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Color reproduction

Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.

From a hue point of view the D90 behaves very similarly to the more expensive Nikon DSLRs, producing quite punchy, saturated colors.

Nikon D90 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
StandardNeutralVividMonochrome
PortraitLandscapeAdobeRGB

Artificial light White Balance

The white balance on high-end Nikons has been very impressive but this hasn't always filtered down to its less expensive bodies. The D90's auto white balance is consistent and offers above average performance under challenging Fluorescent lights, though its results under Tungsten incandescent bulbs are disappointing. The D90 offers an excellent level of control over white balance, however, offering 12 presets (seven of them for fluorescent lamps), plus the ability to select a color temperature or register up to five manual presets. The manual presets can be named and saved, for lighting situations you shoot in regularly. All presets can be fine-tuned in both the amber/blue and green/magenta axis.

The seven fluorescent lighting presets are a lovely idea but, without individually checking the lighting tubes in the venue you're shooting, it's hard to work out which to use. The range of different Fluorescent lights covered by these presets is large but without some testing and a profound understanding of the behavior of light sources, most users will be reduced to finding the best setting by trial-and-error.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 2.6%, Blue: -4.1%, Average
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 4.4%, Blue: -6.0%, Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 1.6%, Blue: -3.1%, Good

Fluorescent - White Fluorescent preset
Red: -0.2%, Blue: 0.6%, Excellent

Flash

The internal flash on the D90 is essentially the same as in its predecessor and its results are what we've come to expect from Nikon, judging the flash's contribution to exposure well. Skin tones are rendered well and the results avoid the classic, washed-out, rabbit-in-the-headlights look.

Direct flash Direct Flash

The D90 is the latest to make use of Nikon's Creative Lighting System that allows the separate control of the internal flash and two groups of external flashes from the camera body using infra-red communication. Nikon and Olympus are the only two companies to offer this level of flash control in cameras at this price - which is useful for studio specialists and people willing to invest in multiple external flashguns.

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

That the D90's image quality is very high should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the reviews of recent Nikon launches. The company's approach to image processing, dubbed 'Expeed,' produces very consistent results, that do a good job of producing strong punchy images without getting too carried away with the sharpening.

The D90's can't quite match the level of detail produced by the Canon 450D or Sony A350 in their RAW files, but its results are still very good. The JPEG output is conservative by any standard, with rather soft output coming from the default settings. Upping the sharpening improves these results considerably and, though it can't compete in absolute terms, on a side-by-side 100% comparison, the differences in real-world applications are akin to having a light veil of Scotch mist across your images (i.e. it's effectively non-existent).

To prove the point, here is our standard noise crop from our test scene, recorded with default settings (Contrast 0, Sharpening 3), and with slightly tweaked settings (Contrast +1, Sharpening 5), re-procesed, in-camera from the same RAW file.

Default settings Contrast +1, Sharpening 5

This rather cautious approach appears to be the result of an attempt by Nikon to standardize the output to match that of its high-end DSLRs (Custom Picture Control settings can swapped across the D90, D700 , D300 and D3) - which will suit some users of the D90 but could alienate users familiar with the punch of entry-level Nikon cameras.

The other thing we noticed, in the process of shooting the 1000-or-so real world images we took, is that - presumably in an attempt to produce bright, print-friendly images - the D90's metering can tend towards the bright side. In spite of its impressive highlight dynamic range, it's a camera that you have to keep an eye on, as its keenness to correctly expose what it thinks is the subject of your photo sometimes means letting highlights clip (matrix metering is very strongly associated with the selected AF point). There is an option to fine-tune the metering in 1/6 EV steps if you aren't the kind of photographer who wants to keep tabs on what the camera is doing.

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