Let’s take a look at high ISO noise comparisons in a low-light environment between Nikon D300 and D90. I ran two quick tests – one with an external flash and one without. Both tests are performed on a sturdy tripod, with timed exposure to prevent camera vibrations. Both Nikon D300 and Nikon D90 were set exactly the same way, shot in manual mode with Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G at f/5.6. Exposures were exactly the same in both cameras, depending on ISO value. Shot both in RAW (Active D-Lighting off, High ISO NR Normal), then imported into Lightroom, cropped and exported with “Camera Standard” camera profile. The rest of the data is available via EXIF on the files to those who are interested in technical details.
- “Test 1” is 100% crop of the original image without using flash. Center focus on the house under “Pepperidge Farm”
- “Test 2” is 100% crop of the original image with an external flash on a shoot-through white umbrella. Center focus on the right eye of the doll.
Full “Test 1” photo, ISO 200 (click for full image):
D90 ISO 800 Test 1:
D300 ISO 800 Test 1:
D90 ISO 1600 Test 1:
D300 ISO 1600 Test 1:
D90 ISO 3200 Test 1:
D300 ISO 3200 Test 1:
D90 ISO 6400 Test 1:
D300 ISO 6400 Test 1:
Full “Test 2” photo, ISO 200 (click for full image):
D90 ISO 800 Test 2:
D300 ISO 800 Test 2:
D90 ISO 1600 Test 2:
D300 ISO 1600 Test 2:
D90 ISO 3200 Test 2:
D300 ISO 3200 Test 2:
D90 ISO 6400 Test 2:
D300 ISO 6400 Test 2:
As expected, both Nikon D90 and Nikon D300 produce almost identical results in ISO 200-800. Seems like the on-camera image processing is identical for this ISO range. However, starting from ISO 1600 and above, I noticed that D90 performs a little better in controlling noise. Looks like Nikon is using a different method of on-camera noise reduction on D90. My main purpose of this test was to test whether D90 images are sharper in higher ISOs than D300, as claimed by Ken Rockwell in his ISO 3200 comparison tests. I can now conclude that Ken Rockwell’s D300 definitely has focusing issues, since I did not see any sharpness differences between both cameras in my tests. In fact, I think D90 actually applies more noise reduction than D300, resulting in less noise in higher ISOs. Look at ISO 6400 – D90 grains look “squished” together (which typically happens because of more aggressive noise reduction), while D300 is showing more “normal” grain.
- D300 has a problem with over-exposing shots in matrix metering mode. D90 does not have this problem and seems to behave much better. I would recommend setting the exposure compensation switch to “-0.3 or -0.7” on the D300 to get proper exposure.
- I noticed that the images from D90 on “Test 2” look a little less sharp compared to D300 (look at the doll’s eyelashes). This might be due to a slight back-focus issue on the D90, but could also be due to the fact that D90 is physically lower than D300. I did not adjust the tripod while changing the cameras, so the focus could have shifted a little on D90.
- I have not posted full images of D90 and D300 from the above tests because the files are too big.
- The above tests only demonstrate camera capabilities in two different conditions. Other people might get different results, depending on light conditions, camera settings, etc.
- If you want to retain the best image quality, I would not recommend using ISO levels higher than 800 on either D90 or D300. Sometimes I might use ISO 1600 if the light conditions are poor, but anything beyond that impacts the sharpness of the image. Even noise reduction software won’t do much help at ISO levels higher than 1600.
- I did not have a chance to test the video capabilities of the D90. I know a lot of people are looking forward to this feature, but I wouldn’t get too excited about it. The camera won’t auto-focus in video mode and there are limitations and known issues with video on D90. Hopefully the next generation DSLRs will have better video mode functionality.
I still love my D90.
Nikon EXPEED Image Processing and Continuous Shooting up to 7 fps ..!!!!
I’ve been out of the photography scene for some time now. Sold off my F3HP’s, motors, flashes and all those nice Nikkor lenses years ago. I’m ready to jump back in and am looking at the D90 for it’s level of control for someone who is used to running all the settings manually but needs to familiarize himself with DSLR’s. Would you recommend this as a good entry for someone like me into DSLR’s? As noted in other comments I’ve read, it appears it can always be a good second body when I continue onward with DSLR’s. And a good goto lens? Short fast/bright zoom?
I would push you towards the D7000 unless money is an issue. I own the D90 and am unlikely to upgrade to the D7000 as I wait to see what comes out in 2011, however if I were starting out fresh I would choose the D7000 over the D90.
I agree with Geoff!
Chase, I would agree with Geoff – the Nikon D7000 is a better camera body at the moment. If budget is an issue, the D90 is also excellent.
As for a good lens to start with, I would personally recommend the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G as the first lens.
It’s wierd, I keep seeing a lot of different results website to website and other websites make it seem like the D300 is so much better in higher ISO. They have the same exact sensor AFAIK.
Great test btw.
Rob, the sensor on the D300 is different for sure and it certainly cannot be so much better in higher ISO than the D90. Maybe you saw comparisons against the D80?
Thanks for this interesting post. I am glad I found it as I was looking to upgrade my D90 and one of the main reasons was better IQ at low light. Now, I will save my money and wait for significant improvement in the next models before looking again.
Rod, sounds good, wait for the new D90 update – Nikon is rumored to release an update soon.
I bought one of the first D90s, before they hit the stores, and that may have been the problem. I’m a pro, and my first photo shoot resulted in the customer noting that the images were soft. I unsharp-masked them further, and they were acceptible. I took the camera into a Ritz camera store, and shot the D300 with the same lens. The sharpness on the LCD of the D300 said it all, and I parted with $800 difference on the spot. My D90 was way softer than the D300, and they do NOT have the same sensor as some sites claim; they are different part numbers.
Marshall, I bet your soft images were due to AF issues on the camera. Image quality-wise, the Nikon D90 yields cleaner images than the D300, as can be seen from the above shots. And yes, the sensors on both are different – D90 has a better sensor.
nasim, ive looking for some lenses, and i noticed for 17-55 mm that are two types of lense, extrawide and normal les, im puzzeled now, which one is more suitable for that les, whide or normal?
thx in advanced nasim.
not lenses but filters for lenses! my mystake
Raluca, sorry for a late response. Don’t worry about the wide filters and get the normal one. Wide filters can be problematic with lens caps…
i see. thx a lot for the advice
Hai there. I have one question. Which DLSR preferable in your opinion. Take into account about the shutter speed, ISO and etc.
Kyle, if this is your first DSLR, go for the D90 and buy better lenses instead! Nikon is currently giving a $200 rebate on Nikon D90 + 18-105 + 70-300mm lenses, which is a steal.
Check out my Nikon Rebates page to see more discounted combos. The promotion ends at the end of the month though.
Let me know if you have any questions.
I’ve bought the D90 kit !!! After a fierce battle between the EOS 550d/EOS 500d vs D90, I made my decision based on feel and handling of the camera, as well as the pricing of the camera bodies whereby the EOS and D90 is almost similar! Why pay more for a newer body when the proven one is more capable? Thank you so much for your insight on the matter, Nasim. I’m learning.
Wochomi, congratulations! D90 is a superb camera and you will absolutely love it!
Please let me know if you have any questions and thanks for stopping by and dropping a comment!
Hi! Thank you for good reading :) this site is now bookmarked..
I just wonder how you think D300 and D90 will work with indoor concerts?
I take mostly pics of that…i have a D200 and D80 now, but cant go over ISO 800..i get many good pics, but wants to upgrade..D700 is out of my reach until later..
I use Sigma lenses mostly..24-70 on the D200 and 70-200 on my D80..
Thank you for visiting us Kenneth!
I recently took concert pictures of Santana and I would say that a full-frame sensor is extremely helpful to keep the shutter speed higher…I know you have said that D700 is out of a reach for you, but I would recommend against upgrading to D300 or D90 at this time and rather wait and get an FX sensor later instead. D300/D90 are great cameras, but the images are still unusable beyond ISO 800 for me.
Hope this helps.