When I first heard about Nikon’s new D90, I assumed that this is just the latest iteration in a hotly contested consumer DSLR market … that is until I read through the specs. It’s true that most of its features are already available in other cameras. But the single feature that catches my eye is the D90’s video capability. At a $999.95 price (for body) for a 12MP sensor capable of 24 fps of high res video, I am instantly interested.
Two things are a surprise to me so far.
The first is how quickly the D90 is reaching the store shelves. It has been only 3 weeks or so since I first heard about this new model. But a quick check yesterday at our local Norman Camera Store tells me that the D90 is already in stock. So this morning I run over to Norman’s and I now have one in my hand.
The second is how compact the D90 looks and feels. I expected the camera to be more bulky. Yet with a newly designed 18-105mm lens ($1299.95 bundle price) attached, I can comfortably hold the D90 with a single hand. Film for the D90 is an SD card for both still and video. According to the specs, the D90 can record video up to 2GB.
After threading the neckstrap into the loops, mounting the shiny, compact lens onto the body, loading the battery into its compartment and inserting an SD card into its slot, I power on the D90, set the date, time and zone.
I’ve never been much a believer in reading camera manuals. Instead, I have a habit of surveying all of the buttons, dials and switches on the body to determine what each does. After ten minutes, I’m confident that I know the purpose for all of them. But one big problem remains. There doesn’t seem to be a button to turn on video. Where’s the button? Well, if truth be known, I cheat for this one. Looking through the index of Nikon’s 275-page User’s Manual, I see that page 50 tells me how to activate movie mode. Armed with this knowledge, I’m almost ready for my first video shoot. But this will have to wait a while until after lunch. Decision time, what shall I eat for lunch?
My lunch is finished. Next another decision, what shall I shoot? Easy, I head out to the airport to find an airplane. There is a large public viewing area at the local Grand Rapids airport (Gerald R Ford International - KGRR). A short three minute drive from the office brings me to the a large picnic table overlooking the airport’s two intersecting runway. As I am a distant 400 yards from the runway in use, I tack on a 70-300mm lens in place of the 18-105mm lens.
In a few minutes, a medium sized turbo jet taxis out to the end of the runway. I’m ready. The engine spools up, the pilot releases the brakes, and the aircraft is moving. On the D90 I press the LV button (Live View) which promptly throws the image of the aircraft from the viewfinder onto the large 3″ LCD display. I aim the camera towards the accelerating aircraft and press the OK button. A small red light starts flashing on the display telling me that it’s now recording in video mode. I carefully pan, trying to keep the aircraft centered on the LCD display. Next thing I know it, the aircraft is airborne. With the long 300mm lens, it’s a struggle to keep the aircraft on the LCD. A few seconds later, the aircraft is a speck on the LCD so I press the OK button again to stop recording.
Done. My first video! Let’s see what it looks like. Press LV button again to turn off Live View mode. Press the review button. Then press OK again to replay the takeoff. Not bad for a first try.
Play video of aircraft
Let me comment on the video. As you can see there’s a bit of jumpiness after the aircraft liftoff. With a 300mm lens, it is difficult for me to pan smoothly. However, the focus and sharpness are good. The exposure is quite good considering the wide variation in light - cloudy sky, grassy foreground, shiny metal aircraft. And the sound is OK too considering how far away I am standing from the runway. This video recorded at 640 x 424 resolution.
I’ll be shooting another video under more controlled conditions soon.
I made one other test in my first hour with the D90 - a test to compare the camera’s ISO performance. Both of these are unretouched photos. They were captured with the 18-105mm lens in a dark corner of our office. The purpose of the test is to see how color and noise are affected when shooting at the D90’s high ISO setting.
|ISO 400 - clean and sharp||ISO 3200 - sharpness is starting to fall off; noise level is now visible; image is certainly usable for most purposes|
To reiterate, I am interested in the D90 mainly for its video capability. But I can foresee times when I can use the D90 as a still camera and with the press of a button turn it into a video camera for short movies. So far it’s meeting my expectations. I hope to have more to report about the D90 soon.