Nikon D3000 Review
Nikon D3000 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Vibrant color with moderate oversaturation of strong reds, blues and some greens.
Skin tones. Here, with the color balanced properly for the light source, the Nikon D3000's skin tones looked just about right. There were some slight red tints in places, but overall skin tone looked pretty natural. 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. The Nikon D3000 showed only a few small color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, but had overall pretty good accuracy. Most noticeable was a shift in reds toward orange, and cyans toward blue. Still, color accuracy was quite good. Hue is "what color" the
The Nikon D3000 has a total of seven saturation settings available, three above and three below the default saturation. This covers a pretty wide range of saturation levels, about as wide a range as you're likely to find photographically relevant, apart from special effects that are arguably better achieved in software. The fine steps between settings mean it's easy to program the camera to just the level of saturation you prefer.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with several saturation settings, see the Thumbnails index page for more (look for the files named D3000OUTBSATx.JPG). Click on any thumbnail above to see the full-sized image.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Manual white balance setting, but overly-warm results with Auto and Incandescent. About average positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was very warm with the Auto white balance setting. (We'd say unacceptably so.) The Incandescent setting was a bit better, but also a bit too warm for our tastes. (Some users may prefer this look, though, as being more representative of the original lighting.) The Manual setting produced the most accurate results, if just a touch cool. The Nikon D3000 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +0.3 EV. Despite the (very) slight cool cast, overall color with the Manual white balance setting looks quite good, though the blue flowers appear a touch purple. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint, so the Nikon D3000 actually performs a little better than average here.) 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.
Very good results under harsh lighting, with good handling of contrast, detail, and color.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Nikon D3000 performed well, but required slightly higher than average exposure compensation of +1.0 EV for our "sunlit" portrait shot to keep the face bright. The average among the cameras we've tested is +0.7 EV. Contrast is a little high, as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but the camera did a very good job of holding onto detail in the deep shadows although it clipped highlights somewhat in the models shirt and the flowers. The highlights were also blown out just a bit in the Far Field House shot, but not too badly. Color balance is good as well, with good saturation considering the bright lighting. The camera's contrast adjustment did a nice job of toning down the exposure, though skin tone does change slightly in very bright areas. (See the contrast adjustment series in the Extremes section below.) Overall, a very good performance.
High resolution, 1,500 ~ 1,600 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to
1,600 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,500 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
1,600 lines horizontal
ACR processed RAW
|Strong detail to
1,500 lines vertical
ACR processed RAW
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,600 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and about 1,500 in the vertical direction. Extinction of the pattern didn't occur until around 2,400 lines in the vertical direction, and 2,200 lines in the horizontal. We weren't able to do much better in terms of absolute resolution with RAW files processed through Adobe Camera RAW, though the resulting images were noticeably crisper. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Slightly soft images overall, though minor edge-enhancement artifacts visible on high-contrast subjects. Only relatively minor noise suppression visible.
Sharpness. The Nikon D3000 produced good detail overall, but its images were slightly soft straight from the camera, even with a sharp Nikkor 35mm f1.8 prime lens stopped down to f/8 as used for the crop above left. Some minor edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left, but overall results are still good. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows some minor noise suppression, as the darker areas of the model's hair show a lot of detail. Individual strands are still distinguishable even in the lighter shadows, though they begin to merge as shadows deepen. Still, pretty good performance here. 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.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Nikon D3000 delivers slightly soft JPEGs with some visible sharpening artifacts. More detail can be obtained from carefully processing RAW files though, without additional artifacts. Take a look below, to see what we mean:
In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above. Examples include in-camera Fine JPEG, RAW file processed through Nikon's ViewNX 1.4 software, and RAW file processed through Adobe Camera Raw version 5.5, then sharpened in Photoshop. For the Nikon D3000's images, we found best results with strong but tight 250% unsharp masking in Photoshop with an 0.3 pixel radius. As you can see ViewNX was able to extract a bit more detail than the in-camera JPEG, and ACR managed to find even more.
Note: The Nikon D3000 can only shoot Basic JPEGs together with RAW, so the RAW crops above were taken from a NEF file that was shot a few minutes after the Fine JPEG (using the same Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G lens and exposure settings, of course).
ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise at normal sensitivity settings, with very good results up to ISO 400. Noise and noise reduction artifacts are much stronger at higher ISOs, though.
|Noise Reduction = Off (Default)|
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||ISO 3,200|
The Nikon D3000 produced fairly low noise at its lower sensitivity settings, and even at ISO 400, noise is well controlled, with plenty of detail left intact. Some chroma noise is visible in the shadows however, starting at ISO 200. At ISO 800, noise and the effects of noise reduction cause fine detail to suffer, with more obvious chroma noise as well. At the higher ISO settings of 1,600 and 3,200 noise levels are much higher, with heavier blurring and stronger chroma noise blotches, especially at ISO 3,200. There are also a few clusters of hot pixels found at all ISOs (inside the crease of the sleeve at her left elbow, for instance), something we're not used to seeing at these light levels. Note that some noise reduction is performed above ISO 800 even when NR is set to "Off", though it's less than when set to "On". See the Print Quality section below for recommended maximum print sizes at each ISO.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution and good exposure at the default setting. Very good shadow detail. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV||+1.3 EV|
The Nikon D3000 handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above pretty well. Though contrast is a little high, shadow and highlight detail are both very good. The camera's contrast adjustment also did a good job of decreasing overall contrast without also affecting color saturation (see below, but also note the odd color break on the model's nose). The +1.0 EV exposure did the best job here, as the model's face was a bit too dim at +0.7 EV and +1.3 EV produced very strong highlights. Be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.
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.)
We really like it when a camera gives us the ability to adjust contrast and saturation to our liking. It's even better when those adjustments cover a useful range, in steps small enough to allow for precise tweaks. Just as with its saturation adjustment, the Nikon D3000's contrast setting meets both challenges.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the D3000 did a pretty good job of preserving highlight detail and bringing out shadow detail, though it did struggle a bit with maintaining natural-looking skin tones in highlights as the contrast was reduced: The model's nose has some odd coloration, in the form of what appear to be some odd saturation jumps as the skin tone moves into the highlights. The D3000 captures good color outdoors, though just slightly on the cool side in our Far Field shot. The lower contrast setting really helped to retain highlights and open-up shadows, without making the image too flat looking. Overall, good results here.
|Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The series of shots above shows results with several different contrast adjustment settings, showing the minimum step size around the default, as well as both extremes. While you can see the extremes, it's hard to really evaluate contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image.
Nikon's contrast adjustment is that it has very little effect on saturation. Contrast and saturation are actually fairly closely coupled, it's a good trick to be able to vary one with out the other changing as well. As usual, Nikon did a very good job here.
|Shadow Detail & Noise|
Nikon's Active D-Lighting
The two shots above show the results with Active D-Lighting Off and On (like the D60, the D3000 only has these two settings, while Nikon's more advanced models let you choose from a range of strengths of the effect). This is different than the touch-up menu's D-Lighting, as it is performed during image capture instead of after. (It does affect only JPEG images though, Nikon very properly leaves RAW file data strictly as it comes from the sensor.) As you can see from the crops, enabling Active D-Lighting results in fewer highlights in the shirt being clipped, while at the same time, shadow detail is improved as well. Note that the left side of the shadow crops above have had their levels adjusted equally (by sliding the highlight slider down to 75 in Photoshop) to better reveal noise and deeper detail. Noise is a bit higher with Active D-Lighting on, but not by much.
The effect of Active D-Lighting will vary quite a bit with the subject and lighting: The camera decides what needs adjusting, and by how much, so the effect can be quite a bit greater or lesser depending on what the camera sees. We almost always found ourselves pleased with the changes Active D-Lighting made, the main trade-off to using it being the longer time it takes the camera to process each photo. Automatic contrast-adjustment systems like this don't always produce natural-looking images, but Active D-Lighting seems to deliver consistently pleasing results.
Low light. The Nikon D3000 performed very well on the low-light test, capturing usable images at the lowest light level (1/16 foot-candle) with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). As you'd expect, noise increases as ISO goes up and light levels go down, but remains well controlled, even at higher sensitivities. There's no sign of any banding issues but there are a few uncorrected hot pixels visible even at low ISOs. Color balance looked pretty good with the Auto white balance setting, though a touch on the cool side. The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down past the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted, and in complete darkness with the AF assist enabled. Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
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 D3000 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.
Great print quality, oversaturated color, good 13 x 19-inch prints.
The Nikon D3000's print quality is actually good over quite a range of ISO settings, producing excellent 13x19-inch prints at ISO 100. That run continues out to ISO 800, where more shadow noise appears and blacks start to deteriorate, but it's an impressive performance nonetheless. Oversaturation of too many colors is problematic, regardless of ISO setting, unfortunately, removing detail from very bright colors in some cases, especially reds.
ISO 1,600 shots start to show weakness in the shadows, where an almost static appearance starts to take over. Detail is still pretty good at 11x14, though. Shadow noise becomes less noticeable at 8x10. ISO 3,200 shots are usable at 8x10, though with pronounced shadow noise and dramatically pumped color, to the point that the normally subdued Macbeth chart looks like a backlit LCD. Noise is better at 5x7, though the color is still so exaggerated that our Still Life target looks more like an illustration than a photograph.
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 Mark II studio printer, and on the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.