Expert Recommendation

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Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $1000
By Fotoguy
Expert (27 Recommendations and 7 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
March 6, 2009 Updated: March 8, 2009
Overview

The Nikon D90 DSLR with its 12.3 effective megapixel CMOS sensor with shake cleaning, high resolution 3.0” TFT-LCD screen, Active D-Lighting contrast control, ISOs from 100 to 6400, HD video, Live View, and excellent build quality make this camera perfect for the advanced amateur or semi-pro on a budget, and my “Best-in-Class” pick.

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My Best In Class Pick
Nikon D90 (Body Only)

The Nikon D90, introduced in late 2008, neatly fills that price/features gap between Nikon’s entry-level DSLR kits, the D40 and D60, and the more expensive, semi-pro DX bodies, the D200 and D300, while still remaining economical.

At first glance, the D90 appears to be just an incremental upgrade to the very successful D80, which it replaces, but there are surprises awaiting inside that durable, classy black body. The first being a new 12.3 megapixel (effective) CMOS image sensor. Previously, Nikon used the ubiquitous CCD for all its cameras, but beginning with the D3 and D300 models they switched to the more power efficient, less noise producing CMOS type sensor.

Complementing the new sensor is the EXPEED Image Processing Engine which was borrowed from the D300. This lightning fast computer enables the D90 to be to “ready” almost instantly when turned on and maintain frames rates up to 4.5 images per second even in RAW besides providing a host of other useful “in camera” image processing features.

And for the ultimate in checking your pictures in the field, there is a high resolution (920,000 dots) three inch TFT-LCD, the same one as on the D300. Compared to a conventional 230,000 dot LCD of the same size, there is absolutely no comparison. Plus, due to its design and brightness, it is more easily viewable in bright daylight which makes it a breeze when using Live View outside.

Additionally, there are three full motion video modes up to HDTV 720p (1280 x 720), all with 16-bit mono sound. No need to carry a video camera, if all you want are a few editable video clips. Runtime in HD is 5 minutes; 20 minutes max for the others. However, there are a couple of minor caveats. So, don’t assume the D90 will replace your dedicated HD video camera.

The surprises not withstanding, the Nikon D90 is still loaded with plenty of useful features like 10 Exposure modes, 6 Picture Control modes, plus 9 additional configurable modes; 10 levels of Sharpening + auto; 7 levels of Contrast + auto; 7 level of Saturation + auto; and 3 levels of Brightness. Plus, there’s even a small, built-in flash.

So, if you’ve been waiting for that one special DSLR to come along before letting go of that nine year old one that’s seen better days or even to dump your film cameras entirely, then Nikon’s D90 might just be that camera.

Comparison with Canon EOS 40D (Body Only)

The Canon 40D, even though it’s a year older than the D90, is still a worthy alternative. With mostly equivalent hardware, features, performance, size, and price the only major difference is the 40D’s 10.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, which in real world picture terms is an insignificant difference. At ISOs of 400 or less, images from both cameras are virtually identical. Where the D90 has the advantage is at ISOs above 400 where images from the 40D have less fine detail due to aggressive, perhaps overly so, noise reduction. However, to all but the most discerning, the differences are minor.

One advantage the 40D does have over the D90 is 14-bit A/D conversion resulting in images that have almost 1 stop more dynamic range. This can be a major plus if you shoot under very contrasty conditions most of the time.

All things considered, it’s a toss up over which camera is better, and that decision depends more on personal preferences than pragmatism.

Pros
  • +
    CMOS Image Sensor
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    EXPEED Image Processing Engine
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    Image Sensor Cleaning (sensor shake)
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    Very High Resolution 3.0 inch TFT-LCD
  • +
    Active D-Lighting
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    Interchangeable lenses
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    HD Movie Mode (720p HDTV quality)
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    Pentaprism viewfinder
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    Price
Cons
  • -
    Auto-metering less than optimum
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    12-bit A/D image conversion (14 would be better)
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    Menus long and complex
  • -
    Too many features?
Nikon D90 (Body Only) is the Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $1000
Where to buy
Nikon D90 (Body Only)
  • Best Price: $899
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Resolution: 12.3MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
Best badge
Nikon D90 (Body Only)
2
Canon EOS 40D (Body Only)
Customer Rating
Price $899.95 $1839.28
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Sensor Type
CMOS CMOS
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Sensor Size
23.6 x 15.8 mm 22.2 x 14.8 mm
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Effective Sensor Resolution
12.3 megapixels 10.1 megapixels
Anti-Dust Technology Sensor Shake Low-pass Filter Vibration
Min ISO Setting 100 100
Max ISO Setting 6400 3200
Viewfinder Type Optical Pentaprism Optical Pentaprism
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LCD Screen Size
3.0 in. 3.0 in.
LCD Screen Resolution 920000 dots 230000 dots
2
Canon EOS 40D (Body Only)

Introduced in August 2007, the Canon 40D is still successfully holding its own against its newer brethren. Its 10.1 megapixel (effective) CMOS sensor with vibration cleaning produces clean, sharp, virtually noise free images at ISOs of 400 or less, and only moderate noise at 800 and 1600. However, 3200 should only be used in emergencies due to sub-par picture quality. This is the camera’s only major flaw.

Add to this an excellent pentaprism viewfinder, 3.0” (230,000 dot) TFT-LCD, 14-bit A/D conversion, a maximum of 6.5 frames per second, Live View, good build quality, hand-holdability and a plethora of other features to meet most everyone’s needs, and you have a camera that will last and deliver excellent pictures for years to come.

Pros
  • +
    14-bit A/D image conversion
  • +
    Interchangeable lenses
  • +
    Pentaprism viewfinder
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    3 inch LCD
  • +
    6 frames per second
  • +
    Price
Cons
  • -
    Too aggressive noise processing at high ISOs
  • -
    So-so auto white balance
Canon EOS 40D (Body Only) is one of the Best Digital SLR Cameras Overall Under $1000
Where to buy
Canon EOS 40D (Body Only)
Specifications
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com

How It Works

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