Nikon D5000 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

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:

Feature D60 D5000 D90
MSRP, body only $529 $729 $999
Sensor resolution (effective) 10.2 MP 12.3 MP 12.3 MP
AF system 3-point 11-point 11-point
AF with all Nikkor lenses No No Yes
LCD size / resolution 2.5" / 230,000 pixel 2.7" / 230,000 pixel 3.0" / 920,000 pixel
LCD position Fixed Flip-down, rotating Fixed
Viewfinder mag / coverage 0.8X / 95% 0.78X / 95% 0.94X / 96%
Dust reduction system Yes, w/airflow control system Yes, w/airflow control system Yes
Live view No Yes Yes
ISO range (fully expanded) 100 - 3200 100 - 6400 100 - 6400
Continuous shooting rate 3 fps 4 fps 4.5 fps
White balance by color temperature No No Yes
Built-in wireless flash support No No Yes
Quiet release mode No Yes No
Interval timer shooting No Yes No
HD video recording No Yes
1280 x 720, 24 fps
1280 x 720, 24 fps
HDMI output No Yes Yes
GPS support No Yes Yes
Shutter durability N/A 100,000 100,000
Battery used EN-EL9 EN-EL9a EN-EL3e
Battery life (CIPA standard) 500 shots 510 shots 850 shots
Battery grip available No No Yes
Dimensions (W x H x D) 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in. 5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 in. 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in.
Weight (body only) 495 g 560 g 620 g

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:

Camera Battery life, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 400 shots LP-E5
Nikon D5000 510 shots EN-EL9a
Olympus E-620 500 shots BLS-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 * 300 shots DMW-BLB13
Sony Alpha DSLR-A380 510 shots NP-FH50

* Live view only

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

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:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The D5000 supports nearly all Nikon F-mount lenses, though autofocus is only available on AF-S and AF-I models
External flash


From $114
From $217
From $445
Get more flash power and less chance of redeye with these Speedlights. The SB-900 can be used to control wireless flashes.
Wireless Speedlight Commander SU-800 From $244 While not a flash itself, this can be used to control other flashes wirelessly
Wired remote control MC-DC2 $27 A shutter release button on a 1 meter cable
Wireless remote control ML-L3 From $15 Another way to take photos without touching the camera
GPS unit GP-1 $220 Attaches via the tripod mount and connects to a port on the side of the camera; saves location data with each photo
AC adapter EH-5a
From $79
From $35
Power your camera without draining the battery; you need BOTH of these parts!
Soft case CF-DC2 $45 Holds the camera with a lens attached
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

Not too shabby, eh? There are a few other accessories available, mostly related to the optical viewfinder.

Nikon Transfer

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.

Nikon ViewNX

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.