY W/CASE CHARGER BATTERY BLACK NR

CURRENT PRICE: $243
BID COUNT: 31
END DATE: Friday the 31st
END TIME: 01:45 ZULU

NIKON D90 BODY ONLY GREAT CONDITION NR!!!

CURRENT PRICE: $167
BID COUNT: 23
END DATE: Thursday the 30th
END TIME: 22:50 ZULU

Nikon D90 12.3 MP Digital SLR Camera - Black (Body Only) (25446)

CURRENT PRICE: $280
BID COUNT: 12
END DATE: Monday the 27th
END TIME: 02:00 ZULU

PURCHASING SUGGESTIONS:

Obviously Iíd recommend buying the D90 used, eBay is probably a good start. The table on the right shows the current eBay auctions. Before purchasing or bidding, I would inquire about the total shutter count of the camera. The shutter count is one piece of information that shows how used the camera is. The D90 is tested up to 100,000 total shutter actuations. However, I suspect the D90 could easily handle over 200,000. Look for low shutter counts under 40,000. Nikon Shutter Count allows users to check their shutter count by uploading a recent JPEG image.

Also consider inquiring about how the camera was used. Was it used casually, by a hobbyist, or professionally? Was it ever dropped? Etc.



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