Nikon D80 To D90 Upgrade First Impressions

is it play time yet?

After a long fight that started when I handled the Nikon D90 Digital SLR camera at the PDN PhotoPlus Expo in October I finally lost my battle against the upgrade bug and bought one to replace my 2 year old Nikon D80. I had been on the fence about the upgrade being worth it. I knew the D90 would be a great camera, but my D80 doesn’t yet feel like yesterday’s technology and I wasn’t convinced the newer body given my expectedly light use of big bang features like video would pay off for me.

After a full day [a mostly non-shooting day] with the camera I can say that the handling and setup feels very familiar. Out of the box I could just pick it up and shoot. At the same time it does leave the impression that what I am shooting with is indeed an upgraded camera and not just a slightly different camera. The real test will come in the next few weeks through holidays and weekend shoots but I’m in not regretting the purchase. Admittedly, some of what I notice is just new car smell [or new camera feel] — like having new rubber under my hand instead of the smoothed and slightly warn grip on the older body — but Nikon has made some real positive [if small] changes between generations and I think I’ll continue to be happy with the decision made..

There are a few changes or features I found that might not be apparent when looking at specs alone yet stood out to me as I was reading the manual and setting things to my liking. The list may only be useful to those considering the same jump that I made, but I’d imagine there are a few of you out there.

  • The newer LCD is fabulous, but as important then its size is that it the interaction seems zipper when reviewing and zooming. The hourglass on the initial pressing of the zoom button seems gone.
  • The reworked menu categories will take some getting used to, but I was always the ‘set it and forget it’ type that didn’t mess around adjusting in camera picture settings. So for me, instead of learning the new placement I may be able to rely on the new “Recent Settings” tab that lusts the latest settings changed. Unfortunately, the menu item I use most — Format Memory Card — doesn’t appear to be considered a setting and thus isn’t tracked in this command history.
  • The FUNC button on the front of the camera on the D80 was by default used to show the current ISO setting in the viewfinder and top LCD. This option isn’t available on the D90 button config. Its sort of moved to a new setting for showing the ISO in place of the shots remaining counter. I think this will be much more useful as I will always see the ISO [thought it silly not to before and lead to shooting with the last but wrong ISO often]. I’ve now got the FUNC button on the D90 set to change autofocus modes.
  • The only accessory I couldn’t carry over from one to the other was the Nikon MC-DC1 corded remote, To accommodate the GPS input [and whatever other technical reason Nikon had] the port it used has changed. All my other D80 accessories from batteries to the RRS L-plate for mounting on a tripod head can be used with the new camera out a lot of hidden upgrade costs.
  • The shutter motion on the D90 just sounds faster and a little more “pro”.

The only new D90 feature that’s got me bummed is that the corded remote port and GPS port are one and the same, something I hadn’t caught onto earlier. I don’t know that the Nikon GP-1 GPS purchase was in my future, but if I did grab one I would think it would be likely that I’d want to use both the GPS and the MC-DC2 remote cord while out shooting landscapes. But I guess its GPS with the IR remote or corded remote and sync GPS from another device later.

For those looking to make the upgrade purchase, I bought the Nikon D90 from BH Photo and I got free shipping with my NAPP membership. The camera is also available at Amazon and other fine retailers on the internets and near you. [a bit of link pimping to make the upgrade cost less painful]

Look for a followup post in a few weeks with some initial shooting impressions and samples after I’ve spent more time with the new toy.

UPDATE (1/7/2009): Some of my comments above about the GP-1 and remote cord were incorrect. See this followup post for details.

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