Nikon D90 Digital Camera Review

$999.95 MSRP

Physical Tour

When it comes to SLR aesthetics, a Nikon is a Nikon is a Nikon. The company may experiment with swooshy curves and funky colors in its compact camera line, but Nikon SLRs are reliably, perhaps pleasingly stodgy. The D90 is a mid-size body, at 22 oz. (620 g) before adding the lens. For the bulk of our test shooting, we used the AF S Nikkor 18-105mm ED VR lens (14.8 oz, 420g), which pushed total shlep weight over 3 pounds.[end_intro]


Those familiar with the Nikon D80 will feel right at home with its successor: the body measurements are precisely the same, with only minor design changes made to accommodate a Live View button and a few additional features.

The right hand grip, projects about an inch from the camera body. The surface is lightly textured but lacks the rubberized surface that really provides a secure handhold under adverse conditions. It’s decorated, of course, with the familiar Nikon red badge. On the front of the grip is the sub-command dial and, on top, the power switch and shutter button.

Between the grip and the lens are the auto focus illuminator lamp and the programmable Fn button (labeled nearly invisibly on the side of the lens mount). The viewfinder hump looms over the lens, with the Nikon name embossed in white. Below the lens mount to the left is the depth of field preview button.

To the right of the viewfinder are three small holes where the microphone is positioned, the only outward sign that this is, in fact, a video-enabled camera. Next to the mic is an infrared receiver to be used with optional wireless remote controls. Next down the right side is the camera name in raised silver lettering and, below that, the lens release button.


The familiar Nikon design remains unchanged with the D90.

Back (8.75)

To the left of the viewfinder is the delete button, with a trashcan icon printed on top and a red FORMAT label indicating that, when held down along with the similarly labeled metering button on top of the camera, the combination will launch the memory card formatting operation.

The row of buttons down the leftmost side of the camera back includes two single-function buttons (PLAY on top and MENU beneath it) and three buttons whose function depends on the mode you’re in. The question-mark-marked button provides in-context help on most menu screens, protects photos during playback and, while shooting, brings up the white balance controls. Next down is the playback zoom out/thumbnail control which, while shooting, accesses ISO settings. Finally the bottom button zooms in during playback and controls image quality settings while shooting.

Nikon didn’t mess with success when it comes to the LCD screen – it’s the same beautiful 3-inch 920,000-pixel display featured on the higher-cost D3 and D700. The camera comes with a clear snap-on plastic screen cover, not shown here.

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, framed by a comfortable rubber eyecup. The diopter adjustment control, for fine-tuning the viewfinder focus to match your eyesight, is to the right of the viewfinder. Moving right from here is the AE-L/AF-L control and the main-command dial.

The LV button launches Live View mode. Below this is the four-way controller, with an OK button in the middle. The focus selector lock lever shifts between L (lock) and open (the white dot). The "info" button at the bottom of this vertical row brings up a full-screen shooting information display on the LCD.


The 920-000-pixel LCD is a treat for the eyes when shooting

or reviewing your shots.

Left Side* (6.50) *At the top of the left side, closest to the lens, is the pop-up flash release, with its lightning-bolt icon. This btton is also used for flash intensity adjustment. The BKT button below that controls exposure and flash bracketing. Below the lens release button is the AF/M (auto focus / manual focus) mode selector 

Toward the back of the camera body is a black metal lug for attaching the camera strap. Below this is a large rubber door, tethered by a thin strip we don’t entirely trust to survive over time, which makes a nice tight weatherproof seal when closed. Beneath the door are the DC power, mini USB, mini HDMI and AV out connectors. A separate, small door at the bottom shields the connector used for an optional remote control or GPS unit connector.


We trust the seal on the doors shown here

to resist inclement weather.

Right Side*(7.25)*

The right side offers another metal camera strap lug, a slide-back, spring-out door protecting the SD card slot and a small built-speaker behind a 7-hole grid. The memory card door doesn’t have a locking mechanism, but requires enough thumb pressure to make us confident it’s unlikely to open accidentally.


*The patch of seven dots covers a

better-than-nothing speaker.



The control knob on the top left gives a pretty good indication of the split audience for the D90 at a glance. The green AUTO mode allows point-and-shooters to pick up the camera and hit the shutter without worrying about settings and photographic details. The lightning-icon mode next to it is exactly the same, but prohibits flash. Five popular scene modes (portrait, landscape, close up, sports and night portrait) are available for newbies with a taste for a little hands-on control, then the classic MASP group (manual, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and program modes), for those who know their cameras and want to make the D90 bend to their will.

On top of the camera are both an industry-standard hot shoe and a pop-up flash, another combination of easy convenience and maximum photographic flexibility.

Unlike the lowest-priced end of the Nikon SLR line, the D90 maintains a secondary monochrome LCD display, making basic shooting information (shutter speed, aperture and white balance settings, battery remaining indicator, flash mode, image size and quality, ISO setting, bracketing increment and remaining images) visible from above at a glance.

The silver shutter button is position on top of the grip, with the black power switch surrounding  it. Turning the power switch to the extreme right illuminates the secondary LCD briefly, though not as evenly and legibly as on the Nikon D700.

Below the power switch are two buttons: the leftmost controls metering mode, the right exposure compensation. The two buttons beside the monochrome LCD handle release mode and auto focus mode settings.


*The useful monochrome LCD is lacking in lower-priced SLRs.


Bottom* (7.75)*

The battery compartment door on the left side opens easily with the push of a fingernail, but we don’t see a way the latch would open accidentally in normal operation. There’s no tab holding the battery in place so, if you open the door with the camera upside down, be prepared to make a quick grab as the battery heads floorward.

The tripod socket is made of sturdy metal, centered under the lens and surrounded by a ridged surface to assist in keep the camera stable when tripod-mounted.


The textured bottom helps hold the camera in place while tripod-mounted.


Comparable Products

Before you buy the Nikon D90, take a look at these other cameras.

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  1. Physical Tour
  2. Color and Resolution
  3. Noise and Video
  4. Speed and Timing
  5. Components
  6. Design / Layout
  7. Modes
  8. Control Options
  9. Image Parameters
  10. Connectivity / Extras
  11. Overall Impressions
  12. Conclusion
  13. Sample Photos
  14. Specs / Ratings