Originally Posted: April 14, 2009
Last Updated: September 15, 2009
The Nikon D5000 (starting at $729) is a new digital SLR that fits between the company's D60 and D90 models. The best way to describe the D5000 is like this: you take the D90's guts and throw them into a D60-like body, with the added bonus of a flip-down, swiveling LCD display. You get to keep most of the D90's top features: its sensor, AF and metering systems, live view, and HD movie recording capabilities.
This chart compares the differences between the D60, D5000, and D90:
As you can see, the D5000 is essentially a D90 that's been stripped down just a little. One important difference between the two is that the D5000 only supports autofocus on AF-S and AF-I lenses, just like the D60.
Ready to learn more about the D5000, and find out if it may be right for you? Keep reading, our review starts now!
What's in the Box?
The D5000 will be available in two kits. You can buy it in a body-only configuration ($729), or along with the F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm VR lens ($849). I also spotted a two lens kit (which includes the 18-55 and 55-200 VR lenses) at my local Costco store for around $1100. Here's what you'll find in the box for the two standard kits:
- The 12.3 effective Megapixel Nikon D5000 camera body
- F3.5 - 5.6, 18 - 55 mm AF-S Nikkor VR lens [lens kit only]
- EN-EL9a lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Battery charger w/power cable
- Body cap
- Eyepiece cap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROMs featuring Nikon Software Suite
- 234 page camera manual (printed)
If you bought the lens kit, then you're ready to start shooting right away. The 18 - 55 VR lens is decent, with good sharpness across most of the frame. Build quality is better than most kit lenses, though I'm not a fan of the manual focus ring. Should you want to use another lens, you have your pick of Nikon's full selection. Do note, however, that autofocus is only supported on AF-S and AF-I lenses, which have built-in focus motors. For every other lens, it will be manual focus only. Regardless of whether or not autofocus works, there's a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio to keep in mind.
Like all D-SLRs, there's no memory card in the D5000's box, so you'll need to pick one up (if you don't have one already). The camera supports both SD and SDHC memory cards, and I'd recommend starting out with a 2GB card. If you'll be taking a lot of videos, a 4GB might be a better option. It's definitely worth spending a little more for a high speed card when you're using a digital SLR.
The D5000 uses the all new EL-EL9a lithium-ion battery for power (you can use the old EN-EL9 as well). This battery packs 7.8 Wh of energy, which is good (but not spectacular) for a digital SLR. Here's how that translates into battery life:
I already compared the battery life between the D60, D5000, and D90 in the intro to this article, but in case you missed it: the D5000's numbers are about the same as the D60, and well below the D90. In the group above (which includes the Micro Four Thirds-based Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1, which is live view only), the D5000 is tied for first place. By the way, if you're using live view all the time, expect much shorter battery life -- at least 50% lower than what you see above.
All of the cameras on the above list use proprietary li-ion batteries. These batteries tend to be pricey (a spare EN-EL9a will set you back at least $50), and you can't use off-the-shelf batteries in an emergency. A few cameras can use AA batteries with their optional battery grips, but since the D5000 doesn't offer a grip in the first place, it's kind of a moot point.
When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. It takes the charger roughly 100 minutes to fully charge the EN-EL9a battery. This isn't one of those charges that plugs directly into the wall -- you must use a power cord.
As is usually the case, Nikon offers plenty of optional extras for the D5000. I've compiled the most interested ones into this table:
Not too shabby, eh? There are a few other accessories available, mostly related to the optical viewfinder.
Nikon includes a pair of software programs along with the D5000. The first is Nikon Transfer, which you'll use to transfer photos from the camera to your Mac or PC. You select which photos are to be transferred, where they're going, and you're done. You can also select a backup location for your photos, just in case.
Once that's done, you'll find yourself in Nikon ViewNX, which you can use for organizing and sharing photos. Here you can the usual thumbnail view, and you can assign photos to various categories, or give them "star" ratings. ViewNX lets you see the focus point used on a photo, listen to voice memos, and convert RAW images to JPEGs. JPEG editing tools tools include adjustments for exposure, sharpness, contrast, D-Lighting, and a few other things.
The RAW editing options in ViewNX are poor. You can adjust the exposure compensation and white balance, or select a Picture Control (more on that later), and that's it. Do note that you'll want to go to the "View" menu and select "Image Viewer" in order to actually see your changes on something other than the thumbnail.
Nikon's solution for RAW editing is known as Capture NX2 (priced from $130). This software lets you edit many common RAW properties, and it's unique "U Point" controls take a different approach toward image retouching than what you might be used to. You can select a spot in the image that you want to retouch, select the radius of the area that will be affected, and then adjust things like brightness, contrast, and saturation for that area. You can do the same for things like D-Lighting, noise reduction, and unsharp mask. You can learn more about this software from Nikon's website.
If you own Adobe Photoshop CS4, you can also use its Camera Raw plug-in (version 5.4 or greater) to edit the D5000's RAW images.
So what is RAW, anyway? The RAW image format (Nikon calls it NEF) stores unprocessed data from the camera's sensor. Thanks to this, you can adjust all kinds of image properties without degrading the quality of the image. So, if you botched the white balance, you can change it in your RAW editor, with no ill effects. It's almost like getting a second chance to take a photo. Since the bundled software hardly lets you do anything, you'll want to pick up a better RAW editor to really take advantage of the format.
The downsides of the RAW format are that 1) the file sizes are significantly larger than JPEGs, 2) camera performance is slower, and 3) you must post-process each image on your computer in order to convert it to a standard image format. Okay, that last one isn't entirely true -- the D5000 does let you perform basic RAW edits on the camera itself.
Camera Control Pro 2
Another optional software product for the D5000 is Nikon Camera Control Pro 2, which costs a hefty $146 (similar software comes bundled with Canon cameras at no charge). As its name implies, Camera Control Pro lets you control the D5000 from your Mac or PC over the USB connection. When you take a photo, it goes straight to your computer. You can adjust most of the camera's settings, and live view is available, as well. Definitely a handy thing to have around your studio!
Nikon includes a good-sized manual with the D5000, plus a fold-out Quick Start guide to get you up and running. Something I like about the big manual is the "Q&A Index" at the beginning of it. Common questions such as "How do I avoid redeye" and "How do I freeze motion" are listed with a reference to the page in the manual with the answer. As digital SLR manuals go, the one Nikon has written is fairly user-friendly, without a lot of fine print. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your computer.
Look and Feel
The Nikon D5000 is a compact digital SLR that has an inner frame made of a mix of plastic and metal, and a polycarbonate outer shell. The body feels well built, save for the plastic door over the memory card slot, which is on the flimsy side. Small SLRs always have pretty lousy grips, and the D5000 is no exception. This is purely subjective, of course, but I found the grip to not be nearly "deep" enough. You'll definitely want to try before you buy, especially if your hands are on the large side.
The D5000 has more than its share of buttons scattered around its body. Thankfully, they're large and well-labeled. As with most of the competition, there's only one command dial on the camera, which is located on the rear of the camera.
Now let's see how the D5000 compares to other compact digital SLRs, in terms of size and weight:
The D5000 is easily the largest camera in its class (though not quite the heaviest). It's quite a bit bigger than the D60, and falls just short of matching the D90. Even though the Panasonic GH1 isn't a digital SLR (it has no mirror or optical viewfinder), I'm throwing it in anyway.
Okay, let's begin our tour of the camera now, starting with the front.
Here's the front of the camera, without a lens attached. The lens mount supports all Nikkor lenses, with a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio. That means that a 50 mm lens will have a 75 mm field-of-view. As I've mentioned at least twice, autofocus is only supported on AF-S and AF-I lenses. Everything else will be manual focus only.
Behind the mirror is a 12.3 Megapixel CMOS sensor that is exactly the same as the one on the D90. Nobody likes dust on their sensor, so Nikon has taken a multi-pronged approach to avoiding it. When you turn on the camera, ultrasonic waves are passed through the low-pass filter, which shakes dust away. In addition, there's a "airflow control system" that uses the "breeze" created by the mirror-flipping action to send dust into a special chamber away from the sensor.
Directly above the Nikon logo is the D5000's pop-up flash, which is released electronically. The flash has a guide number of 12 meters at ISO 100, which is the same as on the D90. Should you want more flash power, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe you'll see in a moment. While the D5000 cannot control wireless flashes by itself (like the D90), you can do so by using the SB-800 or SB-900 flashes, or the SU-800 wireless speedlight commander.
Just above the D5000 logo is the camera's microphone, which records monaural sound. Below that is the lens release button.
Jumping to the other side of the lens mount, we find the camera's AF-assist lamp (also used for redeye reduction and counting down the self-timer) and remote control receiver. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations. Most of the competition makes you pop up the flash for this feature, so it's nice to see a dedicated lamp here.
Image courtesy of Nikon
One of the D5000's most intriguing features is its flip-down, rotating 2.7" LCD display. The screen can flip down 180 degrees, and then rotate a total of 270 degrees from there. Rotating screens allow you to take photos over the heads of those in front of you, or take ground-level shots without having to get on your hands and knees. The problem with the flip-down design (as opposed to the flip-out) is that you can't rotate the screen when the camera is on a tripod.
In addition to various acrobatic maneuvers, the LCD can also go in the traditional position (see below), or be closed entirely.
And here is the screen in the traditional position. The screen is 2.7" in size, which places in right in-between the D60 and D90. The resolution of 230,000 pixels is just average, which isn't nearly as nice as the 920,000 pixel displays on the Canon EOS Rebel T1i and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1. Still, it's sharp enough for most purposes.
|Live view in action||There are four different live view layouts|
Naturally, the LCD can be used for composing photos, in addition to reviewing them (and navigating menus). The camera's live view feature lets you compose photos in the same way as you do on a compact camera, with contrast detect AF and face detection. You can overlay a composition grid on the LCD, but unfortunately no histogram is available.
The camera detected four of the six faces
While other live view D-SLRs give you the ability to use the camera's regular AF system, the D5000 uses contract detection only. That means that focus times can be one, two, or even three seconds long. That certainly doesn't make the live view feature great for action shooting. There are four focus modes to choose from, including face priority, wide area, normal area, and subject tracking. The face priority feature can detect up to five faces in the frame, and in my testing, it usually found two or three, though I lucked out when I took my screenshot, as you see above.
Enlarged frame in manual focus mode
Live view is perhaps most useful when you're using manual focus. You can zoom in close to your subject, and the tweak the focus until everything looks perfect. You can do this with autofocus too, but it's a lot easier when the camera is sitting on a tripod.
Live view also also the place you'll record movies -- just press the "ok" button to start, and again to stop. I'll have much more on this feature later.
|The "classic" view||The "graphic" view also shows a virtual mode dial|
When the LCD isn't being used for live view, it can be turned into an information display (since there isn't a real one on the camera). You can select between classic and graphic views, and the auto and manual modes can use different views, if you wish. The info display will sometimes display a flash question mark -- if you see it, you can press the help (zoom out) button to the left of the LCD to see what's up (e.g. "the subject is too dark, use the flash).
Something else you can do from the info display screen is quickly change camera settings. Press the "i" button to start, then navigate with the four-way controller to select and change your options. The camera shows photos on the LCD that reflect when you'd want to use each of the options. Some of the options in this menu can't be found anywhere else, so I'd better mention them! They include:
- Release mode (Single shot, continuous, self-timer, 0 or 2 sec remote control, quiet release)
- Focus mode (AF-A, AF-S, AF-C, manual)
- Metering (Matrix, center-weighted, spot)
You'll find the D5000's continuous shooting feature via the release mode option above. Here's how the camera performed in our tests:
All-in-all, a pretty solid performance by the D5000, which ties with the Olympus E-620 for first place with its 4 frame/second burst rate. When using the RAW or RAW+JPEG modes, the camera doesn't stop when you hit the "limit" shown in the table above -- things just slow down. If you're shooting in live view mode, the screen will go black when the burst starts, so you'll want to use the viewfinder to track a moving subject.
And what's that quiet release option all about? This feature works just like single-shot mode, except that the camera makes no noise until you take your finger off the shutter release. So, if you're taking a photo of a rare poisonous snake and don't want to disturb it, you can take the picture, run away, and then let go of the button and hear the mirror slap back down.
The focus modes are quite simple. AF-S (single) mode locks the focus when you halfway-press the shutter release. The AF-C (continuous) mode does not; it keeps focusing, which makes it good for moving subjects. The AF-A mode selects one of those options based on what's happening in the frame. The manual focus feature lets you do it all yourself.
Getting back to the tour now, let's talk about the camera's optical viewfinder. This is the smallest viewfinder on any Nikon D-SLR, with a magnification of 0.78X. The coverage is 95%, which is pretty standard for a camera in this class. Below the field-of-view is a line of green text showing the shutter speed, aperture, shots remaining, flash setting, focus lock, and more. You can adjust the focus of the viewfinder by using the diopter correction slider on the right side of the viewfinder.
Now let's talk about buttons. To the left of the viewfinder is the Delete Photo button. Jumping to the opposite side, we find the AE/AF-Lock button, with the camera's one and only control dial to its right.
Below those (to the right of the LCD) is the dedicated live view button, plus the four-way controller. You'll use the latter for menu navigation and reviewing photos you've taken. Under the four-way controller is the D5000's speaker.
On the other side of the LCD are these five buttons:
- Zoom out / thumbnail view + Help
- Zoom in
- Information edit - for changing settings, as shown above
The first thing to see on the top of the D5000 is its hot shoe. Things will work out best if you use one of the Nikon Speedlights I mentioned earlier in the review, as they'll sync with the camera's metering system. If you're using the SB-600, SB-800, or SU-800 (which isn't actually a flash), you can control sets of wireless Speedlights. Not using a Nikon flash? Then you will probably have to set the exposure manually. The camera can sync at shutter speeds as fast as 1/200 sec with an external flash.
The next item of note is the camera's mode dial, which is jammed full of options. They include:
It shouldn't be too surprising that the D5000 offers a full set of manual exposure controls -- this is a digital SLR, after all.
Selecting a scene mode
Don't want to deal with manual controls just yet? There's a regular automatic mode, plus a ton of scene modes -- way more than on any other Nikon D-SLR. I like how the camera shows you a preview image of the scene mode as you select them with the control dial, as you can see above.
To the upper-right of the mode dial are the info and exposure compensation buttons. The former toggles what's being shown on the LCD, while the latter does just what it sounds like, with a range of -5EV to +5EV.
Above that is the shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around it.
Before I tell you what can be found on this side of the D5000, I want to mention those two switches on the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. The top one switches between auto and manual focus, while the button one turns Vibration Reduction (image stabilization) on and off.
On the camera body itself we find buttons for popping up and adjusting the flash, and for setting the self-timer (or whatever function you choose). The flash options will vary depending on your shooting mode, but include auto and auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, and numerous slow sync options. The flash button also lets you adjust the flash exposure compensation, with a range of -5EV to +5EV. The self-timer (function) button is totally customizable -- I'll tell you what options can go there when I get to the menu section of the review.
At the far right of the photo are the camera's I/O ports, which are kept behind a plastic cover. Let's peel it back for a closer look:
The ports here include:
- GPS + wired remote
- USB + A/V out
Like the D90 and D300, the D5000 has a mini-HDMI port. The cable isn't included, and if you choose to buy one, don't get pay retail price for one!
As you'd expect, the camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol, for fast data transfer to a Mac or PC.
On the other side of the D5000 you'll find its SD/SDHC memory card slot. The door covering the memory card slot is on the flimsy side.
On the bottom of the D5000 you'll find a metal tripod mount and the battery compartment. The door covering the battery compartment is of average quality. If you purchase the AC adapter kit (which comes in two parts), you'll put a DC coupler into the battery slot and feed the power cable through a hole in the side.
The brand spankin' new EN-EL9a battery can be seen at right.
Using the Nikon D5000
If you flip the power switch and wait for the camera to complete the dust reduction cycle, then you'll wait around 1.8 seconds before you can take your first photo. You can, however, interrupt the cleaning cycle by pressing the shutter release, so essentially the camera is ready to go right away.
Autofocus speeds depend on a number of factors, such as what lens you're using, and whether you're using live view. If you're shooting with the optical viewfinder, expect focus times ranging from 0.1 - 0.4 seconds at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 0.8 seconds at telephoto (with the kit lens). Low light focusing was good thanks to the camera's AF-assist lamp, with focus times staying at a second or less in most circumstances.
If you're using live view, then you might as well grab a cup of coffee while the camera focuses. It can take anywhere from 1 - 3 seconds for the camera to lock focus, and that's in good lighting. Since the camera doesn't use the AF-assist lamp in live view, focusing is poor in low light situations.
Shutter lag isn't an issue, and shot-to-shot delays are minimal. This is a digital SLR, after all!
After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.
Now, let's take a look at the image size and quality choices on the D5000:
The D5000 is capable of taking RAW (NEF) images alone, or with a JPEG at the size of your choosing.
A typical help screen in the menus
The D5000 has the same menu system as the D90, though it doesn't look quite as pretty on the lower resolution LCD. The menu is divided into several tabs: playback, shooting, custom, setup, retouch, and Recent items/My Menu. If you're unclear about any option, you can press the help (zoom out) button for more details.
Here's the full list of menu options for you:
Custom settings menu
|Retouch menu (I'll discuss all of these in the playback section)
My Menu / Recent Settings
You can either have your own custom menu, or a list of recently accessed menu options in this space
Oh, my -- quite a list of menu options. I'll try to cover as many of the interesting ones as I can.
|Adjusting a Picture Control||This "grid" shows you how the Picture Controls compare|
Let's start with Picture Controls, which has been on Nikon SLRs for a while now. The camera has six preset Controls (standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, landscape), and you can customize them to your heart's content. The following properties can be adjusted in a Picture Control:
- Sharpening (Auto, 0 to 9)
- Contrast (Auto, -3 to +3) - not available when Active D-Lighting is on
- Brightness (-1 to +1) - not available when Active D-Lighting is on
- Saturation (Auto, -3 to +3)
- Hue (-3 to +3)
- Filter effects (Off, yellow, orange, red, green) - only for monochrome controls
- Toning (Black & white, sepia, cyanotype, red, yellow, green, blue green, blue, purple blue, red purple) - only for monochrome
The camera can store up to nine custom Picture Controls, in addition to the presets. You can also create Picture Controls on your Mac or PC, and transfer those to the camera.
Fine-tuning white balance
As you'd expect on a D-SLR, there are plenty of white balance controls available. First off, you have the usual presets, like incandescent and cloudy. Each of those can be fine-tuned, as you can see in the screenshot above. You can also use a white or gray card as reference with the "preset manual" mode. One thing you cannot do on the D5000 is set the color temperature.
Nikon cameras have had D-Lighting for a long time. This feature (in playback mode) allowed you to brighten dark areas of a photo with the push of a button. In 2008, Active D-Lighting arrived, which allows for improved contrast when you actually take a photo, instead of after-the-fact. By default, Active D-Lighting is set to automatic on the D5000. You can also select from low, normal, high, extra high, or just turn it off.
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|ADL Extra High
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You can see the difference between not using Active D-Lighting at all, and the Auto setting quite easily -- just look at the shadow details on the right side of the photo. The low setting brightens the shadows even more than the Auto setting. My guess is that Nikon toned down the Auto setting to keep noise levels in check at higher sensitivities. Anyhow, the shadow detail gets brighter as you go up, but then it strangely drops again at the Extra High setting. I double-checked my settings and didn't seem to screw anything up, so who knows what happened there. Regardless, I think you can safely leave this feature at the Auto setting for everyday shooting, bumping it higher when necessary.
In case you missed it, the D5000 offers an interval timer (time-lapse) photo function. Just remember to get the AC adapter first!
The rangefinder function is a new addition to Nikon D-SLRs. When you're manually focusing, this feature shows a guide in the viewfinder telling you how close you are to the proper focus distance. You cannot use this feature in live view mode.
I want to quickly mention the AF area modes on the D5000 (for shooting with the viewfinder). Auto area picks one of the 11 available focus points for you. Single point lets you pick one of them yourself. Dynamic area works in the same way as single point, but it will follow a subject to the surrounding focus points if need be. There's also a 3D subject tracking mode that will follow your subject as they move around the frame.
The D5000 allows you to bracket for exposure, white balance, and Active D-Lighting. For exposure bracketing, the camera takes three photos, each with a different exposure compensation value. The interval between shots can range from 0.3EV to 2.0EV. White balance bracketing is similar, except the interval is 5, 10, or 15 mired between each shot. Active D-Lighting bracketing takes two shots, one with ADL off, and the other with ADL at the current setting.
Alright, that does it for menus, let's talk about photo quality now. Except for the night shot, all of the test photos below were taken with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. The night shots were taken with the 55 - 200 mm VR lens. Here we go!
The D5000 did a fine job with our macro test subject. While not overly saturated, the colors are accurate, though I will admit that I had to fine-tune the white balance a notch to get things looking the way I wanted. The figurine has the smooth look that you'd expect to see from a digital SLR. If you're looking for noise, I have bad news for you -- there isn't any.
The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you're using. For the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, it's 28 cm. If you think you'll be doing a lot of close-up photography, Nikon makes four dedicated macro lenses. Do note that only the 60 and 105 mm lenses will support autofocus on the D5000.
No review would be complete without some kind of technical mishap, and this time around it seems that my 55 - 200 mm lens is bad. You can't see it from the thumbnails, but if you look at the full size image, you'll notice some substantial blurring near the edges of the frame. I'm going to work on getting another lens, so stay tuned.
|Nikon was unable to provide a replacement lens, so I was unable to reshoot these test photos|
If you ignore the blurry corners, then you'll see some impressive results from the D5000. With full manual controls at your disposal, bringing in enough light for proper exposure is a piece of cake. There is a bit of a reddish cast to the image, though it's nothing that white balance fine-tuning can't take care of (and I'll try to get better results if I reshoot these). While the image has that smooth D-SLR appearance, the edges of the buildings are clearly defined. The camera has mild highlight clipping here and there, and you'll spot a bit of purple fringing, as well. There's no noise or noise reduction to be found at the default sensitivity of ISO 200.
Alright, let's use that same scene to see how the D5000 performs at its various ISO settings. I'll start with the low setting (ISO 100) and work my way up to the max (high) of ISO 6400.
The ISO 100 and 200 shots are both very clean. At ISO 400 you can see the faintest hints of noise, but it's not enough to concern me. You start to lose a bit of detail at ISO 800, but even so, this shouldn't keep you from making midsize or perhaps even a large print (if you shoot RAW). Noise reduction starts to mottle low contrast details at ISO 1600 (just look at the sky), reducing print sizes a bit. I would say that ISO 3200 is still usable for small prints, especially if you shoot RAW (see below for that). As for ISO 6400, I'd probably avoid using it unless you absolutely have to.
I just hinted at an improvement in image quality at high ISO settings if you use the RAW image format. They say that the proof is in the pudding, and well, here's your pudding:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
As you can see, just switching from JPEG to RAW gets you increased sharpness and fewer clipped highlights. Of course, you also get a lot of noise! That's easily fixed with noise reduction software (I personally use NeatImage) and a little sharpening, and I think you'll agree that it's definitely worth post-processing in these situations.
Look for ISO test number two in a little bit!
Redeye is already unlikely on a digital SLR, since its flash is far away from the lens. The D5000's blinding AF-assist lamp is used to shrink your subject's pupils, further reducing the risk of this annoyance. The photo above sure doesn't show any redeye, but if it does come up, there's a removal tool in playback mode that you can use.
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. You can see the effects of barrel distortion in the real world in this photo (see the building on the right). While vignetting (dark corners) was not a problem, I did spot some mild corner blurring here and there.
Now it's time for our normal lighting ISO test, which is taken in our studio. Thus, it can be compared to other cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the amount of noise at each ISO sensitivity, viewing the full size images is always a good idea. And with that, here we go:
ISO 100 (L1.0)
ISO 6400 (H1.0)
Coming into this test, I knew the results would be very positive. After all, the D5000 uses the same sensor as the D90, which performs extremely well at high ISOs. The D5000 didn't disappoint, producing buttery-smooth photos through ISO 800. You start to see a bit of noise at ISO 1600, but it shouldn't hold you back in any way. ISO 3200 is still remarkably clean, and yes, even ISO 6400 is usable for small prints. Try that on your compact camera!
I already showed you that shooting RAW can improve image quality in low light -- what about in good light? See for yourself:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
As you can see, you get dramatically better sharpness and detail by shooting RAW and post-processing. Yes, it's a pain in the behind, but if you're going to be making large prints or need the best possible image quality, you'll probably want to do it.
How does the D5000 compare to Canon's EOS Rebel T1i and Olympus' E-620? I did a three-way comparison recently and, in a nutshell, the D5000 was about equal with the T1i (maybe even a little better), with both easily beating the E-620 at high sensitivities.
Overall, the D5000 produces very good quality photos. The only real issue I found was the slight tendency for the camera to underexpose by about 1/3-stop. Once I caught on to that issue, I started bracketing my shots, just to cover all the possibilities. Colors were generally pleasing, though reds could've been a bit more saturated. Like most of Nikon's D-SLRs, images are soft straight out of the camera. They sharpen up nicely in image editing software like Photoshop, but if you don't want to deal with that, just you can pay a visit to the Picture Controls menu and increase the in-camera sharpening. As the tests above showed, noise levels are very low through ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 1600 in good light -- and, with a little post-processing, you can push the camera even further. While I didn't find purple fringing to be much of a problem, I did spot some highlight clipping in our purple fringing tunnel of doom photo.
As always, don't just take my words as gospel -- have a look at our photo gallery, and see what the D5000 can do with your own eyes! I'll be adding a few more high ISO photos in the days ahead, so check back soon.
The D5000 has exactly the same movie mode as the D90. It can record high definition video at 1280 x 720, at a cinematic 24 frames/second. Sound is recorded, but 1) it's monaural and 2) it's very low quality (11 kHz). You are limited to 5 minutes per clip, so you can't film your son or daughter's soccer game from beginning to end (unless you take lots of 5 minute clips).
For longer movies, you can drop the resolution to either 640 x 424 or 320 x 216 (the frame rate remains the same). You can record up to 20 minutes of continuous video at both of these settings.
So here's how you record a movie on the D5000. First, you must have live view turned on. Compose your shot, press the shutter release halfway to focus, and then press the "OK" button to start recording. Now comes the hard part. If you want to zoom in or out, or if you subject is moving, you will need to focus the lens -- manually. This takes a lot of getting used to, especially if you're coming from a point-and-shoot camera that does it automatically.
You can take a still image while you're taking a movie by pressing the shutter release button, though this will stop the movie recording.
Movies are saved in AVI format, using the Motion-JPEG codec.
Here's a sample movie for you. As you can see, the sound quality is pretty lousy, and the video quality isn't much better.
Click to play video (1280 x 720, 24 fps, 21.1 MB, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download the latest version of QuickTime.
The D5000 has one of the most elaborate playback modes that you'll find on a digital SLR. Basic features include slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view, and zoom & scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge an image by as much as 27 times, and then move around. This comes in handy for checking focus, or looking for closed eyes. You can move from one image to another while maintaining the current zoom setting by using the command dial.
|Calendar view||Mega thumbnail view|
There's a very useful calendar view available if you keep pressing the zoom out button. Pick a date on the calendar and you can then scroll through the thumbnails of photos taken that day on the right side of the screen. There's also an option to show something like 72 thumbnails on the screen at once. It's hard to make out what's what, though.
Most of the hardcore playback features can be found in the Retouch menu. The options here include:
- D-Lighting - brightens dark areas of a photo
- Redeye correction - does just as it sounds
- Trim (crop)
- Monochrome - changes a color photo to black and white, sepia, or cyanotype
- Filter effects - use virtual skylight, warm, red/green/blue, cross screen, and soft filters
- Color balance - adjust the color of a photo
- Small picture - downsize an image
- Image overlay - combines two RAW images into one
- NEF (RAW) processing - edit RAW images
- Quick retouch - uses D-Lighting and also boosts contrast and saturation
- Distortion control
- Fisheye - a digital effect
- Color outline - another digital effect
- Perspective control - simulates a tilt-shift lens
- Stop-motion movie - combine several still photos into a movie
- Side-by-side comparison - only works with images you've adjusted in playback mode
Previewing the effect of D-Lighting on the camera
The D-Lighting feature found here is different from the Active D-Lighting option in record mode. It brightens dark areas of a photo effectively, though don't expect it to improve overall contrast levels like Active D-Lighting does. You can select low, medium, or high levels of D-Lighting, and keep in mind that this feature may bring out some noise in your images. Here's an action photo that I brightened using this feature:
|D-Lighting off||D-Lighting on (normal)|
A nice (and much needed) improvement, if I do say so myself!
Quick retouch works in much the same way as D-Lighting, except that color saturation is boosted as well.
RAW processing in playback mode
The D5000 is one of a very small group of cameras that actually lets you edit a RAW image right on the camera. You can change the image size and quality, white balance, exposure compensation, and Picture Control settings. The resulting image is saved as a JPEG.
|Straighten tool||Manual distortion correction tool|
The D5000 can help you straighten, reduce barrel or pincushion distortion, and correct perspective in photos you've taken. Who needs Photoshop?
The stop-motion movie feature lets you combine up to 100 photos into a slow-playing, silent movie. The movie can be 160 x 120 to 640 x 480 in size, and the frame rate can be 3, 6, 10, or 15 fps. If you've ever wanted to make your own version of The Nightmare Before Christmas, here's your chance.
One feature on the D5000 that I always appreciate is the ability to delete a group of photos, instead of having to do it one at a time. You can also delete photos that were taken on a certain date.
By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but if you press up or down on the four-way controller you can get a lot more, as you can see above. Do note that you may need to turn on some of these screens in the playback menu (display mode option).
The D5000 moves from photo to photo in a fraction of a second.
How Does it Compare?
The D5000 is an impressive digital SLR that straddles the line between Nikon's entry-level (D60) and midrange (D90) models. It offers nearly all of the features and performance of the fantastic D90, but in a smaller form factor. Nikon also threw in a flip-down, rotating LCD display to keep things interesting. The D5000 has the usual set of D-SLR features, very good photo quality and performance, plus an HD movie mode. Most of its downsides fall into the "I would've been nice" category: the LCD resolution is low, the viewfinder is on the small side, and autofocus isn't supported on all Nikkor lenses. A few other issues are more annoying, such as the extremely slow contrast detect AF in live view mode. Despite its flaws, the D5000 is a solid choice for those looking for a full-featured, yet approachable D-SLR.
The D5000 is a compact (but not tiny) digital SLR that's made mostly of plastic. Despite that, it feels quite solid, with the only exception being the flimsy door over the memory card slot. Smaller D-SLRs tend to have small right hand grips, and while the D5000's is larger than most, those of you with large hands may want something a little more substantial. The D5000 supports all Nikkor lenses (with a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio), though do note that autofocus is only supported on AF-S and AF-I lenses. The camera has multiple ways of keeping dust off of the sensor, including an ultrasonic "dust off" system that's activated when you turn the camera on or off, as well as an "airflow control system" that channels dust away from the sensor as you take photos. On the back of the camera is a flip-down, rotating 2.7" LCD display. While a rotating LCD is better than nothing, they're a lot more useful when they flip out to the side, instead of downward -- especially if you're using a tripod. The LCD's resolution also leaves something to be desired -- it just doesn't compare to the 920,000 pixel screens appearing on more and more D-SLRs. As with most D-SLRs these days, you can use the LCD to compose your photos. This allows you to see 100% of the frame, detect faces, manually focus with (some) precision, and see the effects of changing exposure or white balance in real-time. Unfortunately, you also have to put up with Nikon's incredibly slow implementation of contrast detection AF, which results in focus times in the seconds. The D5000 features an HDMI port (for connecting to an HDTV) and also supports Nikon's optional GPS unit.
The D5000 has easy-to-understand automatic shooting modes, plus a good set of manual controls for the enthusiasts out there. Those of you just starting out will find auto and scene modes, visual descriptions of what various options do, plus an in-camera help system. You'll also find a good (but not great) face detection system in live view mode. In playback mode you'll find a plethora of retouching tools, including D-Lighting (which brightens shadows), redeye removal, distortion correction, and a lot more. Power users will enjoy the D5000's wide selection of manual controls, including exposure, white balance (with fine-tuning), and bracketing. About the only thing you can't adjust the white balance by color temperature. The D5000 supports the RAW image format, though Nikon's bundled software is rather lacking in the RAW editing department.
Like its big brother (the D90), the D5000 can record HD movies at 1280 x 720 (24 frames/second), though this feature is far from perfect. There's a 5 minute recording limit, the audio quality is poor (the video quality isn't great, either), and there's no continuous autofocus during recording. It's fine for taking short clips, but don't expect it to replace your camcorder.
Camera performance is very good in nearly all respects. While officially it takes the D5000 around 1.6 seconds to start up and complete its dust reduction sequence, you can press the shutter release button to stop that process and take your first photo a lot quicker. If you're shooting with the optical viewfinder then you can expect to wait for 0.1 - 0.4 seconds at wide-angle to around 0.5 - 0.8 seconds at full telephoto (at least with the kit lens). Low light focusing was good, with focus times staying under a second in most situations, thanks to the camera's blinding AF-assist lamp. As I mentioned, live view autofocus performance is poor in good light, and miserable in low light. It's not for action shooting, that's for sure. Shot-to-shot delays are minimal, as you'd expect. The D5000 has an impressive continuous shooting mode, able to take up to 9 RAW or 100 JPEGs at 4 frames/second. Battery life was best-in-class.
The D5000's photo quality was very good overall. The only negatives are tendency to slightly underexpose, and the general softness of the images. Color was accurate, though not terribly vivid (especially the reds). You can address both the softness and color saturation issues by adjusting the appropriate settings in the Picture Controls menu. The D5000 has exceptional high ISO performance -- you can comfortably shoot at ISO 3200 in good light without worrying about losing a lot of detail. In low light, photos look great through ISO 800. As is often the case, shooting RAW gets you even better results at the highest sensitivities. With the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, there was fairly mild purple fringing and a bit of corner blurriness, as well. I didn't encounter any redeye during my time with the D5000, but if you aren't as lucky, then you can use the removal tool in playback mode to get rid of it.
In conclusion, the Nikon D5000 is a very nice digital SLR that takes most of the good stuff from the D90 and puts it into a more compact, less expensive body. The D5000 doesn't support autofocus on that many lenses, so if you have a collection of older Nikkor glass, you may want to consider stepping up to the D90 (it's only about $170 more). If you're just getting into digital SLRs and can't decide whether to go with Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, or Sony, that's a tougher question. Each camera has its own advantages and disadvantages, so read as many reviews as you can, and see which one works best for you!
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality; superb high ISO performance
- Relatively compact body
- Flip-down, rotating 2.7" LCD display
- Dust reduction system
- Live view with contrast detect AF and face detection
- Full manual controls, several bracketing modes, RAW support
- Responsive performance in most situations; fast continuous shooting for its price
- Custom button and menu
- Nice visual representations of various settings, plus in-camera help system
- HD movie mode (but see issues below)
- Redeye not a problem
- Elaborate playback mode
- Good battery life
- HDMI output
- Optional GPS unit
What I didn't care for:
- Images a bit soft straight out of the camera; tendency to slightly underexpose
- Flip-down LCD not as useful as those that flip to the side; screen resolution could be better
- Limited selection of lenses that support autofocus
- Very slow focusing in live view mode; manual focus enlargement not sharp
- Poor RAW image editing software included; better software will cost you $$
- Movie mode isn't great: 5 minute time limit, so-so video quality, poor audio quality, no continuous AF
- Viewfinder on the small side
- Flimsy door over memory card slot
As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the D5000 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our gallery to see how the D5000's photo quality looks!