Nikon D3000 Overview
Reviewed by Shawn Barnett, Mike Tomkins,
Zig Weidelich, and Dave Etchells
Full Review Posted: 10/30/09
The Nikon D3000 is a replacement for the extremely popular Nikon D40, which for a little over two years has marked the entry point to the company's digital SLR lineup.
The Nikon D3000 features a new body with slightly more rounded shoulders and a larger 3.0-inch LCD panel on its rear face. The control layout is nearly identical to that of the D40, ensuring that owners of the previous camera will feel right at home.
Most of the Nikon D3000's other changes bring together features previously seen in the D40x, D60, and D5000 models.
The Nikon D3000 has a 10-megapixel DX-format CCD image sensor that yields images as large as 3,872 x 2,592 pixels. The D3000 also includes Nikon's Dust Reduction and Picture Control Systems, and offers a burst rate of three frames per second. The Nikon D3000 also inherits the eleven point Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus module previously seen in the Nikon D5000.
New to the Nikon digital SLR camera lineup is a Guide mode, which walks new users through a few questions to set the camera up for the type of shot they seek.
The Nikon D3000 will ship in the USA from late August 2009. Pricing for the Nikon D3000 starts at about US$600 for the kit that includes an AF-S NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens with optical image stabilization.
Nikon D3000 User Report
by Shawn Barnett and Mike Tomkins
Nikon's D40 digital SLR was a consistently good performer for the company since its launch in November 2006, frequently found at or near the top of monthly sales charts, according to the company. It was also one of our favorites, with a simple interface and excellent low-light performance. Now two and a half years old, the D40 is the second oldest model in the lineup, so it isn't surprising to see Nikon announce its replacement. The Nikon D3000 refreshes the D40 design with a new body and a combination of features previously seen in the D40x, D60, and D5000 models, plus a few that are entirely new.
The Nikon D3000 ships from late August 2009, priced at $599.95.
Look and feel. The Nikon D3000's body has been redesigned, but its dimensions and weight are nearly identical. The width and depth are unchanged at 5.0 and 2.5 inches respectively, while the height has increased by just a tenth of an inch to 3.8 inches. The new body will be immediately familiar to D40 owners, as the Nikon D3000 keeps all of the controls in the same locations, although the exact shape of a few buttons has changed some. The mode dial also has a new diamond-patterned knurling on its outer edges that make it a little easier to grip.
The rise on the grip side of the Nikon D3000 has been relaxed a bit, giving your fingers less room. Just inside the grip, there's a nice indented zone for your fingertips to dig into, one of my favorite features on Nikon digital SLRs.
Like most recent Nikon digital SLRs, the D3000's cut is considerate of the left hand, with a slight rounding of the edge, seen in the lower right of the picture above. This makes it just a little more comfortable to rest the Nikon D3000 in your left palm as your fingers reach out to adjust the zoom and focus rings.
Now with 13 modes on the Mode dial thanks to the addition of the GUIDE setting, the Nikon D3000's controls are otherwise unchanged from the D40.
The Nikon D3000 is now shipping with the 18-55mm VR lens, an upgrade from the D40's non-image-stabilized lens. It's important to note, though, that Nikon traded two letters to be able to put VR on there: ED. The new lens lacks the Extra-low Dispersion glass found on its predecessor's lenses, which is a shame.
Though positions have changed a bit, the controls of the Nikon D3000 are identical to the D40. Given the recent reshuffling of controls on most of the higher-end digital SLR lineup, it's good to see Nikon stick with a winning design. Most competing SLRs at this size, namely the Rebel XS and XSi, have quite a few icons and buttons back here, which probably serve to confuse more novice photographers than they help.
The new Guide mode mentioned above also gets a nod here, with the screenshot of the new Guide Menu, which is designed to simplify basic camera functions for the beginner.
The Nikon D3000 boasts a new 3.0-inch diagonal TFT LCD which is significantly larger than the 2.5-inch displays of the D40, D40x, and D60. In fact, it's even a little larger than the 2.7-inch display of the Nikon D5000, although the D3000's LCD is fixed in place and so not quite as versatile as the D5000's tilt/swivel vari-angle display. All five cameras feature an identical display resolution of 230,000 dots. Nikon is noting that the D3000's on-screen interface offers a 20% increase in font size as compared to previous cameras.
Sensor and processor. On the inside, the most significant change since the D40 is that the Nikon D3000 now sports an EXPEED image processor that works in concert with a higher-resolution DX-format image sensor. The sensor size -- roughly equivalent to that of a frame of APS-C film -- is unchanged, but where the D40 had an effective sensor resolution of 6.1 megapixels, the Nikon D3000 now offers 10.2 megapixels. That's the same resolution as offered by the now-retired, more expensive D60 and its sibling the D40x. As with both of those cameras, the total sensor resolution is 10.75 megapixels, and the maximum image dimensions possible from the Nikon D3000 are 3,872 x 2,592 pixels. Two lower-resolution modes of 2,896 x 1,944 and 1,936 x 1,296 pixels are also available.
The combination of a new image sensor and image processor has also brought an increase in both speed and sensitivity for the D3000. Nikon's entry-level DSLR is now able to shoot images at three frames per second, and offers ISO sensitivities from 100 to 1,600 equivalents in 1 EV steps, with the ability to increase this to ISO 3,200 equivalent using the Hi-1 setting. In both areas, this again matches the D40x and D60. Also new to the D3000 is the ability to shoot not only as JPEG or .NEF Raw image files, but also to simultaneously record each image in both formats. The Nikon D3000 records images on SD/SDHC cards.
Autofocusing is also significantly improved since the D40, with the Nikon D3000 sharing the same Multi-CAM 1000 phase-detection autofocus sensor module that is also used in the D5000 and D90. The Multi-CAM 1000 module offers 11 focusing points, of which the center point is a cross-type sensor. By way of comparison, the Nikon D40's Multi-CAM 530 module offered only three points, with a cross-type center point. The Nikon D3000 also adds Nikon's Scene Recognition System, 3D Tracking capability, and an auto-area AF mode while retaining the D40's single-point and dynamic area AF modes. The Multi-CAM 1000 system integrates the AF sensor data with information from the 420-pixel RGB metering sensor (shown at right), allowing the system to better track objects moving through the scene. The Multi-CAM 1000 sensor's detection range of -1 to +19 EV at ISO 100 / 68°F is unchanged from that of the Multi-CAM 530 module.
Dust control. Another important change in the Nikon D3000 as compared to the D40 is that it includes the company's three-pronged strategy for controlling dust on the image sensor. Nikon's Dust Reduction System uses vibration to shake dust off the low-pass filter, whereupon the mirror chamber design causes an air flow with each shutter release that carries dust to a capture receptacle. The final part of the approach requires the optional Nikon Capture NX 2 software, and involves creation of a reference photo that is used to identify the location of stubborn dust specks. These can then be replaced by automatically interpolating data from areas of the image adjacent to the dust.
Shutter. Yet another change carried over from the D40x design relates to the Nikon D3000's x-sync speed (flash sync, or the fastest shutter speed you can use while the flash is active) of 1/200 second, down from the D40's 1/500 flash sync speed. The reason for this difference is that the D40 had a relatively slow mechanical shutter, but "gated" the CCD for its shortest shutter speeds. This meant that the CCD itself was actually exposed to incoming light for a longer period of time (perhaps 1/100 - 1/200 second), but the camera manipulated the chip's control voltages to only allow light collection for a much shorter period of time. This made it easy to produce very brief exposures without the expense of a really high-speed mechanical shutter, and as a consequence also permitted very high x-sync speeds.
There's no such thing as a free lunch, though, and the downside was that large light overloads could cause streaking or smearing in the D40's images. The good news is that the Nikon D3000 won't suffer from these problems, unlike the D40 -- but the x-sync speed is slower as a result. See our discussion of "Shutter Control vs CCD Gating" in our D80 review for more detail on this topic.
The new shutter mechanism included in the Nikon D3000 is rated at 100,000 cycles, just like the D5000 and D90, a first for a camera at this price range.
Guide mode. The original D40 was one of the earliest cameras to address the needs of consumers stepping up to an SLR for the first time, by offering a robust help system that functioned as a portable user guide of sorts, always available to refer to as needed. While many more experienced photographers likely never touch them, features like these can prove invaluable to the newcomers. The Nikon D3000 takes the concept from the D40, and really builds on it by presenting a new Guide Mode position on the Mode dial. When placed in this mode, the Nikon D3000 will greet users with a friendly graphical interpretation of the menu system, with icons labeled Shoot, View/Delete, and Set up. When in the Shoot menu, the photographer is asked a number of questions, and the Nikon D3000 then offers guidance on what to set -- and importantly, why each suggestion is being made.
Unfortunately in my use I found the Guide mode to be yet another layer that was unnecessary, and rather than teaching, it just got in the way. Novices might benefit from it, but I think the Shoot button will be more frustrated. Rather than letting you shoot, it takes you to a menu where you have to tell it what kind of shooting you want to do. Select Easy operation, for example, and you have to choose among Auto, No flash, Distant subjects, Close-ups, Sleeping faces, Moving subjects, Landscapes, Portraits, and Night portraits. If I'm a new user, I'm already confused, and I don't think it's "easy." It's a good first try, and I think some may like it, but more than anything, people just want to take pictures, not go into a menu to select a special mode for what they're about to shoot; and most will forget that their camera is set to Landscapes mode and mistakenly shoot the rest of the picnic in that mode.
In-camera editing. As with the D40, the Nikon D3000 offers a Retouch menu that lets users tweak images to their tastes after capture. The Nikon D3000's Retouch menu offers several new functions, including some inherited from the D60, D90, and D5000. The Soft-filter effect smooths faces and other details in an image, while Color outline creates a monochrome image, eliminating all color and converting transition areas into a kind of pencil sketch appearance. The Miniature effect simulates an exaggeratedly narrow depth of field, allowing the user to select a horizontal position in the image which should look sharp, and then progressively increasing image blurring above and below this position. The Nikon D3000 also includes the ability to process Raw files in-camera, and retains Retouch functions such as trimming and color balance that were found in the D40.
One function from the D40 has evolved rather a long way in the last couple of years. Where the D40 offers a D-Lighting function which can act provide a fill flash-like effect after image capture through the Retouch menu, the Nikon D3000 supplements this with the company's Active D-Lighting function. Active D-Lighting debuted on the D3 and D300, and is applied to images at the time of capture. The Nikon D3000 allows Active D-Lighting to be enabled or disabled, but offers no manual control over the strength of the effect.
The Nikon D3000 also includes the Picture Control System previously seen in the D300, which allows control of sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue. Picture Control presets include Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, and Landscape, and each can be fine-tuned to the user's preferences. The Nikon D3000 has also inherited Nikon's Scene Recognition System, which improves upon the company's Matrix metering system. Also new since the D40 are a date imprint function that can overlay the current date and time on images, and the 72-thumbnail playback mode first seen in the Nikon D5000.
Storage and battery. The Nikon D3000 stores images on an SD/SDHC memory card. It uses a 7.2V, 1080mAh EN-EL9a lithium-ion battery pack, rated for 550 shots on a charge with 50% of shots using the flash (CIPA rating). No vertical battery grip is available for the Nikon D3000.
Shooting. Using the Nikon D3000 is similar to the Nikon D40, similar enough that I felt right at home. The D3000 has a similar soft shutter sound that reminds me of old cloth focal-plane shutters. I shot mostly in Program and Aperture priority, and the Nikon D3000 did reasonably well. But a combination of higher resolution and the non-ED lens left my images a little softer than I'm used to seeing from a camera with that Nikon badge.
While shooting, I ran across another bugaboo that I only run into with lower priced Nikon digital SLRs, and that's when I accidentally change the focus point by pressing the navigation disk on the back of the camera. This was something I cautioned against with the Nikon D40, but back then there were only three AF points to worry about. Now with 11 points, there's greater potential for confusing new users. Of course, most new users will shoot in Auto AF Area mode, but those who don't should pay attention to the rear status display, where the little box shows which AF point is selected.
As for the AF points themselves, I miss the big red dots, because it's hard to see the dim red illumination behind each black LCD AF point, especially indoors. The viewfinder is otherwise usable, if a little tight. That's common in small digital SLRs, including most of the D3000's competition.
I was also relieved to get an SLR with no Live view and no Movie mode for a change; just a straight digital SLR. Used to be that was enough!
Overall, my shooting experience with the Nikon D3000 was good. It works well, is simple to use, and is well-behaved in a quiet room. As consumer devices go, the Nikon D3000 is a pleasure to use.
Focus errors. Despite the addition of the MultiCam 1000 Autofocus system, we experienced quite a few unexpected focus errors. Out in the field, the camera would usually focus and give me a confirmation beep just fine. But at random, that focus confirmation would be incorrect. Most often by just a little, sometimes by a lot. I only noticed one particular case when I got back and looked at my images on the monitor. It wasn't just a little out of focus, it was way out, front-focusing by about 30 feet. I took four shots like this, refocusing each time, and they were all identically out of focus.
In the lab we encountered it as well. Shooting the INB shot (the indoor incandescent shot), the Nikon D3000 couldn't focus consistently on the small AF target we use for most digital cameras. This is after shooting four shots just fine, it suddenly can't focus on the small target. It is only about one inch by one inch, so a limitation here is understandable. We found the same problem with this target and the Olympus E-P1; the difference, though, is that the EP1 is a contrast-detect model, while the D3000 uses a phase detect sensor, which usually does better with this target.
When we re-shot the target, the camera repeatedly front-focused until we managed to coerce a sharp shot out of it. Tough to say what's going on with it, but it's not measuring up to the AF systems in the D90 and D5000. In my outdoor shooting only about seven percent of the shots had this problem.
Hot pixels. We were also surprised to see so many hot pixels in the Nikon D3000's images. It wasn't the quantity as much as the intensity, even at the lowest ISO, that gave us pause. There's no way for the user to map out bad pixels, either, so if your camera comes with them, you just have to live with it or exchange it.
While the Nikon D3000 was as fun and easy to shoot with as the Nikon D40, I was disappointed with the above issues when I got home. If you can't trust a modern digital SLR to focus reasonably well, it's harder to accept its tight optical viewfinder, which gives you little sense of the state of focus. I always shoot several shots of a given image, especially when shooting galleries, and if a camera still can't get it right after four tries on a fairly simple subject, I'm not comfortable using that camera.
Printed quality. Still, the Nikon D3000's printed quality was good, producing excellent 13x19-inch prints through ISO 400. Even ISO 800 shots are usable at 13x19 inches if you can tolerate some chroma noise in the shadows.
Looking at my images, I'm pretty happy with most of them, and I like how the D3000 handled noise in the shadows up to ISO 400. I can say that using the D3000 up to ISO 400 is safe, and even ISO 800 looks good, all with the camera set to the default of having Noise Reduction turned off. I don't like the results with NR on. It's way too aggressive.
Most digital SLRs will produce a reasonable ISO 100 shot, so I like to push them and see what they can do at ISO 1,600. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. I also choose 1,600 because I like to be able to shoot at this level when indoors and at night.
Nikon D3000 versus Nikon D40 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D40 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D3000 versus Canon XS at ISO 1,600
Canon XS at ISO 1,600
Nikon D3000 versus Nikon D60 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D60 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D3000 versus Sony A230 at ISO 1,600
Sony A230 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D3000 versus Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600
Nikon D5000 at ISO 1,600
Detail: Nikon D3000 vs Canon XS, Nikon D60, Sony A230, and Nikon D5000
Analysis. We're sad to see the excellent Nikon D40 fade into history. Nikon has introduced what appeared to be a good quality successor when we wrote our preview. The Nikon D3000 seems to be an amalgam of most of what was great about the D40 and D60 sprinkled with most of what's useful for consumers from the Nikon D5000 and D90. However, after a closer look at its images, and some time spent with the camera, we aren't as excited about it as we were at the outset. Image noise in the shadows at higher ISOs is just a bit too much, and color saturation is too extreme. Detail is soft, and autofocus surprised us one too many times with very odd behavior, confirming focus when the camera was actually way out of focus. Printed results, though, are pretty good, allowing quality prints up to 13x19 inches between ISO 100 and 400, and also 800 with more noticeable noise in the shadows. It's the extreme color saturation that overwhelms the prints, making them look more like illustrations, especially as ISO levels rise.
The Nikon D3000 is still a decent digital SLR, but it is the first Nikon in years that didn't blow our minds with excellent value for the dollar.
In the Box
The Nikon D3000 ships with the following items in the box:
- Nikon D3000 body
- 18-55mm VR lens (if purchased as a kit)
- Body cap
- Lens caps
- Battery cap
- Lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger MH-23
- AC cable (for charger)
- USB cable
- Shoulder strap
- Instruction manual
- Warranty card
- Extra EN-EL9a battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity SD/SDHC memory card. These days, 4GB is a good trade-off between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
Nikon D3000 Conclusion
While it's the least expensive digital SLR in the lineup, the Nikon D3000 has quite a few new features, including a higher resolution sensor, a revamped but still simple body, an image-stabilized kit lens, and a new Guide mode.
Despite its good printed performance, the Nikon D3000 produced quite oversaturated color, and had several very bright hot pixels across the frame, something that's very unusual among cameras we test. We were also put off by the Nikon D3000's difficult focusing system which randomly decided to front focus too often in our shooting, around ten percent of the time, off by as much as 30 feet!
Guide mode, while it's probably useful to some, is probably too slow to be used often, requiring too many decisions before taking your first shot under its influence. In a world where most people are too distracted by their subject to even use a Scene mode, this menu-driven assistant is likely to get little use.
When it worked, though, the AF system was good, and the Nikon D3000's VR lens did a good job damping vibration, enabling hand-held shots at pretty low shutter speeds. The lens itself showed some softness and chromatic aberration in the corners--certainly not unexpected in a kit lens, though.
The Nikon D3000 is not a camera we'll recommend to serve as a backup camera for most semi-pro users, though. Its lack of a mechanical link to drive older Nikon lenses is one factor for those users to consider, but the unreliable autofocus and high color saturation, plus the hot pixels, would dissatisfy the more discriminating shooter.
Overall, though, the Nikon D3000 did well enough that it would serve a consumer who would usually confine his printed output to 8x10, as they'll likely like the brightly saturated color and seldom encounter the more pronounced noise at higher ISOs. Watch your focus, though, and make sure that you don't move the AF point accidentally. Ultimately, the Nikon D3000 is a good digital SLR, but doesn't rise to the level of a Dave's Pick.