Movie-ready Nikon D90 announced

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It’s been a week of unsurprising surprises in the DSLR world: first Canon’s long-speculated EOS 50D came rolling out, and then, to the astonishment of absolutely no one who’s read a tech blog in the last six months, Nikon followed suit this evening with the Nikon D90.

Nikon D90

Basic specs for the new advanced amateur model and replacement to the long-in-the-tooth D80 turned out to be basically everything we’ve seen in pre-release leaks: 12.3 megapixel CMOS sensor, 3.0-inch LCD, 11-point AF, expanded sensitivity to ISO 6400, and live view.

All of that sounds like an excellent, logical upgrade to the D80, but what’s been stealing the show for almost as long as this camera’s been rumored has been the promise of video capture on a DSLR. The D90 fulfilled that promise this evening with the addition of its D-Movie mode, making it not only the first DSLR capable of capturing video, but a competent 24 fps HD-quality movie camera no less.

For those serious about video, the ability to capture high-res video using the high-quality optics and larger sensors of an SLR is an enormous technological achievement, and while the D90’s movie recording options appear to be predictably limited (5 minute clip length at 1280×720/24 fps), no one’s doubting that this represents the beginning of something significant.

Even putting aside movie recording capabilities, the advanced amateur D90 boasts an impressive list of upgraded specs and features. First and foremost, the new camera gets a DX-sized (Nikon speak for APS-C) 12.3 megapixel imager. Following in the footsteps of the latest Nikon full-frame cameras, CMOS – rather than CCD – technology is employed. CMOS-equipped DSLRs from Canon and (more recently) Nikon have tended to be the low-noise class leaders, and there’s good reason to hope that the D90’s ISO 200-3200 native sensitivity range (or, as on the D300, ISO 100-6400 with expansion options enabled) will be eminently clean and printable throughout.

Nikon D90

What appears to be very similar to the stunning screen from the D300 and D700, with 920,000 dots in 3.0 inches and 170-degree viewing angles, also shows up on Nikon’s new prosumer camera – an unquestionably impressive upgrade for a device in this class. The display is put to yet another good use with the inclusion of live view (now complete with both point-and-shoot style contrast-detection AF and face detection), now accessible via a single dedicated live view button.

The viewfinder is a bright pentaprism type, with 96 percent coverage. A 16-frame composition grid can be called up as desired.

While the D90 borrows a fair share of technology from its more advanced siblings, (sadly) not everything is a D300 hand-me-down. In particular, the D90 gets a reasonable 11-point auto focus system, rather than the pro-standard 51-point variant from some of Nikon’s more advanced cameras. The 11-point variant, however, does include Nikon’s predictive AF system for tracking moving subjects.

Nikon D90

Continuous shooting speed is advertised at a respectable 4.5 fps for full-res JPEGs, and the D90 gets some other EXPEED processing niceties including automatic D-Lighting highlight/shadow balancing as well.

Speaking of automatic, Nikon heavily touts the new model’s Scene Recognition System, inherited from the D3/D300, which is capable of actively analyzing pre-shot conditions and determining the appropriate focus mode for AF tracking, the correct settings for highlight control, and even optimal white balance for a given light source.

Like Nikon’s more advanced DSLRs, the D90 is ready for on-the-go image geotagging with built-in GPS connectivity. Likewise, the D90 joins the D60 as Nikon’s second camera to earn “Eye-Fi Connected” status: according to information from wireless SD card manufacturer Eye-Fi, the D90 offers advanced Wi-Fi setup and function controls when used in conjunction with an Eye-Fi card – making the collaborative setup one of the most comprehensive wireless image transfer solutions around.

Nikon D90

In analyzing possible D90 specs prior to the official release, many commentators have observed that the new camera in the form that it actually came to us in is, in many ways, very much a “D300 Junior.” That’s great news for Nikon fans looking to maximize the amount of camera for their money, and with many of the key specs that make the semi-pro D300 so good – including its excellent sensor, EXPEED processing, 3D Matrix metering, and exceptional LCD – the D90 may well qualify as the closest thing we’ve seen yet to a “budget supercam.”

Of course, this judgment largely depends on whether or not your definition of “budget” extends to anything costing just under $1,300 – the D90’s suggested price (in kit form with Nikon’s new 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED VR lens) when it hits stores next month. A body-only version should also be available, with a suggested price of $995.99.

Nikon D90 Specifications:

Sensor 12.3 megapixel DX format (23.6×15.8mm) CMOS
Lens/Zoom Nikon F mount
LCD/Viewfinder 3.0″, 920K-dot TFT LCD with live view; pentaprism optical viewfinder with diopter adjustment (96 percent field of view)
Sensitivity ISO 200-3200 (boosted: ISO 100-6400)
Shutter Speed 30-1/4000 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto, Advanced Scene, Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, D-Movie
Scene Presets Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Close-up, Night Portrait
White Balance Settings Auto (TTL white-balance with main image sensor and 420-pixel RGB sensor); 12 manual modes with fine-tuning; color temperature setting; preset manual white balance
Metering Modes 3D Color Matrix Metering II, Center-Weighted, Spot
Focus Modes Single-Servo AF, Continuous-Servo AF, Auto-Servo AF, Manual (Predictive focus tracking automatically activated according to subject status in Single- and Continuous-Servo)
Drive Modes Single, Continuous Low, Continuous High, Self-Timer, Delayed Remote, Quick-Response
Flash Modes Normal, Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync, Slow Sync, Rear-Curtain Sync
Self Timer Settings
2, 5, 10, or 20 seconds; Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
File Formats JPEG, NEF (RAW), AVI
Max. Image Size 4288×2848
Max. Video Size
1280×720, 24 fps
Zoom During Video N/A
Battery Rechargeable lithium-ion, 850 shots
Connections USB 2.0, HDMI, A/V out
Additional Features EXPEED image processing, 3D Color Matrix Metering II, 11-point AF system, Picture Control Style, D-Movie video recording, sensor cleaning system, live view with face detection, Scene Recognition System
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