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You are hereHome > Best Digital Cameras > Nikon D90 DSLR

Nikon Digital Cameras


Nikon D90 DSLR Review

Review Date: Mar 16, 2009

Category: Serious to Advanced Amateur

Nikon D90

Photoxels Editor's Choice Award - Serious Enthusiast DSLR
Photoxels Editor's Choice Award - Serious Enthusiast DSLR


The Nikon D90 DSLR is as easy to use as the Nikon D60 and comes with the image quality, handling and many of the professional features of the Nikon D300. It has 12.3 megapixel resolution on an APS-sized (23.6 x 15.8mm) CCD image sensor.

It can be purchased body only, or with the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm (27-157.5mm equiv.) f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens kit. For a list of other Nikkor lenses compatible with the D90, check out the Lens Compatibility Chart for the Nikon D90.

5.8x Optical Zoom
18-105mm f/3.5-5.6
Wide-angle 18mm Tele 105mm
Wide-angle 18mm
(27mm, 35mm equivalent)
Telephoto 105mm
(157.5mm, 35mm equivalent)

One of the advantages of using a DSLR is the ability to attach interchangeable lenses suited for specific jobs. For this review, we used the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens which provides a wonderful wide-angle coverage for large group shots and expansive vistas, as well a medium telephoto.

105mm, Programmed Auto, Matrix, 1/2 sec., F5.6, ISO 200

The actual macro capability is a function of the lens you use, and the 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens we used allows us to focus only as close as 45 cm (1.5 feet). Keeping a "safe" working distance from your subject helps not to scare it (for a live subject) and allows sufficient light to illuminate it. However, it does not cover a small enough area for real close-up shooting.

If you are seriously into macro photography, check out the AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm [90mm equiv.] f/2.8G ED lens which lets you shoot as close as 18.5cm /7.28 in.

ISO Comparisons
ISO 200
ISO 200
ISO 250 ISO 320
ISO 250 ISO 320
ISO 400 ISO 500
ISO 400 ISO 500
ISO 640 ISO 800
ISO 640 ISO 800
ISO 1000 ISO 1250
ISO 1000 ISO 1250
ISO 1600 ISO 2000
ISO 1600 ISO 2000
ISO 2500 ISO 3200
ISO 2500 ISO 3200
ISO HI 0.3 [ISO 4000 equiv.] ISO HI 0.7 [ISO 5000 equiv.]
ISO HI 0.3 [ISO 4000 equiv.] ISO HI 0.7 [ISO 5000 equiv.]
ISO HI 1.0 [ISO 6400 equiv.] ISO LO 0.3 [ISO 160 equiv.]
ISO HI 1.0 [ISO 6400 equiv.] ISO LO 0.3 [ISO 160 equiv.]
ISO LO 0.7 [ISO 125 equiv.] ISO LO 1.0 [ISO 100 equiv.]
ISO LO 0.7 [ISO 125 equiv.] ISO LO 1.0 [ISO 100 equiv.]

The Nikon D90 has 13 ISO settings going from ISO 200 to ISO 3200. You can "boost" to 3 more higher ISO settings dubbed "HI + 0.3," "HI + 0.7," and "HI + 1.0," corresponding to ISO 4000, 5000 and 6400 equivalent. You can also step down to ISO settings of "LO - 0.3," "LO - 0.7," and "LO - 1.0," corresponding to ISO 160, 125 and 100 equivalent, useful when it is too bright and you need to use a smaller ISO than 200. The 100% crops above (area delimited by the white square) demonstrate the noise at the available ISO Speeds. At ISO 200 to 400, noise is under control and detail is preserved. Noise is also low up to ISO 800 with good detail preservation. Noise starts to show from ISO 1600 upward. All in all, superb high ISO performance perfect for low-light shooting.

Chromatic Aberrations

I have not been able to find much, if any, CA in everyday high-contrast shots using the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens and, where it is present, it is minimal. The corner delimited by the red square at top left, and reproduced at 100% crop at bottom right, shows no purple fringing but some type of haze.

Long Shutter Speed (NR OFF)

Long Shutter Speed without NR

18mm, Manual, Matrix, 30 sec., F16, ISO 200
Manual WB, Self-timer 5 sec., Tripod Used
Noise Reduction OFF

The Nikon D90 allows the use of a long shutter speed of up to 30 sec. in all modes (plus Bulb in Manual mode), therefore allowing nice night photography. Generally, with image sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent at long shutter speeds. When you set Noise Reduction to ON in the menu [Shooting Menu - Long Exp. NR - ON], the Nikon D90 has special noise reduction algorithm that automatically kicks in at slow shutter speeds and you'll notice a longer processing time before the next picture can be taken.

To test this noise reduction algorithm, we decide to take a low-light indoors shot. To obtain a long exposure, I place Bamm-Bamm under my desk where it's dark.

I experiment a bit to obtain the optimum exposure, eventually settling on 30 sec. at F16.0. Even at this long shutter speed, the Nikon D90's noise reduction seems to be working great, producing a nice smooth blurring effect of the background.

We have two pictures, the one above without NR and the one below with NR. There does not seem to be much visible difference whether Long Exposure NR is turned ON or OFF in the two examples.

Long Shutter Speed (NR ON)

Long Shutter Speed with NR

18mm, Manual, Matrix, 30 sec., F16, ISO 200
Manual WB, Self-timer 5 sec., Tripod Used
Noise Reduction ON

We find that the AF is very responsive and images snap quickly into focus using Phase-detect AF. Many of the the low-light pictures on this page were focused using Live View and Contrast detection AF, and the camera also had no difficulty obtaining focus, though you can expect AF time to be slower, about 2-3 sec. There is a dedicated AF Illuminator to aid in focusing.

The pop-up flash is quite powerful, and a hot shoe accepts external speedlights.

RGB HistogramsHistogram

The Nikon D90 does not incorporate a live histogram. In Playback mode, press the Multi-Selector up/down and you can view the RGB Histograms.

Image quality is a function of the image sensor, firmware and especially the lens attached to the body. We find the overall image quality of the Nikon D90 with AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens attached to be excellent with low noise up to ISO 800.

The pictures in the Nikon D90 Photo Gallery page provide a good sample of what the camera is capable of. I have provided unprocessed samples at 800x600 pixels (compressed to Quality 60/100 in Photoshop Elements) as well as the 4,288 x 2,848 pixels original size (click on the image for the original version). Any of the 800x600 image that is adjusted for levels and/or sharpened in Photoshop has "_adjusted" appended to the file name. Original images are never adjusted.

You can safely assume that most macro shots and slow shutter speed shots required the use of a tripod.

I have defaulted the image size to 800x600 pixels. For those who have their monitor resolution set to 1024x728 pixels, everything should snugly fit and you should not have to scroll to see the whole image. If your monitor is set to 800x600 pixels resolution, start the slide show and then scroll to the right to position the image within your screen width. Then, press F11 (if you are using Internet Explorer) to switch to full screen mode, and the image should fill your screen nicely. Press F11 again at any time to switch your monitor display back to normal mode.

To return to this page from the Photo Gallery, click on the animated graphics of the camera.

Please open and download the original size version only if you need to and only once to your hard drive -- and save me some precious bandwidth. Thanks!


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