GEAR REVIEW - NIKON D90
Okay, so you might be asking yourself, "Why the hell are you reviewing a 6 year old camera, Aaron?" The answer is I was bored and there was sod all on TV.
No, in truth I wanted to give a little tribute to my first DSLR. The one I learned the basics with and some of my best photographs were taken upon. Remember folks, it's not all about the gear. What you do with it is paramount.
Despite reaching the age where if it were a child, the teeth would be falling out and turning from cute to irritating (sounds like my nephews), it still remains a decent upgrade for people coming from an entry level DSLR, who want more advanced features and the ability to use older AF-D glass. The D90 can be had secondhand for an absolute song now, with prices in the region of £250 body only. Kind of sickening considering it was £600 more than that when first purchased. Some retailers still carry it new today.
So what did that £850 get you. Well at the time it bought you a "prosumer" level body complete with a 12.3MP sensor, 11 AF points (1 cross-type), 1/4000 sec shutter speed, 4.5FPS, live view, around 850 shots per battery charge (excluding long exposures) and was the first DSLR to have HD movie capabilities. In short, it was packed with a lot of features, although I wish it had metered with non-CPU lenses, but I digress. Today though, even the "lowly"D3300 trounces it in the image quality and video department, with twice the resolution, better ISO performance, dynamic range, colour depth and autofocus in movie mode - all for £400.
However, the D90 can still hold its own perfectly well, as there are other features that it has that the entry level cameras don't. The biggest one for me, is the inclusion of a focus motor in the body. This means all those awesome old AF-D lenses, which tend to cost a fraction of their modern day AF-s counterparts, will auto focus. As a result, many more affordable lens choices are available. So while you may have saved money by scrimping on a camera body, you have to pay through the nose for the professional lenses with a Silent Wave Motor inside. For example, I have an old 300mm f/4 AF, which set me back about £350. If you want to autofocus a 300mm f/4 on a D3300, you need either the newer 300mm f/4 AF-s ED, which even used will set you back £750 or the very latest Nikon 300mm f4E PF ED VR AF-S Lens which is over £1600. The difference could have bought you a signifcantly better camera body!
The second big thing is in the pop-up flash. Not that I like using it for that purpose, because it gives you the flattest, most boring light imaginable. What it does do though is enable you to use the Nikon Creative Lighting System or CLS for short, to trigger i-TTL flashes. If you're an off camera flash user, this can be a really cost effective way of firing your flashes without needing to lay out hundreds of pounds on TTL triggers. Of course this is dependent upon your speedlite being able to "see" the flash from the pop-up which you use in commander mode.
Now the 12.3MP sensor sounds a bit wimpy by todays standards but, when you stop and think about it, what is the maximum size you print your images. "You can print your images, you say?" Okay, erm, what is the biggest size you display your images at online? More importantly, what resolution are they viewed at? Think iPads and iPhones and computer monitors. What I'm driving at is the 4,288 x 2,848 pixels the D90 produces will more than satiate your needs. If you frame properly, it's pretty much more than the overwhelming majority of photographers need - we are just spoiled today. Since I shoot with the D800 which is over 36MP, I will say the large resolution is very useful for cropping in after the fact and still keeping incredible detail but even so, the D90 is no slouch, believe me.
Video, I can't really comment upon as I never really used it that much. Still, if you give it time you can take some nice quality footage with it of family or friends. Again, more about what you do with the camera than the gear. Having said that though, if DSLR videography is what interests you I highly recommend you look at the Canon 5d MKII or MKIII, which thanks to Magic Lantern can shoot RAW video - not compressed Jpeg AVI!
The autofocus system is pretty much on a par with modern entry level DSLRs, so you probably won't gain anything stepping up to the D90 in that respect. In nominal conditions it always performed amicably for me and wasn't too bad in less favourable indoor lighting either. Occasionally the focus would hunt but that problem decreases with wider aperture glass. This is purely because you let more of the bright stuff into the camera. You'll have an easier time with a 50mm f/1.8D than you will with a kit lens at 55mm and f/5.6 (3 and 1/3rd stops darker). No AF fine tuning, which can be found on higher end cameras. If you have a prime lens that misses focus constantly, then you're unable to correct it on the D90. If you have that problem with a zoom lens, then AF fine tuning won't solve it either, since the Canon 5D MKIII was the only camera body capable of correcting both ends of a zoom range.
Focus speed isn't bad on the D90 at all and varies from lens to lens. I will say though that the juice coming from the D800 batteries certainly drives lenses better. My Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AF-S VR would take about 4 seconds to go from infinity to closest focus and back again on the D90. I actually hated using it on the D90 because if the focus missed and the lens began hunting, it seemed to take an absolute age to lock on target again. On the D800 the same lens takes less than a second to travel the entire focusing distance and back again and is now my workhorse in the studio. The 50mm f/1.8D was certainly quick enough though, even for my then 2 year old nephews who tore about the place like things possessed.
Build quality is pretty sturdy, despite its composite plastic construction. Certainly not as meaty as the magnesium alloy chassis of the D800 but, then again the reduction in weight is nice. Ergonomics are decent enough. Everything is well laid out and accessible. Initially it looks more complex than your entry level models but, you soon get to grips with things. One nice feature of the D90 was the ability to set the function of the AE-L button to autofocus instead. This means that you can isolate your focus and shutter release and is something I highly recommend people do. It certainly improved my accuracy rate.
Just the one SD memory card slot is found on the D90. I used 4GB cards which gave me 260 RAW files. Usually more than enough for a days shooting but, if you needed more, just get another card. I never recommend gargantuan cards that can hold thousands of images. If the card screws up, you lose all the images. At least if you spread the images over multiple cards you still have some of what you shot. I use 32GB cards in the D800, which sounds hypocritical of me but, that actually equates to 400 RAW files, due to the thumping great 36MP resolution. I wouldn't use 64GB or above purely because it's too many to risk. As the old saying goes - "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."
That's pretty much it for the D90. It's getting a bit long in the tooth but it still capable of a powerful bite. The increased choice and cost savings of using older AF-D glass make it an attractive option and image quality is definitely very good. For £250 for the body, it's definitely a more cost effective option than something like a D7100. Having said, what you get in the D7100 is pretty immense. I refer to it as the D4 of DX. If you don't have £800 to drop on a new body, then the D90 is certainly a bit easier on the wallet. So if you are looking to step up from an entry level DSLR like the D3xxx or D5xxx series or the older D40, the D90 will certainly deliver a step up in features and performance in most cases. My work taken on the old girl has been published in 12 national/international magazines and featured on major photography news websites like F-Stoppers. So I reiterate, what you do with a camera is far more important but, the technology inside this somewhat antiquated body is more than capable of delivering the goods when you need it.