Nikon D90

The first SLR in the world to record video

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Nikon D90
  • Nikon D90
  • Nikon D90
  • Nikon D90

Pros

  • First SLR to shoot video, great noise control, feature-rich, brilliant screen

Cons

  • Live View autofocus is still slow, video footage suffers from wobbling and contrast issues

Bottom Line

As the first SLR to shoot video footage, Nikon's D90 is certainly an appealing product. The video mode itself still needs some work but it is fine for casual use and the still image capabilities are top notch as always making this another impressive, feature-rich mid-range D-SLR.

Would you buy this?

In case you’ve been living under a rock over the last month or so, Nikon’s new mid-range SLR, the D90, is kind of a big deal. "Why?", you might ask. The answer is because it’s the first D-SLR that can record video footage. Previously the realm of dedicated video cameras and point-and-shoot still units, video recording won’t appeal to everyone. However, it is definitely something that will help draw in compact camera users who were previously hesitant to upgrade.

One thing that users should note is that the camera can’t autofocus video; if you zoom in or out manual adjustment is required. This may be too much for less accomplished photographers. That said, the flexibility of shooting video using any of your array of lenses is fairly enticing.

The overall video quality is good without being outstanding. It is 720p (which makes it high definition) and the fact that SLRs have larger-than-normal sensors definitely works in its favour. The image was clear and sharp with an adequate level of detail considering the resolution, and there was no graininess or noise to be seen.

However, it had a few issues. Contrast was quite off at times, with some noticeable detail lost in dark areas. We also found the 24 frame refresh rate too slow for shooting under halogen lights — there was noticeable rippling across the frame. We also discovered what can only be described as wobbling when moving the camera quickly; the entire picture would momentarily turn to jelly and bend quite a bit before snapping back to normal. All of these issues add up to mean that the D90’s video isn’t going to compete with most high-end camcorders, but as a nifty bonus it certainly does a fine job and rivals the movie modes on most compacts.

Fortunately, the inclusion of video is merely an added bonus and the still image capabilities of the D90 are as good as you’d expect. It sports a 12.3-megapixel sensor and a very nice 18-105mm kit lens that has vibration reduction, making it suitable for a wide variety of situations.

Its images have the typically smooth yet detailed look common to modern D-SLRs. They were a touch under-sharpened when contrasted with some competing units but they still looked fantastic and if you prefer a crisper look a little tweaking will do the trick nicely.

There was basically no sign of chromatic aberration in our indoors shots and only minor purple fringing outdoors. Vignetting wasn’t a problem, nor was barrel distortion and there was only minor detail loss in the corners of the frame.

Colours were well balanced and accurate for the most part, although they tended towards being somewhat soft. This was particularly noticeable in our outdoors foliage shots where the greens weren’t as strongly saturated as on some other entry-level and mid-range SLRs.

Noise performance was stellar. Everything up to ISO 800 was flawless and even ISO 1600 only produced some minor dark speckling. At ISO 3200 there was a little blurring and detail loss but it wasn’t too significant and we’d be happy making small or medium prints at this setting.

Exposure was also brilliantly handled thanks to the Activate D-lighting mode. It has several modes but we found automatic was perfectly sufficient for our needs and it made a big difference bringing out detail in shadowed areas.

Another feature of note is the Live View, which is backed up by the incredible 920,000 pixel, 3in display. This is one of the best, if not the best, screens we’ve ever seen on a digital camera and it makes using Live View a breeze. It comes with proper contrast detect and face detection focus modes, but it still takes several seconds to focus properly which will be too long for some users.

The D90 has an 11-point autofocus system which operates pretty speedily and did a good job even in low light. Its burst mode is also quite quick, snapping just over five frames per second.

One inclusion that will please users who are regularly on the road is the slew of in-camera RAW editing options. You can tweak almost anything you want — including colour, exposure, white balance, sharpness and a host of settings — before converting to a JPEG in-camera.

In terms of construction the unit is as strong as ever, with a chunky grip and a sturdy, rugged feel. Nikon is sticking with its guns and continuing to have a secondary monochrome display on the top of the unit that houses all the settings. While the camera is targeted at mid-level users and definitely has some fun elements to it, there is a huge array of buttons which may be off-putting for some novices.

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