Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nikon Redux: D90 Pros and Cons

Warning: camera gearhead talk.

My first Nikon purchase occurred in 1964: I bought a Nikon F SLR at the Okinawa PX for a little over $100.00. When it got stolen in the late 70’s I replaced it with an Olympus OM-1: by that time Nikon prices had severely escalated.

The next Nikon purchase was my last film camera, the F-100 SLR, replacing a series of Minolta autofocus 35mm SLRs.

In the digital era, I went with a succession of Olympus cameras, starting with a point-and-shoot, then progressing to various models, the last being an E-620 DSLR. However, I was always paying significant attention to the latest Nikon models as they were being brought out. So it was with great interest that I read the reviews of the Nikon D90 upon its release. (It got great reviews.)

As I’ve explained, I was gradually growing disenchanted with the E-620. And so, when a unexpectedly generous Christmas gift from Marge arrived, the wheels started spinning. I first got the standard package from Costco: D90 body plus two lenses (18-105mm standard zoom and 70-300mm telephoto zoom.) But after using the camera for two weeks I decided that, although I really liked the camera itself, the lens combo didn’t really work for me. (I’m really not into switching lenses back and forth, to be honest.) So: the kit was returned to Costco, and an order then placed with B&H: a D90 body plus the (newish) 16-85mm zoom lens. This is what I am using now. (Of course, a D90 replacement is due fairly shortly from Nikon.)

So, in no particular order, some first impressions (cons first).


—Sensor aspect ratio: Using the Olympus DSLRs and the Canon G9 I’ve been used to a 4:3 aspect ratio. However, Nikon uses a 3:2 aspect ratio, the same as was used in 35mm photography. The Olympus cameras took "squarish" photos, the Nikon takes more "widescreen-looking" photos. Some photos need an elongated space, but it’s turning out that I’m doing a lot of cropping of the Nikon images to bring them back to a 4:3 ratio.

—No "My Mode" or "Custom Reset Setting." I just couldn’t find this feature. After going back and forth perusing the Nikon D90 manual, and Thom Hogan’s guide with no success I finally posted a query on the dpreview D90 forum. One of the forum members responded that:

Mike, you aren't missing anything—it's not there. Nikon reserve that functionality for the D300 & up. And on those pro cameras, they give you huge amounts of control over it - separate banks of shooting settings and banks of custom settings. So you can pre-program settings for common scenes and for multiple photographers sharing the same camera.

So, not the worst thing in the world, but still . . . if my two small Olympus cameras can have this feature, you would think that Nikon could offer it as well. By the way, the D300 mentioned above is much heavier. Which brings me to

—weight: Well, it could be worse. Much worse. As it is, the combined weight of camera plus lens is only a few ounces heavier than my E-510 / 12-60 lens combo. But it is rather heavy! Not something I’d want to take backpacking. Eventually I’ll have to look into one of Nikon’s low weight plastic zooms.

—Mode dial with "scenes." Like "landscape," or "portrait." Very hokey.


—Ergonomics: Nice hand grip. Also, power switch much easier to access than on the Olympus models.

—High ISO Capability: The D90 can take low-light photos that would have been impossible using any of my Olympus cameras.

—Auto ISO feature: You can set a personalized range of ISO values together with the slowest shutter speed you can hand-hold: the camera automatically adjusts the ISO up or down depending on the available light. Very handy.

—Viewfinder: Very large and bright. I must say, though, that the (much smaller) Olympus viewfinders never really bothered me.

—Image Quality: Hard to measure, but appears to be excellent.

—Lens: I opted to spend some more money and get the 16-85mm lens (35mm equivalent would be 24-135mm.) Will possibly require a separate blog post.

We will see. As you might note (photo above) I am not utilizing the wonderful Nikon yellow-letter strap. Also, I have switched-out the Nikon lens cap for a generic one (the Nikon lens cap wasn’t really working for me.)


D90 reviews: Here & here.
E-620 discussion.
Aspect ratio discussion.

Blog post showing an 4:3 photo (top) taken with an Olympus camera, and a 3:2 Nikon photo (bottom): Oak (Glen Drive).
My Mode thread at dpreview.
High ISO shots: Church Interior & Votive Candles shot at ISO 1600.

Photo: Nikon D90—Marin County, 2010


Mike Mundy said...

Hmmm . . . another con: the sensor auto-clean feature on the D90doesn't work as well as on the Olympus models. In point of fact, Olympus was first with this feature . . . as they were first with Live View.

cleek said...

one thing that really bugs me about the D90 is the convoluted process you have to use if you want to set a custom white balance from an image.

the presets and 'auto' WB are pretty good. but there are times when you need to tell the camera "this right here, this is white". and, you can do that with the D90, but it involves a poorly-documented path through a bunch of screens (which i can never seem to remember) to get to a clumsy interface.

what the camera really needs is a top-level way to do this: hold down a button or two, aim, take the white image, confirm. done. it should be as easy as doing a focus lock.

Mike Mundy said...

There are those who carry along a gray card to insert into a sample shot, then use the eyedropper tool in ACR to get a correct white balance.

Then there are those who (like me) just set the WB to auto, then fiddle around in Photoshop & ACR until something comes up that's at least fairly passible.

As I recall, the Olympus DSLRs had a WB setup that you've described.

Mike Mundy said...

Mike took the D90 with him on his August-September, 2010 backpack to Lake Ediza, Thousand Island Lake & etc. Yes, it was heavy! Wouldn't it be nice if those little Canon G-series cameras could attain the same level of quality?

Yes, it would.

Mike Mundy said...

For my D90 one-lens solution, see here.

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Mike Mundy said...


February 23, 2015

I sold the Nikon back to B&H once I ascertained that the extremely lightweight Olympus M43 cameras would give me images indistinguishable from the D90.

Blog post here.