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Conclusion - Pros

  • Image quality comparable with its peers
  • Excellent viewfinder
  • Superb high resolution LCD monitor
  • Automatic chromatic aberration correction improves performance from all lenses
  • Punchy but not un-natural colors (and plenty of control if you want to change them)
  • Good dynamic range - and Active D-Lighting to help make the most of it
  • Useful in-camera RAW processing option
  • Excellent degree of customization (reversible dials and meter ease transition from other systems)
  • Fast Autofocus with useful control options
  • High sensitivity performance up there with the best we've seen
  • Sophisticated wireless flash commander built-in
  • Programmable FUNC button with useful list of functions
  • Configurable 'My Menu' (and option for FUNC button to access the top item on it)
  • Excellent build quality, tight shut lines, quality materials
  • Instant power on, very responsive in-use
  • Auto-focus assist lamp rather than requiring flash to be raised
  • Control over high sensitivity noise reduction
  • Customizable automatic sensitivity (ISO)
  • Easy to use playback / delete combination
  • Status LCD panel on top of camera (we still like them)
  • Fast continuous shooting mode
  • Good SD card throughput and USB 2.0 transfer speed
  • Extensive retouching features including D-Lighting, Red-eye reduction and distortion correction
  • Good battery life and precise charge-level indication
  • Dedicated help button provides in-menu assistance
  • HD video

Conclusion - Cons

  • Over-enthusiastic metering a little prone to blown highlights
  • Very soft (default) JPEG output compared to its peers
  • We believe more of the captured dynamic range could be incorporated into Jpegs
  • Menus getting long and complex (though well organized and differentiated)
  • Bundled software pretty limited
  • Arbitrary 100-shot limit on continuous shooting
  • Disappointing automatic white balance performance in incandescent light
  • In-camera RAW conversion could provide more control
  • Video capabilities limited in a number of ways

Overall conclusion

We described the D80 as a photographer's camera and, despite the addition of video, the D90 appears to share that same ethos. On a purely specification level, it's a highly competitive piece of kit, but it's the way the features have been chosen and put together that make it the camera that it is.

The D90 viewfinder is amongst the best you'll find on any APS-C camera and it sits above the highest-resolution screen we've yet seen on a camera of this class. The buttons are well chosen and sensibly positioned, and the two-dial interface is a pleasure to use. (Buyers coming from other systems can even reverse the operation of the meter and dials to make everything that bit more familiar).

The image quality, whether at base ISO or the higher settings, is excellent even if it can need a bit of tweaking of the internal settings to tailor the output to specific needs. While it's understandable that Nikon would want to try to bring the processing settings into line with its more expensive cameras, it's questionable how well the rather under-sharpened default output will serve the buyers of this camera. A little more contrast and saturation improve things, without any ill effects.

The early talk about the D90 was about its video capability and indeed it does record HD videos - good ones by digital stills camera standards. But don't let that distract you, this is a camera which lets nothing get in the way of taking photos. Its degree of configurability results in long menus but they're generally well arranged and color-coded to minimize the likelihood you getting lost in them. There's also the option to create a menu of your most used settings (or list the most recently used ones, if you don't want to spend time setting it up), and a status screen that gives fairly fast access to those key parameters that don't have their own buttons.

Our only real worry about the D90 is the matrix metering, which seems to be so strongly connected to the selected AF point that it allows highlights to clip a bit too often for our liking. There is an option to fine-tune the meter (and assign a different amount of correction to each metering mode), if you find it a consistent problem.

The D80 was a very well respected camera, offering a feature set that seemed perfectly tailored to the enthusiast market - the D90 builds on this by including many of the options from the D300. The automatic Chromatic Aberration correction is just one example - without ever having to think about it, it instantly improves the results of every JPEG, regardless of the lens used. Picking the images apart to find differences between cameras reveals it's not quite a half-price D300 but that was a camera we described at the time as being best semi-professional digital SLR on the market, setting the bar pretty high. After using and testing the D90 extensively, it's hard to think of a better enthusiast-level camera.

Detail (D-SLR) Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.5
Ergonomics & handling 9.0
Features 9.5
Image quality 8.5
Performance (speed) 9.0
Value 8.5

Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended

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