When it comes to design, the D90 is pretty average. Horizontally oriented, rectangular, and 1.5 pounds with a battery and a MiniDV tape loaded, the camera is slightly bulky for its class. Its fit and finish are likewise a bit subpar, and we could never quite get a solid, comfortable grip on the body. Our chief ergonomic complaint is with the placement of the record and zoom controls; reaching them makes you stretch your thumb and forefinger a little too far.
|"="" --="">/sc/20284013-2-200-DT2.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" /> |
Most of the hardware controls are to the right of the adjustable viewfinder. The menu-based options are accessible via the menu/volume wheel.
|"="" --="">/sc/20284013-2-200-DT3.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />|
You can manually adjust exposure and other image parameters or set the camcorder to fully automatic operation. The straightforward mode dial lets you choose your approach.
You access nearly all of the D90's features through the menu system, which you navigate with a wheel mounted near the zoom toggle. While the menus are reasonably logical and easy to understand, the wheel feels mushy, and we found using it imprecise and mildly frustrating. The bottom-loading tapes, which you can't change handily when the camera is on a tripod, will also annoy some folks.
|"="" --="">/sc/20284013-2-200-DT1.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" /> |
Behind the flip-out LCD are controls for playing back material, enabling the Night or Backlight mode, and switching between video and still capture. The USB and FireWire ports are nearby.
|"="" --="">/sc/20284013-2-200-C.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />|
The MiniDV cassette hatch is bottom-loading--not the best design for heavy tripod use.
|"="" --="">/sc/20802714-2-200-M.gif" width="200" height="150" border="0" />|
You can save photos on SD/MMC media.
The D90 shares the feature set of most consumer digital camcorders a step or two above entry-level, although it throws in a few odd twists. The CCD's effective video resolution is the typical 340,000 pixels. The 16X zoom lens covers the 35mm-film equivalent of a 39mm-to-620mm range to give you slightly greater flexibility than the more common 10X offering. Electronic image stabilization helps make extreme telephoto focal lengths usable and does a decent though not exceptional job of counteracting camera shake.
Better than average exposure control is one of this JVC's surprises. Along with general-purpose autoexposure, you get the scene-specific Sports, Snow, Spotlight, and Twilight modes. You can use exposure shift, set the gain to increase automatically as light levels drop, and fix the shutter speed at 1/60 or 1/100 of a second (the camera will vary the lens aperture to keep the right exposure). Best of all, the iris-lock function maintains your chosen exposure, enabling more-advanced shooters to avoid the brightness fluctuations that often mar automatically exposed video. However, a likely disappointment for experienced photographers is the absence of both an accessory shoe for video lights and a jack for external microphones.
The D90 captures stills to SD/MMC media at 640x480 pixels or an interpolated 1,024x768 pixels. A USB terminal lets you transfer the image files to your computer. Unlike many of its competitors, this JVC cannot record MPEG video to the memory card.
The D90's performance was fairly good. The 110,000-pixel resolution of the large 3.5-inch LCD produced acceptably sharp images that we had no trouble seeing in bright outdoor light, although colors were somewhat pale and washed out. The black-and-white viewfinder was quite clean.
Also impressive was the D90's autofocus, which was faster than average under most conditions, though it didn't work as well in low light. We also tried focusing manually with the menu wheel. Its position and mushiness were a bit unhandy, but judging proper focus was easy on the big LCD. The lens's zoom action was smooth, quiet, and readily controllable, though we would have liked a slightly stiffer toggle.
The D90's omnidirectional stereo microphone was pretty sensitive and recorded clear audio. The battery gave us more than 90 minutes of recording and playback on a single charge.
Our D90 test captures compared well with footage from other camcorders with similar specs. Overall sharpness was decent, and artifact control was a little better than what we normally see. Color rendition was essentially typical for a single-chip camcorder, although dark greens and blues seemed a bit muted. Slightly worse than average were the clipping of highlights and the amount of electronic noise.
In low-light capabilities, however, the D90 falls short of much of the competition. When we filmed in Standard mode under the lighting conditions you'd expect in a home, the camera had a hard time shooting good video. At lower light levels that don't pose big problems for many other camcorders, performance was very poor. Night Alive mode can record color footage in extremely dim situations, but it uses such slow shutter speeds that video of even stationary objects looks really jumpy.