Nikon D5000 Review

The Nikon D5000 sits at the low-end of Nikon’s DSLR lineup.  It is the second Nikon DSLR to offer video recording capabilities (the Nikon D90 was the first).  It’s also Nikon’s first DSLR with an articulating LCD – a feature that has received both praise and criticism.

The compact D5000 steps up to a 12.3-megapixel sensor.  The Nikon D60, which previously ruled the low-end roost, offers a 10.2 megapixel sensor.  The 12.3-megapixel sensor is the same piece of equipment as is found in popular Nikon D300 and D90.  It’s a proven sensor, so it only makes sense for Nikon to drop it in this generation of entry-level DSLRs as well.

The Nikon D5000 is a bargain of a camera at its introductory price of $850 with a 18-55mm VR (vibration reduction) lens.  The D90 is $100 more for just the body only.

I spent a lot of time over the past month or so shooting the Nikon D5000 side-by-side with the Canon Rebel T1i.  These cameras are obviously situated as direct competitors with each other.  As a result, I make several references to how the Nikon D5000 compares in relation to the Rebel T1i.  Suffice it to say that both cameras are excellent offerings from Nikon and Canon.  Each camera truly lives up to the expectations and is probably the best entry-level DSLR from either company to date.

What’s New in the Nikon D5000

  • 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100-6400 (w/ ext. range)
  • HD video capture
  • 11-point autofocus
  • 100,000-cycle shutter
  • Articulating LCD
  • EN-EL9a higher capacity battery

What’s in the Box

  • Nikon D5000 body
  • AF-S NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens
  • NikEN-EL9a Rechargeable Li-ion Battery
  • MH-23 Quick Charger
  • DK-5 Eyepiece Cap
  • DK-24 Rubber Eyecup
  • UC-E6 USB Cable
  • EG-CP14 Audio Video Cable
  • AN-DC3 Camera Strap
  • Body Cap
  • BS-1 Accessory Shoe Cover
  • Software Suite CD-ROM

Nikon D5000 Features and Specs

12.3 Megapixel CMOS Sensor

Nikon is sticking with what works by keeping the 12.3-megapixel sensor used in the D90 and D300 in the D5000 as well.  The powerful CMOS sensor is also responsible for delivering the stunning 720p video.  The 12.3-megapixel sensor is a slight step-up from the previous 10-megapixel sensor found in the D60 and D40x models.

EXPEED Image Processing

Nikon’s EXPEED image processing was introduced to entry-level models with the Nikon D60.  Consider this a  standard feature on all Nikon DSLRs until something better comes along.  It remains a headline feature for the D5000 and helps produce low-noise images throughout the sensitivity range.

ISO Sensitivity

The D5000′s sensitivity ranges is equivalent to ISO 100-6400 when using the built-in range extension feature.  The standard range covers ISO 200-3200, while the boost kicks in for ISO 100 and 6400.  Note that this is a one stop increase from the Nikon D60, which had a max boost of ISO 3200.  It’s also one stop below the Canon Rebel T1i, which rings in a max boost of ISO 12800.

Frame Rate

Shutter speeds of 1/250s and faster will produce a max rate of 4 frames per second.  With the right memory card, the Nikon D5000 can handle up to 67 Large Fine JPEGs and 11 RAW files in a row at the max frame rate.

Flash

The Nikon D5000 has a pop up flash that offers auto pop up in Auto mode (along with Portrait, Child, Close-up, Night Portrait, Party and Pet Portrait modes).  The D5000 also offers the same 1/200s sync speed as found in the Nikon D60.

2.7-inch Articulating LCD

While the resolution remains the same 230,000 dot that was found in the D60, the Vari-angle functionality of the D5000′s LCD is really what sets this camera apart from the competition (*ahem, Canon).  Even though it’s only 230,000 dot resolution, the screen is still brilliant in both playback and video mode.  The fact that you can move the screen to suit your particular scene really helps sell the Nikon D5000 as a dual purpose camera.

Active D-Lighting

The D5000’s Active D-Lighting feature, which is also found in the flagship Nikon D3 and prosumer D300, can adjust the look of the final image while you shoot. This automatic process works in the highlight and shadow areas, compensating for difficult lighting conditions and producing optimized exposures with rich, smooth detail.

Autofocus

The Nikon D5000 steps up from the 3 AF points found in the D60, which were harshly criticized (by yours truly included), to a more manageable 11 focus points – with the center focus point being a cross-type sensor.  The D5000 also features Nikon’s Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus sensor module with TTL phase detection and AF-assist illuminator.  Contrast detect autofocus is available in Live View mode.  Manual focus and electronic rangefinding are also supported.

The 3 phase dectection AF modes are AF-S, AF-C and AF-A.  AF-S is the single servo mode, which locks the focus on your subject and can be set to provide audible feedback via a “beep” when focus is achieved.  AF-C is continuous focus mode, which tracks the subject and changes the focus of the lens based on the distance to subject.  AF-A is a hybrid of single and continuous focus modes.  AF-A automatically chooses to use single focus mode or continuous focus mode based on what’s going on with the subject.  If the subject is moving and then stops, AF-A mode will track the subject and then lock on to the subject once it stops.

Lens Compatibility

Like the D40, D40x and the D60, the Nikon D5000 is only capable of autofocusing with AF-S and AF-I Nikkor lenses.  However, it is compatible with the Type G and D AF Nikkor lenses without a built-in autofocus engine.  This is a design choice on Nikon’s part that enables Nikon to make a smaller DSLR.  While the D5000 may not autofocus with all lenses, the electronic rangefinder works to assist the user with manual focusing on non-AF-S/AF-I lenses.

Even if you have no interest in manual focusing a lens, don’t let the lack of autofocus on older lenses deter you because there are plenty of great AF-S and AF-I lenses available.  Nikon appears committed to this trend and is constantly releasing new AF-S lenses in a variety of focal lengths.  Additionally, third-party lens makers like Sigma and Tamron appear to be committed to this trend as well.  Sigma has a growing line of HSM (hyper-sonic motor) lenses available for the Nikon D5000 and its predecessors.  Tamron has recently jumped on the bandwagon with internal-motor-driven AF lenses as well. Unless you already have a collection of non-AF-S lenses, this should not be a deterrent in considering this camera – just make sure you know what you’re looking for when you go shopping for a new lens.

One recently introduced lens that all D5000 owners should strongly consider is the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G DX lens.  This new lens has received high praise since its debut and is often hard to find in stock.  With a retail price tag of $199.95, it’s not hard to see why either.  The large maximum aperture makes it a great walkaround and low light lens, particularly on the D5000.

3D Color Matrix Metering II

Nikon claims that the Color Matrix Metering II ensures consistently balanced exposures for images with natural color and contrast.  The 3D Color Matrix Metering II system is built around the former 1,005-pixel RGB sensor that’s been a part of Nikon’s metering system since the old F5.  This newer version has an improved algorithm, which was first introduced in the Nikon D2X and has filtered down to consumer level cameras since then.

Sensor Cleaning and Dust Reduction Systems

To avoid picture-degrading dust particles accumulating near the imaging sensor, the D5000 comes equipped with the Nikon’s Image Sensor Cleaning function and Airflow Control System. These functions both reduce dust accumulation to give you even better picture quality.

Memory Cards

The D5000 uses SD cards and is compatible with SDHC cards, which offer capacities of 4GB and above.  SD cards have been growing in popularity in both point and shoot cameras and DSLRs over the past several years.  They are now becoming standard on most entry-level DSLRs and can be had for quite the bargain of a price.  The presence of the video feature means that you can chew through gigabytes of data in just a few minutes.  So, stock up.

Battery

The Nikon D5000 uses a new EN-EL9a lithium-ion battery that supposedly improved upon the EN-EL9 battery featured in the D60 and its predecessors.  Note, however, that the D5000 will operate with the EN-EL9 battery if you happen to have spares and are upgrading from one of these older cameras.  I couldn’t fault the D60 or its predecessors for battery life.  Any improvements in the Nikon D5000 are more than welcomed.  I couldn’t kill the battery on any single outing no matter how many images I shot (. . . over 2000 in one outing).

Nikon D5000 Functionality and Performance

Erogonomics

The Nikon D5000 does not have quite the heft to it that you will find on the prosumer models (e.g., Nikon D300, Canon 50D, etc.).  In fact some consider the Nikon D5000 quite small.  Surprisingly though, the grip works quite well on such a small DSLR.  The Canon Rebel series has always felt a little too small in my hand.  While I have similar concerns with the Nikon D40-D5000, the grip feels much better than the Rebel T1i.  Among the entry-level DSLRs, I prefer the grip on the Sony A200-A350 cameras (all are built around the same housing).  However, Sony has changed their entry-level Alpha cameras (A230, A330 and A380), all of which are much smaller now – like the D5000.

The size and ergonomics is commonly a personal preference issue, so I won’t make too much of it.  Many women (and a fair share of men) prefer the smaller size of these compact DSLRs.  Plus, they are selling like hotcakes – so Nikon must know a thing or two about its target audience.

Along with a nice grip, the controls are easily accessible via your thumb or forefinger while shooting.  The scroll wheel is well placed for thumb control on changing shutter and aperture settings.  The scroll wheel works quite well with the exposure comp. button located right behind the shutter button.  This makes it easy to change settings on the fly.  I appreciate the quick access Live View button for getting ready to shoot video on the fly as well.

Settings and Menu Navigation

Nikon has done a good job of establishing a balance with the settings and menu navigation for the D5000.  While this camera remains a very capable camera for advanced shooters, the menus are not so unwieldy so as to intimidate the beginner.  Just about everything the camera is doing can be conveyed on the LCD screen and you may manage to learn a few things by paying attention to what the camera is telling you.

Information can be displayed in the classic format or a new graphic display.  The classic display is strictly the facts.  You get to see all the numbers you want in a nice green monotone output.  The graphic display is very . . . well, graphic.  Sure there are plenty of numbers to be found, but they’re all pretty.  There is a nice shutter speed ticker and aperture graphic that helps you visualize what is going on inside the camera.  Changing the settings offers a very visually interactive experience.  I think beginners will appreciate the graphic interface, while more experienced shooters will prefer the classic numbers display.  And, that’s probably just how Nikon intended it as well.

Shooting with the Nikon D5000

Just like other Nikon entry-level DSLRs, the D5000 is a breeze to pick up and start shooting.  The camera instills confidence in the user; however, you are left knowing that any deficiencies in the resulting images are your fault, not the camera’s.

The D5000 handles quite well and, as noted above, most settings are quite conveniently located.  Photographers who are more accustomed to the multitude of buttons and scroll wheels on more advanced cameras like the Nikon D700 and D300 will be disappointed to find their options a little more limited; however, most settings available on these cameras are just a couple of menu jumps away.  It didn’t take long for me to familiarize myself with the layout of buttons and menus, which made switching AF modes, ISO settings and such feel fairly natural.

I give big kudos to Nikon on the additional AF points in the D5000 as compared to the Nikon D60.  I am one of those shooters who picks a single AF point, focuses and reframes.  I will also jump around the AF layout depending on what I’m shooting.  I really like the ability to select AF points above and below the horizontal center of the viewfinder.  The D60 had 3 AF points, all of which were on in the horizontal centerline of the frame.  Again, big kudos Nikon.

While I’m on autofocus, I have to say that the 11-point AF system performed quite well most of the time.  However, I did experience a little AF hunting in some low light situations.  Shooting side-by-side with the Canon Rebel T1i, my impression was that the T1i appeared to focus more quickly in these low light situations.  I didn’t conduct any objective tests of the AF systems, so you’re mileage may vary.  I certainly don’t ding the Nikon D5000 on AF performance.  It is competent at all times, excellent at most.

Live View

What can I say?  I see no real point in the Live View system on the Nikon D5000.  I have been testing the Sony A330 and Olympus E-P1 lately, both of which have superior Live View functionality using two very different methods of implementation.  Until Nikon can offer a Live View system that competes with what Sony and Olympus offer, it should probably just stay home.

Admittedly, there are a handful of situations where one may see some benefits to the D5000′s Live View system – low angle and macro come to mind.  Unfortunately, this feature remains a very niche offering that most users will rarely use in favor of the optical viewfinder.

Nikon AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR Lens

The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens is an excellent kit lens.  Nikon initially introduced this kit lens with the Nikon D60 in 2008.  If you’ve never used vibration reduction before, you are in for a treat.  The continued use of a VR-based lens is a necessity as Nikon balances the playing field against Sony, Olympus and Pentax, which feature sensor-based stabilization in their cameras.

As with the Nikon D60 kit, I remained impressed with the results from Nikon’s VR-based kit lens.

As noted above, this is the same kit lens that was included with the Nikon D60.  As a result, my opinion of this lens, as well as the samples below featuring the VR performance remain unchanged.  If you’ve never seen the effects of Nikon’s Vibration Reduction, take a look at the images below.  Again, these sample images came from my previous evaluation with the Nikon D60.

Sample Image:  55mm @ 1/4s – VR Off

100% – VR Off

Sample Image:  55mm @ 1/4s – VR On

100% – VR On

Image Quality

The Nikon D5000′s 12.3-megapixel sensor lends itself to stellar image quality.  I really have no complaints in this category.  I think many enthusiast photographers will find themselves in a conundrum when trying to decide whether to go with the Nikon D300, D90 or D5000.  If you don’t need some of the more advanced features found on the Nikon D300 or D90, it’s hard to justify the extra dollars spent over the D5000.  In practical usage, there is no way to discern images taken with the D300, D90 or D5000 on the basis of image quality.  If you are looking for pixel peeping resolution comparisons, you won’t find them here.  You can get a little flavor of image quality in the ISO performance sample images referenced below; however, if you are looking for further detail, I would suggest reading DP Review or The Digital Picture for lab-like image quality tests.

ISO Performance

The Nikon D5000 produces outstanding image quality.  I really didn’t anticipate the noise control offered by the D5000.  I took the time to do a couple in-depth comparisons of the D5000 and Rebel T1i, which you can read via the following links:

Canon Rebel T1i vs. Nikon D5000 – ISO Comparison

Canon Rebel T1i vs. Nikon D5000 – ISO Comparison Part II

I think what you will take away from both of these comparisons is the fact that the Rebel T1i and Nikon D5000 perform extremely well at higher ISOs – better than what you would call either of their predecessors.  Anyone in the market for a Nikon D5000 will not be disappointed in the noise suppression of which it is capable.  If you don’t feel like reading these two comparisons, take a look at the below image of my subject of choice, which was shot in a dimly lit restaurant at ISO 6400 with the D5000.  You can shoot snapshots all day long with this camera at ISO 3200 and 6400 and get great family album prints in the 4×6 sizes.

ISO 6400 Real World Sample

Video Performance

The Nikon D5000 leaves good enough alone and offers HD video capture “only” at 720p resolution.  It also offers lower-resolution VGA video capture at 640×424 and even smaller at 320×216, which I suppose would suit some online purposes, emails or notes regarding a particular shoot.  All video modes record at 24 frames per second, which leads to a smooth film-like look.  Some people, including me, prefer the look of a 24fps capture rate because it has a more cinematic appearance than 30fps video, which is typically used in home video cameras, as well as broadcast TV.

The video functionality of the Nikon D5000 is not quite as intuitive as the Canon Rebel T1i.  The menu options are not conveniently accessible.  You must drill down through the menus to find Movie Settings; however, you won’t be spending much time here as there are only two settings within – resolution and an audio on/off selection.   The camera is pretty much automatic with the rest.

In order to start filming, you simply have to press the Lv (for Live view) on the rear of the camera and you go to Live view mode.  Once there, a live image is displayed on the rear LCD, which very conveniently articulates for just about any viewing angle you can come up with.  The display prompts you to press the “OK” button to record.  Otherwise, you can capture still images with the standard shutter button.

You may focus your camera using the contrast detection autofocus feature for Live view shooting prior to starting video recording.  I suppose that Nikon realized how ineffective this version of autofocus is when recording video and scrapped the thought altogether.  Otherwise, it would sound about like the Rebel T1i, which does allow AF during filming and sounds awful.  That means, only manual focusing while recording video.  Not a bad thing given the alternative.

One of the cool features with the Nikon D5000 is that you can preset a number of Picture Controls prior to shooting video.  With Picture Controls you can use the cameras default Vivid, Monochrome or other settings, or you can tweak it to you liking for a customized video feel.  The D5000’s Scene Mode presets also apply to video recordings.  Ditto for white balance.  Additionally, even though the D5000 forces auto exposure upon you when recording video, you can monkey with it a bit using the exposure compensation settings.

As with the Canon Rebel T1i, the Nikon D5000 offers great video quality.  Like the T1i though, it comes at a significant memory price.  A minute of video at 720p will cost you about 100MB of storage space, which is still better than the Rebel T1i by a long shot.  However, you are limited to 5 minutes of continuous recording at 720p, less than half of what you get out of the T1i.  The other resolutions offer a 20-minute recording cap.

Now, for the big difference between the Rebel T1i and D5000 video capabilities – the LCD screen.  Nikon wins.

Hands down, the D5000’s articulating LCD is the biggest difference maker between the two for shooting video.  While the feeling is still not entirely natural, the ability to rotate and position the LCD in just about any manner makes recording with a DSLR a more comfortable experience.  Waist level?  No problem.  Just drop the LCD 90-degrees and you can stand upright while comfortably viewing your image.

Nikon D5000 Video Samples

This file contains audio.

Download the full resolution file – Nikon D5000 Video Sample (w/ audio) (right-click and choose “Save as…”).

This file does not contain audio.

Download the full resolution file – Nikon D5000 Video Sample (w/o audio) (right-click and choose “Save as…”).

This file is a quick edited version with a “old film” effect and credits added in a couple of minutes in Windows Movie Maker.

This file was compressed and is intended to show added effects and processing of the file format in Windows Movie Maker. As a result, no full resolution file is available.

Nikon D5000 Interval Shooting Mode

The Nikon D5000 offers a very cool interval shooting mode that offers endless creative possibilities. After spending some time working with this feature, I have to say that I really like the potential that it offers.

Interval shooting affords you the ability to adjust both the intervals and exposure settings.  As a result, you can create some fantastic stop motion and time lapse movies with very little effort thanks to the built-in features of the D5000.

To capture the interval images in the stop motion movie above, I set the D5000 to capture 999 frames (the max setting) at 1 sec intervals in Shutter Priority Mode of 0.8 sec each.  I used JPEG Medium file sizes to conserve card space and because I knew that I would not need the extra resolution from JPEG Large-sized files for a video.  All the images were ISO 6400.  After getting everything set up, I ended up making two stops to reset the interval mode and restart shooting.  I ended up with roughly 2100 images, which I edited down to about 1500 or so for the final video.  I dropped the unaltered images into Windows Movie Maker and set the duration of each image to 0.13 seconds for a “fast” look in the final film.  I then dropped in Endless Road by The Coal Men as the soundtrack (it seemed fitting).  Thanks to Dave C. and the guys for allowing me to use it.

The nice thing is that the D5000 did most of the work without much real thought from me other than the initial concept.  This was my first foray into the interval shooting mode, time lapse, stop-motion or whatever you want to call it.  I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more opportunities to use this feature in the future.  If you want to download the full-res video for personal use and closer inspection, you can get it here. (Right-click and choose Save as…)

Big kudos to Nikon for making it simple and straightforward.  

Nikon D5000 Accessories

ML-L3 Wireless Remote

The Nikon ML-L3 remote is an infrared remote that works out to about 16-feet. Its great if you’re picking up a D5000 as a family camera because it allows the you to get into your photos too. You can snap instantly with the ML-L3 or use a 2 second delay, which allows you to get your hand down if you’re actually in the photos too.  At under $20, these things are almost a must buy with a new camera.

Nikon SB-600 Speedlight Flash

The Nikon SB series is renowned for its power and flexibility.  The SB-600 hotshoe flash is a solid performer at a more affordable price point than other, pro-level flashes.  It has a tilt and swivel head so that you can bounce the flash off the ceiling.  If you are using the Nikon D5000 indoors and want to get rid of the harsh direct flash, as well as the harsh shadows from the pop up flash, then the SB-600 will be a great addition to your kit.

Nikon D5000 Books and Guides

I think you should probably read your camera’s manual and the Bryan Peterson book recommended below before you decide upon an additional guide for your camera; however, I know that there are some who prefer to follow a step-by-step walk through of your camera’s features. As a result, I’ve listed a few offerings from popular publishers that may be up your alley. I encourage you to read the reviews on B&H Photo, Amazon and elsewhere before you decide on which resource is right for you.

Nikon DVD: Understanding Digital Photography

The Digital Photography Book Kit (2-books) by Scott Kelby

David Busch’s Nikon D5000 Guide to Digital SLR Photography

Nikon D5000 Digital Field Guide

Nikon D5000: From Snapshots to Great Shots

Conclusion

Overall, I highly recommend the Nikon D5000 to anyone looking for a feature-rich and very capable DSLR on an entry-level budget.  There are plenty of great DSLRs on the market – some offer more features and some may be cheaper.  Image quality in the D5000 rivals cameras much more expensive than it and, if you buy something cheaper, you’re going to miss out on some cutting edge stuff that only the D5000 offers.

The video function on the D5000 is the closest thing to getting right as a DSLR has done yet.  The Vari-angle LCD really makes a big difference with the D5000′s video capabilities.  The file format is easy to work with and the 24p video looks smooth and cool.

If you are comparing the Nikon D5000 to the Rebel T1i, you are going to have a tough time deciding between the two.  These cameras are so closely matched in terms of quality and features that it may boil down to which one feels better in your hands.  Either way though, you won’t go wrong.

Finally, if you’ve never used a DSLR before (or even if you have and you don’t fully “get it”), I recommend that you pick up a copy of Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure with your new camera. It is a priceless guide to learning and growing with any DSLR. At around $15, it’ll be the best bang for your buck that you ever spend on photography.

Where to Buy the Nikon D5000

I recommend B&H Photo as a trusted online source for cameras like the Nikon D5000, along with a broad range of lenses and accessories to go with it.

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Comments

  1. David Zegler says

    I believe a point to bring out in deciding to buy between the Nikon5000 v. the Canon T1i is the loyalty program Canon offers to owners of older Canon cameras.

    I had a Nikon D80 that met an unfortunate accident; it was dropped in salt water. I called Nikon to see what they could do and the result, unfortunately, was nothing. Just a big “so sorry.”

    Whereas, my friend had a 3 year old Canon digital camera that bit the dust. Canon replaced it, non-working, with a new, upgraded model.

    Though I have extra lenses to fit the Nikon D80, I’ve decided to go for the Canon T1i because of the so-called “loyalty program.”

  2. Clive Lardner-Burke says

    Hello Eric,
    Thank you for a good writeup on the Nikon D5000, I now discover I have plenty of things to practice doing on the camera. A problem I picked up last weekend, I could not get the camera to operate as a normal say 35mm camera, press shutter release +/- 2 sec’s before photo was taken. Going through the menu I discover it is on red eye correction, switching it to TTL and straight flash sorted the problem out. Red-eye correction can be manipulated in your editing programm. I purchased the Nikon Box in South Africa and we seemed to have received a better deal. 1 Nikon D5000 Body DX AF 18 to 55mm lens NOT VR,a 55 to 200 mm f1.4 to f5.6 DX VR zoom lens for R10,000 1$ = R7.60.There after we loose out 80 to 400 mm zoom AF VR R20,000. GPS1 and 2X converter over R 4000 ea if you surf the net in SA you find it a bit cheaper, compare prices overseas and what we pay here I think import duty tax on the items.

    Regards,
    Clive Lardner-Burke