Nikon D90 12.3Mp DSLR announced – a new market for Nikon?

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August 26th, London, UK: report from Richard Kilpatrick

Today saw the launch of the newest member of Nikon’s growing range of successful DSLRs, with an ongoing increase in market share clearly resulting in growing confidence for the camera brand. Prefacing the D90’s announcement, Nikon revealed that 50% of professional photographers at the Olympics were using Nikon, and their market share reached 44% of the pro DSLR market in February (this is despite the range still having a 12Mp upper limit).

D90 at launch

D90 at launch

Having introduced the D3, D300, D60 and D700 within the last 12 months, the D80 was really looking like the last man standing; today’s announcement shows that the mid-range “enthusiast” market is going to be exceptionally well catered for with a ground-breaking new model, and leaves me as a recent D3 adopter wondering if it’s possible to justify a spare F-mount body.

The D90 is, at first glance, a fairly predictable update of the D80 to bring it into line with the current range – Expeed image processor, Active D-lighting, the class-leading VGA-resolution LCD and the ISO 3200 (6400 HI) capability of the D300. Priced at £699, it’s a tad cheaper than the D80 was at launch and with a new 18-105mm f3.5/f5.6 kit lens equipped package at a few quid over £800 it’s looking like good value. Some consumer-centric features, like scene modes and face recognition and the ability to record video have been added, and it uses SD cards for storage, so the D300 remains a preferable option for more serious photographers…

…were you paying attention there? Let’s go back a few steps.

“ability to record video”.

As ever, Nikon's press shot fails to show anything on the screen...

As ever, Nikon's press shot fails to show anything on the screen...

Some pundits have, of course, been speculating that LiveView may make this possible, but in fairness a few DSLRs have been sporting LiveView without making this step. Certainly DSLR technology has been used for video recording – Sigma’s DP1 uses the exact same chip as the SD14, though it’s very limited in what it produces, and California firm Red Digital Cinema is producing the “Red One”, a movie camera based on DSLR sensor technology for HD production. The latter costs several thousand dollars and is of immense interest to the movie industry, because it returns “large format” recording surfaces to the medium and lower budget (in other words, not using real film) producers, which brings true optical and photographic creativity back into the mix.

I mention this cutting edge bit of kit, because to all intents and purposes, that’s what Nikon – in a restricted form – have brought to the DSLR marketplace. The D90, a small, medium cost DSLR with low-cost lenses and recording media, is also a 1280 x 720 (720p) HD video camera with an APS-C sensor and interchangable lenses.

This is, of course, where the restriction has to be mentioned – for whatever reason (technical or marketing/product positioning – either is feasible) the D90 can record only 5 minutes of HD video at a time – though you can stop/start that to take a still as well, so it’s a nice way of making records and presentations – with a maximum recording time at the lowest quality of 20 minutes. HD is recorded at 24fps and naturally video is done via the LiveView mode, the shutter is not used.

Now, for a product presentation, a few bursts of 5 minute HD video with GOOD optics, GOOD sensor performance – Nikon have produced a fantastic tool here for media professionals and priced it sensibly.

Elsewhere, the camera is predictable, and this is no bad thing. The D80’s battery grip will fit, the standard grip on the small body is comfortable for larger hands, there are two wheels well placed, a built in flash with a decent GN of 17 and extensive customisation accessible via menus. The D80 was regarded as an entry-level pro model by many buyers and the D90, despite being priced closer to a prosumer level, really builds on that specification without any obvious cost-cutting or downgrading.

The shutter sounded particularly smooth on the pre-production sample available for testing, though at 4.5fps the mirror and shutter are not having to handle anything like the stresses of the higher-end Nikons – interestingly the camera also seemed to shoot for a considerable length of burst mode – perhaps because it wasn’t writing to card. A full review should reveal if the movie function has the added benefit of a large image buffer.

The D90 incorporates some new image-post-processing functions in-camera. These include: ‘Distortion Control’ to correct lens aberration and geometry, ‘Straighten’ to correct converging verticals, and ‘Fisheye’ to produce an effect similar to a fisheye lens. It also has the PP menu options and effects found in other recent Nikon models.

View the gallery for more images, both from Nikon’s press release and from the launch. Since the cameras are pre-production, we don’t have image samples yet (and indeed, a new RAW format means that the conversion tools need to be updated), but the AV presentation we were shown was produced entirely with media created on the D90 – and the quality of the movies impressed.

Full specifications below.

Nikon Digital SLR Camera D90 Specifications


Type Single-lens reflex digital camera

Lens mount Nikon F mount (with AF coupling and AF contacts)

Effective picture angle Approx. 1.5 x lens focal length (Nikon DX format)

Effective pixels

Effective pixels 12.3 million

Image sensor

Image sensor 23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS sensor

Total pixels 12.9 million

Dust-reduction system Image Sensor Cleaning, Image Dust Off reference data (optional Capture NX 2 required)


Image size (pixels) 4,288 x 2,848 [L], 3,216 x 2,136 [M], 2,144 x 1,424 [S]

File format • NEF (RAW)

• JPEG: JPEG-Baseline compliant with fine (approx. 1:4), normal (approx. 1:8), or basic (approx. 1:16) compression

• NEF (RAW) + JPEG: Single photograph recorded in both NEF (RAW) and JPEG formats

Picture Control System Can be selected from Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape; storage for up to nine custom Picture Controls

Media SD memory cards, SDHC compliant

File system DCF (Design Rule for Camera File System) 2.0, DPOF (Digital Print Order Format), Exif 2.21 (Exchangeable Image File Format for Digital Still Cameras), PictBridge


Viewfinder Eye-level pentaprism single-lens reflex viewfinder

Frame coverage Approx. 96% horizontal and 96% vertical

Magnification Approx. 0.94 x (50mm f/1.4 lens at infinity; -1.0 m-1)

Eyepoint 19.5 mm (-1.0 m-1)

Diopter adjustment -2 to +1 m-1

Focusing screen Type B BriteView Clear Matte screen Mark II with focus frame (framing grid can be displayed)

Reflex mirror Quick-return type

Depth-of-field preview When depth-of-field preview button is pressed, lens aperture is stopped down to value selected by user (A and M modes) or by camera (other modes)

Lens aperture Instant return, electronically controlled


Compatible lenses • DX AF Nikkor: All functions supported

  • Type G or D AF Nikkor: All functions supported (PC Micro-Nikkor does not support some functions). IX-Nikkor lenses not supported.
  • Other AF Nikkor: All functions supported except 3D colour matrix metering II. Lenses for F3AF not supported.
  • AI-P Nikkor: All functions supported except 3D colour matrix metering II and auto focus.
  • Non-CPU: Autofocus not supported. Can be used in exposure mode M, but exposure meter does not function. Electronic rangefinder can be used if lens has a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or faster.


Type Electronically controlled vertical-travel focal-plane shutter

Speed 1/4,000 to 30 s in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV, Bulb

Flash sync speed X = 1/200 s; synchronizes with shutter at 1/200 s or slower


Release modes Single-frame, continuous low speed, continuous high speed, self-timer, delayed remote, quick-response

Frame advance rate Continuous high speed: up to 4.5 fps, continuous low speed: 1-4 fps

Self-timer Can be selected from 2, 5, 10 and 20 s duration


Metering TTL exposure metering using 420-pixel RGB sensor

Metering method • Matrix: 3D colour matrix metering II (type G and D lenses); colour matrix metering II (other CPU lenses)

• Center-weighted: Weight of 75% given to 6-, 8-, or 10-mm circle in center of frame

• Spot: Meters 3.5-mm circle (about 2% of frame) centered on selected focus point

Range (ISO 100 equivalent, f/1.4 lens, 20°C/68°F)

• Matrix or center-weighted metering: 0-20 EV

• Spot metering: 2-20 EV

Exposure meter coupling CPU

Exposure modes Auto modes (auto, auto [flash off]), Advanced Scene Modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Close-up, Night Portrait), programmed auto with flexible program (P), shutter-priority auto (S), aperture-priority auto (A), manual (M)

Exposure compensation ±5 EV in increments of 1/3 or 1/2 EV

Exposure bracketing 2 or 3 frames in steps of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1 or 2 EV

Exposure lock Luminosity locked at detected value with AE-L/AF-L button

ISO sensitivity (Recommended Exposure Index)

ISO 200 to 3200 in steps of 1/3 EV, can also be set to approx. 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, or 1 EV (ISO 100 equivalent) below ISO 200, or to approx. 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, or 1 EV (ISO 6400 equivalent) over ISO 3200, ISO sensitivity auto control available

Active D-Lighting Can be selected from Auto, Extra high, High, Normal, Low or off

Active D-Lighting bracketing 2 frames


Autofocus Nikon Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus module with TTL phase detection, 11 focus points (including 1 cross-type sensor) and AF-assist illuminator (range approx. 0.5-3 m/1 ft. 8 in.-9 ft.10 in.)

Detection range -1 to +19 EV (ISO 100 equivalent, 20°C /68°F)

Lens servo • Autofocus: Single-servo AF (AF-S); continuous-servo AF (AF-C); predictive focus tracking automatically activated according to subject status (AF-A)

• Manual (M): Electronic rangefinder supported

Focus point Can be selected from 11 focus points

AF-area modes Single-point AF, dynamic-area AF, auto-area AF, 3D-tracking (11 points) AF

Focus lock Focus can be locked by pressing shutter-release button halfway (Single-servo AF) or by pressing AE-L/AF-L button


Built-in flash Auto, Portrait, Close-up, Night Portrait modes: Auto flash with auto pop-up

P, S, A, M: Manual pop-up with button release

Guide number (m/ft.) at 20°C/68°F

• At ISO 200: Approx. 17/56, 18/59 with manual flash

• At ISO 100 equivalent: Approx. 12/39, 13/43 with manual flash

Flash control • TTL: i-TTL balanced fill-flash and standard i-TTL flash for digital SLR using 420-pixel RGB sensor are available with built-in flash, SB-900, SB-800, SB-600 or SB-400

• Auto aperture: Available with SB-900, SB-800 and CPU lenses

• Non-TTL auto: Supported flash units include SB-900, SB-800, SB-28, SB-27 or SB-22s

• Range-priority manual: Available with SB-900 and SB-800

Flash modes Front curtain sync, slow sync, rear-curtain sync, red-eye reduction, red-eye reduction with slow sync

Flash compensation -3 to +1 EV in increments of 1/3, or 1/2 EV

Flash bracketing 2 or 3 frames in steps of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1 or 2 EV

Flash-ready indicator Lights when built-in flash or SB-900, SB-800, SB-600, SB-400, SB-80DX, SB-28DX, or SB-50DX is fully charged; blinks for 3 s after flash is fired at full output in i-TTL or auto aperture modes

Accessory shoe Standard ISO 518 hot-shoe contact with safety lock

Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS)

Advanced Wireless Lighting supported with built-in flash, SB-900, SB-800, or SU-800 as commander and SB-900, SB-800, SB-600 or SB-R200 as remotes;

Auto FP High-Speed Sync and modeling illumination supported with all CLS-compatible flash units except SB-400; Flash Colour Information Communication and FV lock supported with all CLS-compatible flash units

White balance

White balance Auto (TTL white-balance with main image sensor and 420-pixel RGB sensor); 12 manual modes with fine-tuning; colour temperature setting; preset manual white balance

White balance bracketing 2 or 3 frames in steps of 1, 2 or 3

Live View

AF modes Face priority AF, wide area AF, normal area AF

Focus Contrast-detect AF anywhere in frame (camera selects focus point automatically when face priority AF is selected)


Image size (pixels) 1,280 x 720/24 fps, 640 x 424/24 fps, 320 x 216/24 fps

File format AVI

Compression format Motion-JPEG, with monaural sound


LCD monitor 3-in., approx. 920k-dot (VGA), low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCD with 170° viewing angle, approx. 100% frame coverage, and brightness adjustment


Playback function Full-frame and thumbnail (4, 9 or 72 images or calendar) playback with playback zoom, movie playback Pictmotion, slide show, histogram display, highlights, auto image rotation, and image comment (up to 36 characters)


USB Hi-Speed USB

Audio video output Can be selected from NTSC and PAL; simultaneous playback from both the audio video output and on the LCD monitor available

HDMI output Type C HDMI connector; camera monitor turns off when HDMI cable is connected

Accessory terminal • Remote Cord MC-DC2 (Optional)

• GPS Unit GP-1 (Optional)

Supported languages

Supported languages Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish

Power source

Battery One Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL3e

Battery pack Multi-Power Battery Pack MB-D80 (optional) with one or two Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL3e or six R6/AA-size alkaline, Ni-MH, lithium or nickel-manganese batteries (Battery Holder MS-D200 is required when using R6/AA-size batteries.)

AC adapter AC Adapter EH-5a (optional)

Tripod socket

Tripod socket 1/4 in. (ISO 1222)


Dimensions (W x H x D) Approx. 132 x 103 x 77 mm/5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in.

Weight Approx. 620 g/ 1 lb. 6 oz. without battery, memory card, body cap or monitor cover

Operating environment

Temperature 0-40°C/32-104°F

Humidity Less than 85% (no condensation)


Supplied accessories (may differ by country or area)

Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL3e, Quick Charger MH-18a, Eyepiece Cap DK-5, Rubber Eyecup DK-21, USB Cable UC-E4, Audio Video Cable EG-D2, Camera Strap AN-DC1, LCD Monitor Cover BM-10, Body Cap, Accessory Shoe Cover BS-1, Software Suite CD-ROM

  • PictBridge is a trademark. HDMI, the HDMI logo and High-Definition Multimedia Interface are trademarks or registered trademarks of HDMI Licensing LLC. Products and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Specifications and equipment are subject to change without any notice or obligation on the part of the manufacturer. August 2008


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