Cameras

Nikon D5000 Digital Camera Review

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Introduction

The Nikon D5000 is one of a handful of sub-$1000 video SLRs. Overall we found the Canon T1i did a better job shooting video, with higher definition and smoother video motion, but the Nikon was superior for still photography.

Design

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo
  • Nikon D5000 body with body cap
  • 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6G VR lens
  • DK-24 rubber eyecup (on camera)
  • EN-EL9a rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • MH-23 Quick Charger
  • AN-DC3 strap
  • UC-E6 USB cable
  • EG-CP14 audio/video cable
  • BS-1 hot shoe cover
  • DK-5 eyepiece cap
  • Software CD
  • Quick Start Guide, in English and Spanish
  • User's Manual, in English and Spanish

Lens & Sensor

The kit lens is an AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR. The shots below were taken at the widest-angle, middle and highest-telephoto settings.

The D5000 uses a 23.6 x 15.8mm CMOS sensor with a gross pixel count of 12.9 million and an effective resolution of 12.3 million. The DX format sensor produces a 1.5x lens magnification effect, so the kit 18-55mm lens shoots like a 27-82mm would on a 35mm camera.

The low-pass filter in front of the sensor vibrate to remove accumulated dust, a process than can be performed automatically when the camera is turned on or off, or triggered manually. In addition, its possible to take a reference photo to identify stubborn dust spots for use with the optional Capture NX2 software.

Viewfinder

The viewfinder is an eye-level pentamirror with approximately 95% coverage horizontally and vertically, and a magnification factor of approximately 0.78x. There's a sliding diopter control lever on the left side of the viewfinder, providing an adjustment of -1.7 - +0.7m-1. We found the viewfinder reasonably easy to use, even while wearing glasses, though the use of a pentamirror instead of the pentaprism used in higher-end Nikons does produce a dimmer view. The information display at the bottom is bright yellow and visible without losing sight of your subject.

There is an optional viewfinder grid overlay, available through the custom settings menu, that superimposes a 16-section grid on the optical display. Nikon used a light hand here — the lines are clear enough but not intrusive — and we found ourselves using the grid frequently, particularly when shooting buildings and cityscapes.

Display(s)

The LCD isn't the largest (at 2.7 inches) or the highest-resolution (230,00 dots) screen that Nikon offers, but it is one of the most flexible, and unusual. Most cameras with screens that pivot (including the recently reviewed Olympus E-620) have an articulated hinge on the left side, allowing the screen to fold out horizontally, then pivot vertically. Nikon took a different approach, attaching the screen to the bottom of the camera back. It moves up to 180 degrees downward (i.e., flush with the camera back) and pivots from side to side up to 270 degrees. The means you can hold the camera off to either side, down below your waist or over your head when shooting in Live View mode and still frame your shot accurately. You can even turn the screen to face forward and frame an arms-length portrait, though mounting the camera in a tripod will obscure your view of the screen from the front. You can also turn the LCD 180 degrees and click it into place back-side outward, protecting the LCD screen from smudges and the elements.

Related content

After shooting with it for a few weeks, we're inclined to favor the side-mounted articulated screen approach. Nikon's logic was to keep the LCD in line with the lens for more intuitive framing of your shots, but we didn't find either orientation particularly superior for framing purposes, and miss the option of tripod-mounted self-portraits with the Nikon approach. Still, even if we don't consider the innovative positioning a step forward, we do like the freedom of an articulated screen, and the D5000 version is a nice alternative to a standard stationary display.

The LCD information display can be set to one of two different styles, as shown below. By default, the Graphic style is used, with a large serif typeface readout of aperture and shutter speed and a graphic on the left that illustrates the current aperture size and indicates shutter speed. The alternative Classic display recreates the look of a traditional monochrome LCD readout (albeit in your choice of three designer colors). We're inclined to favor the Classic approach, partly because we find the larger type easier to read at a glance, and partly because the screen doesn't change when you switch from information display to the interactive menu mode, which uses the Classic layout no matter which style you've chosen for information display purposes.

LCD brightness can be adjusted in seven steps. An interactive on-screen grayscale chart is a helpful guide here.

Secondary Display

Like most consumer-oriented SLRs, the Nikon D5000 lacks the monochrome LCD information display on the top of the camera, a feature that's particularly useful when shooting on a tripod. Instead, the same information is displayed on the main LCD while shooting.

Flash

The built-in flash pops up about 3.25 inches (80mm) above the center of the lens, a large enough distance to discourage red-eye when shooting in dark settings. Nikon gives the flash range as 3 ft. 3 inches to 39 feet 4 inches (1.0 - 12m) at ISO 200, with a maximum sync speed of 1/200 second. Flash exposure compensation is available in a -3 EV to +1 EV range.

Ordinarily you'll want to use the default TTL flash metering option, but it is also possible to set a manual flash output level between full and 1/32 of full power.

We tried shooting a blank wall from several feet away and were pleased to see a flat, even illumination pattern, with only modest falloff on the left and right edges.

When shooting in auto mode and all but one of the scene modes, the flash pops up automatically when needed. In program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, manual and the Food scene mode, you have to raise the flash manually if you want it to fire.

The D5000 supports the Nikon Creative Lighting system, meaning the SB-900, SB-800, SB-600, SB-400 and SB-R200 are fully compatible. Other Nikon flash units will work in non-TTL and manual modes. The SU-800 accessory can be used for wireless flash control — the built-in flash doesn't include this capability.

Flash Photo

The camera will pop the flash open automatically in auto mode and most scene modes.

Connectivity

Three I/O ports are located under a tight-fitting protective cover on the left side of the camera.

The D5000 is compatible with Nikon's GP-1 GPS unit ($265), which can store geographical positioning data with photos you shoot. The unit connects via the top jack shown above.

Next down is the proprietary port used for both USB output and standard-def video out. Below that is the mini HDMI port that allows direct connection to a high-def TV for both video and photo viewing.When shooting in Live View, connecting to a TV via HDMI displays live output on the big screen, the most squint-free shooting experience imaginable, especially for still life subjects.

Battery

The D5000 uses the EN-EL9a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery rated at 1080 mAh. According to Nikon, the battery is good for approximately 510 shots based on CIPA standard testing, which will obviously fall drastically if you shoot regularly in Live View mode.

Battery Photo

The battery has a ridge along the left edge so it can't be inserted incorrectly.

Memory

The D5000 accepts SD and SDHC memory cards. It also supports Eye-Fi wireless network cards, allowing direct upload from the camera via a Wi-Fi network.

Memory Photo

The memory compartment cover latches closed securely.

Image Quality

Sharpness

Maximum sharpness results were found at 18mm, where the camera hit a mediocre 1169 lw/ph horizontal and 1342 vertical. At the center of the lens results were sub-1000 lw/ph at most focal length/aperture combinations. As you can see in the same-size crops from our test shooting below, the D5000 equipped with the kit lens takes noticeably soft photos.

The Auto Distortion Control function (available in the shooting menu) will process images as you shoot to minimize barrel and pin-cushion distortion. Alternatively, the in-camera editing system offers a distortion control option. More on how we test sharpness.

Image Stabilization

We test image stabilization at two levels of shake intensity, producing interesting results when shooting with the D5000 and 18-55mm VR lens. At our low shake setting, the stabilization system produced minimal benefits. Crank up the movement to a higher rate, though, and the VR lens delivered a significant improvement at most shutter speeds, even the higher-speed settings where most image stabilization systems we've tested are ineffective or even have a negative effect.

To test image stabilization, we mount the camera in a custom-designed computer-controlled rig that produced carefully controlled movement patterns and shoot a slanted-line chart at a range of shutter speeds from 1/500 second down to 1/8 second, analyzing the sharpness of the photos taken using Imatest.

Color

The Nikon D5000 did very well in our color accuracy testing, with only the Canon Rebel XS performing significantly better. Flesh tone reproduction is very good, and so are the blues and most green hues, with some minor color shifts in the reds and oranges. Our test images were somewhat oversaturated, at 104.5%, but not enough to catch your eye in an actual photograph.

Our color testing is designed to test accuracy rather than attractiveness (you can always tweak color values to suit your personal preferences later, and better to start with an image that reflects what you actually saw through the viewfinder). As with other Nikons, the D5000 employs the company's Picture Control System which offers presets for Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape. We shot the X-Rite ColorChecker chart in each mode under bright studio lighting and calculated the color error using Imatest software. Neutral proved the most accurate setting, so that's what we used for scoring purposes, and in the chart below. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Color Modes

Nikon offers its Picture Control system, with adjustments that affect saturation and hue along with sharpening, contrast and brightness. There are six presets, Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape. These Picture Controls and their customization options will be discussed fully in the Picture Effects section below. Here we want to look specifically at their effects on color reproduction. In the table below we have same-size samples from photos of the X-Rite ColorChecker chart taken with the D5000 at each Picture Control setting (except Monochrome). The leftmost column shows the colors from the original chart.

The overall color accuracy was nearly the same in Neutral (the most accurate mode) and Portrait, though Portrait enhanced the red values and boosted saturation to 109%. Landscape mode pushed saturation way up, to nearly 129%, boosting green and orange values, Standard mode was very similar to Portrait in color reproduction but with even higher 113% saturation. And Vivid lived up to its name, with saturation at 134% and significant shift in blue, green and red values.

As expected, the Nikon D5000 supports both the sRGB color space that's appropriate for most situations and the Adobe RGB color space, with its wider color gamut.

White Balance

We test two facets of white balance performance, shooting under three types of illumination using the camera's auto white balance system, then taking custom white balance readings and shooting under the same three conditions. The combined scores for the Nikon D5000 were nearly identical to those for the Nikon D90, a middling result that nevertheless surpasses the Canon T1i by a small margin.

We test white balance using the X-Rite Judge II, which produces consistent illumination at a variety of color temperatures, shooting the ColorChecker chart and measuring color error in the test shots using with Imatest.

Automatic White Balance ()

As with most cameras, the auto white balance system had a difficult time with incandescent lighting, producing the kind of overly orange images you're used to seeing in shots taken with standard household bulbs. The shots taken under fluorescent lights were a bit warm but not bad, and shooting under daylight illumination produced reasonably accurate results. In the charts below, the bars indicate color error, so shorter is better.

Custom White Balance ()

Switching to custom white balance setting didn't affect the D5000 results in daylight, though incandescent and fluorescent results were far superior to the auto white balance images. We expect a very high level of color accuracy after taking a custom white balance reading, though, and the D5000 result is only fair compared to the other cameras in our lineup.

The D5000 photos under daylight illumination were cooler than most, but not by very much amount, and significantly more accurate than the Canon T1i. With incandescent lighting the D5000 couldn't match the results from the D90, but still stands up well to the competition. Both Nikons delivered warmer than expected images when shooting under fluorescent lighting in auto WB mode.

While the D5000 did outscore the Canon Rebel T1i slightly, it still falls behind both the Canon Rebel XS and the surprisingly strong Pentax K2000 here.

White Balance Options

In addition to automatic and manual white balance, the D5000 offers twelve presets, including seven different fluorescent light settings.

The wide range of fluorescent presets is welcome, though only one at a time is available through the LCD information display menu; to get at the others, you have to go through the conventional menu system. Setting a manual white balance also requires a trip through the menu system by default, though if you assign the programmable Fn button to white balance control, you can use the control dial to cycle through white balance modes and hold down the Fn button to enter custom white balance setting mode.

If there's a photo on the current memory card with a white balance setting you'd like to replicate, choosing Preset Manual from the white balance menu and then 'Use photo' lets you choose the appropriate shot and set the camera to the same white balance value.

Any of the preset white balance values can be fine-tuned along the blue-amber and green-magenta axes, for greater accuracy or a particular effect you're after (manual white balance settings can't be adjusted). Unfortunately, the display used to make these adjustments is an on-screen color grid rather than an actual photo that shows the effects of the adjustments interactively.

Unlike higher-end Nikon models, there is no option to enter a white balance setting directly in degrees Kelvin.

White balance bracketing is available. A single shot is taken, but it's stored with three different white balance values, one with increased amber, the other with increased blue. Bracketing isn't available on the cyan-magenta axis. The bracketing increment can be set to three levels.

Long Exposure

In our long exposure test, which measures both color accuracy and image noise levels at several shutter speeds, the Nikon D5000 turned in very strong results, just a hair's breadth lower than the Canon Rebel XS overall and significantly better than the competitively priced, video-enabled Canon T1i.

To test long exposure performance, we shoot the X-Rite ColorChecker Chart at low light levels (20 lux or below), at shutter speeds ranging from 1 second to 30 seconds. We shoot with long exposure noise reduction turned on and turned off. This feature works by taking a second exposure with the shutter closed, then mathematically eliminating the noise found in the second dark exposure from the original captured image. Since image noise is inherently random, we've found this noise reduction feature rarely does much good and, in many cases, actually produces a lower-quality final image. For the D5000, though, long exposure noise reduction did produce improvements with shutter speeds of 10 seconds or slower, and didn't impact color reproduction. More on how we test long exposure.

Color accuracy varied little as shutter speeds got longer, a good result. Image noise hovered around 0.8% across the range of shutter speeds, with very little variation. Again, this is a very strong performance.

The following chart shows the scoring results for our group of tested cameras, with the Nikon D90 nearly identical to the Rebel XS at the head of the pack.

Noise Reduction

Even with noise reduction off entirely, image noise never rises beyond 2%, and the Normal level keeps noise at about 1% even out to ISO 3200. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

As with most Nikon cameras, the D5000 has a range of official ISOs, indicated numerically in the menus, plus additional extended ISO settings above and below. In this case, the official ISOs run from 200 to 3200. The lower extended range settings are Lo 0.3, equivalent to ISO 160, Lo 0.7 (ISO 125) and Lo 1 (ISO 100). On the high side there are Hi 0.3 (ISO 4000), Hi 0.7 (ISO 5000) and Hi 1 (ISO 6400). Why not just treat all the ISO settings equally? Because, as Nikon points out, the Hi settings are subject to increased image noise and color distortion, while the Lo settings have lower contrast.

In addition to the standard controls there is an Auto ISO setting, used in Auto shooting mode and by default in scene modes. When shooting in program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority or manual modes, turning the Auto ISO setting on will only affect exposure if the camera determines that an appropriate exposure can't be achieved at the ISO setting chosen by the shooter. A maximum allowable value when shooting in Auto ISO mode can be set.

Dynamic Range

The Nikon D5000 offers an impressive dynamic range, meaning it will handle high-contrast subjects well, without blowing out the highlights or losing detail in the shadows. We test dynamic range by photographing a 20-patch Kodak Stepchart at all standard ISO settings and a range of aperture settings, shooting at a bright 3000 lux illumination. The resulting images are then analyzed using Imatest to determine how wide a range in the white-to-black chart progression was captured.

The dynamic range starts at a solid 7.46 stops at ISO 200, and while this inevitably diminishes as the ISO setting is raised, the progression is smooth and scores remain high throughout, maintaining nearly 6 stops even at ISO 800. By contrast, the Canon T1i was down to a 3-stop dynamic range at ISO 800. More on how we test dynamic range.

Shooting at ISO 200, the two Nikons produced nearly identical results. The Canon T1i result was acceptable at this level, but plummeted at ISO 400 and beyond. The D5000 stacks up well against the competition here. It's worth noting that the least expensive camera in our test group, the Pentax K2000, offered the widest dynamic range across the full range of ISOs.

Noise Reduction

Even with noise reduction off entirely, image noise never rises beyond 2%, and the Normal level keeps noise at about 1% even out to ISO 3200. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

As with most Nikon cameras, the D5000 has a range of official ISOs, indicated numerically in the menus, plus additional extended ISO settings above and below. In this case, the official ISOs run from 200 to 3200. The lower extended range settings are Lo 0.3, equivalent to ISO 160, Lo 0.7 (ISO 125) and Lo 1 (ISO 100). On the high side there are Hi 0.3 (ISO 4000), Hi 0.7 (ISO 5000) and Hi 1 (ISO 6400). Why not just treat all the ISO settings equally? Because, as Nikon points out, the Hi settings are subject to increased image noise and color distortion, while the Lo settings have lower contrast.

In addition to the standard controls there is an Auto ISO setting, used in Auto shooting mode and by default in scene modes. When shooting in program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority or manual modes, turning the Auto ISO setting on will only affect exposure if the camera determines that an appropriate exposure can't be achieved at the ISO setting chosen by the shooter. A maximum allowable value when shooting in Auto ISO mode can be set.

Focus Performance

When shooting with the viewfinder, we found the autofocus system quite speedy and accurate in bright light. The camera struggled a bit with dimmer indoor illumination, but always managed to lock on after a slight delay.

The Nikon D5000 uses an 11-point autofocus system with one cross-type sensor. The camera offers four focus modes: Single-servo, continuous-servo, auto-servo (which jumps between single and continuous depending on the subject), and manual.

The D5000 has a particularly bright autofocus assist lamp located on the front of the camera, below the mode dial, which we found very helpful when shooting in dark rooms. Nikon gives its effective range as 1 ft. 8 inches to 9 feet 10 inches (0.5 to 3.0m).

Long Exposure

In our long exposure test, which measures both color accuracy and image noise levels at several shutter speeds, the Nikon D5000 turned in very strong results, just a hair's breadth lower than the Canon Rebel XS overall and significantly better than the competitively priced, video-enabled Canon T1i.

To test long exposure performance, we shoot the X-Rite ColorChecker Chart at low light levels (20 lux or below), at shutter speeds ranging from 1 second to 30 seconds. We shoot with long exposure noise reduction turned on and turned off. This feature works by taking a second exposure with the shutter closed, then mathematically eliminating the noise found in the second dark exposure from the original captured image. Since image noise is inherently random, we've found this noise reduction feature rarely does much good and, in many cases, actually produces a lower-quality final image. For the D5000, though, long exposure noise reduction did produce improvements with shutter speeds of 10 seconds or slower, and didn't impact color reproduction. More on how we test long exposure.

Color accuracy varied little as shutter speeds got longer, a good result. Image noise hovered around 0.8% across the range of shutter speeds, with very little variation. Again, this is a very strong performance.

The following chart shows the scoring results for our group of tested cameras, with the Nikon D90 nearly identical to the Rebel XS at the head of the pack.

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

Like all DSLRs the Nikon D5000 has a huge CMOS image sensor that is far larger than what you get on a consumer HD camcorder. This large sensor should, in turn, give the camera a significant boost in low light situations. Surprisingly, however, the D5000 didn't do as well with low light sensitivity as we expected. The camera wasn't bad, it needed only 11 lux of light to reach 50 IRE on our waveform monitor, but this isn't the kind of performance that is really noteworthy. Numerous consumer camcorders had better low light sensitivities than the Nikon D5000, especially when using alternate frame rates like a 24p or 30p mode.

Chromatic Aberration

Performance here is a mixed bag, with reasonable performance overall but readily noticeable trouble spots when shooting at 18mm.

At the widest (18mm) setting, sharpness is very low at f/3.5, with noticeable chromatic aberration. Results improve as the lens is stopped down, but not by much.

Chromatic aberration improves somewhat at 36mm, but edges lack crispness throughout, particularly at f/22.

At the maximum zoom setting, sharpness at the center is marginal, particularly when fully stopped down, and the crops along the edges of the lens look fuzzy at all apertures.

Distortion

The good news in this test came in the one area not included in the scoring. Distortion with the kit lens was very low at the 33mm and 55mm focal lengths tested, and the 2.54% barrel distortion at 18mm is within the acceptable range.

Motion

Motion is definitely something you have to take into consideration when using a DSLR camera to record video. The Nikon D5000 captures video at 24p and it doesn't have any alternate frame rates or video recording modes. This 24p recording is, perhaps, the biggest difference between the D5000's video capability and that of a traditional camcorder. Most camcorders record using a 60i frame rate which captures an interlaced image at 60 fields per second. Footage recorded at 24p has a much different look and speed than 60i video. 24p is slower, can appear a bit choppy or jittery to some people, and more closely emulates the aesthetic of film. So, when you use the D5000 to record video, you need to understand that it won't give you the fluid motion of traditional video—it will produce something entirely different. Whether this is a good or bad thing really depends on your own personal preference and what you plan to do with your final footage. Some people love the look of 24p video, while others can't stand it. When viewing the YouTube links, keep in mind that they have been heavily compressed during the upload process.

Overall, the Nikon D5000 didn't record very good motion. Its 24p recording was nowhere near as smooth as traditional 60i video and the footage had a good amount of artifacting. There was also some interference present on the right pinwheel that made the black stripes appear jagged (somewhat resembling lightning bolts). Since the D5000 records using a progressive 24p mode, the image didn't have much trailing and blur was kept to a minimum in our testing. The Nikon D5000 also had a terrible rolling shutter problem, which is something we also noticed on the Nikon D90 last year. When shooting any quick pans or jerky motion with the camera, the entire frame appears to wobble like a blob of Jell-O. This problem is also found on the Canon Rebel T1i and is something that seems to plague DSLR cameras, while it is barely an issue with most HD camcorders. The rolling shutter issue is a result of the large CMOS sensors found inside these DSLR cameras and its relationship with the camera's processing. Check out this link for more information. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

The Canon Rebel T1i can record video at 30p in its 720p mode, but it can only capture 20p when using its full-HD 1080p setting. Strangely, the Rebel T1i includes neither a 60i mode nor a 24p mode for recording video. The 20p recording is so slow that it resembles a slow-motion setting more than a regular record mode. There are upsides to the Rebel T1i's video motion, however. Artifacting was not as prevalent as on the Nikon D5000 and trailing was also very low because of the progressive frame rates. The Rebel T1i also didn't have the frequency interference problem with the black and white pinwheel that we noticed with the Nikon.

The Canon HF S100 offers two alternate frame rates in addition to its regular 60i recording: a 24p and 30p record mode. The modes aren't natively progressive like they are on the Nikon and Canon Rebel T1i DSLRS. Instead, they are captured in a 60i wrapper and then converted into 24p or 30p using a pulldown system. Purists will likely notice some differences between the true progressive frame rates on the D5000 and the downconverted offerings on the Canon HF S100, but despite these technical differences the effect is basically the same.

The Sanyo VPC-HD2000 is a very interesting camcorder for a number of reasons, but one of the most significant is its capability of recording full HD video at 60p—a natively progressive 60 frames per second mode. This gives the camcorder's video a very smooth look, yet at an entirely natural speed. The camcorder also has a 60i and 30p record mode, but it does not offer a 24p setting. As a side note from all this frame rate discussion, we should mention that the Nikon D5000 showed less artifacting in its videos than both the Canon HF S100 and Sanyo VPC-HD20000. It's 24p mode also looked more natural and smoother than the 24p option on the Canon HF S100.

Video Sharpness

The Nikon D5000 measured a horizontal video sharpness of 575 line widths per picture height (lw/ph) and a vertical sharpness of 625 lw/ph. These are good numbers for a camera that has a maximum video resolution of 1280 x 720, but compared to full-HD camcorders it isn't very impressive. High-end consumer HD camcorders routinely measure upwards of 700 or even 800 lw/ph in our video sharpness test, which means they can capture significantly more detail than the Nikon D5000. The Canon Rebel T1i, which has a full-HD 1080/20p option, was able to record a horizontal sharpness of 650 wl/ph and a vertical sharpness of 775 lw/ph. The Canon HF S100 and Sanyo VPC-HD2000 also had better video sharpness than the Nikon D5000. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low Light Sensitivity

Like all DSLRs the Nikon D5000 has a huge CMOS image sensor that is far larger than what you get on a consumer HD camcorder. This large sensor should, in turn, give the camera a significant boost in low light situations. Surprisingly, however, the D5000 didn't do as well with low light sensitivity as we expected. The camera wasn't bad, it needed only 11 lux of light to reach 50 IRE on our waveform monitor, but this isn't the kind of performance that is really noteworthy. Numerous consumer camcorders had better low light sensitivities than the Nikon D5000, especially when using alternate frame rates like a 24p or 30p mode.

Usability

Buttons & Dials

Nikon chose to keep the number of dedicated buttons and dials to a minimum in the D5000 design. Often we see a four-way controller consisting of a group of separate buttons that let you access white balance, ISO settings or other functions when not used for navigation purposes, but Nikon gave us a round pivoting multi-selector instead (it doesn't rotate, by the way, just pushes in four directions). Given the relatively small camera size, there really isn't a lot of real estate for a plethora of dedicated button controls, but this sparse system does mean you'd better get comfortable quickly with using the LCD information display to control shooting settings, because there aren't a lot of shortcuts available elsewhere.

In fact, the flash button and programmable function button have both been shoved off the camera back entirely and onto the left side. We're fine with that arrangement for the flash control, but the function button feels out of the way and inconvenient in its lefty location.

As with most SLRs today, Nikon provides two different ways to get at settings adjustments while shooting: a single-screen menu that provides quick access to all the key settings, and the traditional in-depth menu system accessed by pressing the MENU button.

The single-screen system takes the LCD information display and makes it interactive by pressing the Information edit button (at the bottom left on the back of the camera). The color scheme changes and a cursor appears, which is maneuvered using the four-way controller. Whether you've chosen the default Graphic version of the LCD display or the more traditional Classic version, the menu system uses the Classic layout, as shown below.

Unlike other cameras we've tested, the command dial isn't an option when navigating the D5000 menu system, requiring multiple presses of the four-way controller to get where you want to go. There's no way to change settings directly from the quick menu either. Instead, you have to find the setting you want, then press OK to reach a submenu of relevant choices. It's certainly better than no quick-access menu at all, but it could be streamlined further.

As for the main menu system, Nikon hasn't strayed from its tried-and-true design. That's mostly fine: it will be instantly familiar to experienced Nikon users, and the text is perfectly legible and well organized. Our only beef here is the fact that several menus are too long for a single screen, meaning choices are hidden until you've scrolled down to reveal them.

Instruction Manual

The D5000 user's manual is a substantial document in every way, a 236-page book with unusually large 8.25 x 5.75-inch pages — great for legibility, less great for portability. The introductory section is particularly well done, catering to users who have never shot with an SLR before. Most camera manuals just toss in a list of scene modes, for example, while this one devotes five pages to explaining how each scene mode works, with an accompanying photo sample. The pages aren't crammed too full of information, and well stocked with images and diagrams, making it very browsable. That's good, because the one significant failing we found is the mediocre index. which often left us trying to come up with synonyms for the feature we were attempting to find, when the apparently logical term wasn't listed. The other problem, again per standard industry practice, is the lack of documentation for the included software, requiring users to rely on the always inconvenient program help system to figure out how the programs work.

You can download a PDF copy of the Nikon D5000 from the company's web site by clicking here.

In addition to the manual (in both English and Spanish), the camera come with a decent one-page Quick Start Guide that offers just the right amount of handholding for new owners. Even better, it points you to a nicely produced set of online audio-video presentations covering everything from initial setup to shooting settings for stills and movies, image editing and playback options, with nice coverage of potentially confusing topics like D-Lighting and Picture Controls. If we were Nikon we'd toss a separate sheet promoting this feature into the camera box instead of merely mentioning it in the manuals, because it's genuinely useful and very well done. You can check it out by clicking here.

Handling

We found the Nikon D5000 an exceptionally comfortable camera to shoot with. At 5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 inches (127 x 104 x 80 mm) and 1 lb. 4 oz. (560 g) without lens and battery, it's significantly smaller than the Nikon D90, but has the same solid feel in your hands, well-balanced and easy to maneuver. The right-hand grip could be a little deeper, and the textured plastic would benefit from a rubberized coating — the surface has an uncomfortable plastic feel, and is inclined to slip if your hands perspire. The one spot where Nikon did spring for a patch of rubberized material is the back thumb rest, which is well positioned and does help keep the camera steady when you're moving fast.

Nikon also gets extra points for adopting a feature we like very much on Sony SLRs. When you rotate the camera to portrait view, the rear screen display rotates with you, taking on an appropriate vertical orientation no matter which end you hold at the top. Considering how much we rely on that display both for reading information and changing settings, this feature is most welcome.

Handling Photo 1

The Nikon D5000 is compact but comfortable, whether your hands are large or small.

Handling Photo 2

Buttons & Dials

Nikon chose to keep the number of dedicated buttons and dials to a minimum in the D5000 design. Often we see a four-way controller consisting of a group of separate buttons that let you access white balance, ISO settings or other functions when not used for navigation purposes, but Nikon gave us a round pivoting multi-selector instead (it doesn't rotate, by the way, just pushes in four directions). Given the relatively small camera size, there really isn't a lot of real estate for a plethora of dedicated button controls, but this sparse system does mean you'd better get comfortable quickly with using the LCD information display to control shooting settings, because there aren't a lot of shortcuts available elsewhere.

In fact, the flash button and programmable function button have both been shoved off the camera back entirely and onto the left side. We're fine with that arrangement for the flash control, but the function button feels out of the way and inconvenient in its lefty location.

Buttons Photo 1
Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

The LCD isn't the largest (at 2.7 inches) or the highest-resolution (230,00 dots) screen that Nikon offers, but it is one of the most flexible, and unusual. Most cameras with screens that pivot (including the recently reviewed Olympus E-620) have an articulated hinge on the left side, allowing the screen to fold out horizontally, then pivot vertically. Nikon took a different approach, attaching the screen to the bottom of the camera back. It moves up to 180 degrees downward (i.e., flush with the camera back) and pivots from side to side up to 270 degrees. The means you can hold the camera off to either side, down below your waist or over your head when shooting in Live View mode and still frame your shot accurately. You can even turn the screen to face forward and frame an arms-length portrait, though mounting the camera in a tripod will obscure your view of the screen from the front. You can also turn the LCD 180 degrees and click it into place back-side outward, protecting the LCD screen from smudges and the elements.

After shooting with it for a few weeks, we're inclined to favor the side-mounted articulated screen approach. Nikon's logic was to keep the LCD in line with the lens for more intuitive framing of your shots, but we didn't find either orientation particularly superior for framing purposes, and miss the option of tripod-mounted self-portraits with the Nikon approach. Still, even if we don't consider the innovative positioning a step forward, we do like the freedom of an articulated screen, and the D5000 version is a nice alternative to a standard stationary display.

The LCD information display can be set to one of two different styles, as shown below. By default, the Graphic style is used, with a large serif typeface readout of aperture and shutter speed and a graphic on the left that illustrates the current aperture size and indicates shutter speed. The alternative Classic display recreates the look of a traditional monochrome LCD readout (albeit in your choice of three designer colors). We're inclined to favor the Classic approach, partly because we find the larger type easier to read at a glance, and partly because the screen doesn't change when you switch from information display to the interactive menu mode, which uses the Classic layout no matter which style you've chosen for information display purposes.

LCD brightness can be adjusted in seven steps. An interactive on-screen grayscale chart is a helpful guide here.

Secondary Display

Like most consumer-oriented SLRs, the Nikon D5000 lacks the monochrome LCD information display on the top of the camera, a feature that's particularly useful when shooting on a tripod. Instead, the same information is displayed on the main LCD while shooting.

Viewfinder

The viewfinder is an eye-level pentamirror with approximately 95% coverage horizontally and vertically, and a magnification factor of approximately 0.78x. There's a sliding diopter control lever on the left side of the viewfinder, providing an adjustment of -1.7 - +0.7m-1. We found the viewfinder reasonably easy to use, even while wearing glasses, though the use of a pentamirror instead of the pentaprism used in higher-end Nikons does produce a dimmer view. The information display at the bottom is bright yellow and visible without losing sight of your subject.

There is an optional viewfinder grid overlay, available through the custom settings menu, that superimposes a 16-section grid on the optical display. Nikon used a light hand here — the lines are clear enough but not intrusive — and we found ourselves using the grid frequently, particularly when shooting buildings and cityscapes.

Image Stabilization

We test image stabilization at two levels of shake intensity, producing interesting results when shooting with the D5000 and 18-55mm VR lens. At our low shake setting, the stabilization system produced minimal benefits. Crank up the movement to a higher rate, though, and the VR lens delivered a significant improvement at most shutter speeds, even the higher-speed settings where most image stabilization systems we've tested are ineffective or even have a negative effect.

To test image stabilization, we mount the camera in a custom-designed computer-controlled rig that produced carefully controlled movement patterns and shoot a slanted-line chart at a range of shutter speeds from 1/500 second down to 1/8 second, analyzing the sharpness of the photos taken using Imatest.

Shooting Modes

The shooting mode selection is straightforward. The extra mode dial setting for auto without flash is a quick way to avoid inappropriate firing without working through the menu system, a nice touch if you're in a hurry to catch a baby's fleeting expression without blasting a flash in his or her delicate peepers.

Focus

When shooting with the viewfinder, we found the autofocus system quite speedy and accurate in bright light. The camera struggled a bit with dimmer indoor illumination, but always managed to lock on after a slight delay.

The Nikon D5000 uses an 11-point autofocus system with one cross-type sensor. The camera offers four focus modes: Single-servo, continuous-servo, auto-servo (which jumps between single and continuous depending on the subject), and manual.

The D5000 has a particularly bright autofocus assist lamp located on the front of the camera, below the mode dial, which we found very helpful when shooting in dark rooms. Nikon gives its effective range as 1 ft. 8 inches to 9 feet 10 inches (0.5 to 3.0m).

When using manual focus, the viewfinder focus indicator lights up when focus is achieved. The exposure indicator in the viewfinder can also be used as a focus indicator, by turning Rangefinder on in the custom settings. The rangefinder will indicate whether the focus point is behind or in front of the subject as you turn the lens ring.

Recording Options

Three image sizes are available; large, medium and small. The D5000 will shoot in JPEG or RAW (in the Nikon NEF format). There are three available JPEG compression settings. Fine uses approximately 1:4 compression, Normal 1:8, and Basic 1:16. When shooting RAW+JPEG, any of these JPEG compression settings can be selected.

Speed and Timing

There is only one burst mode, at 4 frames per second, with no option to adjust to a slower speed. A readout on the right side of the viewfinder, and the bottom right of the Live View screen, indicates how many more shots can be taken in continuous shooting mode before the buffer is full.

An interesting additional feature is interval timer shooting. The D5000 can be set to automatically take a photo at a user-specified interval (as long as 24 hours between shots), starting at a specified time and running for a specified number of shots (up to 999).

In our testing, the Nikon D5000 exactly matched the company's claim of four shots per second, making it faster than both Canon Rebels, lagging only the D90 in this category.

With a Class 6 SDHC card, we could shoot about 20 photos in Large Fine JPEG mode before the buffer filled and the camera slowed down.

The D5000 self-timer offers good flexibility in setting the time delay, but has to be turned on again after every shot, which is annoying.

There is also an exposure delay mode, available through the custom menu, that inserts a delay of about one second after the mirror is raised before taking the photo. This will prove useful in especially demanding situations like astronomical or microscopic photography.

Focus Speed

When shooting with the viewfinder, we found the autofocus system quite speedy and accurate in bright light. The camera struggled a bit with dimmer indoor illumination, but always managed to lock on after a slight delay.

The Nikon D5000 uses an 11-point autofocus system with one cross-type sensor. The camera offers four focus modes: Single-servo, continuous-servo, auto-servo (which jumps between single and continuous depending on the subject), and manual.

The D5000 has a particularly bright autofocus assist lamp located on the front of the camera, below the mode dial, which we found very helpful when shooting in dark rooms. Nikon gives its effective range as 1 ft. 8 inches to 9 feet 10 inches (0.5 to 3.0m).

When using manual focus, the viewfinder focus indicator lights up when focus is achieved. The exposure indicator in the viewfinder can also be used as a focus indicator, by turning Rangefinder on in the custom settings. The rangefinder will indicate whether the focus point is behind or in front of the subject as you turn the lens ring.

Features

Recording Options

The Nikon D5000 records video using the Motion JPEG codec. While most consumer HD camcorders use HD, AVCHD, or another form of MPEG-4 compression, the Motion JPEG codec is more commonly found on digital still cameras that can record video. M-JPEG is a bit outdated and it isn't nearly as efficient as, say, AVCHD. Still, it is an older codec, so it should be compatible with most video editing software. M-JPEG footage is also not quite as difficult to work with as AVCHD, which can be a strain for older computers to handle. Video shot with the Nikon D5000 are saved as AVI files.

In comparison, the Canon Rebel T1i uses an MPEG-4/H.264 compression system and its video clips are stored as MOV files. The Sanyo VPC-HD2000 also uses an MPEG-4/H.264 compression. The Canon HF S100, as with most consumer HD camcorders, uses the AVCHD compression.

The Nikon D5000 has a maximum clip size of 2GB, which is roughly five minutes of video recorded at the camera's highest quality setting (1280 x 720). Once a clip reaches this length, the camera will automatically stop recording. You can continue to record, as a separate clip of course, by pressing the record button again. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

The most important thing to know about the Nikon D5000's video controls is the fact that the camera cannot autofocus while video is being recorded. You can autofocus the image before recording begins (by pressing the shutter button halfway down, just like you do with still images), but once you start recording you must manually focus everything. The Canon Rebel T1i does offer an autofocus option during recording, but it's implemented horribly. When you try to autofocus while recording, the camera lens moves and changes exposure just as if you're autofocusing a still image.

There is no dedicated video mode on the Nikon D5000. Instead, video can be recorded in every shooting mode on the camera. This means all the scene modes and mode dial settings available for still images on the D5000 are also available for video. To record video, the camera must be in Live View mode, which engages the LCD. From there, the small OK button on the right side of the camera begins video recording. One of the problems with this setup is the fact that the camera's LCD does not display a 16:9 aspect ratio until video recording has already begun, at which point two gray bars appear at the top and bottom of the screen to show the correct aspect ratio. This means if you're planning on shooting in 1280 x 720 you have to start recording before you can even frame your shot.

Auto Controls

As we stated before, there is no autofocus capability on the D5000 while video is being recorded. Auto exposure, however, does function while you record, although it doesn't work very well. The auto exposure system is choppy and appears to adjust levels in a step-like fashion rather than with smooth transitions. Auto exposure is always engaged while video is being recorded (even in Manual mode) and the only way to turn it off is to press the AE-L/AF-L (auto exposure lock) button. In a confusing move by Nikon, video mode always uses matrix metering, even if another option is selected.

The D5000, much like the Nikon D90 before it, has a confusing system of manual controls available for recording video. Using scene modes and various settings on the camera's mode dial is easy, but adjusting specific controls like aperture or exposure is awkward and unclear. In Live View mode, all the D5000's settings can be adjusted, but only a few of them actually have an effect when recording video. This makes for a confusing trial-and-error system and requires that the user has a good deal of experience with the camera before the quirks of video mode are fully understood.

Zoom

Zoom on the Nikon D5000 is entirely dependent on the attached lens. The kit lens (AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm) offers a 3x zoom, which is controlled using the large ring on the middle of the lens. There are numerous other lenses available for the D5000, many of which offer different zoom ranges than the kit lens. As with manual focus, zooming can be performed while video is being recorded.

Focus

Manual focus is fairly simple on the D5000—it is entirely controlled with the focus ring on the camera's lens. Anyone who has used a DSLR camera before probably has experience manually focusing with a lens ring, and the experience is no different for video. Remember, however, the camera has no autofocus capability once video recording has begin, so the only way to change focus while you're shooting is by using the lens ring.

Exposure Controls

When we talk about awkward manual controls on the Nikon D5000 we're referring to exposure and aperture adjustment for video recording. Adjustments to exposure can be made when the camera is in aperture-priority, shutter-priority, or program mode. Exposure can be increased or decreased from +/-3 in intervals of 1/3. The thing is, the camera continues to auto adjust exposure if your lighting condition changes as you shoot. You must lock the exposure by pressing the AE-L/AF-L button (auto exposure lock) if you want to maintain a specific exposure setting. Exposure adjustments can be made while video is being recorded.

Direct control over aperture is even trickier on the D5000. The camera will allow for it, but you need to exit and re-enter Live View mode before an aperture change will take effect. For this reason, direct aperture adjustment cannot take place during video recording.

Changing the shutter speed on the Nikon D5000 has no effect when you record video. It can be rather confusing because the camera lets you think you are adjusting shutter speed (the numbers change), but there is nothing to tell you that the change isn't compatible with video mode.

Other Controls

All the white balance presets available for shooting still images will also function for recording videos on the D5000. The same goes for the custom picture controls and the picture control presets. ISO controls have no effect in video mode, but, as with shutter speed, the camera gives the illusion that ISO can be adjusted for video recording.

Audio Features

The audio features on the Nikon D5000 are severely limited. While the camera can record audio along with its video clips, the internal microphone captures monaural audio only and its placement on the front of the camera results in numerous problems. The mic picks up a variety of unwanted sounds, ranging from the rotating of the zoom lens to the noises associated with adjusting exposure or focus. There are also no connectivity options for attaching an external microphone. Essentially, the D5000 isn't going to get you quality audio and you'd probably be better off ignoring its audio capabilities altogether.

Mic Photo

In the Box

Box Photo
  • Nikon D5000 body with body cap
  • 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6G VR lens
  • DK-24 rubber eyecup (on camera)
  • EN-EL9a rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • MH-23 Quick Charger
  • AN-DC3 strap
  • UC-E6 USB cable
  • EG-CP14 audio/video cable
  • BS-1 hot shoe cover
  • DK-5 eyepiece cap
  • Software CD
  • Quick Start Guide, in English and Spanish
  • User's Manual, in English and Spanish

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