The Nikon N90s Review
by Jim Austin
The Nikon N90s is a camera you can carry for your journeys through dust and rain, snow skiing, or on to the beach. Its ruggedness is one of its best features. Although Nikon hired Joe McNally to shoot promo images when the camera first debuted, you do not have to be famous to enjoy this rugged machine for decades of shooting.
Hoist this densely build camera, then bring it up to your eye, and you’ll experience its big, bright, and beautiful viewfinder that shows highly visible aperture and shutter settings at the bottom of the finder’s frame. In any lighting condition you can easily see the black and white viewfinder info; even if you have problems seeing in low light, just light up your viewfinder display with the N90s viewfinder illumination button.
The camera’s layout is thoughtful and you can adjust settings without taking your eye from the viewfinder. Just choose your settings by touching only 1 Button & rolling the Command Dial, or by pressing 2 buttons with no menus to scroll. Then, click the shutter and you will hear a heart-quickening sound that sounds like a glass plate being driven: over by a race car. Crunch.
Five shooting modes are built it. You can dial in matrix metering. For Strobists, the 250th of a second flash synch speed is no big deal, but you can choose FP high speed flash mode when you shoot in Manual. Program the flash metering to TTL, red-eye, slow-synch, or rear curtain synch, and there is even a stroboscopic flash mode.
The N90s gives you shutter speeds from 1/8000th to 30 seconds and Bulb with four frames per second auto-focus tracking speed. The basic program mode (P) works smoothly because it adjusts to the lens you’re using (picking higher shutter speeds and wider apertures for longer lenses in the same lighting situation, for instance) so you can point and shoot in this mode and change programmed settings just by rolling the command dial with your thumb.
THINGS TO LOVE
The Spot Metering is excellent. In the N90s, spot metering reads only the innermost 1% circle (the inner ring in the viewfinder). It is easy to use; just select spot metering, put the inner ring on a neutral gray area, and you get an precise exposure on any kind of 35 mm film.
The flash system, from a 2004 era, is still flexible enough to please any Strobist. In standard TTL, the camera measures the flash exposure only. Auto TTL means balanced flash; for this the N90s controls the flash exposure by comparing it to the ambient or background light level. If the ambient light is too low, the camera tries to make the flash exposure balance the ambient light. The best part is the high speed flash, even with older Nikon Speedlights like the SB-28, which lets you boost your shutter speeds and use a wide aperture for portraits even in brightly lit conditions.
Nikon did intensive research and development with 3D Matrix Metering before putting it into the N90s in 1996. Fuzzy logic algorithms, 8 segment matrix metering, and brightness-exposure-focus factors are all analyzed. The bottom line? Fast, accurate, professional focusing and exposure.
No camera is perfect, and the N90s has its issues. While it mounts all F type lenses of AI type, including Nikon’s D lenses onto its eternally useful bayonet, you can’t use Vibration Reduction (VR) lenses. Also, mounting DX lenses will give you pictures with black corners. Auto-focus can be noisy with older non- AF-S lenses.
The camera body is infamous for its molded plastic rear door that has a rubber coating on the outside that becomes very sticky. I cleaned mine with Goo Gone. You will want to load an N90s with rechargeable AA batteries in the Nikon MS-8 battery holder after you unscrew the compartment with a coin. There were power issues with alkaline batteries, so be sure to use Lithium rechargeable AA batteries.
Sure, newer film bodies are faster and quieter. Even with its flaws, however, the N90s design has a timeless appeal for a workhorse.
HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY?
How much would you pay for a rugged 35 mm film camera to add to your gear bag? Well, prices for this auto-focusing film camera are dropping. While I was very lucky to find my N90s in a North Carolina flea market for $5, less than the price of processing a single roll of 35 mm film, a N90s can be hard to find. It’s more likely that you’ll see one selling for $89 to $150 USD. Considering that this camera sold for over $1,000 from 1994 to 2004, it’s a wise investment for anyone wanting a rugged film camera tough enough to take around the world with you.
JIM AUSTIN, JIMAGES personifies adventure photography. He lives and works in his studio aboard the sailing catamaran Salty Paws year round. Published in the New Yorker Magazine, Austin’s images have been on the walls of the Smithsonian, Loveland Art Museum and Denver Art Museum. With a masters from Denver University, he has taught digital imaging in the Design Department of Metro State College. Austin enjoys leading creative digital photography workshops, and is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop. Visit his books, see his art or hang with him on Google Plus
Photos by Aldo Rafael Altamirano
If you are interested in history, Wikipedia has details on the N90s/F90s here: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/File:Nikon_N90s_body_MB10.JPG
2. Camerapedia has a good review here:
3. General stuff about the N90s here:
4. Accessorize It:
For those with serious gear acquisition syndrome, you learn about Right Angle Finders, MF-26 Digital Data Backs for bracketing, custom settings, and 12 hour long exposure times, and even
MB-10 grips and 20 more dedicated N90s accessories here: http://www.mit.edu/~cai/nikon/N90s.html