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In The Last Day

Review: Nikon D90: Suitable for beginners?

Posted 1/9/09 by Steve Denton
Last Updated: 12/31/69
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Does the Nikon D90 make a good beginners camera?

My first camera was a Pentax SP1000 about 25 years ago. After taking my first roll of film, I remember very clearly the anticipation waiting to get that first roll back. Then the disappointment a couple of days later looking at a series of blurred, badly exposed prints, and not a single keeper.

Last summer I went on a road trip with my brother, visiting National Parks from Yellowstone down to Mesa Verde. He's been using a Nikon FG for about 15 years or so now, so I lent him a Nikon D200. His results were okay, but I expected them to be better based on his experience. There were still a high percentage of pictures showing camera shake, the wrong part of the image in focus, the exposure slightly off etc.

My wife is a different story. Over the years she has expressed an interest in using an SLR. Back when my main camera was a Nikon F3HP, it was too big, too heavy and too complex. Back in 2006 when I got a D200, the camera was still too big, heavy, and complex for her. But that all changed last fall when the D90 arrived.

Within minutes of it being unpacked, she was taking pictures, using LiveView and taking videos. The smaller size of the camera and fewer controls made all the difference, finally this was a camera she actually wanted to use.

A couple of weeks later she disappeared off to the UK for a few days to visit family. She took the Nikon D90 and a Nikon 18-200mm lens. While there, she visited the Beyond Limits 2008: Chatsworth and Sotheby's sculpture exhibition at Chatsworth House. Other than taking a couple of dozen snapshots of the kids, this was her first outing with the camera. The camera was set on Auto, shooting fine JPEG, and the results blew her away.

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House

The full gallery can be found here: Chatsworth House.

Other than cropping and resizing, these images are mostly exactly as they came out of the camera – a couple of images were straightened or had minor color adjustments.

With virtually no instruction, without opening the manual, and with the Nikon D90 set up as it came out of the box, she managed to take around 200 pictures in her first afternoon of really using the camera. Virtually all the photos were in focus, correctly exposed, with no camera shake. The results were far better than my brother achieved with a Nikon D200, despite his 15 years or so of SLR ownership.

Since then she's already started experimenting with the scene modes, and asking questions about how to achieve certain effects, control depth of field, macro photography and so forth. I use the camera extensively as a backup to my Nikon D300. When I can get my hands on it that is.

So does the Nikon D90 make a good beginners camera? The answer to that question is absolutely yes. It produces excellent results in Auto mode straight out of the box, allowing you to use the camera as a glorified Point & Shoot. Then as you use the camera more, the scene modes are very simple to master. As the photographer's skill improves further, the vast array of menu options combined with the Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual modes makes the camera come into its own.

The image quality is comparable to (and in some lighting situations better than) the Nikon D300, making the D90 a very competent performer for beginners through advanced amateurs and could even be used to produce professional results.

Bottom line, the Nikon D90 is perhaps the most versatile DSLR that has ever been produced. It can achieve great results in the hands of an absolute beginner, yet also has the functionality and image quality to keep up with Pro models like the Nikon D300 in most circumstances. A beginner is not likely to outgrow the camera in any hurry.

For anyone that is a beginner or is looking for a DSLR that can grow with them as their skill improves, the Nikon D90 is the camera you are looking for.


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