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Live view

The D90 - unlike the D300/D700/D3 - only offers one autofocus method in Live View mode. Auto-focus is achieved using the main image sensor in a 'contrast detect' manner (the same as a compact camera), this tends to be slower than normal passive AF but does maintain the live view; you can also move the AF point anywhere within the frame using the multi-selector.

The D90 cannot be used in the 'hand held' (phase detect AF mode) offered by the high end models, but it is the only Nikon to get a dedicated Live View button. It's also the only one with Face Detect AF (there are three AF modes, wide area and normal area and face detect).

Live view display modes

Press the info button to change the overlaid information, you can also optionally enable grid lines which are in the same position as the grid lines shown on the viewfinder focusing screen.

Default live view display Live view with extra information
In focus display Optional grid lines
Press the Magnify button to zoom in on the focus point Maximum magnification
The focus point can be moved anywhere in the frame (whether magnified or not) using the four-way controller.

Live view auto focus

The following video clips shows live view in use to auto-focus, magnify live view, take an exposure and finally magnify the image in record review.

Please note that the following video has been taken from our D3 review (the focusing sequence on the D90 is virtually identical to the D3).

Autofocus in Live View

Movie Mode

It's perhaps not the first thing people think of when choosing a new digital SLR, but our earlier speculation that the D90 wouldn't be the last DSLR to offer video recording functions has been proved correct. Live view is, after all, providing a video feed from the sensor, and it wasn't a great leap to start recording this to the memory card.

Using an SLR for movies may seem like yet another 'solution looking for a problem', but Nikon believe that the unique advantages offered by such a large sensor (compared to any compact stills camera or camcorder) will bring get users' creative juices flowing. These advantages include the ability to use selective focus effects in movie clips (shallow depth of field), the ability to shoot movies with fisheye or extreme telephoto lenses and the ability to capture movies in very low light thanks to the higher sensitivity.

The D90 offers motion JPEG (.AVI format) movie capture at three different quality settings (24 fps in all cases):

  • 1280 x 720 pixels (16:9, 720p)
  • 640 x 424 pixels (3:2, VGA)
  • 320 x 216 pixels (3:2, QVGA)

Although you can't autofocus whilst recording movie clips, before you actually start the clip you can pre-set any of the Picture Controls, white balance, exposure compensation and so on (giving a lot of creative control over the 'look' of the movie) and the image stabilization works with VR lenses. Exposure is fully automatic in movie mode (though exposure compensation settings are honored).

There are several limitations to be aware of, however; as mentioned there's no autofocus whilst recording clips, and there is a time limit to a single clip (5 minutes for a 1280 x 720 movie, 20 minutes for others).

Sample movies are available later in the review, though haven't been put forward for any short-film prizes.

Movie mode displays

Movie setting menu You can shoot with or without (mono) sound - the D90 has a built-in speaker and microphone.
Once you're in focus and happy with the white balance/exposure press OK in Live View mode to start (and stop) movie capture. During recording the REC display blinks and a timer countdown shows how much you've got left in this clip.
In playback mode you get a thumbnail of the first frame in the clip. Press OK to play. During playback the four-way controller provides fast-forward/rewind, pause and stop controls. The built-in speaker means you can listen to the soundtrack (if recorded).

HDMI output / High Definition display

Like the D3/D30/D700, the D90 offers HDMI digital high definition video output. From the setup menu you can select between Auto, 480p, 576p, 720p or 1080i output, in this section we are only going to examine the 720p and 1080i options. HDMI output works in any mode which would otherwise use the LCD monitor; shooting information, menus, live view and playback. It has to be said that using live view over HDMI to a HD LCD or Plasma screen really is an amazing experience and could be extremely useful in studio photography situations. Below we have provided captures of HDMI output in both 720p (1280 x 720) and 1080i (1920 x 1080) resolutions just to give you a sense of the amount of detail visible. My only disappointment would be that there didn't seem to be a way to display the image without any shooting information (except when magnifying), this means that the default display (top image below) is only using 74% of screen width (theoretically, given aspect ratio differences this could be 84% without the status lines at the bottom).

Please note that the screenshots below have been taken from our D3 review.

Normal playback via HDMI (1080i; 335 KB)
Zoomed playback via HDMI (1080i; 247 KB)
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