To round 2008 off nicely, Nikon chose to heap further pressure on Canon, by deciding to refocus (ahem) its attentions on middle earth: those photographers wanting a more serious machine than you can get for £500, but are not so capacious of wallet to be able to lavish a four figure sum on their hobby. There is a credit crunch, after all.
Although not officially touted as a replacement for the D80, we’d be prepared to stake at least a fiver that the latter won’t be on dealers’ shelves much longer. Expect some good deals on the old model, which is very capable in its own right despite being over two years old – worthy of a telegram from the queen in DSLR terms.
If you’re already a D80 user and are looking to the D90 as an upgrade, you’ll find a welcome ‘comfy slippers’ element about the new camera, particularly on the design front which is as compact, robust and assured as the model before it.
Underneath the familiar exterior, however, much has changed, the additions and improvements bringing the D90 in line with its key market competitors and, in some cases, exceeding them.
Pixel count weighs in at a healthy 12.3-million, which puts it some way ahead of the Canon EOS 40D, but an equal distance behind the Pentax K20D/Samsung GX-20. The D90’s CMOS sensor bears a striking resemblance to that in the more pricey D300 and, indeed, also features EXPEED image processing, which is tried and tested in delivering top drawer results.
There is a healthy range of exposure modes to choose from, but Nikon hasn’t gone too over the top in terms of dedicated scene modes. Just six are available, along with a point-and-shoot green Auto mode for compact-simplicity shots and the more conventional PASM modes for photographers who want to roll their sleeves up and get involved.
Exposure metering is taken care of by three patterns – matrix, centre-weighted (with user variable sensitivity area) and spot – plus there are exposure compensation options for both flash and ambient light in addition to a white-balance bracketing mode.
Live View is available on the excellent three-inch, 920,000 pixel rear LCD, plus the camera also features a High Definition video mode, so you can use it camcorder style. The D90 is the first DSLR to feature such a function, beating the Canon EOS 5D MkII by a matter of days, but it does have a couple of key shortcomings.
Recording time is limited to five minutes, while focusing has to be done manually. In all honesty it’s likely to be a feature you’ll either love or hate – seeing an instant benefit or wondering what on earth the point of it is.
There can be no question of the D90’s excellent in-camera retouching features, accessed by the superb menu system. Filter effects can be added, images combined, Raw files processed and shots cropped using this menu, plus there are some new features including a fisheye simulator, image straightening and lens distortion control.
Alongside the D90, Nikon has also introduced an 18-105mm VR lens, which adds £150 to the body only price of £700. It’s a keenly-priced optic that adds plenty of versatility to your picture-taking, but does suffer from distortion of both the barrel and pincushion variety.