Nikon D3000 Review

Using the Nikon D3000

Record Mode

If you flip the power switch and wait for the camera to complete the dust reduction cycle, then you'll wait around two 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 will depend on a number of factors, such as the lens you're using and how much light there is in the room. With the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, the camera typically locked focus in 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at the wide end of the lens, and 0.4 - 0.8 seconds at the telephoto end. In low light situations, the camera fires up its blinding AF-assist lamp, which results in focus times that sometimes approached -- but rarely exceeded -- one full second. The camera locked focus consistently and accurately in those 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 D3000:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB SD card (optional)
3872 x 2592
RAW + Basic JPEG 9.8 MB 114
RAW 8.6 MB 118
Fine 4.7 MB 271
Normal 2.4 MB 500
Basic 1.3 MB 1000
2896 x 1944
Fine 2.7 MB 476
Normal 1.4 MB 900
Basic 700 KB 1700
1936 x 1296
Fine 1.3 MB 1000
Normal 700 KB 1950
Basic 400 KB 3450

I like it when the list is that short! As you can see, the D3000 can record a RAW (NEF) image, either alone, or with a Large/Basic quality JPEG.

A typical help screen in the menus

The D3000's menu system looks a whole lot like the one on the D5000 and D90, and that's a good thing. It's attractive, easy to navigate, and there are help screens for nearly every option (see above). The menu is divided into five tabs: playback, shooting, setup, retouch, and Recent items. For those of you familiar with the D5000 or D90, you'll notice that I didn't list a "custom" tab, and that's because the D3000 doesn't have any custom functions.

Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of menu options:

Playback menu
  • Delete (Selected, select date, all)
  • Playback folder (Current, all)
  • Display mode (Highlights, RGB histogram, data) - which of these are displayed during playback
  • Image review (on/off) - post-shot review
  • Rotate tall (on/off) - automatically rotate images taken in the portrait orientation
  • Slideshow
    • Start
    • Frame interval (2, 3, 5, 10 secs)
  • Print set (Select/deselect, deselect all) - for DPOF print marking
  • Stop-motion movie - described later
Shooting menu
  • Reset shooting options - back to defaults
  • Set Picture Control (Standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, landscape) - see below
  • Manage Picture Control (Save/edit, rename, delete, load/save) - see below
  • Image quality (see above chart)
  • Image size (see above chart)
  • White balance (Auto, incandescent, fluorescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, preset manual) - see below
  • ISO sensitivity settings
    • ISO sensitivity (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, Hi1/3200)
    • ISO sensitivity auto control (on/off)
    • Maximum sensitivity (200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, Hi 1) - the highest you want the ISO to go
    • Minimum shutter speed (1 - 1/2000 sec) - minimum shutter speed you'll allow
  • Active D-Lighting (on/off) - see below
  • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
  • Noise reduction (on/off) - for exposures over 8 seconds, or when the ISO is over 400
  • Release mode (Single frame, continuous, self-timer, delayed remote, quick-response remote) - see below
  • Focus mode (Auto servo, single-servo, continuous-servo, manual focus)
  • AF area mode (Single point, dynamic area, auto area, 3D tracking) - see below
  • AF-assist (on/off)
  • Metering (Matrix, center-weighted, spot)
  • Built-in flash (TTL, manual) - the second option lets you select the flash strength, from full to 1/32)
Setup menu
  • Reset setup options
  • Format memory card
  • LCD brightness
    • Brightness (-3 to +3)
    • Auto dim (on/off)
  • Info display format (Classic, graphic) - choose the style and color for the auto and manual modes separately
  • Auto information display (on/off) - whether the info display turns on when you halfway-press the shutter release
  • Clean image sensor
    • Clean now
    • Clean at startup/shutdown (Startup, shutdown, both, off)
  • Mirror lock-up - for manual cleaning
  • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
  • Time zone and date
    • Time zone
    • Date and time
    • Date format (Y/M/D, M/D/Y, D/M/Y)
    • Daylight savings time (on/off)
  • Language
  • Image comment - attach text comments to your photos
  • Auto image rotation (on/off)
  • Dust off reference photo - for the dust removal feature in Nikon Capture NX
  • Auto off timers (Short, normal, long, custom) - choose how long the menus, post-shot review, and metering functions run for
  • Self-timer delay (2, 5, 10, 20 secs)
  • Remote on duration (1, 5, 10, 15 mins) - how long the camera waits for a command from the optional remote control
  • Beep (on/off)
  • Viewfinder options
    • Viewfinder grid (on/off) - composition grid
    • Rangefinder (on/off) - discussed earlier
  • File number sequence (On, off, reset)
  • Buttons
    • Function button (Self-timer, release mode, image quality/size, ISO, white balance, Active D-Lighting, show/hide framing grid)
    • AE/AF-lock button (AE/AF lock, AE lock only, AF lock only, AE lock hold, AF-on)
    • AE lock (on/off) - when on, pressing the shutter release halfway will also lock the exposure
  • No memory card (Release locked, enable release)
  • Date imprint (Off, date, date and time, date counter) - print the date. time, or amount of time until/since a chosen date
  • Active folder (Select, new, rename, delete)
  • Eye-Fi upload (Enabled, disabled)
  • Firmware version
Retouch menu (I'll discuss all of these in the playback section)
  • D-Lighting (Low, normal, high)
  • Redeye correction
  • Trim
  • Monochrome (Black & white, sepia, cyanotype)
  • Filter effects (Skylight, warm filter, red/green/blue intensifier, cross screen, soft)
  • Color balance
  • Small picture (640 x 480, 320 x 240, 160 x 120)
  • Image overlay - combine two RAW images into one
  • NEF (RAW) processing
  • Quick retouch
  • Color outline
  • Miniature effect
  • Stop-motion movie

Recent Settings

The last twenty menu options you accessed.

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 have 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:

  • Quick adjust - lets you adjust the items below by ±2 step at one time
    • Sharpening (Auto, 0 to 9)
    • Contrast (Auto, -3 to +3) - 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

Fine-tuning white balance

The D3000 has a nice set of white balance controls. 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. Two things you cannot do on the D3000 are set the color temperature or bracket for white balance.

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. The options for Active D-Lighting on the D3000 are quite simple: on or off (more expensive Nikon D-SLRs let you control how much ADL is applied).

Active D-Lighting off

Active D-Lighting on

As you can see, the shadows are noticeably brighter with Active D-Lighting turned on. The highlight detail didn't get any better, though. This shot also illustrates that the 18 - 55 mm kit lens can have pretty strong purple fringing at times. And yes, that is a squirrel hanging upside-down from my squirrel-proof bird feeder!

Buried inside the D3000's release mode option is the camera's burst (continuous shooting) mode. Here's what kind of performance you can expect from the D3000:

Quality setting Frame rate
RAW+ JPEG (Large/Fine) 6 shots @ 3.0 fps
RAW 6 shots @ 3.0 fps
JPEG (Large/Fine) 100 shots @ 2.9 fps
Tested with a SanDisk Extreme III (Class 6) SDHC card

The D3000 is pretty average in the continuous shooting department. I should also mention that the camera does not stop shooting when you reach that six shot limit in RAW and RAW+JPEG mode - the burst rate just slows down considerably.

I want to quickly mention the AF area modes on the D3000 (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.

Enough about menus, let's talk photo quality now! I'll put a note under each of the test images letting you know what lens was used. And with that, let's begin!

Lens used: Nikkor F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm VR

The D3000 did a nice job with our macro test subject. The subject is a tad bit soft here, though I think that's more of a lens thing, as I took the same shot with the Nikkor F2.8, 60 mm macro lens and the results were quite a bit better. The D3000's custom white balance feature had absolutely no trouble with our studio lights -- something that cannot be said for most cameras I test. The colors are quite saturated -- perhaps a bit too much. I looked far and wide for noise in this photo, but I couldn't find any -- nor would I expect to. I should also mention that I had to crank up the exposure compensation more than normal for this photo, as the camera was underexposing by about 2/3 stop.

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, though only the 60 and 105 mm lenses will support autofocus on the D3000.

Lens used: Nikon F4.5-5.6, 70 - 300 mm VR II

The night test was reshot on 9/25/09 with a different lens than when the review was originally posted. The discussion below has been updated accordingly.

The D3000 did pretty well in our night test shot, especially with the second lens that I used. The camera took in plenty of light, as you'd expect, given its full manual exposure controls. The buildings are nice and sharp, from one edge of the frame to the other (unlike the original images I had posted here). There is a bit of a reddish color cast here, though you could get rid of it with some white balance fine-tuning and patience. While there is some purple fringing and highlight clipping here, it's better than the images taken with the 18-200 lens. As for noise: I can't find any!

Let's use that same scene to see how the D3000 performs at higher ISOs in low light:

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200 (H1)

There's essentially no difference between the ISO 100 and 200 crops. At ISO 400 you start to see a tiny amount of noise, but it won't get in your way. The photo taken at ISO 800 is still very clean, with just a bit of noise reduction artifacting in areas with low contrast detail. ISO 1600 is really the first place you start to see a noticeable drop in photo quality, though I think you still make a midsize or perhaps even a large print at this setting (especially if you shoot RAW). The ISO 3200 shot is pretty noisy, so I'd probably pass on this one in low light.

I'm a fan of showing you the benefits of shooting RAW at high ISOs, so here's what you can get out of the D3000 with a little bit of work:

ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

I don't think that there's any doubt that shooting RAW and post-processing is worth your time at higher ISO settings in low light. I don't know if I'd bother doing at ISO 3200, but for 800 and 1600, the benefits are pretty clear (no pun intended).

We'll take a look at the D3000's high ISO performance in normal lighting in a moment.

As you can see, there's no redeye to be found in our flash photo test. The combination of the high pop-up flash with the bright AF-assist lamp (used for shrinking your subject's pupils) should make this annoyance a rarity. If it does occur, you can remove it digitally via a tool in the Retouch menu.

Lens used: Nikon F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm VR

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. This will cause things that should be straight (such as buildings) to appear to curve inward. I did not find vignetting (dark corners) or blurry corners to be a problem on this lens.

Lens used: Nikon F3.5-5.6, 18 - 55 mm VR

Now it's time for our normal lighting ISO test, which is taken in our studio (such as it is). Since the lighting is consistent, these photos 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

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200 (H1)

Everything is as smooth as butter through ISO 400. You start to see a bit of grain-like noise at ISO 800, but still, not bad. ISO 1600 is still good enough for midsize prints, and I don't see why you couldn't make a 4 x 6 of the ISO 3200 shot, either.

So what happens when you shoot RAW at the two highest ISO sensitivities? Good things, in my opinion:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

At both ISO 1600 and 3200 you'll see a real benefit by shooting RAW and post-processing. Now, I wouldn't go through the trouble of doing that if I was only printing 4 x 6's, but for larger prints, it's worth the effort.

Overall, the Nikon D3000 produced very good quality photos. While exposure was generally accurate, there were a few occasions where I had to use more exposure compensation than expected. The camera also clips more highlights than I expect to see on a digital SLR (see examples here and here). The D3000 definitely has what I call "consumer-friendly color" -- in other words, high saturation. Thankfully, Nikon didn't go over the top in that area. Image sharpness will vary depending on what lens you're using. The 18 - 55 mm kit lens is a tad bit soft (as is the new 18-200 VR II), but nothing horrible. If you want sharper images straight out of the camera, you can always visit the Picture Controls menu and crank it up a notch (or use another lens). In terms of noise, the D3000 produces very clean images, and you can shoot all the way to ISO 800 with a minimal drop in image quality. Purple fringing is another one of those things that has quite a lot to do with your choice of lens. The kit lens can definitely show quite a bit of it, at times. Two other things I noticed were jaggies and moiré, though that really only caught my attention in this photo.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look our photo gallery -- perhaps printing a few of the photos if you can -- and then decide if the D3000's photo quality fulfills your expectations!

Movie Mode

The D3000 cannot record movies. If you want that capability, you'll need the -- get ready -- D5000!

Playback Mode

The D3000 has one of the more 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 25 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

A handy calendar view can be displayed 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. There's also an option to show something like 72 thumbnails on the screen at once. It's hard to make out what things actually are, though, unless you're hooked up to a TV.

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; select from low, normal, or high
  • Redeye correction
  • Trim (crop) - you can select an aspect ratio of 3:2, 4:3, 5:4, 1:1, or 16:9
  • 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
  • Color outline - another digital effect
  • Miniature effect
  • Stop-motion movie - combine several still photos into a movie
  • Before and after
Brightening up an image with D-Lighting Adjusting the color balance of a photo

The D-Lighting option here is the regular one that's been on Nikon cameras for many years. Simply put, it brightens the dark areas of your photos, and you can control how much of it is applied. The color balance option is pretty self-explanatory -- it's handy for removing a color cast in a photo.

RAW processing in playback mode

The D3000 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 setting. The resulting image is saved as a Large/Fine JPEG.

Creating a miniature photo

One of the new bells and whistles on the D3000 is the miniature effect filter. This feature, sometimes called tilt-shift, makes things look like miniature toys. I'm still learning how to use this feature myself, but you can see how it works above: you select the area of the frame that you want to be sharp. The rest of the image is blurred out, like so:

That's probably not the best example of this feature -- I think Nikon's own sample photo does a better job of showing what the miniature feature is all about.

Comparing before and after D-Lighting was applied

If you want to compare a photo you've retouched with the original, then you can use the before and after feature. You can zoom into each image separately, but not at the same time (with a split-screen view), which can be useful.

The stop-motion movie feature lets you combine up to 100 photos into a slow-playing, silent movie (think The Nightmare Before Christmas). The resulting movie can be 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120, and the frame rate can be 3, 6, 10, or 15 fps.

One feature on the D3000 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 D3000 moves from photo to photo in a fraction of a second.