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Nikon D90 User's Guide
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Nikon D90

Nikon D90. enlarge


September 2008    User's Guide Page Index   D90 Review    More Nikon Reviews

NEW: Nikon D90 iPod and iPhone App.

There is also a guide for the Android; you can find it at your Android store on your phone.

Nikon D90 User's Guide in PDF. ($5 mandatory donation if you'd like to print or save, thanks!)




This will make you to an expert on using the Nikon D90, but this alone won't get great pictures.

To get great photos you still need to get yourself to the right place and point the camera in the right direction at the right time, which is a lot harder than mastering the D90. Technically, lighting and the use or disuse of flash is far more important to artistic synthesis than your choice of camera.

Right out of the box at default settings the D90 does a great job, but you need an eye to "see" the photos before you take them. The D90 is easy to master, but knowing how to make a great picture can take a lifetime. See all the previous links and How to Create a Masterpiece for more.

Once you get the right photo framed in your finder, there are two absolutely critical basic settings, which if set correctly, will give you extraordinary photos. Most people skip this, and are forever cursed with the same results regardless of how much they spend on new cameras.

Getting great photos out of the D90, or any other camera, really only takes these settings and a good eye:

1.) Take a picture. Look at the rear LCD. OK? You're done! If not:

2.) Too light or dark? Change the Exposure Compensation and shoot again. OK? You're done! If not:

3.) Colors not right? Adjust White Balance and try again. OK? You're done! If not:

4.) Contrast, saturation or other fine points not right? Adjust the Picture Controls. OK? GREAT! If not, you're either not at the right place, not at the right time, or looking in the wrong direction. It's never your camera's fault, but only human to blame it.

For more examples of why you'd want to change what settings and why, see my the "teaching" galleries on my Gallery page.

Making a great photo involves knowing what makes a great photo, knowing how to get great exposure, knowing when to use the D90's adjustments, knowing how to get great color, locations, timing, patience and a whole lot more. I cover general photography issues here.

Looking for a specific control? Use my Search page. Be sure to mention the D90 in your search.

Want free live phone support? In the USA, call (800) NIKON-UX, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Below are the basics. Explicit details follow in later pages linked at the bottom.

Most of the settings I'll discuss are locked out in the green AUTO position on the top left mode knob. I don't use this position.

Some of my favorite secrets, which I cover in detail throughout these pages, are:

How to get great colors

How to set Auto ISO

Inserting your © and contact info automatically into every file

Getting useful histograms

How to get into the menu system with just one hand

How not to shoot 127 images, all called DSC_0001.JPG

Camera Settings      top

I leave most settings at their defaults. Here's what I do each time I pick up my D90.


Always format your card after you put it in any camera, or if you've connected your camera to a computer.

Formatting your card(s) ensures any folder or file corruption acquired anywhere goes away.

You can shoot without doing this, however constant formatting is good practice and should eliminate ever having any card errors. Be sure you've downloaded and backed up all the files in two different physical locations before formatting.


Nikn D90 Reset Dots

Nikon D90 green reset dots. Press at the same time to reset.

Nikon has an easy reset feature. I use it every time I pick up a D90.

My standard operating setting is only a few clicks different from the reset defaults.

I reset everything every time I use my camera, much as a pilot uses a checklist before every flight to prevent any switches from being in the wrong position. When I don't check first, I often have left my D90 in some screwy mode, like 2,500K WB and ISO 3,200, from shooting in the dark the night before.

My checklist is therefore Reset, Program, Basic, Medium, and A3. Allow me to explain:

1.) Reset: Hold down the +/- and AF buttons (next to the green dots) for a few seconds, and the D90 comes out of whatever crazy mode it was in and returns to sanity. The top LCD blinks and everything is back to normal.

Reset leaves the detailed menu tweaks alone and resets only the big dumb things I might have changed overnight.

Once Reset, I change these next:

2.) Program: Spin the top left exposure mode dial to P, program auto exposure.

3.) Hold QUAL and spin the rear dial until you see BASIC, and spin the front dial until you see [M]. You'll always see these on the small top LCD, and if you first tap INFO, you can see it more clearly on the huge rear LCD. (Feel free to use other settings if you have a good reason.)

4.) Hold the WB button and spin the front dial three clicks to A3. This gives warmer (more orange) photos that I prefer.


I use Large (or Medium), JPG and BASIC.

For most people and family pictures, 12MP (Large) is way too much. 12 MP makes great 20 x 30" (50x75cm) prints. 6MP (Medium) is enough even for great 12 x 18" prints, so I usually shoot at M image size (3,216 x 2,136 pixels).

To change the image size, hold the QUAL button and move the front dial one click to the right. You'll see the L change to an M on the top LCD.

If you hit the rear INFO button, you can see these even easier on the big rear LCD.

ISO (pronounced Eye-Ess-Oh, not "eyeso.")

I use the default of 200, which is reset by reset. I set Auto ISO (unchanged by reset) to chose ISOs for me automatically. Auto ISO selects ISOs exactly the same way I would, except that now I don't have to.

Auto ISO increases the ISO automatically as it gets dark. It shoots at ISO 200 in good light, and starts ramping it up in lower light to a maximum of ISO 3,200. Only if it gets still darker will it let the shutter speed go below the preset speed. We'll set this slowest speed and maximum ISO to fit our tastes later in the Shooting Menu.

White Balance (WB)

White balance is how you set the color balance, and color is critical to every image.

I use AUTO WB, which is set by reset.

I prefer warmer images, so I set WB towards Amber (more orange) by pressing the WB button and spinning the front dial to taste. A6 is a lot of amber, 0 is neutral, and if you want cooler, B6 is much bluer. You read this on the top (or rear) LCD as you adjust it. It disappears when you release the WB button.

I usually run A3, but I'll use A6 in shade. It's not magic; just look at your picture on the LCD and adjust to taste. Whatever looks right is right: this is an art, not science.

See explanations of the WB settings, examples of WB settings and more details about White Balance.

Picture Controls

This is how you get your choice of wild colors or creamy skin tones. I have a whole page about this at Nikon Picture Controls. They work the same way for the D3, D700, D300 and D90.

I usually use VIVID and +3 Saturation for most crazy things, NEUTRAL and +1 Saturation for people, and STANDARD if I'm trying to match colors in studio product shots.

There is no "right" way to set it. Photography is an art, so whatever looks good to you is right.

Picture Controls are how you set your D90 to give you the pictures you want right out of your camera. Learn these, and you'll never have to waste your day screwing with raw files.

When reset, the D90 resets each Picture Control, including saved Picture Controls, back to its own default. If you regularly change any part of any Picture Control, you'll want to save it that way as its own named preset. See Picture Controls.


I have an entire page on How to Set the Nikon D90's Autofocus Controls.


I have used Matrix, the D90's default, for everything since I got my first Nikon FA back in 1992.

You set this with the Meter Mode button on the top. I discuss the other modes at Top Panel Controls.

I use the Exposure Compensation control if I need to lighten or darken the pictures. See my Exposure page for details on getting perfect exposures.

Lens Settings        top

Many lenses have no switches or settings. If so, don't worry.

If the switch says "M/A - M " then use M/A. This gives autofocus, and if I grab the focus ring it instantly lets me make manual corrections. As soon as I tap the shutter button again I get autofocus. This M/A setting, if the lens has it, provides both kinds of focus without ever having to move any switches. It's the best.

Older lenses may have an "A - M" switch. Leave those at "A." To get manual focus you must move the switch on the lens, and/or the switch on the camera. It's not automatic. Different lenses require different settings on the camera and lens to get manual. Some, like the old 300mm f/4 AF, required moving both the camera and lens switches! That was a pain.

Non-G lenses will have an aperture ring on the base of the lens where it's attached to the camera. Set this this ring to the smallest aperture (largest number), usually in orange and 16, 22 or 32. There usually is a lock to keep this ring set there, since if it comes off that setting you'll get an error message (fEE) from most cameras.


My D90 User's Guide continues below.

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This guide is free to read online, but copyrighted and formally registered. If you haven't helped yet and would like to save or make a printed copy of this article for your camera bag, please send me $5.00 for each complete or partial copy that you print or save, for personal use only. Others charge $29.99 for crappier information, and with your honesty I can continue to offer these guides online for less.

If you bought your D90 by clicking through my links, then you've saved money and also helped me write this guide. Thank you and please enjoy it. It's great people like you, and those who help me otherwise, who allow me to keep adding to this site for everyone's benefit.

The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Ritz and J&R when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. These places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

Thanks for reading!


Page Index     top

Back to Top of D90 User's Guide or Top of Nikon D90 Review

These were the basics. Keep reading for explicit details.


     FRONT < < NEXT







          a Autofocus

          b Metering/Exposure

          c Timers/AE&AF Lock

          d Shooting/display

          e Bracketing/flash

          f Controls




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