Dec 16, 2009

Review: Nikon D90 dSLR

After using this camera for the last few months, there's no doubt in my mind - the D90 is a great camera and a terrific entry to the world of dSLRs. Image quality is outstanding - 12MP gives you enough flexibility to do substantial cropping and still print or display at large size. The dynamic range provided by the sensor is a thousand times better than point and shoot cameras; it's almost like shooting with film. Finally, you don't have to choose between crushed blacks and blown out whites! The camera just feels right in your hand, with all the controls where you'd expect them to be. Well-balanced and solid, but not so heavy that it's a chore to bring with you. Low light performance is top notch. You can't see in the dark (yet) but results at ISO 1600 are definitely usable, maybe even ISO 3200 for prints below 8x10. The camera gives you a lot more latitude to work with natural light and avoid the stunned, washed out look of flash photography.

Downsides? Not many. Video is one feature that still needs some work - I wouldn't expect much from it. Trying to manual focus while shooting is an acquired skill that takes some practice. Plus, rapid panning results in the infamous "jelly motion" effect because the camera's sensor isn't designed for video. You could buy a $300 camcorder that would take better video and audio. Another feature that falls short is live view - shooting through the LCD. Yes, it works, but the autofocus is extremely slow compared to viewfinder focusing. Presumably you bought an SLR because you wanted a viewfinder, so don't let this hold you back.

Compared to the D5000? Yes, the D5k provides the same image quality and low light performance as the D90. And it's slightly cheaper. If you're not upgrading non-AF motor Nikon lenses, the D90's built in motor is of little value. But I found the D5000's flip LCD to be impractical given how slow live view focusing is, and if you compare the cameras side by side, the resolution of the D90's LCD is immediately apparent. Another more subtle difference is in the viewfinder. The D90 has a larger, brighter viewfinder which makes composing and checking focus much easier, especially in low light conditions. The D5000's 18-55mm kit lens is no match for the D90's 18-105mm VR Nikkor, which is easily worth the $200 premium for the camera bundle (as compared to buying the body without a lens).

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