Nikon D5000 Review

Using the Nikon D5000

Record Mode

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:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB SD card (optional)
4288 x 2848
RAW + Fine JPEG 16.7 MB 90
RAW + Normal JPEG 13.4 MB 108
RAW + Basic JPEG 12.0 MB 119
RAW 10.6 MB 134
Fine 5.9 MB 275
Normal 3.0 MB 500
Basic 1.5 MB 1050
3216 x 2136
Fine 3.3 MB 485
Normal 1.7 MB 900
Basic 900 KB 1800
2144 x 1424
Fine 1.5 MB 1050
Normal 800 KB 2050
Basic 400 KB 3850

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:

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
Shooting menu
  • Scene mode (Night landscape, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, pet portrait, candlelight, blossom, autumn colors, food, silhouette, high key, low key) - only available when mode dial set to Scene
  • 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, color temperature, preset manual) - see below
  • ISO sensitivity settings
    • ISO sensitivity (Auto, Lo 1/100 - Hi 1/6400)
    • ISO sensitivity auto control (on/off)
    • Maximum sensitivity (400, 800, 1600, 3200, Hi 1)
    • Minimum shutter speed (1 - 1/2000 sec) - minimum shutter speed you'll allow
  • Active D-Lighting (Off, low, normal, high, extra high, auto) - see below
  • Auto distortion control (on/off) - automatically reduces barrel distortion on wide-angle lenses
  • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
  • Long exposure noise reduction (on/off) - for exposures longer than 8 secs
  • High ISO noise reduction (Off, low, normal, high) - for ISO 800 and above; even if turned off, some NR will be applied at the "Hi" sensitivities
  • Active folder (Select, new, rename, delete)
  • Movie settings - much more on this later
    • Quality (1280 x 720, 640 x 424, 320 x 216)
    • Sound (on/off)
  • Interval timer shooting - time-lapse mode
    • Start time (Now, set time)
    • Interval (1 sec - 24 hours)
    • Number of intervals (1 - 999)

Custom settings menu

  • Reset - back to defaults
  • a1: AF-area mode (Single-point, dynamic area, auto area, 3D-tracking) - see below
  • a2: Built-in AF-assist illuminator (on/off)
  • a3: Live view autofocus (Face priority, Wide area, normal area, subject tracking)
  • a4: Rangefinder (on/off) - below
  • b1: EV steps for exposure control (1/3, 1/2 step)
  • c1: Shutter-release button AE-L (on/off) - whether exposure locks when the shutter release is halfway-pressed
  • c2: Auto-off timers (Short, normal, long, custom) - for playback/menus, image review, and metering
  • c3: Self-timer
    • Delay (2, 5, 10, 20 secs)
    • Number of shots (1-9
  • c4: Remote on duration (1, 5, 10, 15 mins) - how long the camera waits for a signal from the remote control
  • d1: Beep (Off, low, high) - you're adjusting the pitch rather than the volume
  • d2: Viewfinder grid display (on/off) - whether a composition grid is shown in the viewfinder
  • d3: ISO display (on/off) - whether the ISO is shown in place of shots remaining in the viewfinder
  • d4: File number sequence (On, off, reset)
  • d5: Exposure delay mode (on/off) - delays shutter release for a second after the mirror is flipped up
  • d6: Date imprint (Off, date, date and time, date counter) - print the date on your photos
  • d7: Live view display options (Show indicators, hide indicators, framing grid, show shooting info) - the four live views that I showed you earlier
  • e1: Flash control for built-in flash (TTL, manual) - manual lets you select the flash output between full and 1/32
  • e2: Auto bracketing set (Exposure bracketing, WB bracketing, ADL bracketing) - see below
  • f1: Assign Self-timer/Function button (Self-timer, release mode, image quality, ISO sensitivity, white balance, Active D-Lighting, +NEF, auto bracketing) - define what this button does
  • f2: Assign AE/AF-lock button (AE/AF lock, AE lock, AF lock, AE lock hold, AF-on)
  • f3: Reverse dial rotation (Yes, no) - for the command dial
  • f4: No memory cad (Release locked, enable release) - whether you can take a photo without a memory card inserted
  • f5: Reverse indicators (+0-, -0+) - change how exposure indicators are displayed

Setup menu
  • 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
  • Info wrap-around (on/off) - whether the cursor wraps around on the quick setting menu
  • Clean image sensor
    • Clean now
    • Clean at startup/shutdown (Startup, shutdown, both, off)
  • Lock up mirror for cleaning
  • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
  • HDMI (Auto, 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080i)
  • 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
  • GPS
    • Auto meter off (on/off) - whether the exposure meter shuts off when the GPS is attached
    • Position - shows current position
  • Eye-Fi upload (on/off) - whether images are uploaded when using an Eye-Fi wireless SD card
  • 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
  • Straighten
  • Distortion control
  • Fisheye
  • Color outline
  • Perspective control
  • Stop-motion movie
  • Side-by-side comparison

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.

View Full Size

ADL Auto
View Full Size

View Full Size
ADL Normal
View Full Size
ADL High
View Full Size
ADL Extra High
View Full Size
  Default setting        

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.

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

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:

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

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 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

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:

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
ISO 6400

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.

Movie Mode

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.

Playback Mode

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
  • Straighten
  • 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.