Taken with the D90 in Humboldt Park, Chicago.

For several years now, amateur photographers wanting higher-quality images than point-and-shoots offer have upgraded to bulkier, more versatile digital single lens reflex (D-SLR) cameras. As digital technology continues advancing into the stratosphere and camera prices continue to fall, D-SLRs, with their interchangeable lenses and manual control capabilities, have become ubiquitous.

When Nikon released the D90 at the end of August, the top-tier camera manufacturer elevated the D-SLR arena to a brand new level. The D90 is the first D-SLR to record video–and high-definition video at that.

Still photography is the D90′s primary function–and it offers the crisp, colorful images that have kept Nikon toward the top of the photography food chain for decades. Unfortunately, the auto-focus lags a bit when shooting with the live view option, compared to looking through the viewfinder. But the camera handles low-light situations well, eliminating the noise that long plagued Nikon D-SLR images. And the camera shoots 4.5 frames per second, which makes it easy to capture your kids’ soccer games.

Photographs aside, the D90′s video feature truly separates it from other top-of-the-line digital cameras. The feature is definitely cool–you get the sharpness, focus control and saturated colors that Nikon lenses offer. However, Nikon–which marketed the camera as almost a replacement for a camcorder–is still perfecting the technology, and potential buyers should recognize its limitations.

Because the camera’s sensor heats up while recording video, the camera only allows you to record up to five minutes of video at a time. And HD video–at 1280×720 resolution–takes up a lot of hard drive space. I shot just one minute and 15 seconds of video, and it filled more than 100 megabytes of my memory card. The D90′s photos are large files too, so you’ll want a large memory card with at least a gigabyte–or two–of space.

That said, I felt like a real filmmaker with the D90.Even with the kit lens, I could zoom and manually focus (auto-focus doesn’t work in video mode) on my subjects with a precision that rivals many moderately priced digital camcorders. With the ability to use any Nikon lens–from fisheyes to telephotos–filming possibilities are endless.

All in all, the D90 teeters on the edge of the future. It accomplishes what traditional D-SLRs are designed to do, and it makes a brave first expedition into uncharted video recording territory that will only continue to expand in years to come.