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Nikon D5000 Operation

Aimed at the beginner or casual shooter (rather than a professional or hard-core SLR enthusiast), the Nikon D5000 is fairly simple to use, with an interface that is as clean, uncluttered, and approachable as possible. To achieve this, Nikon has reduced the number of buttons compared to the D90, and consolidated the top-panel data readout functions into a very attractive and logically laid-out display on the large, rear-panel LCD screen. They also put the mode dial closer at hand when you're holding the grip, and added a new SCENE mode to access 13 preset scene options for those who would rather not worry about technical details such as aperture, shutter speed, and sensitivity. Experienced shooters may miss the terse convenience of a top-panel data readout, but we think most Nikon D5000 users will appreciate the size and clarity of the shooting display on the main LCD screen.

Nikon D5000 Shooting Mode

Like other more recent Nikon digital SLRs (starting with the D40), the Nikon D5000 displays shooting info and settings on the main LCD when the Info button is pressed in record mode. There are two shooting display styles: the new Graphic display that helps the user visualize what's happening with shutter speed and lens aperture, and the more conventional looking Classic format (see right), which displays the same basic settings information, but uses larger fonts and icons. I personally like the Graphic format a lot, but can see a time coming when my eyes will prefer the larger type of the Classic display. Interestingly, you can choose different display formats for different camera operating modes: An option on the Setup menu lets you choose different formats for the Digital Vari-Program (Scene) modes than for the PASM (programmed, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, or manual) exposure modes. This is a nice feature, because you can set up the camera with the Graphic display option for a novice user, but have it automatically operate in Classic mode when the more advanced user was shooting using one of the PASM modes. You can also change the color of the displays, with choices of green, black, or brown for the Graphic display, and blue, black, or orange for the Classic mode (blue shown). The Nikon D5000 will also rotate the display 90 or 270 degrees when shooting in a vertical orientation.

The illustration below (Courtesy of Nikon USA) shows the meaning of the various icons and readouts in the Graphic display mode.

Shooting mode
"K" (memory remains for over 1000 exposures)
Aperture (f-number)
Bracketing increment
Shutter speed
Advanced D-Lighting
Shutter speed display
Aperture display
AF-area mode
Exposure and WB bracketing indicator
Focus mode
Exposure indicator
Release mode
Exposure compensation indicator
ISO sensitivity
Bracketing progress indicator
White balance
Auto-area AF indicator
Image size
3D-tracking indicator
Image quality
Focus point
Battery indicator
Help indicator
Beep indicator
Advanced D-Lighting bracketing indicator
Auto ISO indicator
Flash mode
Manual flash indicator
Exposure compensation
Flash compensation indicator for optional flash units
Advanced D-Lighting bracketing
Date imprint indicator
Flash compensation
GPS connection indicator
Picture control
Eye-Fi connection indicator
Number of exposures remaining
Capture mode indicator

There's a lot of information shown there, but a logical layout and large/sharp LCD screen makes it easy to tell what you're looking at. The column of data down the right side of the screen and the row across the bottom of the screen represent settings you can adjust directly from this screen.

As mentioned above, settings can be adjusted right in the shooting display by pressing the "i" button. The cursor keys can then be used to navigate to the setting you wish to change. The OK button is used to select the setting, and a new value or option is selected using the Up/Down cursor keys. For features that have a dedicated button (such as exposure compensation, shutter speed, etc.), the button is pressed and/or the command dial is used to change the value or option. The animation on the right shows the Flash mode menu being activated after scrolling through all the available options. As part of the Nikon D5000's designed-in user-friendliness, most options on the shooting menu include "assist" images, to help you understand the types of shots or conditions that each setting is most appropriate for.


Nikon D5000 Playback Mode

Playback mode is entered by pressing the playback button. The Nikon D5000's Playback mode provides a great deal of information about your pictures after you've shot them. You can cycle through a variety of playback displays using the up/down arrows on the multi-selector, including image with file information with optional highlight warning and focus point display, RGB histogram, three screens with overlaid shooting and image parameter information (an additional GPS info screen is available when a GPS device was used when the image was captured), and an overview display with basic shooting data and a luminance histogram.

The Nikon D5000 also offers a RGB histogram display mode. Histogram displays are common on professional digital cameras (and many amateur models now), regarded as almost mandatory by many pros for evaluating exposure levels. A histogram is simply a graph of how many pixels there are in the image at each brightness level. The brightness is the horizontal axis, running from black at the left to white at the right. The height of the graph shows the relative number of pixels having each brightness level. This sort of display is very handy for determining under- or overexposure. Ideally, the histogram would stretch across the entire width of the display, using the full range of brightness values available. An underexposed image will have a histogram with all the data lumped on the left-hand side, with nothing reaching all the way to the right. Likewise, an overexposed image will have all the data lumped on the right side.

Of course the Nikon D5000 also lets you zoom out to quickly find and select images, or magnify them for closer inspection on its 2.7-inch articulating LCD. There is a calendar view as well as the normal 4-, 9-, or 72-image thumbnail displays available by pressing the thumbnail/zoom-out button, and you can magnify them up to approximately 27x for large, 20x for medium, and 13x for small images, using the zoom-in button. Once magnified, you can scroll around the image using the multi-selector to examine critical detail and framing, and you can view other images at the same zoom ratio using the command dial. The Nikon D5000 can detect up to 10 faces while in Playback mode. The camera highlights them with a white frame, and you can cycle through them at the current zoom ratio by pressing the "i" button while turning the command dial. This makes focus verification of faces faster and more convenient.

To return the Nikon D5000 to shooting mode, simply press the playback button again, or half-press the shutter button.