Nikon D5000 Review

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

Some other D-SLRs in this class worth considering include the Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Olympus E-620, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 (I guess), and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A380.

As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the D5000 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out our gallery to see how the D5000's photo quality looks!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.