Nikon D90 Review

 
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Nikon D90 Operation

Top Panel Status LCD

As with most higher-end Nikon DSLRs, the top-panel data readout LCD communicates a lot of information about current camera settings, and provides an interface for setting many camera functions, when used in conjunction with the various buttons and Command Dials. You can also use the main LCD to adjust many of the same settings, but using the top LCD saves power and can be more convenient when the camera is below eye level.

The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display.


1
Shutter speed
15
Flash compensation indicator
Exposure compensation value
16
"Clock not set" indicator
Flash compensation value
17
Flexible program indicator
White balance fine-tuning
18
Metering mode
White balance color temperature
19
Focus points
White balance preset number
AF-area mode
Number of shots in bracketing sequence
20
Autofocus mode
2
Battery indicator
21
Black-and-white indicator
3
Flash mode
22
Number of exposures remaining
4
Image size
Number of shots remaining before buffer fills
5
Image quality
Preset white balance recording indicator
6
White balance fine-tuning indicator
Capture mode indicator
7
White balance
ISO sensitivity value
8
ISO sensitivity compensation indicator
23
ISO sensitivity indicator
9
"K" (appears when memory remains for over 1000 exposures)
Auto ISO sensitivity indicator
10
"Beep" indicator
24
Bracketing progress indicator
11
GPS connection indicator
25
Bracketing indicator
12
Release mode
26
White Balance Bracketing indicator
13
Aperture (f-number)
27
Exposure compensation indicator
Bracketing increment
28
Multiple exposure indicator
14
Color temperature

 

Shooting Info Display

One of the most obvious differences between the Nikon D90 and the D80 that went before it is the new model's rear-panel shooting info display. This is somewhat reminiscent of the "Classic" version of the shooting display on the D60, but the information is arranged quite differently, and Nikon has expanded their use of the margin for quick access to some of the more frequently menu items.

Nikon D90 Rear-Panel Shooting Info Display
The rear-panel info display on the Nikon D90 bears some resemblance to those we've seen on recent models, but there's been considerable reorganization as well. When shooting under dim lighting, you can opt for a light-on-dark version of the screen that doesn't glare so brightly at night.
The icon bar along the bottom provides quick access to items otherwise buried in the menu system. The Nikon D90 gives you a lot of choices for what function to assign to the front-panel Func button.

 

The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display mode.

1
Shooting mode
19
Flash mode
2
Flexible program indicator
Flash control mode for optional flash units
3
Shutter speed
20
Electronic analog exposure display
Exposure compensation value
Exposure compensation
Flash compensation value
Bracketing progress indicator
Color temperature
21
AC adapter indicator
Number of shots in bracketing sequence
22
Flash value (FV) lock indicator
4
Aperture (f-number)
23
Flash compensation indicator
Bracketing increment
24
Exposure compensation indicator
5
Release mode
25
Multiple exposure indicator
6
Continuous shooting speed
26
Bracketing indicator
7
Remote control indicator
27
Active D-Lighting bracketing amount
Self-timer mode indicator
28
Image comment indicator
8
ISO sensitivity indicator
29
Autofocus mode
Auto ISO sensitivity indicator
30
ISO sensitivity
9
"Beep" indicator
31
Number of exposures remaining
10
"K" (memory remains for over 1000 exposures)
32
GPS connection indicator
11
White balance
33
Auto-area AF/mode indicator
White balance fine-tuning indicator
3D-tracking indicator
12
AE-L/AF-L button assignment
Focus point
13
Function button assignment
34
Image size
14
Picture Control indicator
35
Image quality
15
Active D-Lighting indicator
36
"Clock not set" indicator
16
High ISO NR indicator
37
Camera Battery indicator
17
Long exposure NR indicator
MB-D80 battery type display
18
Metering mode
MB-D80 battery indicator

 

Live-View Display

The Nikon D90 is the first consumer-level DSLR from that company to offer a Live View function. Going everyone else one better, Nikon's also added a Movie recording option to the D90's Live View mode.

Nikon D90 Live View Display
The Live-View display on the Nikon D90 provides a fair bit of exposure information, including shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, ISO, card space remaining, image size/compression, white balance setting, program mode, etc. As noted elsewhere, Contrast-Detect autofocus is the only focus mode available in Live View. The advantage though, is you can position the focus area wherever you want in the image. Here, we've moved it up to center on the Nikon logo on the camera. The focus rectangle turns green when focus is locked.
One of the advantages of Contrast-Detect autofocus is the ability to do cool things like Face Detection. And the ultimate Live View feature: Movie recording. Just press the OK button (center of the 4-way controller) any time while in Live View mode, and you're recording a movie!

 

Playback Screens


Nikon D90 Playback Screens
Handy when dealing with gigabyte memory cards, a calendar display makes it easy to quickly browse images shot over a period of time. A 72-image thumbnail display screen is newly added to the Nikon D90, making it easier to scroll through large numbers of images to find the ones you want.
The nine thumbnail display is familiar from earlier models. Ditto the 4-thumbnail screen. (Note the "sprocket holes" designating movie files: A first for a DSLR!)
A variety of playback displays can be cycled through using the up/down arrows on the multi-selector, including image with shooting information, luminance histogram and file information. Even movie clips get this shooting information screen.
Histogram displays are pretty standard these days. Here, we see histograms for brightness (luminance) and the red, green, and blue channels separately. Here's something you may not have seen on a Nikon DSLR before: The histogram updates as you zoom in on the image! - We've long wondered why camera makers hadn't done this; now Nikon has. Cool!
The highlight clipping warning display blinks blown highlights to call them to your attention. Of course the D90 also lets you magnify images for closer inspection on its gorgeous 3-inch, 922K pixel LCD. You can magnify them up to approximately 27x for large, 20x for medium and 13x for small images, using the zoom in button. Once magnified, you can scroll around the image using the multi-selector to examine critical detail and framing.

 

Playback Menu

The Nikon D90's playback menu options are fairly conventional for the most part, but there are several features not found on the D80, and a greatly-expanded PictMotion (slide show with transitions and sound) menu, moved here from the Retouch Menu.

Nikon D90 Playback Menu
Much of what's here was also on the D80. The Nikon D90 adds display mode, image review, and Pictmotion.
Display Mode is a new option, that sets what information screens will be available as you scroll through them via the up/down arrows on the 4-way controller. This can make it quicker getting between different display screens you use, by avoiding having to scroll through ones you don't care about.
This isn't new, but it's been moved from the Custom Settings Menu. With the new, much deeper CS Menu, it could have gotten buried pretty deeply. Personally, we'd look first for this on the Shooting Menu, since that's when you actually care about whether Image Review (immediate post-capture image display) is on or off.
Pictmotion is Nikon's name for slide shows synchronized with music and with "Ken Burns" effect animation. On the D90, it's shown as a separate menu item, to distinguish it from common fixed-interval slide shows. You can select individual photos, all the images shot on a given date, or all images on the memory card.
Five different choices are available for background music. None of it will win a music award, but they're for the most part pretty unobjectionable as slide-show background music. You can choose a number of transitions between images. The background music contains cues to the camera, so the slides seem to change in time with the music.

 

Retouch Menu

This is a feature that's been around on Nikon's consumer cameras since the D40, and one that has been the subject of ongoing enhancement. The items on this menu all represent image modifications that can be done after capture, while in Playback mode, and without the use of a computer. In all cases, applying any of the modifications to an image results in the creation of a new image; your original is always left untouched. Practicing professionals using the D3 or D300 will be more likely to rely on workstation-based software than in-camera one-at-a-time image tweaks like these, but it's conceivable that things like red-eye correction and D-Lighting might be useful to apply on a one-off basis. So this probably isn't a big feature for most users of these cameras, but given the negligible incremental expense of adding this menu to the camera, there's no reason not The Retouch Menu on the Nikon D90 offers a number of brand-new features. The table below shows a few of the more noteworthy features, both old and new.

Nikon D90 Playback Mode Retouch Menu Options
The Retouch Menu now spans two menu screens, with many more features than even the just-released pro-level D700 has.
The Filter Effects retouch option carries the four new options we saw on the D60: Red/Green/Blue intensifiers and Cross Screen (for creating star effects around strong point highlights.) Cross Screen options include number of points on the highlight stars, number of stars (threshold for highlights to trigger star creation), angle of star rays, and length of rays. A little kitchy in practice (a little goes a long ways), but fun for some shots.
Image overlay is another function that, while entertaining, can be a little hard to find applications for.
In-camera RAW processing is a feature we've seen on Nikon cameras for a little while now, but it deserves mentioning for its completeness: Pretty much any color or tone adjustment you could make when taking the original shot is available when developing NEF RAW files into JPEGs after the fact. Options include JPEG quality, image size, white balance, exposure compensation, and Picture Control. (Presumably including any adjustments you've made to the camera's individual Picture Control settings.
A new Quick Retouch option attempts to make basic color and tone adjustments to produce better-looking photos. The shot of the ugly vase above isn't an ideal example for this, was the best we had available when we were playing with the prototype. A better example would be a grey, misty day: This function would brighten it up, clear away some of the haze.
We're not sure what you might use image overlay for, but here's a feature we could use on far more of our shoots than we'd like to admit: A Straightening function that lets you rotate an image in small increments left or right. No excuses anymore for tilted horizon lines!
And speaking of useful, the Nikon D90 also lets you correct pincushion and barrel distortion (within limits) right on the camera's back panel. If you have a lens that the camera knows about (presumably most Nikkor lenses), the camera can correct the distortion automatically.
Back in the "more fun than useful" category, you can also apply a fisheye effect to your photos, post-capture. (By the way, note that all these post-capture effects create new images on the card, rather than modifying the original.)

 

HDMI Output

Like the D3, D300, and D700, the new Nikon D90 provides for HTDV output via an HDMI 1.3 mini connector on its left side, hidden behind a rubber flap. If you've not yet joined the legions of HDTV users, there's also a conventional mini phone jack socket for conventional NTSC/PAL analog output.

 

GPS Option!

Simultaneous with the announcement of the D90, Nikon is also announcing the GP-1, a new GPS accessory. The GP-1 is a little gadget that mounts on the hot shoe, and plugs into a new, dedicated GPS port on the side of the camera, using the GP1-CA90 accessory terminal cord. (While it's being announced with the D90, the GP-1 can also be used with the D3, D300, D700, D2x, D2xs, D2Hs, and D200 by plugging it into the 10-pin accessory terminal on those cameras, using the GP1-CA10 accessory terminal cord.) We haven't yet seen a sample of the GP-1, but it sounds relatively compact, at 1.97 x 1.79 x 1.00 inches (50 x 45.5 x 25.5mm). Power comes from the camera body, but we don't yet know how big an effect it will have on camera battery life. When operating, the GP-1 will copy latitude, longitude, altitude and time data into the EXIF headers of any image files captured. At this point, we have very little information on the GP-1 (including its projected price in the US), but one spec caught our eye: The GP-1 on average requires only 35 seconds for satellite acquisition, only 5 seconds from a hot start. That "hot start" seems tied to a setting on the setup menu for the GPS: You can apparently set it up to power-down whenever the camera's exposure meter shuts off. This could potentially save a lot of battery power, but at the relatively minor cost of needing to wait 5 seconds before snapping a shot after activating the camera's exposure meter, for the GPS unit to wake up. An interesting accessory, one we think will find a lot of application in various commercial, insurance, and governmental settings, where photos need to be authoritatively tagged with specific location information.

 

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