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Wednesday in the park with the Nikon D90

For a sub-$1,000 model, the D90 is a nice camera.

The Nikon D90 arrived on Wednesday, and since we've had some great weather this week here in NYC, I immediately headed out to Madison Square Park to shoot a few hundred photos and start to get a feel for the camera. Then I passed it back to Matt F. for some initial performance testing. (Here's a slide show with some photo samples.) My first impression? For a sub-$1,000 model, the D90 is verrrrry nice.

Continuous-shooting with the Nikon D90
Continuous-shooting with the Nikon D90. Click for a slide show of sample photos Lori Grunin/CNET Networks

First up, the D90's movie capture. I shot the flags blowing in the breeze and a fountain that I typically use to test camcorder and camera video. (Unfortunately, I can't display those here without compressing them in a way that defeats the purpose of showing them.) The clips themselves look OK, although for some reason Nikon bumps up the saturation beyond the photo settings, and I wish the camera shot 30fps instead of 24. You also need three hands if you plan to use the zoom--which requires manually focusing--because it's hard to hold this relatively heavy dSLR out in front of you steadily while videos shooting in Live View. But I like the creative potential of the mode and look forward to shooting with it some more.

I really enjoyed shooting with the camera; it's comfortable to hold, and the control layout and navigation should be almost immediately recognizable to anyone who's shot with a Nikon dSLR recently, even though buttons for white balance, ISO sensitivity, and image quality are oddly located to the left of the LCD.

Furthermore, the camera feels exceptionally responsive for its class, which is borne out by our performance testing. For all but continuous shooting, it's about as fast as the D300. Continuous shooting clocked at about 4.3fps, though, which is still very good for a sub-$1,000 model. The burst mode and AF system were certainly fast enough to keep up with kids and dogs, which make this a great camera for parents of sports-minded children. (One caveat: Because of the usual rush-to-get-this-done errors, I shot many of my burst tests at too low a shutter speed, so I'll have to get back to you with definitive results on this next week.)

My main gripe is with the new kit lens. On one hand, it seems like the perfect range to cover as a primary: at 27-157mm in 35mm-equivalent terms it gets wide enough and long enough for typical shooting needs. But the zoom ring is a little too stiff and the lens seemed just slightly less sharp than the kit lenses from Canon. But I'll have to wait for our lab tests on the lens to state that definitively. Stay tuned for my full review next week.