The Nikon D3000 is an entry-level 10.2-megapixel DSLR. It follows closely with the feature set and functionality of the Nikon D40, D40x and D60 cameras. However, the D3000 is focused even more directly toward the first-time DSLR user. Several manufacturers are putting forth a serious effort to make the transition from point & shoot cameras to DSLRs easier on everyone involved. Cameras like the Nikon D3000 and Sony A330 make DSLRs a viable choice for those who don’t necessarily have a desire to really “get into” photography. At the same time, the D3000 maintains flexibility and room to grow as a photographer whenever he or she is ready.
No bones about it, the D3000 is a great little camera. But, is it for you? Read on for the full picture on this bargain of an entry-level shooter.
Nikon D3000 Key Features
- ISO 100-3200 equivalent
- 11-point AF system
- 3-inch LCD
- 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens included
Nikon D3000 Size and Handling
The D3000 is quite the small DSLR . . . not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, anyone interested in moving up from a point and shoot camera to the D3000 will appreciate the compact frame and comfortable ergonomics.
The Nikon D3000 doesn’t make too much of a mess by putting an abundance of buttons on the outside of the camera’s body. Experienced shooters may not appreciate the need to dig through menus to get to certain settings. Users who are new to DSLRs, however, will appreciate the simple approach and won’t be overwhelmed by too many options.
Don’t take this the wrong way though, the D3000 is still a very capable camera once you get below its skin. The menu system inside the camera is still easy enough to access for those wanting to get more out of the D3000. The 4-way button on the rear of the camera makes navigating the menu system quite simple and intuitive.
In addition to the easy to use menus, the D3000 also offers a Guide mode via the main control wheel atop the camera. It’s ok if you don’t know what aperture priority, shutter priority and other settings when you buy this camera. You can operate the camera in full auto mode or switch over to Guide mode for a little bit of education while you shoot.
In Guide mode, you get 2 shooting options – Easy or Advanced. In each of these main options, the D3000 asks about what you want to shoot, you answer and it automatically chooses the most appropriate settings. If you are not sure about a given feature or have additional questions, you can hit the question-mark button on the rear of the camera for a little more explanation and detail. In addition to the shooting options, you can also use Guide mode for viewing and deleting photos or adjusting the D3000′s setup.
Nikon D3000 Performance
The D3000 does what it needs to do as an entry-level camera. It doesn’t really ‘wow’ with its 3 frames per second frame rate, which is about average for an entry-level DSLR nowadays. Additionally, the D3000′s 10-megapixel sensor doesn’t really fulfill your gadget lust like some other 12- to 15-megapixel cameras, but it doesn’t really need to. The D3000 makes a great use of those 10-megapixel images, which should be aplenty for anyone shopping for a camera in this range.
As with other Nikon cameras, the D3000 is compatible with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System using TTL off-camera flashes like the SB-600 and SB-900. I tested the D3000 with both of these flashes, and while the SB-600 fits quite nicely atop the D3000, the camera seemed a bit cumbersome and off balance with the much larger SB-900 mounted on it. After all, the SB-900 speedlight is about the same size (and for that matter, same price) of the D3000.
For more advanced users: Unlike some of Nikon’s more advanced DSLRs, the Nikon D3000 cannot use the built-in flash in Commander mode to trigger other wireless flashes. In order to trigger other Nikon speedlights in i-TTL mode, you’ll need an SB-900, SB-800 or SU-800 on the D3000′s hotshoe operating as a Commander unit.
As for the pop-up flash, it does what built-in flashes are supposed to do – provide fill light when you need it. Here’s a quick example:
In addition to the easy, automatic fill flash, the D3000 also gives you a degree of control that you might not expect in an entry-level camera. The built-in flash gives you manual controls through which you can fine tune the output from full 1/1 power in full-stop increments down to 1/32 power. Additionally, you can set the flash to fire on rear curtain sync, which helps bring in ambient light to your low light photos.
The Nikon D3000′s autofocus performance is solid. It’s great having an 11-point AF system on this entry-level shooter after having to cope with a frustrating 3-point AF system in the D40 and D60 cameras. Having shot with both the Nikon D3000 and D5000 (see Nikon D5000 Review), I can’t tell a difference in the AF performance between the two. Even indoors and in low light, the D3000 performs up to and beyond the expectations that I would have for an entry-level DSLR in this price range.
In a variety of different shooting environments, the D3000 never disappointed me with its overall performance.
Nikon D3000 Image Quality
As noted above, the D3000 uses those 10.2 megapixels quite efficiently. As with the performance, the D3000′s final image output never really disappointed me.
Think about the prints you’ll be making with this camera. How big will you make them? An 8×10? Easy. What about 16×20? I didn’t print any this large, but I’ve inspected the files up close and would do it for my own family pics without any concern. Chances are, if you are looking for a DSLR just to get better quality out of your day-to-day shots, the D3000 is going to overwhelmingly provide you with the image quality you’ll need. It’s really up to you to make sure that you don’t limit the camera rather than the other way around.
Want to inspect some everyday shots take with the Nikon D3000 and its kit lens? Check out a few of my Nikon D3000 sample images, which were taken at a local park. You can even download the full-res versions for your personal inspection.
The D3000 handles image noise very well, even at higher ISO settings. If you are in a situation where the light is not necessarily bad but you need to get a faster shutter speed, then you can generally boost the ISO all the way up to ISO 3200 without fear of serious image degradation. Of course, in lower light settings, the noise will be more noticeable. However, in most circumstances the image noise at any ISO setting should not prevent you from getting great 4 x 6 prints for your family album, to hang on your refrigerator or share online with friends and family.
Below are a few Nikon D3000 ISO samples that demonstrate the sensitivity range of the camera and give you flavor of how much noise you’ll experience with the D3000. Images were shot from a tripod in aperture priority mode at f/8, using tungsten white balance preset and JPEG fine quality settings. The room was lit by a ceiling fixture using normal tungsten light bulbs.
Here’s the scene I used:
(Special thanks to my son for loaning Anakin to me – he actually asked for it back while I was taking these photos but graciously allowed me to finish.)
The following image is a composite of six images from which I took a portion of each when viewed at full size around the “C” in the Duracell battery label. (By the way, I use the heck out of these Duracell batteries and charger. They work wonders in camera flashes and my kids’ electronic toys.)
To download any of the complete images from the above test for closer inspection, just right-click on the links below and choose “Save as…”
I am very pleased with the D3000′s noise control, even at higher ISOs. I wouldn’t hesitate grabbing family snapshots at ISO 3200 if that’s what I need for the right shutter speed. I would print 4 x 6 images all day long when the shots came from reasonable light (say your living room in the daytime) and in a lot of lower light situations as well.
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 and D5000 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
Nikon D3000 Lens Compatability
Back when the Nikon D40 was introduced, Nikon switched things up a bit with lens compatibility. In order to make their DSLRs smaller, Nikon found it necessary to remove the autofocus motor from the camera body. As a result, the D40 and the other cameras that followed in the line, including the D3000, cannot autofocus with lenses that don’t have a built-in AF motor. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Nikon and other third-party lens makers like Sigma and Tamron have done bang up job making tons of lenses with built-in autofocus motors. About the only lens that I really miss on these smaller Nikon cameras is a 50mm f/1.8 lens. The existing model, which has been around forever, doesn’t have a built-in AF motor and, therefore, won’t autofocus on the Nikon D3000. If you love a 50mm lens on your camera, you can use the new AF-S 50mm f/1.4 lens, which produces beautiful images and works like a charm on the D3000. The only downside to this 50mm lens though is its price – around $450 or so.
Another popular little lens is the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8 lens. This lens is much more affordable at around $200 and gives you the field of view of about 53mm on the D3000 as compared to full frame camera. As a result, the 35mm lens feels more like a “normal” focal length on the D3000, whereas the 50mm works out to a 75mm equivalent and operates more like a short “portrait” focal length.
Nikon D3000 Accessories
You really don’t need anything else with the D3000 other than an SD memory card. I have a stash of Kingston SD cards. There’s nothing really all that special about these cards, but they are cheap and work just fine in the D3000. If you demand the utmost speed out of your camera, the you can pony up for some SanDisk Extreme SD cards, which help clear the buffer a little faster if you are shooting repeated photos or if you like to use the NEF + JPEG capture feature.
A couple of other handy accessories that you might want to have around if you’re putting together a solid little kit would be a remote release and a hotshoe flash.
The Nikon ML-L3 remote is an infrared remote that works out to about 16-feet. Its great if you’re picking up a D3000 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.
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 D3000 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.
As I said in the introduction, the Nikon D3000 is a great little camera. The only question that you have to answer is: Does it work for you?
If you want an affordable, simple DSLR as a step up from a point and shoot camera, then the Nikon D3000 deserves your consideration. Sure, you could step up to the D5000, which offers a couple more megapixels and can shoot 720p HD video; however, I suspect that few D5000 buyers will find satisfaction in the camera as a dual purpose machine. The megapixel disparity is inconsequential.
The D3000 is easy to get to know, yet there’s a lot more to it once you start growing as a photographer. This camera has the potential to grow with you for a long time. I have to admit that I was a little put off by the camera’s simplicity at first; however, once I started shooting with it and using different lenses and accessories like the AF-S 50mm f/1.4 and SB-600 speedlight, I really enjoyed shooting with the D3000.
At the current price of $550, the D3000 is definitely worth the price of admission.
Other contenders that you might want to look at while shopping are the Sony A330, Nikon D5000, Canon Rebel XSi and Canon Rebel T1i. See the complete rundown on each of these cameras using the following links to Photography Bay’s reviews:
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.