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Full Review at: http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/D5000/D5000A.HTM

 

Nikon D5000 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Better than average accuracy and pleasing color overall.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.
Saturation. The Nikon D5000 oversaturates some blues, oranges, and greens a bit, and actually undersaturates some cyans, purples, and yellows. The net effect is pleasing and accurate color, actually somewhat more in keeping with the demands of professional users than that of other recent consumer oriented Nikon SLRs. If you'd like a bit brighter-looking color, it's easy enough to dial in a bit more saturation in the D5000's Picture Styles menu; the steps there are a bit bigger than we'd optimally like to see, but the +1 or +2 saturation setting should please most people looking for slightly brighter color, without going too far. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. Professional models tend to be more restrained in their color rendering.

Skin tones. The Nikon D5000 rendered skin tones just slightly warm/pink. Still, the results looked natural, well within what we'd consider an acceptable range. (Here, too, the D5000's saturation adjustment may come into play for some users, letting them knock down the color on skin tones a little, if they find the default rendering a bit too saturated for their personal tastes.) Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. With an average hue error after correction for saturation variation of only 4.21 delta-C units, the Nikon D5000's hue accuracy is very good; closer to technically accurate than many DSLRs on the market. All in all, accurate and pleasing color. Hue is "what color" the color is.


See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Saturation Adjustment
The Nikon D5000 lets you adjust the image saturation, contrast, and sharpness in seven steps each. As can be seen below, the saturation adjustment worked very well, providing a reasonably fine-grained adjustment over a useful range of control. (While we'd personally like to see just slightly smaller steps, the Nikon D5000 gives an excellent degree of control.) The saturation adjustment also has almost no impact on contrast. That's how it should work, but we've often found interactions between saturation and contrast (and vice versa) on the cameras we test.

Saturation Adjustment Examples

-3

-2

-1

Default

+1

+2
+3

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Auto and Incandescent settings are quite warm, but good color with the Manual white balance. Higher than average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+1.0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+1.0 EV
Manual White Balance
+1.0 EV

The Nikon D5000's auto white balance had a difficult time with the very warm color balance of the household incandescent bulbs used in this shot, and its Incandescent white balance setting was only slightly better. The Manual white balance setting produced much more accurate results, with skin tones and white values that looked the best of the three settings. The Nikon D5000 required a +1.0 EV increase in exposure to get best results, higher than average of +0.3 EV normally required for this shot. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

 

Outdoors, daylight
Good color outdoors, though slightly high contrast at the default setting. Very good highlight/shadow detail preservation, though. Higher than average exposure compensation required for our outdoor portrait shot, but our far-field house shot was dead-on.

Auto White Balance,
+2.0 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

The Nikon D5000 handled tough outdoor lighting under harsh sunlight pretty well, and produced good overall color, but underexposed our outdoor portrait shot by quite a bit with the kit lens, requiring +2.0 EV exposure compensation. (See the Sunlight section below for more on the role of the lens when it comes to exposure accuracy.) The default contrast setting was a bit on the high side, but shadow and highlight detail in the Portrait shot was excellent. The far-field house shot was very well exposed at the default setting, only losing a tiny amount of the highlights and shadows, but that might in part be due to our kit lens underexposing. Color looks very good outdoors as well.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,700 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,700 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,700 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns all the way down to about 1,700 lines per picture height in both directions, which is excellent. (Some would doubtless argue for an even higher lines/picture height rating, but we judge the aliasing that appears shortly after 1,700 lines as an indication that 1,700 is about the limit of the camera's true resolution.) Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,500 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Very detailed images, though slightly soft overall. Minor edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects and minimal noise suppression.

Good definition of high-contrast
elements, with only minor edge
enhancement visible.
Subtle detail: Hair
Minimal noise suppression here,
with good strand detail in
the shadows.

Sharpness. The Nikon D5000 captures a lot of fine detail, but its images are a bit on the soft side at default settings, at least with the kit lens (we'll retake these with a sharp prime when we get the chance). Some very slight edge-enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left, but they're really pretty minimal. Nikon D5000 images take sharpening in Photoshop and other software pretty well. You'll do somewhat better if you process the Nikon D5000's images straight from the NEF RAW files. Overall though, detail is excellent.

Detail & Noise Suppression. The crop above right shows some noise suppression in the shadows at ISO 200, but individual strands of hair can still be seen even in relatively low-contrast areas. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

JPEG vs RAW

JPEG vs RAW Comparison

Mouse over the links in the box above to compare the difference in sharpness and detail from camera JPEG versus a RAW file processed with Nikon's View NX version 1.3.0 and dcraw version 8.86. Camera settings for the JPEG settings were the defaults.

We've found that generally there is indeed a good reason to shoot RAW, because RAW files have more detail than makes it out in the camera-produced JPEGs. This seems also to be the case for the Nikon D5000. Its in-camera JPEG processing is actually pretty good, but you can nonetheless produce a sharper, more finely-rendered image by manipulating the RAW files in a good third-party RAW converter.

The camera's own JPEG processing and that of Nikon's View NX produce very similar-looking images (no surprise there), though there's slightly more detail and contrast in the View NX converted file. Nikon Capture NX2 gives you more control over image-sharpening parameters and the result can be quite a significant increase in sharpness without additional artifacts, but we haven't tried Capture NX2 on D5000 files yet, as we'll be retaking these shots with a prime lens in the near future.

The examples above also include a crop from an dcraw conversion, as Adobe Camera Raw does not yet support the D5000 (April 2009). As usual, we applied very strong/tight unsharp masking as well as a small boost in contrast and saturation in Photoshop, as dcraw does not apply any sharpening after conversion.

ISO & Noise Performance
Good noise performance, with low noise levels and good detail up to ISO 1,600.

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1,600
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
These crops taken from shots with
High ISO NR set to "Normal," the default.

Noise levels are quite low at the Nikon D5000's lower ISO settings, and really quite reasonable even at ISO 800. At ISO 1,600 noise levels increase with more blurring in the fine details and visible "grain," but there is still quite a bit of detail. At ISO 3,200, blurring is stronger with more noise-reduction artifacts, but the grain pattern is still quite tight and results compete well with the performance of DSLRs in its price range from other manufacturers at that ISO level. ISO 6,400 is quite noisy with purple and yellow blotchiness, bright noise pixels as well as much stronger blurring of fine detail. (See our High-ISO comparison page for a detailed comparison between the D5000 and D90's High-ISO performance.) As always, see the Print Quality section below, to see how we think this noise performance translates into practical print sizes at each ISO setting.

Extremes: Sunlit and low-light tests
Severe metering error with kit lens. Once adjusted, very good detail in both highlights and shadows, with high resolution. Very good low-light capabilities as well.

Kit Lens: Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR DX
Default +1.3 EV +1.7 EV +2.0 EV

Sunlight. The Nikon D5000 did very well under the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, though it underexposed by a lot at the default exposure. The best exposure is at +2.0 EV, which is much higher than usual for this shot. The mannequin's skin tones are at a good level, and even though her shirt looks blown out, the vast majority of highlights in the shirt are intact.

The image looks a little contrasty, but that's just representative of the lighting itself. The key is that highlight and shadow detail are both very well preserved, with good-looking midtones as well. Noise and noise suppression are quite low in the shadows, and fine detail in these areas looks very good. Still, the camera's adjustable contrast, saturation and D-Lighting adjustments do help fine tune the exposure for conditions like this. (As always though, we remind readers to be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; and it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

Lens: Nikkor AF-S 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G DX
Default +0.7 EV +1.0 EV +1.3 EV

To see if our copy of the AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens had anything to do with the extreme underexposure in this shot, we reshot the Outdoor Portrait series with another lens, the Nikkor AF-S 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G. As you can see, we got better exposure with the 18-70mm, requiring only +1.3 EV exposure compensation for a good exposure versus +2.0 EV with the kit lens. Our particular kit lens was likely stopping down further than the requested f/8 aperture. Still, the exposure compensation required with the 18-70mm lens is still higher than the +0.7 EV average for this shot.

Contrast Adjustment Examples

-3

-2

-1

Default

+1

+2

+3

The series of shots above show the results of the different contrast settings, all shots captured at an exposure setting of +2.0 EV. While it can be difficult to evaluate small differences in contrast on small thumbnails like these, it's pretty easy to see the impact of the Contrast adjustment in the images above. At its lower settings, the D5000 did a really excellent job of handling the deliberately horrific lighting of this shot. Like the Saturation adjustment, the control for Contrast is quite effective, and interacts very little with color saturation.

Active D-Lighting Examples
Low Normal High Extra High
Off

Active D-Lighting The Nikon D5000 offers four levels of Active D-lighting (same as the D90 and better than the D60's single setting), plus the default Off setting. Nikon's Active D-Lighting does a good job at preserving highlights while bringing up detail in the deep shadows, though not surprisingly, more noise is visible in the darker areas of the test shots above. (Active D-Lighting's effect is small in shots like those above, that have broad areas of both very bright highlights and very deep shadows - You'll notice more impact in shots that are over- or underexposed overall, or where the central subject is in shadow from significant backlighting.)

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)


  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
100
Click to see D5000LL01003.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL01004.JPG
3 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL01005.JPG
6 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL01006.JPG
13 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL01007.JPG
25 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL01007XNR.JPG
25 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see D5000LL02003.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL02004.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL02005.JPG
3 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL02006.JPG
6 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL02007.JPG
13 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL02007XNR.JPG
13 sec
f2.8
ISO
400
Click to see D5000LL04003.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL04004.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL04005.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL04006.JPG
3 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL04007.JPG
6 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL04007XNR.JPG
6 sec
f2.8
ISO
800
Click to see D5000LL08003.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL08004.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL08005.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL08006.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL08007.JPG
3 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL08007XNR.JPG
3 sec
f2.8
ISO
1600
Click to see D5000LL16003.JPG
1/10 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL16004.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL16005.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL16006.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL16007.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL1600XNR.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see D5000LL32003.JPG
1/20 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL32004.JPG
1/10 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL32005.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL32006.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL32007.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL32007XNR.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
ISO
6400
Click to see D5000LL64003.JPG
1/40 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL64004.JPG
1/20 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL64005.JPG
1/10 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL64006.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL64007.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see D5000LL64007XNR.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8

Low light. The Nikon D5000 turned in a very good performance here, capturing bright images at the lowest light level even at the lowest sensitivity setting. Color balance is quite cool and purplish from the Auto white balance setting, especially at the lower ISOs. The camera's handling of noise was very good, with minimal noise artifacts and good detail up to ISO 1,600. Noise was moderate at ISO 3,200, and a little high at ISO 6,400, along with quite a few hot pixels at lower light levels. The AF system was able to focus unassisted down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level, and in total darkness with the AF assist enabled. When in Live View mode, the contrast-detect autofocus system struggled to focus at the 1/2 foot-candle.

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Nikon D5000 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Excellent print quality, great color, good 20x30 inch prints, excellent 16x20 inch ones at ISO 100 and 200. ISO 400-800 good at 13x19. ISO 3,200 images are surprisingly good at 8x10, even better at 5x7.

Output from the Nikon D5000 was good enough to produce good-looking 20x30-inch prints, and sharp 16x20-inch ones at ISO 100 and 200. As noted elsewhere in this review, the D5000 rewards RAW shooters with really excellent detail when its NEF files are processed through a good RAW converter.

The image quality as we move up the ISO scale is so good that I have to be quite a bit more picky than usual, attending more to shadow density and noise suppression than to detail, which remains good in most parts of the photographs, even the low-contrast areas. ISO 400 and 800 shots are better printed at 13x19 inches, while ISO 1,600 shots start to soften a bit, with fine grain in the shadows appearing. They would be acceptable on any wall at this size, however, and improve for pixel peeping at 11x14 inches.

ISO 3,200 shots are still surprisingly good at 11x14, with some softening around edges and still darker shadows, with more abrupt transitions. As a result, round objects start to lose their sense of depth, and edge-enhancement starts to show. Detail looks better at 8x10.

An abrupt falloff in quality occurs at ISO 6,400, with increased chroma and luminance noise in the shadows, and an overall reduction in contrast; though most consumer point-and-shoot cameras struggle to produce this quality at ISO 800. The Nikon D5000 at this point is competing only with itself, the Nikon D90, and the Canon T1i/50D duo in the sub-$1,200 space. Printed at 5x7, the picture improves, and at 4x6, photos look downright excellent. This opens up whole new worlds of potential, making the Nikon D5000 quite a formidable low-light image maker.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon PIXMA Pro9000 review for details on that model.)