Nikon D90 Review

Nikon D90 Review


Photography and filming with Nikon’s new GPS-capable D90: First conventional DSLR with video function

Nikon’s new D90 proves that the oscillating mirror that gives a SLR camera its name doesn’t have to be banned from the camera body right away in order to open up a video function for DSLRs. Although the latest digital SLR camera model from the traditional camera manufacturer remains first and foremost a digital photo camera and also comes up with some innovations in this function, it also cuts a good figure as a camcorder alternative.

Short evaluation


  • A reasonably effective sensor cleaning system
  • Exposure measuring system revised in important points (in comparison to the D80)
  • Very good features and functionality, new image sensor and camera processor
  • First DSLR with video function


  • No external microphone connection
  • Built-in flash cannot be used with continuous shooting function (not even at reduced frame rate)
  • No exposure preview in LiveView mode (not even as a separate setting)
  • Bright white AF auxiliary light

Is it a photo or video camera? With the Nikon D90 you can photograph and film, but first and foremost it remains a digital SLR camera for the photographer – with a video function that is also interesting for amateur cineastes.

Compared to most camcorders, the D90 has the advantage that you can change the lens and that its image sensor is several numbers larger than that of the video cameras. This allows the use of special lenses such as fisheye or macro lenses and promises better image quality. However, the number of camcorder days hasn’t reached its final count yet, as there are two to three major limitations when filming with the D90: For example, the movie fun is limited to a maximum recording time of five minutes (in HD mode) or a data volume of two gigabytes (it is sufficient for one of the two cases to occur for the recording to stop), and the sharpness must be adjusted manually. Almost all camcorders also record sound in stereo and/or offer the option of connecting an external (directional) microphone, while the D90’s built-in microphone records sound in mono. The video recording is started as soon as one presses the OK button in the middle of the control key field on the back of the camera in the LiveView mode. Depending on which of the three quality levels you have previously set in the camera menu, the D90 films with a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels (HD-720p mode), 640 x 424 pixels or 320 x 216 pixels – all at a maximum frame rate of 24 frames per second. During video recording, the matrix or multi-field metering of the camera ensures the correct exposure; creative accents can be achieved by fading up and down (depth of field can be controlled up to aperture 8 when filming), by applying the Picture Control Sets also available in video mode, i.e. the image parameter settings (color saturation, sharpness, image contrast, etc.), and/or by entering an exposure correction.

A few more remarks about the D-Movie video mode before moving on to aspects of a photographic nature: When filming, the optical image stabilizer of some Nikon lenses (VR system) also works, the videos are recorded in the somewhat aged Motion JPEG format (as AVI file), the sensitivity is automatically adjusted by the Auto ISO function, the D90 unfortunately does not have basic video post-processing functions (index, cut) built in, and the exposure metering function (AE-L) can also be used during filming. If you press the shutter-release button during movie recording, a photo will be taken instantly, but movie recording will be interrupted even without the ability to resume. The D90 is equipped with an HDMI interface (HDMI mini) to show the films in appropriate quality on an HD-compatible TV, beamer or similar. This can of course also be used for the presentation of photos. If you still have an older TV without an HDMI connection, you can output the photos and videos in lower quality via the video output (for a so-called component cable), which is also available.

As a photo camera, the D90 is the successor to the D80, which it should replace in the medium to long term. New features include the image sensor (12.3 megapixels effective), the Expeed processor, the built-in sensor cleaning system (according to Nikon, however, for space reasons one had to do without the airflow system familiar from the D60), the somewhat larger (3″ or 7.6 cm) and much higher resolution (920,000 pixels) camera screen and the LiveView mode. Actually, one should even talk about “LiveView modes”, as the D90 has three operating modes for the image preview that is activated by pressing a button (LV button) in real time: a portrait AF mode (the camera or the integrated face recognition function detects up to five individual faces and automatically focuses on the nearest face), a wide-angle AF mode with large measurement field markings that can be freely positioned on the screen (extended area AF) and a normal AF mode with measurement field markings in the usual size (area AF) that can also be freely positioned on the screen. In LiveView mode, the contrast comparison method is of course used for automatic focusing, i.e. the image sensor (23.6 x 15.8 mm DX sensor) is used to focus – whereby according to Nikon, the measuring process was optimized with regard to the focusing speed. As we were able to verify ourselves at the press conference for the D90, the latest Nikon DSLR also does not offer an exposure preview in LiveView mode.


In conventional DSLR mode (i.e. with mirroring and without real-time image preview), the D90 still makes use of the fast phase detection method via the MultiCAM 1000 autofocus module. Compared to the D80, there is no change in the number and arrangement of AF fields (eight horizontal line sensors, two vertical line sensors and a middle cross sensor for a total of 11 AF fields); however, the corresponding field markings in the viewfinder have become smaller or more discrete.


These light up red in the usual way at the point(s) where the camera focuses; in the focus area control, you can select one of the eleven focus areas yourself (single-field AF), let the camera select the focus area (automatic focus area control), let the autofocus adjust the focus for moving subjects (dynamic AF) and let the autofocus literally “track” the subject (3D tracking with intelligent precalculation of the direction and speed of movement). For subject tracking, the D90’s autofocus is actively supported by the camera’s exposure metering system, as is the case with the big sisters D300, D700 and D3. Although the exposure measuring cell works with a somewhat coarser resolution than the above-mentioned sister models (420 pixels vs. 1,005 pixels), it is now no longer only able to take the coarse color distribution in the targeted image into account in the exposure measurement (= color matrix measurement) thanks to a superior “beam splitter”, but is now also able to recognize the outlines of persons/faces and objects in coarse lines and to supply the autofocus as well as the exposure measurement with this information. Autofocus and exposure metering work much more closely together than before with the latest Nikon DSLRs.

The optical viewfinder of the D90 offers a slightly better field coverage than that of the D80. With the same eye distance or exit pupil of 19.5 mm, the coverage increases from 95 percent to 96 percent; the D80 and D90 have in common the high-quality glass prism in the viewfinder box as well as the liquid crystal layer embedded in the viewfinder matte screen for fading in a grid. The D90 is also faster than its predecessor: the switch-on time has been reduced from 0.18 to 0.15 seconds, the shutter release delay has been shortened from 0.80 to 0.65 milliseconds, and the frame rate in continuous mode increases from 3 to 4.5 frames per second. As indicated earlier, AF performance, metering and auto white balance have been improved (not least due to the Scene Recognition capabilities of the metering cell); thanks to a power-saving design and efficient power management, the D90 takes approximately 950 shots per full battery charge on the same battery (EN-EL3e 7.4V and 1,500 mAh lithium-ion battery), while the D80 is “only” designed to take 600 shots. The shutter of the D90 (30 to 1/4,000 s, max. flash sync time of 1/200 s) has been tested for 100,000 releases.

Of course the D90 offers all functions and settings of the D80 – plus such novelties as the automatic correction of chromatic aberrations (only automatic), the vignetting correction (can be switched on/off), the distortion correction (automatic and manual) and the gentle shadow brightening in real time (Active D-Lighting with new extra-high setting level). Other new features include digital effect filters (star filter, skylight filter, warmtone filter, fisheye effect, etc.), a picture straightening function for the automatic or manual correction of falling lines (which of course is not a complete replacement for a tilt shift lens or Nikon lens of the PC series), the extended histogram function (now it is also possible to display a histogram for a selected image section), the extended image playback functions (thumbnail overview with 72 single images, image display in chronological order or in calendar layout, PictMotion slide show with selectable image transition effects and background melodies, electronic image magnifier with up to 27x magnification, automatic zooming in on facial areas thanks to face recognition) as well as the possibility of converting RAW/NEF raw data images into JPEG images while still in the camera. With all built-in image post-processing functions, the original shot image is retained as the original image and the post-processed image is saved as a copy of the original.

The built-in miniature flash of the D90 has a performance of LZ17 (at ISO 200), covers an angle of view equivalent to an 18mm lens (KB equivalent), works in extended iTTL mode and can be used in wireless iTTL mode not only as a control flash, but can even control two independent “unleashed” flash groups in this function. Of course, an external system flash unit can also be mounted on the camera’s (iTTL) flash shoe in the usual way, whereby this also serves to accommodate the optional GPS miniature receiver GP-1. The position data are then appended to the image files and can thus be uniquely assigned to the individual images. According to Nikon, the GP-1 receiver should also be compatible with other Nikon DSLRs. Last but not least, thanks to its built-in microphone, the D90 can also record voice memos (and play them back on the go via the built-in speaker), and the lens data can be used by the camera (e.g. the D90 can also be used as a camera microphone). the D90’s sensitivity level range extends from ISO 200 to 3,200 (can be extended downwards to ISO 100 and upwards to ISO 6,400) and the MB-D80 battery/portrait handle originally intended for the D80 also remains compatible with the D90.

Ergonomics and workmanship

Even though the D90 can record video, it looks like a classic digital SLR camera – and is one! High up on the 132 x 103 x 77 millimetre polycarbonate body (with metal chassis) is the (D)SLR-typical “hump-like” prism housing, which also contains a genuine glass prism and no simple/cheap system of mirrored plastic parts. The pentaprism naturally contributes to the total weight of just under 620 grams, while the D90 is well balanced and lies firmly in the hand thanks to its ergonomic (and visually appealing) design. The quality of the plastic used gives an impression of robustness; the scar-like structure of the rubber coating around the handle and other camera parts should not only remind of leather, but also give the camera a certain slip resistance.


But not only the haptics are right. The almost uniform operating concept of the Nikon cameras has not only been considered mature since yesterday, and the logically arranged operating elements (15 function keys, 1 program selector wheel, 1 on/off switch with bordered shutter release, 1 front setting wheel, 1 rear setting wheel, 1 lens release button, 1 diopter setting wheel, 1 AF/MF switch, 1 dipping button, 1 control panel with bordered OK/confirm button, 1 locking switch) can be reached without finger acrobatics. The D90’s two control dials allow the shutter/exposure time and aperture to be set separately; the camera’s upper monochrome liquid crystal display (status LCD) has a backlight that can be switched on at the touch of a button, making it easy to read even in the dark. The operating concept of the Nikon DSLRs also includes the equally fast and secure reset to the delivery state (Reset) or memory card formatting by key combination. And then there’s the pleasantly large and super-detailed 7.6cm colour screen (3″ TFT LCD with 920,000 pixels, 100% field coverage and viewing angle independence of 170° h/v), which not only fulfils the function of the viewfinder replacement (in Liveview mode), the playback screen and the menu display, but in conjunction with the info button also mutates into a “control centre”. On the screen you can read the most important camera settings and recording parameters at a glance and see how some keys are assigned. With the D90, almost every key (above all the Fn or function key in front) and every setting wheel can be reassigned or at least the setting behaviour (e.g. direction of rotation of the setting wheels) can be adjusted; the D90 can be configured practically down to the smallest detail with the 41 individual functions.

The menus of the D90 are also very neat. The six main categories (playback, recording, individual functions, system, image processing and “last settings”), which are symbolized by small pictograms and colour-coded, comprise a total of around 60 menu items, which in turn allow over 200 different settings, but the menu system has a very clear structure and logic, which can be understood even after a short familiarization period. A function for putting together an individual menu (which only shows the menu items you have selected previously) and the help function (i.e. explanations/descriptions of the individual menu items that can be called up at the touch of a button) help you to be “per you” even faster with the D90. The only downer: the info screen can only be activated by pressing a button (no eye sensor or similar) and in portrait format shots not even rotated by 90° degrees.

The optical viewfinder of the D90 is also very complete and clear. In the lower LCD bar, you may find basic information (exposure values, remaining image counter, focus indicator, flash icon). the battery level and the set light sensitivity level are still displayed (but unfortunately not the selected exposure metering mode); thanks to the liquid crystal layer in the viewfinder mat screen, there are some warnings (battery warning, B/W mode, indication of missing memory card) and adjustment aids (grid, measuring circle markings, AF field markings) directly on the viewfinder image. The viewfinder itself is not one of the worst, with 96% field coverage, 0.94x viewfinder magnification and an exit pupil or 19.5mm eye relief, and does not disgrace Nikon. There is no built-in eyepiece shutter (here, one has to make use of the attachable eyepiece cover DK-5 from the scope of delivery of the camera), but at least one diopter adjustment wheel (-2 to +1 dpt.). If you prefer to view the subject in live view mode via the camera screen, you should know that the screen is relatively smooth and color neutral, but no exposure preview is possible.

It should also be mentioned that thanks to the separation of the memory card compartment (on the camera side) and the battery compartment (on the camera bottom), the memory card can be changed without having to open the battery compartment with the EN-EL3e lithium-ion battery. A mounted tripod quick-release plate does not block access to the battery compartment; the tripod thread is made of metal and – as it should be – lies in the optical axis. As with so many Nikon DSLRs, the camera ports are protected by a somewhat fiddly rubber cover. While the PictBridge-compatible USB 2.0 high-speed interface (type Mini-B, 5-pin), the HDMI connector (type C) and the A/V output (2.5mm phone jack) comply with standard commercial standards, the 9V mains input and the cable remote trigger/GPS connector are Nikon-specific. The MB-D80 multifunction handle from the D80 or D90 accessory range is ideal for a more comfortable camera position for portrait format shots and for additional energy reserves (as it can be equipped with two batteries).


Of course, you can’t write about the D90 without mentioning its video mode.  After the test we can confirm that the expected image quality corresponds to the quality of the official and unofficial sample videos found on the Internet. The EOS 5D Mark II may be the only other true SLR camera with a video function that even achieves Full HD quality (1,920 x 1,080 pixels), from the much more efficient H.264-The D-Movie function is nevertheless not a “gimmick”, and the result is absolutely impressive when playing back the videos via the existing HDMI connection (on an HD-compatible television, beamer, etc.).


To the general camera functions. As standard, the D90 is equipped with a relatively good dust cleaning system (for space reasons without airflow air duct system as with the D60) and a dust referencing function (for subsequent “dust stain” removal on the computer). In addition, there is the Active-D-Lighting function, the automatic color fringing and vignetting correction (both hidden in the background) as well as the distortion correction (either manually with a slider or automatically) and the straightening function (with an inclined horizon, wall ledge or similar). In addition to the correction functions, there are a number of effect functions (including skylight filter, color filter, star effect filter, fisheye effect) and image post-processing functions (image montage, image trimming, resolution reduction); the whole is rounded off by a multiple exposure function, an image quick correction, a RAW/NEF editing and conversion function and a function for automatic recognition or retouching of red eyes.

As an advanced camera, the D90 naturally offers a dipping button, a mirror lock-up function (which can be combined with the self-timer function and its lead times of 2, 5, 10 or 20 seconds), an exposure correction function, various bracketing modes, i.e. bracketing modes (for bracketing, flash exposure, white balance and Active-D-Lighting), and a continuous-advance function (more on this later). You can also remotely trigger the D90 (wirelessly with the ML-L3 infrared remote control or wired with the MC-DC2 electric cable remote), have it record GPS position data (the GP-1 GPS receiver will occupy the flash/accessory shoe) and have it transmit images via radio (the corresponding entry in the camera menu only appears when using the WLAN/WiFi compatible SD card from EyeFi). New is the possibility to display a histogram in playback mode not only for the entire image, but also selectively for certain parts of the image. The playback mode also has an image overview function (now with up to 72 index/thumbnail images per screen page), a calendar display, an image magnifier function with up to 27x magnification and face recognition (for quick change from one face to the next with the front control dial), an image juxtaposition function and a PictMotion slide show (= automatic image playback with selectable image transition effects and background melodies).

The D90 is also very complete in its flash system. A TTL flash shoe for connecting external (system) flash units is provided, and the built-in miniature flash unit (LZ 13 acc. to ISO 100) is fully integrated into Nikon’s so-called “Creative Lighting System”. The latter means that the small light dispenser is compatible with iTTL flash metering and control (= technology for better flash shooting), can be used as a control flash in a wireless flash group (iTTL wireless flash control) and supports such advanced flash functions as high-speed synchronization (= flashes with faster shutter speeds than the normal shutter speed limit of 1/200 s) and flash exposure metering memory. Depending on the programme wheel setting, the on-board flash is either automatically (in the fully automatic mode and in the scene modes) or “ejected” or folded up at the push of a button (in the P/S/A/M modes), does not cast any shadows with the set lens (provided that the sun visor has been removed beforehand) and does not tend to flash over even with close-ups (the flash exposure correction function is reserved for other purposes). It illuminates very evenly (according to Nikon, the flash is compatible with lenses of up to 18 mm focal length from the cover), moves away enough from the optical axis (installation height: approx. 6.6 cm from the outer edge of the lens mount), so that red eyes are hardly caused even without the pre-flash, and produces a largely color-neutral light. In addition to the long-time flash sync function, it is also possible to sync the flash to the second shutter curtain.

With the announcement of SanDisk’s new Extreme III family SDHC card, a statement in the official press release from the memory card manufacturer and vendor has sparked our interest. Accordingly, the new cards (available with memory capacities of 4, 8 and 16 GBytes) are said to have been specially developed to develop their full performance in the D90, and the D90 is said to be the first camera to fully exploit the speed potential (up to 30 MByte/s when writing) of the new cards.

Officially, the D90 can capture up to 100 JPEG fine images in a row at a maximum frame rate of 4.5 frames per second in continuous shooting mode (the speed can be throttled down to 1.1 frames/s using the continuous shooting settings). In practice, however, the specified frame rate is not maintained until the end of the series of images, but rather drops more or less sharply after a certain time or number of images. Sometimes the frame rate gets a bit caught again, but with most memory cards the average speed is less than 4.5 frames per second. According to this, the official figures can only be described as a maximum value. This is also the case with the Panasonic Pro-Highspeed card (RP-SDV02G) that we normally use. According to Panasonic, this classic SD card achieves a data transfer rate of 20 MByte/s (class 6) and is therefore certainly not one of the lamest memory cards. In the D90, up to 100 JPEG fine images in a row were actually feasible; however, the initial frame rate of 4.5 frames per second fell slightly already in the seventh image. Over the entire image series, we determined an average speed of approximately 4.2 images/s. The average speed of the images was about 4.2 images/sec.

If the performance of the Panasonic card can already be described as good to very good, the SanDisk card in part even exceeded our expectations. SanDisk’s press release states that with the latest Extreme III cards in the D90 in continuous mode, 39 JPEG fine images in a row at 4.5 frames per second are possible. Our measurements don’t quite confirm this, but they are still flattering for the SanDisk cards. Up to about the tenth frame, the frame rate we determined was almost 5 frames per second – more than the maximum frame rate officially stated by Nikon! After that, the frame rate levelled off at the actually expected 4.5 frames per second, and only after the approx. 27th frame did it easily collapse to approx. 4.3 frames per second and catch again shortly afterwards. The hundredth picture was taken by the camera/memory card team with a hardly noticeable drop in speed; according to our measurements, the average speed was approx. 4.4 frames per second. So the speed difference between the SanDisk and Panasonic cards is not only on paper!

The speed of the SanDisk card has no direct influence on the video or D-Movie mode of the D90. At best, the video is recorded faster on the memory card at the end of the recording, but you don’t have to reckon with an extended recording time or the like. Without wanting to make any surreptitious advertising for SanDisk here, SanDisk also offers two USB 2.0 high-speed card drives suitable for the new SDHC cards of the Extreme III series (30 Mbyte/s edition) (optionally only for SD/SDHC cards or as a multislot version with additional slots for other memory card formats), which can read the new cards with up to 30 MByte/s and write with up to 27 MByte/s. The new cards can also be used with the new SDHC cards of the Extreme III series (30 Mbyte/s edition).


Simultaneously with the D90 the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm/3.5-5.6G ED VR was introduced. The single zoom lens costing almost 290 EUR also accompanies the D90 in a set costing almost 1,190 EUR; as a set lens it offers a bit more focal length than the previous 18-55mm zoom from many Nikon DSLRs with the same light intensity of F3.5 (at the wide-angle end) to F5.6 (at the telephoto end). Thus, the focal length range extends from the equivalent of 27 to 158 millimetres (corresponding to 35mm), whereby one can focus down to 45 cm independently of the set focal length. A further comfort feature is the built-in optical image stabilizer (Nikon VR system with moving lens group), which promises a gain of three entire shutter speeds when compensating for the photographer’s tremors and whose stabilizing effect, in contrast to camera-internal image stabilizers (sensor shift system), also affects the image in the optical viewfinder

The AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm/3.5-5.6G ED VR with its 15 lens elements divided into 11 groups (including an ED lens and an aspherical lens) weighs about 420 grams and has relatively compact external dimensions (Ø 89 x 76 mm). The lens barrel and even the bayonet are made of solid plastic; a breakage of the bayonet in the case of an unfortunate camera fall cannot be completely ruled out, however, while an abrasion-induced “wearing out” of the bayonet should not be to be feared even with frequent lens changes (nothing to the contrary has come to our attention in this respect). The compactness of the lens is certainly also partly due to the smaller diameter of the lenses used. Since the lens diameter of such DX lenses is tailored to the smaller sensor size of the D90 & Co., they can only be used on cameras with a larger sensor (specifically the D3, the D700 and future “full-frame” DSLRs of the brand) when the latter are switched to DX mode. Conversely, FX lenses and old 35 mm lenses with Nikon connectors can be used on the D90 without any problems. With older lenses, there can only be limitations in exposure metering and control.

The AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm/3.5-5.6G ED VR is focused particularly quickly and almost noiselessly in autofocus mode thanks to the silent wave drive or ultrasonic motor. A manual focusing or manual readjustment of the sharpness (for the former it is recommended to turn the A/M switch on the lens to M) is also possible with the focusing ring, which is not too small and placed at an easily accessible point (between zoom ring and camera). Due to the non-existent distance scale (besides the missing aperture ring characteristic for the Nikkore G-series) the manual focusing is only done by eye. When using the optical viewfinder, the D90 uses the same AF electronics (MultiCAM 1000 module) as the D80. Depending on whether automatic or manual measurement field selection is used, the camera thus continues to focus on one or more of a total of eleven possible positions in the image. The rounded brackets around the center of the corresponding field markings in the viewfinder are no longer permanently displayed when the field of view is the same, but only blink where one or more AF sensors have captured the subject for better clarity. But even with the same sensitivity of -1 to +19 IL, the autofocus has become noticeably faster and even more accurate thanks to a faster camera processor, closer cooperation between exposure metering and autofocus (the AF benefits from the subject recognition capabilities of the slightly redesigned exposure metering cell) and generally more powerful on-board electronics, especially in the dynamic operating mode with automatic metering field selection and with so-called 3D tracking (i.e. with subject tracking or focus prediction for moving subjects). In total darkness, a dim, bright white light-emitting diode of the camera serves as AF auxiliary light (and self-timer signal lamp).

In the newly added Liveview mode, only one measurement field (but freely placeable and adjustable size or width) or automatic face recognition is used. The latter works pretty well with up to five individual faces. The autofocus is not particularly fast in Liveview mode, which is due to the other AF technology (contrast measurement instead of phase comparison).

Picture quality

The D90 looks very similar to its predecessor, the D80, but under the hood is a completely new or greatly revised electronics. It not only helps the camera to achieve new functions (such as video recording), but also to achieve even higher image quality. The new electronics include above all the new 12.3 megapixel sensor in DX format (23.6 x 15.8 mm) and the new Expeed camera processor

In contrast to many other cameras in its class, the D90 does not, or not so much, try to increase the impression of resolution and sharpness by a strong camera-internal processing of fine image details. This also gives her comparatively modest resolution values in the DCTau test laboratory, and the images she delivers may not seem quite as “crisp” as those of her competitors, but there are also less subtle image distortions of all kinds. The artifact formation is in any case normal or low (slight to normal brightness moiré on oblique image structures and slight staircase effects/aliasing on other diagonal image structures), and the images from the D90 are quite suitable for subsequent image processing on the computer. Nikon’s somewhat unorthodox method of “eliminating” color moiré, which consists of simply setting the color signal to zero with extremely fine image structures, should also be noted here. Where there’s no color, there’s no color moiré!

Due to the somewhat moderate resolution, diffraction blur occurs relatively late when different lenses are used. As far as possible edge blurring is concerned, the Nikkor AF-S 18-105mm F3.5-5.6 G ED VR cuts a pretty good figure with – even with the aperture open – only minimal loss of resolution towards the image edges. The great weakness of the set lens is its very strong distortion (strongly barrel-shaped at the wide-angle end or in 18mm position and strongly cushion-shaped from a focal length of approx. 40 mm). Vignetting is also quite pronounced with this lens (via an aperture at the ends of the focal length and barely an aperture at medium focal length) – but only at the largest aperture.

We were not able to detect color fringes on all images taken in the test – probably a consequence of the camera-internal correction of chromatic aberrations. A pure merit of the camera is the low to visually unnoticeable image noise; the ratio between noise freedom and detail loss due to noise reduction is good at ISO 100 (Lo1 setting) and ISO 800, good to very good in between, i.e. at ISO 200 and ISO 400, and good to moderate at ISO 1,600. From ISO 100 to 800, the noise appears in a very natural form, so this is the preferred setting range. Thus, if the ISO 1,600 setting is a kind of threshold, the ISO 3,200 level and the Hi1 level (corresponding to ISO 6,400) are still considered usable, but most users may consider them as emergency settings. Over the entire sensitivity level range, a rather strong noise reduction takes place in the darker areas of the image, so that there is a correspondingly high loss of detail in the shadows.

Speaking of shadows: The highlights and shadows in the D90 from ISO 200 to 6,400 are somewhat “soft”, while the contrast in the rest of the brightness range is somewhat stronger or more neutral. This is a compromise between visual favorability and faithful reproduction; the images are equally suitable for direct printing as they are for post-production on the computer. Since the nominal sensitivity of the D90 sensor is ISO 200, there may be supersaturation effects in the ISO 100 stage (Lo1). The input dynamics are limited with this setting, and the lights are “hard” or “corrosive”. The input dynamics are highest at ISO 200 (where the D90 can handle contrast differences of up to 9.1 f-stops); the input dynamics remain good to very good at the higher values, while the output dynamics progressively deteriorate from ISO 200 upwards due to the above-mentioned loss of detail in the shadows.

We were curious about the performance of the D90 in terms of exposure and white balance; Nikon claims to have improved these points. In fact, the D90 is more accurate than the D80 – despite having the same exposure measuring cell. The fine difference is made by the “beam splitter” type in front of the 420-pixel sensor, which increases the measuring accuracy of the (3D) color matrix measurement while maintaining the same number of pixels and enables the realization of a more or less sophisticated form of scene recognition or analysis (more on this in the digitalkamera.de test of the D700). In addition, the D90 has recently included lens data such as their focal length in the exposure measurement. Super wide angle shots with their typically very high proportion of sky or background light, for example, no longer mislead the exposure measuring cell so much. The D90 also has more control over sensitive situations in other respects than its predecessor, and the false exposure rate is only slightly higher than that of the D700, D300 and D3 with their 1,005 pixel measuring cells.

By the way, if the information collected also benefits autofocus and white balance, there is a red-orange color cast with incandescent light just as there is with other digital SLR cameras for automatic white balance – across brands and models. Working with the white balance presettings or manual white balance is also a must with the D90. We could not find any other colour casts on the D90. The color fidelity is good, and if the slightly increased color saturation is too high in the default setting, it can be reduced via the image parameter settings (menu item: Configure image optimization). However, the compression factor for the image quality settings is not configurable; here, a better coordination between the three quality levels (the Fine and Normal levels are too similar in compression strength, while the compression in the Basic level is too strong) would be desirable.

Bottom line

Even if you don’t think much of a video function (the real use of which only becomes clear when you want to capture the first steps of your child) and a Liveview mode, you can think about buying a D90 as a D80 owner. Because upgrading is worthwhile simply because of the significantly more precise exposure metering and focusing. In general, the D90 is more likely to gain from the reworked electronics (including a new CMOS image sensor with higher resolution and a powerful high-speed processor), and the convenience of a larger/more detailed LCD should not be underestimated. All the others (i.e. those who don’t already own a D80) will find the D90 to be a cutting-edge Nikon camera, which is unparalleled in its price/equipment class and stands out from the competition in many respects.

Fact sheet

Fact sheet
Manufacturer Nikon
Model D90
Price approx. 970 EUR***
Sensor Resolution 12.3 megapixels
Max. Image resolution 4.288 x 2.848
(aspect ratio) (3:2)
Lens AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm/3,5-5,6G ED VR
Filter threads 67 mm
Viewfinder Pentaprism
Field of vision 96%
Enlargement 0,94-fold
Diopter compensation -2 to +1 dpt.
LCD monitor 3″
Disbandment 920.000
as viewfinder yes
Video output Composite, HDMI
as viewfinder yes
Program automation yes
Aperture priority yes
Aperture priority yes
manual exposure yes
BULB long-term exposure yes
Scene modes
Portrait yes
Countryside yes
Macro yes
Sports/Action yes
more 2
Exposure metering 3D color matrix measurement II with 420-pixel sensor, medium-emphasis integral, spot
Flash yes
Guide number 13
Flash connection System flash shoe
Remote release yes
Interval shooting
Storage medium SD/SDHC
Video mode yes
Size AVI
Codec Motion JPEG
Resolution (max.) 1.280 x 720
Frame rate (max.) 24 images/s
automatic 200-6.400
(upper limit adjustable)
manually ISO 100-6.400
White balance
Automatic yes
Sun yes
Clouds yes
Fluorescent lamp yes
Light bulb yes
Other Shadow, flash, manual color temperature selection
Manual yes (4 memories)
Number of measuring fields 11
AF auxiliary light white LED
Speed 0,3-0,7 s
Languages Yes
more 16 languages in total
Switch-on time 0.15 s (excl. sensor cleaning)
One-hand operation
(zoom and shutter release)
620 g (body only
)1.040 g (with lens**)
Continuous shooting function*
Number of series images max. 100
max. 4.
55-4.2 (measurement)
Endurance run
with flash with external flash only
Zoom adjustment at lens
Zoom levels continuously variable
Time WW to Tele
Memory speeds*
JPEG 0.18 s (3.0 MByte) JPEG standard
RAW 0.6 s (9.4 MByte) NEF uncompressed
Triggering during storage possible. yes
Battery life approx. 850 pictures
– = “not applicable” or “not available
“* with SanDisk Extreme III 8 GB SDHC (Class 6) memory card (30 MBytes/s Edition)
** with lens AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm/3,5-5,6G ED VR*** without lens

Short evaluation


  • A reasonably effective sensor cleaning system
  • Exposure measuring system revised in important points (in comparison to the D80)
  • Very good features and functionality, new image sensor and camera processor
  • First DSLR with video function


  • No external microphone connection
  • Built-in flash cannot be used with continuous shooting function (not even at reduced frame rate)
  • No exposure preview in LiveView mode (not even as a separate setting)
  • Bright white AF auxiliary light

Nikon D90 Datasheet


Sensor CMOS sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.8 mm (crop factor 1.5
)12.9 megapixels (physical) and 12.3 megapixels (effective)
Pixel pitch 5.5 µm
Photo resolution
4.288 x 2.848 pixels (3:2)
3.216 x 2.136 pixels (3:2)
2.144 x 1.424 Pixel (3:2)
Picture formats JPG, RAW
Colour depth 36 bits (12 bits per color channel)
Metadata Exif (version 2.21), DCF standard
Video resolution
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 24 p
640 x 424 (3:2) 24 p
320 x 216 (3:2) 24 p
Video format
AVI (Codec n.a.)
Audio format (video) WAV


Lens mount
Nikon F


Autofocus mode Phase comparison autofocus with 11 sensors
Autofocus Functions Single autofocus, Continuous autofocus, Tracking autofocus, Manual, AF Assist Light
Focus control Fade out button, Live View

Viewfinder and Monitor

Reflex viewfinder Reflex viewfinder (prism viewfinder) (96 % image coverage), 19 mm eye relief, dioptre compensation (-2.0 to +1.0 dpt), replaceable focusing screens, grille can be inserted
Monitor 3.0″ TFT LCD monitor with 920,000 pixels
Info display additional info display (top)


Exposure metering Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement over 420 fields, spot measurement (measurement over 2% of the image field)
Exposure times 1/4,000 to 30 s (automatic
) bulb function
Exposure control Program automatic, Aperture automatic, Time automatic, Manual
Bracketing function Bracket function with maximum 2 shots, step size from 1/3 to 2 EV
Exposure compensation -5.0 to +5.0 EV with step size of 1/3 EV
Sensitivity to light ISO 200 to ISO 3.200 (automatic
)ISO 200 to ISO 6.400 (manual)
Remote access Remote tripping
Scene modes Landscape, Night Portrait, Close-up, Portrait, Sports/Action, Full Auto,
Picture effects Blue tint, skylight, warm tone
White balance Auto, White balance bracketing, Fine tuning, Manual
Continuous shooting 4.5 fps at highest resolution, Or 1-4 fps adjustable
Self-timer Self-timer with 2 or 20 s interval
Shooting functions Live histogram


Flash built-in flash (hinged
)flash shoe: Nikon, standard center contact
Flash number Guide number 13 (ISO 100)
Flash functions Auto, Fill Flash, Flash On, Flash Off, Slow Sync, Flash On Second Shutter Curtain, Red-Eye Reduction


Image stabilizer no optical image stabilizer
GPS function GPS external
Power supply Power supply connection
Power supply 1 x Nikon EN-EL3e (Lithium ion (Li-Ion), 7.4 V, 1,500 mAh
)Nikon MB-80 Rechargeable battery/battery grip
Playback Functions Red eye retouching, image index, slideshow function with music, zoom out
Voice memo Voice memo (WAV format)
Picture parameters Contrast, Saturation, Noise Reduction
Special functions Live view
Ports Data interfaces: USBUSB type
:USB 2.0 High Speed
AV connectors AV output: HDMI output Micro (Type D)
Supported direct printing methods PictBridge
Tripod socket 1/4″
Features and Miscellaneous middle AF-measuring field widenable automatic
AF-measuring field grouping AF-measuring range
:LW -1 to LW 19AF metering memorySpot meteringcan be linked to active AF metering fieldExposure metering memoryPlayback

zoomHighlighting automatic
image orientationReal-time noise reductionFAT

16/32 supportSharpeningimage contrastImage brightnessColor saturationColor balance Simultaneous

recording of JPEG and RAW/NEF image files is possible41
Individual functions Manual
text inputColor space setting

AdobeRGB-IIa, sRGB-IIIa)
D-Lighting technology for camera-internal compensation between bright and dark image areasPicture Mount FunctionPicture Parameter Presets

Size and weight

Dimensions W x H x D 132 x 103 x 77 mm
Weight 620 g (ready for operation)


included accessories Fujifilm Videocable VideokopfNikon
AN-DC1 Storage AccessoriesNikon
Capture NX SoftwareNikon
EG-D2 Audio / Video CableNikon
EN-EL3e Special BatteryNikon
MH-18a Charger for Special BatteriesNikon
UC-E4 USB CableStrapCamera SoftwareNikon Picture Project
optional accessory Nikon CF-D80 Camera BagNikon
EN-EL3e Special Battery Power Supply
EH-5Fast Charger
MH-18Multi Charger
MH-19Removable Memory CardAF-SDX Nikkor 18-105 mm 1:3.5-5.6

G ED VR (set up)
SB-900/800/600/400 System FlashesML-L3
Infrared Remote


MC-DC2Battery Handle
MB-D80GPS Receiver
GP-1Nikon System Accessories
(Flashes, Lenses, etc.)


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