I preface every review with the same disclosure. I am not a professional. I do not shoot test charts. I do not try every lens with every camera. All opinions are my own, and are only based upon my own experiences with the gear. I haven’t had a ton of gear, or all of the expensive gear. I won’t list every specification or test for every specification. My review is not meant for professionals – if you are a professional, you shouldn’t need a review from an amateur. The information below is simply my own observations while doing normal photography, and is for other car enthusiasts and amateurs like myself.
Quality is good in decent light, and with a fairly low ISO. As the ISO creeps up, the image quality quickly degrades. If image quality and dynamic range are important to you, then you will either want the D7100, or the D7200, as they do much better at higher ISO settings. Both of those options do cost a good bit more though than a D90 does. For me, the image quality was the single most important thing to consider when buying the camera. The D90 gives good image quality – but has a lot of limitations to be able to deliver that image quality.
Dynamic Range and HDR
The dynamic range of the D90 is nowhere near as good as my D600, but adequate if you watch out for large differences. If you shoot a few bracketed shots, and you will get the dynamic range of a much more expensive camera. I have shot brackets a good bit for HDR, and I find that the 3 shot bracket works as well as a 5 shot for me. I just set it to 3 frames, with +-2EV, and put it on Continuous-High shooting. That let’s me shoot an HDR bracket without even using a tripod. It’s a definite plus, but you will need to think about dynamic range when shooting. When I used to shoot my D70, I almost always had to shoot brackets, but since I switched to a D600, I find it much harder to remember to think about the range of the scene, as I rarely have issues of not being able to get it all in a single shot. The D90 is in-between the two, so you do need to think about the scene’s range.
It’s not professional level, but it seems pretty solid. I didn’t do a drop test or anything like that, of course, but it is fine for general use. I wouldn’t be afraid to lug it anywhere. It’s at least as well built as my D600.
Battery life is great. Add a cheap battery grip and it gets extreme. I found that I did not need to charge very often with it. It was much better than my other Nikon cameras. With the grip attached, I would go several days without even looking at the battery life indicator.
For an automotive photographer, the D90 is an excellent value. At car meets and shows, the cars are static, so you don’t need a fast autofocus system, or rugged build quality. You won’t get a shallow DOF with it, but it can give a very sharp photo.
Here is an example – I shot the C&O meet with the D90 and a 20-year-old 20mm AF-D f/2.8.
I found that my old 20mm f/2.8 prime was a very capable lens on the D90, and gave a good sharp photo, and was lightweight and easy to carry. Another option that I think would have been good is the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 DX. You can find them very cheap now, and that is known to be an excellent lens on the D90. With the grip on it, it would be very balanced and have an extremely useful range.
I did use my 80-200mm AF-S on it also – with it, I definitely liked having the battery grip. It balanced out the weight well, and felt natural.
The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 worked well, as I expected, and gave me the equivalent of a 50mm on a full frame. It wasn’t my favorite at the car meets, but if you like the look of a traditional 50mm on a full frame, then it works quite well.
The D90 is a very solid and capable camera, and is probably one of the best values available in the Nikon lineup if you are on a tight budget. It is much better than it’s predecessors.
I would not be surprised if I bought another one at sometime in the future, as I know that it’s a great value, and has a nice set of features. If you haven’t used a DSLR before, this is an excellent one to start with. If you just need a backup camera, again, it is an excellent choice.