Nikon D5000 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Nikon D5000
Resolution: 12.30 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
Kit Lens: 3.00x zoom
18-55mm
(28-84mm eq.)
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
ISO: 100-6400
Shutter: 30-1/4000
Max Aperture: 3.5
Dimensions: 5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 in.
(127 x 104 x 80 mm)
Weight: 20.7 oz (588 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $850
Availability: 04/2009
Manufacturer: Nikon
Manufacturer's page: Nikon D5000
12.30
Megapixels
Nikon F mount APS-C
size sensor
image of Nikon D5000
Front side of Nikon D5000 digital camera Back side of Nikon D5000 digital camera Top side of Nikon D5000 digital camera Left side of Nikon D5000 digital camera Right side of Nikon D5000 digital camera

D5000 Review Summary: Nikon brings most of what's great about the popular and capable D90 to a better price point with the Nikon D5000. The Nikon D5000 looks like none of the other cameras in the line, and though it has more in common with the D60 than the D90, it shares several elements with both.

Imaging Resource rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

Nikon D5000
Overview

by Shawn Barnett, Zig Weidelich, and Dave Etchells
Preview: 04/14/09
Review: 04/30/09
Full Review: 07/04/09

Nikon's already excellent digital SLR lineup gets a new member: the Nikon D5000. With the D90's 12.3-megapixel sensor, HD video capability, and a new 2.7-inch articulating LCD, the Nikon D5000 doesn't clearly displace any other cameras in the lineup, but fits between the D60 and D90 in both features and price.

Built on a smaller frame, like the D60, the Nikon D5000 takes up the top position in Nikon's consumer SLR camera space, and joins a small set of competing digital SLRs that offer HD movie recording: the Nikon D90, Canon 5D Mark II, and Canon T1i; and though not strictly an SLR, the Panasonic GH1 will also be considered by many looking for an interchangeable lens digital camera.

Nikon D5000 Features

Since the Nikon D5000's 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensor is said to be the same as the D90's, we expect it to have excellent imaging characteristics. ISO ranges from 200 to 3,200, with a Lo 1 setting of 100 and a Hi 1 setting of 6,400. Nikon's EXPEED image processing system should easily handle noise suppression and image optimization with the somewhat slow four-frame-per-second frame rate.

HD movie mode is the second major feature of the Nikon D5000, capturing 1,280 x 720 resolution movies at 24 frames per second. As with all digital SLRs so far, the Nikon D5000 is better for capturing video snapshots that you can string together in a video editor, rather than longer recordings, because the camera can't autofocus while you record. Called D-Movie clips, movie files are recorded in Motion JPEG AVI files. The major benefit of capturing video with a digital SLR like the Nikon D5000 is that you can take advantage of the wide range of SLR lenses, from extreme wide-angle to telephoto.

The Nikon D5000 will be the first video-recording digital SLR to ship with an articulating LCD. As with stills, recording video from multiple angles is easier when you can turn the LCD to face multiple directions. Though it's not the most versatile design, the Nikon D5000's LCD swivels from the bottom, allowing you to compose and capture images from above, below, left, right, and the front of the camera.

Live View mode features four autofocus modes, all of them contrast-detect. The Nikon D5000's Subject-tracking Autofocus locks onto a moving subject, and remembers the subject if it leaves and comes back into the frame. Face-priority Autofocus can pick out five faces, focusing on the closest. Wide-area AF covers a broad area, and Normal-area AF features a single focus point that you can move around the screen.

For optical viewfinder shooting, which tests considerably faster than Live View, the Nikon D5000 uses the company's diamond-shaped 11-point AF array, whose results are complemented with data from the camera's 420-point exposure system. Also known as the Multi-CAM 1000, the autofocus system in the Nikon D5000 is the same as the D90's, which means it includes 3D Color Matrix Metering II for instant scene evaluation, even in extreme conditions. The Nikon D5000 also has the Integrated Dust Reduction System, with a four-frequency ultrasonic motor to shake dust from the sensor, as well as the Airflow Control System, which works to move dust away from the sensor with shutter release.

Other features from the D90 make it into the Nikon D5000, including Auto Active D-Lighting, In-camera retouching, and Picture Control. The Nikon D5000's shutter is expected to last 100,000 cycles, and a new Quiet Release Mode reduces shutter noise for use in very quiet situations.

GPS geo-tagging is now easier as well, thanks to the accessory port built into the Nikon D5000, designed to work with the optional GP-1 GPS Unit, which automatically records time and position data with each photograph.

Nikon D5000 Pricing and Availability

Available as a kit with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens, the Nikon D5000 starts shipping in late April 2009 for $849.95. Body-only, the Nikon D5000 is expected to retail for $729.95.

 

Nikon D5000 User Report

by Shawn Barnett

Nikon brings most of what's great about the popular and capable D90 to a better price point with the Nikon D5000. Last year's big SLR news was Live View and Movie mode, and the D5000 adds an articulating screen to the mix, making both modes that much more valuable. Other SLR makers, notably Olympus, Sony, and Panasonic have included articulating screens, but usually for more money, and without Movie mode.

Look and feel. The Nikon D5000 looks like none of the other cameras in the line, and though it has more in common with the D60 than the D90, it shares several elements with both. It feels a little larger than the D60, is a little taller, and has a bigger grip. Body-only, but with card and battery, the D5000 weighs 1.29 pounds or 20.7 ounces (588g). With the lens added the total goes up to 1.96 pounds, or 31.3 ounces (889.8g).

Controls. Like the D60, the Nikon D5000's Mode dial is behind the shutter button, while on the D90, the mode dial is on the opposite shoulder to make room for a monochrome status display. The Nikon D5000 instead has only the rear LCD to use as a status display. The power switch surrounds the shutter release button, but note the lack of a Sub-command dial in front of that, typically used on the D90 to adjust aperture, among other things. Just beneath the red accent is the infrared receiver, made for the optional Nikon ML-L3 remote control. Like its sub-$1,000 siblings, the Nikon D5000 has no depth-of-field preview button. Just above the D5000 logo are three holes for the camera's monaural microphone.

Also like the D60, the Nikon D5000 does not have the mechanical AF connection between the lens and body, so older screw-type autofocus lenses won't autofocus with the Nikon D5000; only the more modern electronically coupled lenses will work.

From the top we get a better look at the AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm kit lens, which features Nikon's Vibration Reduction technology. The Nikon D5000's mode dial is packed, featuring one extra position for SCENE mode, which opens up 13 additional Scene modes. The Information/Reset button has changed from the D60, which used to toggle Active D-Lighting. From here you can also see the two raised tabs for pulling the articulating screen out from the body. Note also how much the screen sticks out from the back of the Nikon D5000 near the top, making it easier to grasp from the sides.

The articulating LCD's body is hinged at the bottom, which leaves room for the usual set of buttons down the left side of the Nikon D5000. The general arrangement of the buttons follows that of the Nikon D90, and the Live view button is also in a similar spot; but Nikon maintained the idea of simplicity on the back of this consumer-oriented digital SLR camera, as it lacks the many silkscreened icons and words that clutter the back of other maker's cameras. Nine holes form the Nikon D5000's speaker grille, used during D-Movie playback. Nikon continues to include thoughtful touches in its digital SLR designs, including the gentle cant to the Main Command dial, making it easier for the human thumb to turn without strain.

LCD. The Nikon D5000's LCD screen appears to have a roughly 4:3 dimension, but the frame is built larger, to hold a wider and slightly taller screen, suggesting that we may see this same assembly on future Nikon digital SLRs, perhaps with a 3:2 screen. Unlike other recent digital SLRs from Nikon, though, the Nikon D5000 has a more standard-resolution, 230,000 dot display, rather than the 920K-dot displays included on the D90 and other recent Nikon pro digital SLR cameras.

The Nikon D5000's new hinged LCD design offers a lot of versatility, but hinging the screen at the bottom also presents some problems that left-hinge designs avoid. Overhead and low shooting is easy with this design, just tilt the LCD down for overhead horizontal shots, or swing it around 180 degrees for horizontal ground-level shots. However, you end up with a strange dilemma when shooting vertically, either overhead or down low, because when you turn the Nikon D5000's LCD to the left or right, the orientation of the screen doesn't match the orientation of the sensor. Following action is thus more difficult. And while it's cool that you can face the screen forward for self-portraits, you lose your view when you mount the camera on a tripod. Depending on the tripod, that can remain true when you tilt the camera to vertical.

Indeed, certain tripod heads with quick release levers on the back will prevent you from opening and twisting the LCD at all, including most Manfrotto designs. Instead, you have to remove the camera and replace it -- not too difficult thanks to the quick release, but still a nuisance.

The one final inconvenience to the Nikon D5000's articulating LCD design is that you have to remember to fold the screen up at least partway to set the camera down on a flat surface, or risk damaging the LCD and hinge assembly. Still, articulated displays are very useful for getting unusual shots, and sometimes they're the only way to get a shot at all. The Nikon D5000's design isn't perfect, but it does meet an important need for those who want to get more creative.

Sensor and processor. The Nikon D5000's sensor is said to be identical to the Nikon D90's: a 12.9-megapixel CMOS sensor measuring 23.6 x 15.8mm, with an effective resolution of 4,288 x 2,848, or 12.3 megapixels. Nikon doesn't say much about which processors are used in each camera, except to give them a name: the Expeed Image Processing System. After looking at the D5000's images, especially the high ISO ones, it's clear that whatever Expeed consists of in the Nikon D5000, it works quite well.

Scene Recognition System. The Nikon D5000 takes on the same AF and metering arrangement as the D90, which includes Nikon's Scene Recognition System. Scene recognition is something that Nikon has been working on for years, and these last few models have seen incremental improvements to the system. Now, along with the Nikon D90, the D5000 includes Face recognition.

Nikon's 3D Color Matrix Metering system employs a 420-pixel RGB light meter that covers most of the Nikon D5000's image area (the D300 and higher models use a 1,005-pixel RGB sensor). As in past models, the Color Matrix Metering system compares what it sees in the image to a database of 30,000 photos to make its metering decisions for each scene. They've added more to properly gauge factors like white balance and subject motion, and now they're tracking faces with SRS.

The autofocus sensors are another piece of the Nikon D5000's SRS puzzle, each aspect informing and tuning the other. Finding and focusing on eyes rather than foreground objects, or even foreheads and noses, is one particular benefit of the overall integration. Another is improved 3D tracking of objects as they move across the image area. The RGB sensor may not be able to help focus on an object, but it can add a set of data for the Nikon D5000 to use while tracking a subject with the autofocus system. For example, if a red object is traversing the frame from left to right, and growing in size as it does so, the Nikon D5000's SRS would add this information to the AF-sensor data to help it tune the focus more quickly.

Live view shooting. Activating Live view on other Nikon SLRs has included turning the Drive Mode dial to Lv and then pressing the shutter button to lock the mirror up; hardly intuitive. The Nikon D5000, however, has a dedicated Live view button on the back, just right of the LCD, within easy reach of the thumb. With a single press of the Lv button, the mirror flips up and Live-view framing begins. The difference with the Nikon D5000 is that you can only focus in Contrast-detect mode, whereas the Nikon D300 and D700 allowed a choice between Handheld (Phase-detect) and Tripod mode (Contrast-detect mode).

Phase-detect AF in a Live View SLR is always a noisy affair, as it generally involves dropping and raising the mirror twice (once to focus and once to take the shot), but it's generally faster than contrast-detect focusing, particularly as implemented on the Nikon D5000. There's a good reason why Nikon refers to the contrast-detect AF mode as "Tripod mode," as it takes a long time for the camera to focus when using it; easily several seconds in some circumstances, and never less than about 2.3 seconds in our laboratory testing. Still, it works very well if you're not in a hurry, and by its very nature, is never subject to the front- or back-focusing that can plague phase-detect AF systems if they're even a tiny bit out of adjustment.

If face detection is activated, the Nikon D5000 quickly begins tracking faces, placing a yellow box around each one, up to five at a time. Once focus is achieved, the box turns green.

D-Movie mode. Like the D90, recording movies on the Nikon D5000 is easy: While in Live view mode, just press the OK button to start recording. You have to set focus before you start shooting your movie, but you can still manual focus while you're shooting (hint: turn off AF on the lens barrel), as well as zoom. The movie may record the noise of the zoom ring to an extent, depending on which lens you're using and how fast you zoom, but it's still pretty impressive. (If you leave VR on, you'll see a much more stable image in your videos, too.) A whole new generation, now of non-professionals, will learn what it means to "pull focus" as the moment of interest turns from one subject to another. In movie studios, pulling focus is a cinematic technique usually performed by someone other than the camera operator, who is too busy framing the image to attend to focus as well. But millions of Nikon D5000 owners will be able to use a technique that few camcorder owners can.

The Nikon D5000's D-Movie resolutions include 1280x720 (16:9), 640x424 (3:2), and 320x216 (3:2). The frame rate is 24 frames per second, and audio is monaural, not stereo. Approximate maximum file sizes for two of the modes are 588MB for the 1,280x720-size movies, and up to 2GB for the 640x424 movies.

Viewfinder. Pull the battery on the Nikon D5000 and the optical viewfinder suddenly goes murky and dim. That's because one of the mirrors is actually an LCD, and when you remove its power source, it loses much of its reflectivity. That enables onscreen effects that you generally only find on higher-end Nikon SLRs, like the hairline grid that you can activate, the low-battery indicator, the "No memory card" warning, or the LCD/LED illuminated AF points that you see at right.

Active D-Lighting. In addition to the Auto Active D-Lighting mode added with the D700, the Nikon D5000 gets the D90's Extra High setting to add even more punch to shadow detail. Note that JPEG files modified as they are captured with Active D-Lighting, so there's no unaltered "original" to refer back to: Consider whether you want top shoot RAW + JPEG to back up those files, or even use D-Lighting after capture if you think an image would benefit from the help.

Another alternative is to use the ADL bracketing feature, which alternates between no D-Lighting and Auto D-Lighting. You have to remember to hit the shutter release twice to get both of your shots -- it doesn't save two files for each shot -- but it's a helpful feature if you're unsure of your lighting.

Viewing images. Playback mode's abilities include a calendar display and a 4, 9, and 72-image thumbnail display. These features are also available on an HDTV when connected via the HDMI port on the Nikon D5000.

At left you can see the Nikon D5000's three ports, two of them new: The Accessory terminal on top is for the GP-1 GPS unit or an MC-DC2 wired remote; below that is the USB/AV connector port; and the Mini-HDMI port. No Mini-HDMI cable is included with the Nikon D5000.

Perspective correction. When you can't afford an expensive tilt/shift lens, you can simulate one with the Nikon D5000's Perspective control feature.

In-camera editing. New in-camera editing features in the Nikon D5000 include Perspective control, to help correct perspective distortions in buildings; Soft-filter effect smooths faces and other details in an image, and Color outline, which creates a monochrome image, eliminating all color and converting transition areas into a kind of pencil sketch appearance. These new features join already interesting editing tools like Distortion control, Fisheye effect, Color filters, and In-camera image-resizing.

Storage and battery. The Nikon D5000 ships with an updated version of the battery used by the Nikon D40 and D60, the EN-EL9a, a 7.2V 1080mAh lithium-ion battery pack. The D5000 is also backward-compatible with the older 1000mAh EN-EL9 battery. The Nikon D5000 is rated for 510 shots with the new battery, using the CIPA standard. The camera also comes with an MH-23 Nikon Quick Charger and a power cord.

Like the D40 and D60, it does not appear that the Nikon D5000 is intended to accommodate a vertical grip, and the hinge on the Nikon D5000 would make it a little more difficult to operate the articulating LCD (though certainly not impossible).

Nikon D5000 images are stored on SD cards, which offer up to 32GB capacity at this point. Current SD cards provide plenty of storage, and modern SD cards are quite fast, if not quite up to the level of the latest UDMA CompactFlash cards. SD cards are also somewhat more robust, less prone to bent contact fingers in the camera or card reader jamming the card connector while also rendering the camera useless.

Nikon D5000 compared to Canon Rebel T1i

Different shapes: The Nikon D5000 is a little taller than the Canon T1i, and a little narrower side-to-side. The overall length of the D5000 is greater, both thanks to the articulating LCD and the longer lens. And for the first time, the Canon grip offers a little better hold than the Nikon D5000, whose finger-grip is a little small. Of course, the Nikon D5000 has the advantage of an articulating screen for better off-angle shots, while the T1i has a higher resolution LCD in its favor.

Shooting with the Nikon D5000

This class of SLR only gets better, as Nikon and other companies do extensive usability research before designing the next model. I enjoy shooting with consumer SLRs like the Nikon D5000 because as a father of three, I have plenty of opportunities to test how a camera will work for the average snapshooter.

The Nikon D5000 has a good, solid feel to it. Its grip seems to have less depth, so it's harder to get a good purchase with your fingers, but once you rest the weight into your palm and oppose it with your thumb, your hold improves. The camera's bottom on the right side has a good curve, too, which is more pleasant to palm. The left side also has a relief for the palm, making it easier to cradle the camera while extending your fingers to turn the zoom and focus rings.

The Command and Mode dials are easy to operate with your right thumb, and the power switch and shutter fall naturally under the influence of your index finger.

Autofocus. Though the Nikon D5000's phase-detect autofocus speed tested very well in our lab tests, turning in 0.27 single-point and 0.35 auto-area AF shutter lag numbers at wide angle, I noticed considerable AF lag while shooting indoors in low light situations, especially in Wide-area AF mode. At first we considered whether it was the kit lens's f/3.5 maximum aperture, but the AF-S 35mm f/1.8G gave us the same trouble, sometimes taking a second or more to make a decision. It's nice that the Nikon D5000 has an AF-assist lamp, but it really doesn't speed things up much. The Canon XTi I have at my desk is considerably faster in both modes, though it too is slower in auto-area AF, just not as slow.

In Live View mode, which uses contrast-detect autofocus, it gets worse. In the lab, we averaged 2.3 seconds to focus. That's not great. It's exacerbated by camera movement, so attaching a VR lens does have some positive effect, but not much. Live view on the Nikon D5000 is best used on a tripod, where you can move the AF point around and let the camera do its work slow and steady. Consumers should know up front that the Nikon D5000 focuses much slower in Live view than the all-in-one digicam that they're used to. Adjust your expectations accordingly, and you'll be happy.

Stuck. Many tripod quick release mechanisms will block the Nikon D5000's LCD from rotating at all, let alone tilting down to face forward or backward. Instead, you'll have to release, rotate, and reattach.

Using the LCD. Swinging down and flipping the LCD is counter-intuitive to me, because it turns the wrong way for easy left-hand operation. Holding the grip with your right hand, you lower the LCD with a left-hand fingertip. This orients your left hand palm down, so you naturally want to turn the LCD to the left, since that's the way your forearm's radius and ulna like to twist. Unfortunately, with the LCD facing out, it only rotates to the right. Instead, you should hold the Nikon D5000 by the lens with your left hand, then lower the LCD and turn it to the right. That's another step, and is going to slow you down, unfortunately. This is exactly how Panasonic does it on their bottom-hinged articulating swivel screens, though, so plenty of folks are already used to this method. Remember also the trouble with quick-release mechanisms on most tripods, which gets in the way of the swivel screen, requiring you to flip the screen before locking it down to the tripod.


Movie. A very brief sample of 720p video from the Nikon D5000 uploaded to YouTube. For the full 14.5MB .AVI file, click here.

Movie mode. Shooting in D-Movie mode is another time I'd have preferred to shoot on a tripod with the Nikon D5000. Focusing and zooming without introducing significant camera twist and shake was difficult when using the kit lens. My skin actually squeaked against the rubber as I turned the zoom barrel while trying to hold the camera as still as possible, which the mic pics up. I had to change my grip to only use my fingertips to make it work well enough.

Autofocusing is not possible while you're recording a movie with the Nikon D5000, unlike the Canon T1i. It's not a big loss, though, because you have to edit out the T1i's focusing efforts, which often include significant changes to the exposure as well as focus when autofocusing; I'd prefer not to have to cut them out later in the editing program. If you turn off the AF switch on the lens, it's easy enough to focus manually. The onscreen image is also sharp enough that you can usually see the plane of focus as you make your adjustments, so long as your subject has sufficient detail.

Flash. It's important for enthusiasts to know that the Nikon D5000's pop-up flash doesn't serve as commander flash for external SB-600, SB-800, and SB-900 flashes as does the D90. You have to mount an SB-800 to control other flashes. This is also true with the Nikon D40, D40x, and D60.

HDMI out. I was pleased to see that you can use the Mini-HDMI out port to see a Live view image on an HDTV. You can also operate the menu from there, as well as playback stills and movies. Video playback looks good, sharper than I've seen from other, smaller digital cameras, but I'm not sure it's "broadcast quality." It's certainly good enough for home movies, though.

If the Nikon D5000 can be said to suffer from anything, it's feature-creep. It's unavoidable in a camera that's designed to appeal to both snapshooters and enthusiasts, but it does make the Nikon D5000 more difficult to use for the former than the latter. While I praise the continued lack of silkscreened icons and words on the back of the Nikon D5000, the drawback is that you have to go into either the Info menu on the Status LCD or into the rather exhaustive menu system to change something simple like ISO, while other cameras often let you do that with a single button on the back. The Info menu is good, but there are so many items to choose among that it can take a long time to navigate to each control. Several other Status display designs from Canon, Olympus, and Sony have a grid of features that helps shorten the time it takes to get to each item on the menu, usually taking only four or five steps. It takes a total of 13 steps on the Nikon D5000 to get from one end to the other, something Luke, our Lab Tech mentioned as a nuisance.

Another item Luke disliked was that the Nikon D5000's 10-second self-timer would turn off after each shot, reverting back to Single-shot mode. Fortunately there's a new setting in the Custom Setting Menu called Exposure delay mode, which is great for minimizing camera vibration while on a tripod. First the mirror is raised, followed by a delay of one second, then the shutter trips. It can be quite annoying to get the camera back from the lab with this mode enabled, but at least it doesn't reset itself after each shot. The invaluable Recent Settings Menu usually lets me find the item quickly so I can disable it and resume shooting. It certainly beats using a 2- or 10-second self-timer to stabilize shots, because most often every second counts.

Like the Nikon D40, you can change the AF point by pressing the Multi-selector on the back, which is nice, but it's too easy to do accidentally. When there were only three AF points to choose, it wasn't a big deal, but with 11 it can be frustrating.

One major benefit of the menu system on the Nikon D5000 is that all the menu items are long text descriptions, rather than icons or obscure phrases. One major drawback, though, is that all the menu items are long text descriptions, which can get dizzying after awhile.

Otherwise, the Nikon D5000 is a Nikon: It's well-built, has a nice soft shutter sound, and works like a champ.

Image Quality. With most of the necessary usability comments now out of the way, we can get on to what I regard as the good news: The Nikon D5000 is an excellent image maker. As usually happens when resolution rises, limitations are revealed in the kit lenses that we once admired. The lab shots show some flaws, but I'm pretty satisfied with most of my daylight gallery shots made with the AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5. Autofocus speed and accuracy also weren't issues outdoors, also good news.

Oddly, however, the Nikon D5000 with the kit lens really chokes on our Sunlight test, dramatically underexposing the shot, requiring a +2.0 EV adjustment to expose the image properly. When we tested the same sequence with the 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G, we got a better result -- +1.3 EV, which is still extreme, but more closely resembling the Nikon D90's requirement of +1.0 EV adjustment.

Nikon D5000 ISO 1,600 comparisons

Nikon D5000 Nikon D90

Though there is some difference in exposure between these two shots, it's clear that both the Nikon D5000 and D90 maintain good detail and have minimal noise in the shadows even at ISO 1,600. There is slight chroma noise detectable in the shadows, but it's not significant.



Nikon D5000 Canon Rebel T1i Beta (prototype)

The Nikon D5000 has lower resolution than the Canon T1i, but it handles the scene quite well nonetheless. Naturally a higher resolution sensor will capture more detail, so long as the camera's noise suppression software doesn't obliterate it. There is some evidence of lost data in the Rebel T1i, especially in the curls of the letter A in the Mas Portel bottle above. Also, some of the lines in the mosaic are more blurry than the D5000's shot. For ISO 1,600, though, either camera is performing well above par.


Macro Movie. A longer sample of 720p video from the Nikon D5000 uploaded to YouTube. Note that here I just moved the camera to focus, which was only so effective, but easier than using the focus ring thanks to the very limited depth of field at this range. The articulating screen was also instrumental in getting this low angle.

Analysis. Nikon continues to push the edges of digital SLR camera design, not only adding features, but consistently improving image quality. Though the Nikon D5000 doesn't come with an increase in resolution (which on its own doesn't necessarily equal an increase in image quality), it does for the first time bring the Nikon D90's excellent 12.3-megapixel image sensor within range of those with less than $900 to spend. Adding D-Movie mode and an articulating LCD gives the Nikon D5000 two more excellent selling points that can actually serve consumer and enthusiast photographers well. As I cautioned with the Canon T1i, which also has a movie mode, you can't expect the Nikon D5000 to replace your camcorder, because it doesn't autofocus as you shoot video; but if you can learn to think of video as capturing moving snapshots that you'll string together later with a video editor, you'll start to enjoy the Nikon D5000's movie mode.

The articulating LCD does have a few limitations, including difficulty while on some tripods, but it also serves to improve the usefulness of the Nikon D5000's Live view mode. It's also important to remember that the autofocus method employed in Live view mode is significantly slower than what most users will be used to, both from SLRs and digicams. And the Nikon D5000's multi-point autofocus performance degrades in low light.

Still image quality from the Nikon D5000 reveals one awesome image maker, whose high-ISO settings are mind-blowing. Even ISO 3,200 looks usable at 8x10, and downright decent at 5x7. And that, far more than the latest gee-whiz feature, the kind of advancement we like to see in a digital camera: better image quality in low light. The Nikon D5000 is a very impressive digital SLR camera.

 

In the box

The Nikon D5000 kit ships with the following items in the box:

  • Nikon D5000 body
  • AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens
  • Body cap
  • Front lens cap
  • Camera strap
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery EN-EL9a
  • Quick charger MH-23
  • USB cable UC-E6
  • Audio/video cable EG-CP14
  • Eyepiece cap DK-5
  • Rubber eyecup DK-24
  • Accessory shoe cover BS-1
  • Software CD-ROM
  • Quick start guide
  • User's manual
  • Warranty and registration card

Nikon D5000: Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SD/SDHC memory card. These days, a 4GB or 8GB card is inexpensive enough, and you'll want a large card if you plan on recording many HD movies. Good to buy a higher-speed card also, able to record fast enough to not limit movie duration simply due to card speed.
  • Camera case for protection
  • Accessory lenses
  • Accessory flash: SB-400, SB-600, SB-800, SB-900

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Nikon D5000 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Great features for the price
  • Records HD-resolution video
  • Good kit lens offers VR (image stabilization)
  • Camera automatically corrects chromatic aberration in camera JPEGs, further increasing the apparent quality of the lens
  • Excellent high-ISO performance
  • Active D-Lighting is a worthwhile feature
  • Active D-Lighting bracketing mode
  • Excellent user-interface design
  • Fast AF system, good shutter response
  • Higher-endurance, 100,000-shot rated shutter mechanism
  • Maximum frame rate of 4 fps is better than many competing models
  • Bright AF-assist lamp does not require flash to be deployed
  • LCD display is well organized and informative, auto rotates
  • Magnified Live view display helps with manual focusing
  • Automated dust-removal system
  • Nikon 3D matrix metering produces very accurate flash exposures
  • Programmable function button is handy
  • Playback zoom operation is convenient
  • Playback display is very fast, refreshes quickly as you scroll through captured images
  • In-camera "retouch" menu is great, permits significant image adjustment without resorting to the computer
  • Able to "develop" RAW-format images into JPEG files in-camera
  • RAW+JPEG mode offers fine/normal/basic JPEG quality settings
  • Four-way controller disc works well
  • Strap eyelets are recessed, won't gouge your hand when holding the camera
  • Extensive custom function menu
  • Digital "image overlay" permits creative multiple-exposure shots
  • "Pictmotion" Stop-Action movie mode is a lot of fun (great with kids!)
  • Very fast downloads to a computer
  • Optional wireless remote control transmitter available
  • Supports new Nikon-branded GPS receiver for automatic geotagging of images
  • "Rolling-shutter" motion artifacts in HD movie recording are distracting
  • No provision for external audio input for movie recording
  • Multi-point AF in low light is very slow
  • Autofocus in Live View mode is slow, limited to contrast-detect only; no phase-detect AF option with Live View
  • Cannot autofocus while recording video
  • Magnification/resolution in Live View mode isn't as great as it could be: More resolution at maximum magnification would make it easier to focus manually
  • 1/200 second x-sync speed for flash isn't quite as high as some competing models
  • Grip is small
  • No vertical battery grip is available
  • Auto white balance setting doesn't handle household incandescent lighting well
  • Limited support for older, non-CPU lenses
  • Cannot autofocus with non-AF-S lenses
  • AF assist lamp may be blocked by your fingers when holding the camera
  • AF point is easily changed accidentally by hitting the four-way control pad while shooting
  • Battery charger requires large external cord, just one thing more to lug along on a trip
  • Bundled software gives only limited processing options for RAW conversion
  • Built-in flash does not support Nikon's Creative Lighting System (wireless flash control)
  • Does not support Auto FP High-speed Sync mode
  • Articulating LCD is blocked by many tripod quick-release systems
  • Camera's many features may confuse some consumer users

 

Conclusion. Though it stands out as an oddity in naming terms when compared to the other Nikon digital SLRs in the line, the Nikon D5000 is best described as a lower-cost D90 in a D60 body, with a smaller set of available autofocus lenses. There are a few usability issues related to the articulating LCD and autofocus in Live view mode, and the D-Movie mode won't serve to replace the basic consumer camcorder, but as I've said of the Canon T1i, these things don't make or break the Nikon D5000. What clearly makes the Nikon D5000 great is its excellent overall performance as a still camera, and its excellent image quality.

Printed results tell an amazing story about the Nikon D5000's low-light capability. You can make big images from the D5000, starting at 20x30 inches, and even ISO 1,600 shots print well at 11x14. ISO 3,200 shots make decent 8x10's, again impressive.

I was a little disappointed with the speed of the Nikon D5000's multi-point autofocus indoors, but I usually use single-point AF indoors or out, so it wouldn't be a big deal for me. There are three major points that consumers looking at the new high points for the D5000 need to consider: Live view mode autofocus is slower than anyone would expect, averaging 2.3 seconds in controlled, optimized conditions. D-Movie mode is good, but it doesn't autofocus as you shoot, so following action will be more difficult; and you also have no manual exposure control to influence either aperture (for better depth of field control) or shutter speed (for use in sports situations) in D-Movie mode. The feature set of the Nikon D5000 is more complicated than the D60 or D40, so be prepared to dig deeper and read the manual to more thoroughly enjoy the Nikon D5000.

Though I'm not crazy about the Nikon D5000's swivel screen design, it's still nice to have on an SLR, and works pretty well in handheld shooting situations, for both video and stills. In a pinch, I'll take it and be happy.

What's certain is the Nikon D5000's ability to make superb still images. Its optical viewfinder is a pleasure to use, and you'll get more straight horizon lines thanks to the built-in grid. The shutter sound is quiet, and single-point AF speeds are fast. For the consumer shooter wanting to move up in terms of functionality and image quality, and still have the familiar interface of the D40/D60 range, the Nikon D5000 is an excellent choice, and a definite Dave's Pick.

 

Click here to visit B&H's website

 

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