Nikon D5000 Review
The Nikon D5000 is a new 12.3 megapixel DSLR camera that can record HD movies at 1280x720 pixels / 30fps with sound. A 2.7 inch vari-angle LCD monitor makes it easier to compose your shots from difficult angles, while the extensive ISO range of 100-6400 should cope with most lighting conditions. A 4fps burst shooting mode, 11-point autofocus system with 3D Focus Tracking, 100,000-cycle shutter unit, quiet shooting mode, Active D-Lighting and 19 Scene Modes complete the Nikon D5000's headline specs. The Nikon D5000 costs £719.99 / €878.00 / $729.95 body only, or £799.99 / €972.00 / $849.95 with the 18-55mm VR kit lens.
Ease of Use
The new Nikon D5000 slots in between the existing D60 and D90 models, not only in terms of feature set and functionality, but also in terms of size and weight. It isn't as compact and lightweight as the D60 but neither is it quite as bulky and heavy as the D90. The right-hand grip bears more resemblance to that of the D60 - it's a wee bit uncomfortable for photographers with large hands and/or longish fingers, but not annoyingly so. New to the D5000 is a rubberised thumb rest on the back of the body, which is a welcome improvement over the D60.
The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR kit lens that Nikon supplied feels fairly well-balanced - if a tad front-heavy - on the Nikon D5000 and it fits into place with a reassuring mechanical click. It also adds the very important advantage of Vibration Reduction. Nikon bodies don't offer any form of in-camera image stabilisation, unlike similar models from Sony, Pentax and Olympus, so the affordable 18-55mm VR lens is a good investment.
The shutter release action on the Nikon D5000 is surprisingly quiet, with an exemplarily dampened mirror slap that makes this DSLR actually quieter than some rangefinder cameras! Furthermore, there is a new Quiet mode, in which the mirror is raised fairly slowly to further reduce the sound it makes. This, however, introduces some shutter lag, which usually isn't worth the few decibels of difference versus what is already an impressively quiet shutter (Nikon recommends using the Quiet mode for taking pictures of sleeping babies, a situation in which a bit of shutter delay isn't a problem).
The Nikon D5000 follows conventional DSLR design in having a shooting mode dial on the top of the camera, which allows you to select either one of the advanced modes like Manual, Aperture- or Shutter-priority, or a number of scene modes. The Exposure Compensation button is thoughtfully positioned next to the shutter release. Hold down this button with your right forefinger and spin the control wheel on the top-rear of the camera with your thumb to adjust its settings - simple and intuitive. The control wheel is now slightly slanted, making it more ergonomic than on the D60.
The other button sitting next to the shutter release, which was dedicated to the Active D-lighting function on the D60, is once again labeled 'info', just like on the old D40. This button is arguably at the heart of the Nikon D5000's ease-of-use, as the camera lacks the monochromatic status LCD of the D90, so Nikon had to provide a different way to check vital shooting information without having to look into the viewfinder. Enter the info button - pressing it displays virtually all of the camera's main settings on the large rear screen, provided it is not folded inward to protect it from harm.
This articulated screen is one of the few true novelties the D5000 offers over previous Nikon DSLRs. It took some time for Nikon to realise that the full potential of Live View can only be exploited if it is delivered on a hinged screen, but the company has finally joined the ranks of Olympus, Panasonic and Sony in offering a model sporting this feature. In terms of flexibility, Nikon's bottom-hinged LCD is midway between Sony's simple tilting screen and the left-hinged, free-angle monitors offered by Olympus and Panasonic. In other words, the bottom placing of the hinge wasn't the most brilliant idea, as it's more limiting than the left-hinged solution, but it's still more flexible than a simple tilting screen (and much more useful than a fixed LCD).
Sadly though, the anti-glare coating leaves a lot to be desired - so much so that the screen proved almost unusable outdoors in strong daylight. Cranking up the LCD's brightness didn't help much. We are not quite sure if it the lack of proper anti-reflex coating is just an unfortunate oversight or the result of deliberate cost-cutting, but it definitely is an annoyance on a DSLR whose main selling points are Live View and video recording, among others.
Speaking of Live View, it can be accessed by way of a dedicated Lv button on the back of the camera, just as on the D90. Press it and the mirror flips up, the shutter opens and the rear screen displays the scene as seen through the lens. There is a red rectangle in the middle, which you can move practically anywhere in the frame. When in manual focus (MF) mode, you can magnify into this rectangle in a number of steps by repeatedly pressing the button marked with a loupe icon, but this magnification seems to be at least partially interpolated. This means that you cannot see detail down to the pixel level, unlike with some competing cameras.
Fortunately, MF is not the only focusing option in Live View, at least as long as you are taking stills. Contrast-detect auto-focus (CDAF) is also available and, while slow, it tends to be accurate. As with the D90, CDAF can also be used in connection with face detection. 'Face-Priority AF' had no problem finding and keeping track of human faces as long as they were facing the camera, but acquiring focus was another story - very, very slow.
Live View must also be entered to shoot movies. After pressing the Lv button and optionally presetting the aperture and focus, you can start recording video by pressing the OK button sitting in the middle of the ubiquitous four-way pad. Once recording has commenced, there is no way to change the aperture or shutter speed, and you cannot use auto-focus either. Manual focusing is of course possible, but the 2.7' size and - especially - the 230,000-dot resolution of the screen makes it difficult to judge focus (the D90's three-inch, 920,000-dot monitor is obviously better for this). In other respects, the Nikon D5000's movie parameters are identical to the D90's - the camera records 1280x720-pixel, 24-frame-per-second motion JPEGs in AVI format.
Of course the Nikon D5000 is an SLR, so Live View and video recording are add-on features, more than anything else. Its primary function is to take still photographs, and for that, you do not have to use Live View. Like all SLRs, the D5000 has a proper through-the-lens optical viewfinder too, albeit it's smaller than the D60's and much smaller than the D90's; about the same as that of the old D70. The Nikon D5000's 11 auto-focus points are permanently marked on the focusing screen, whereas the compositional grid lines can be called up via a menu option. Two warning signs - telling you that the battery is running low or you have forgotten to insert a memory card - may also appear in the form of overlaid icons when appropriate. Below the finder is a traditional monochromatic status bar showing practically all relevant shooting information (including the ISO sensitivity, if so specified in the menu).
As stated above, the Nikon D5000, like the D90 but unlike the D60, has 11 auto-focus sensors, out of which only the central one is a cross type (compared to five out of seven in the Olympus E-620, for instance). The other ten are of the line variety, consequently being only sensitive to either vertical or horizontal detail, but not both. In practice, this did not turn out to be a real problem, with the camera typically locking focus on the subject quickly and easily, no matter which AF point was selected.
In the viewfinder, the active AF point appears in brackets, which are easy to see. Selecting the active AF point is done by way of the four-way pad - except if you choose Auto Area AF -; again a simple and intuitive solution. Be aware of one thing though: after the auto meter-off delay specified in Custom Function 'c2', the camera goes into a sort of sleep mode, in which you cannot set the shutter speed, the f-number or indeed the active AF point until you half-press the shutter release button to wake the camera fully up. In low light, the AF sensors are helped by an AF assist lamp located on the front plate of the camera.
The overall control layout and 'philosophy' of the Nikon D5000 has more in common with the likes of the D40 and the D60 than the D90. It has only one control wheel, and there are no dedicated buttons for controlling ISO sensitivity, white balance, metering or AF mode. The Drive Mode / Fn button can be reprogrammed to perform ISO selection or white balance adjustment (or one of a few other functions such as file quality specification), but the others still have to be set through the main info screen, called up by pressing the 'i' button bottom-left of the rear display. With practice, performing adjustments via this screen becomes fairly quick and easy, but it's still not as efficient as the D90's dedicated controls.
At any rate, the range of functions that can be accessed via the interactive info panel is impressive. You can set the file quality and image resolution, white balance, ISO sensitivity, drive mode (including continuous shooting at 4 frames per second), AF mode, AF area mode, metering mode, Active D-lighting, bracketing, picture control and [flash] exposure compensation.
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The settings that can be adjusted neither via hard buttons nor the interactive info panel are accessible via the menu system. A couple of these are really interesting, and worth being mentioned. These include the so-called Exposure Delay Mode and Interval Timer Shooting. In Exposure Delay Mode, the mirror is flipped up when you tip the shutter release button, but the shutter itself only opens a second later, when the vibration caused by the mirror has more or less subsided. This is not quite the same thing as the mirror lock-up feature of the higher-specified Nikons - as you cannot set the time between raising the mirror and actually taking the shot -, but it's still quite an effective tool for maximising sharpness when shooting from a tripod. The interval timer shooting feature is even more special, since it is something that is not offered by the D90. Check out Sam Javanrouh's article on time-lapse photography in our Techniques section to get an idea of what you can use this feature for.
For the images already captured, the Nikon D5000 offers a broad range of retouching tools, including post-capture D-lighting (useful if you forgot to turn on Active D-lighting before capture), red-eye correction, trimming, monochrome conversion, different filter effects, colour adjustments, image resizing, image overlay, in-camera raw processing, quick auto retouching, straightening of crooked pictures, lens distortion correction, perspective control (reduction of keystoning) and the creation of a low-resolution stop-motion movie from still shots (particularly interesting for shots taken with the interval timer shooting feature, though limited in terms of resolution and frame rate). Many of these functions make it unnecessary to buy specialised computer programs or plug-ins and spend hours in front of a computer to achieve a desired/popular effect.
The Nikon D5000 is powered by a proprietary EN-EL9a Lithium-ion battery and records videos and image files on SD/SDHC cards. As we noted in our D90 review, we would really have liked to see Nikon add a second card slot for Compact Flash cards, so that owners of higher-specified Nikon DSLRs who buy a D90 or D5000 as a second body can use their existing memory cards, but so far Nikon has not shown any interest in providing dual card slots. As far as connectivity goes, there are USB/VideoOut and Mini HDMI ports as well as an accessory terminal for the connection of a wired remote or a GPS unit, all sheltered behind a door on the left side of the camera, when viewed from the back.
In summary, the Nikon D5000 is a fairly compact and admirably quiet DSLR that inherits the self-cleaning 12-megapixel sensor, 11-point AF module, Live View and video recording capability and extensive menu system of the bigger, heavier and more expensive D90, and the infopanel-driven operation of the smaller, lighter D60, while adding an articulated LCD to the mix. The result is a versatile and unobtrusive little DSLR that is very well suited to a broad range of photographers and photographic tasks.