Review: Nikon N90s (F90x)

P1110857 WP

Several years ago I had been shooting digital for a few years, but missed the aesthetics of shooting film. Since my last SLR, a Canon kit, had been stolen, thank you very much, the possibilities were wide open as far as brand goes. 

I had recently purchased a Nikon D200 and, in addition to the DX zoom I used on it, I had an inexpensive F Mount full frame 28mm-80mm AF lens, courtesy of my son. The 28-80 appeared to be an adequate lens, something to start with, anyway. I also had picked up a Nikon 28mm manual focus lens. I’m partial to manual focus prime lenses, for some reason.

Because I had the start of a lens kit, it made a certain amount of sense to look for a Nikon SLR. I spent a few weeks researching the attributes of various Nikon bodies online and slowly narrowed my sights on the N90s (known as the F90x outside of the US). I bought my N90s body from KEH, an online camera dealer, for approximately $70. Keep in mind that this camera was selling for well over $1,000 through the 1990s. At the same quality rating (Excellent) it is now going for $89 at KEH. I also bought an MB-10 battery grip for $10 at the same time, because I thought it might be handy. 

P1110868 WPI’ve used the N90s for several years now, and can’t think of anything negative about it, except the bulk. It is a large camera by today’s standards. It takes up a bit of room in the saddlebag when it is in the padded single-camera case. But it has good balance and feels right in my hand, despite its heft. But from my viewpoint, the primary attraction of the N90s is its reliability. It seems to be bulletproof. It has been problem free for me.

Some of the noteworthy attributes of the camera include a stainless steel lens mount, an excellent autofocus system, a superb 3D matrix metering system, “automatic” film loading (though you do have to put the film cassette in), and a motorized film advance. 

Exposure Modes: Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual. There are also seven “Vari-Program” tweaks of the Program Mode. I never use Program mode, let alone any of these sub-modes, so I can’t tell you much about them. These Vari-Program modes are explained on pages 67 through 85 of the US USer’s Manual.

P1110874 WPLens Compatibility: works with all AF, AF-I, AF-D, and AF-S lenses. G lenses work in Shutter Priority and Program Modes, but use only the minimum aperture in Manual and Aperture Priority modes. FX VR lenses work, but the VR doesn’t. DX Lenses make heavy vignetting in the corners. 

Metering Modes: 3D Matrix, Center-Weighted, and Spot. 3D Matrix metering is not available when manual focus is used.

Shutter Speeds: 30 seconds to 1/8000 and Bulb. Shutter speeds are stepless in Program and Aperture Priority modes.  

Frames Per Second (maximum): 4.1 

Viewfinder: %92 coverage. This is a bright viewfinder. Data is displayed as black digits inside a long yellow-green rectangle at the bottom of the finder.

LCD Panel: This backlit panel is highly visible in nearly any light. On rare occasions you do have to shade it from bright sunlight. 

Eyepiece Shutter Lever: Close the shutter on the eyepiece to prevent stray light from entering the viewfinder. Useful on long exposures.

Viewfinder/LCD panel illumination button: Press to illuminate viewfinder and LCD panel. Apparently useful in dim light. Illumination automatically switches off 8 seconds after you release the button. I’ve never needed to use this feature.

Mirror Lockup: I’ve never seen a blurred photo from this camera that is the result of the lack of mirror lockup. The mirror damping system seem to do exactly what it is supposed to.

Ergonomics: Some users have complained that the N90s is slightly “clunky”. I don’t know what they are talking about, since I find it easy to handle. It always feels “right” to me. Ergonomics are very subjective, of course.

Flash: I never use flashes with this camera (and very rarely with any other), so I’m not going to say much about it, except that you must use an external flash. 

The Weak Point: The weak spot on this camera is the thin rubber covering on the camera’s back. Nearly every one of them has shiny black plastic showing through at the point where the thumb hold is. Don’t let this turn you away from a purchase – it is normal. The only ones that don’t show this wearing away of the rubber covering are the ones that have never been used for a few days .

P1110884 WPMD-10 Battery Grip: Though I bought a MB-10 when I purchased this camera, I haven’t found it particularly useful. The MB-10 uses the same four AA batteries as the internal battery pack, so there isn’t any additional power for a longer shooting period.

It would be useful to use it when one knew they were going to shoot a long series of vertical-only frames, because the additional shutter button is in the perfect place for that. It also makes the camera a bit more impressive by adding size, so that might be handy if you want to impress someone.  

Conclusion

If you want an inexpensive SLR that can use all Nikon F-Mount lenses and has excellent metering and autofocus systems, don’t overlook the Nikon N90s. In addition to those features, this is a rugged, relatively trouble-free machine.  

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