Nikon D5000 digital SLR
Satisfying stills with HD thrown in
Review You’ve got to hand it to those marketing bods who are constantly on the lookout for a gap in the market. Not so long ago, digital SLRs were neatly divided into high-end/entry-level models, but now, consumer DSLRs come in a variety of specifications aimed at specific groups of users. Nikon’s D5000 is a good example. It’s described as an “upper entry level” DSLR, which means that it offers more than a budget DSLR, but just a little less than a mid-range model. So does the D5000 fill a gap or fall between two stools?
Nikon's D5000 DSLR
Despite its model number, the D5000 sits firmly between Nikon’s D60 and D90  models, and Nikon clearly hopes that potential D60 buyers might be tempted to trade up to the D5000. However, the company also clearly desires that potential D90 purchasers will not be persuaded to trade down to the D5000 – hence, the carefully selected features and specifications.
The D5000 offers HD recording and Liveview operation and it uses the same 12.3Mp (effective) 23.6 x 15.8mm DX Format CMOS sensor as the D90, as well as the same 11-point AF system. Naturally, the D90 has a few cards up its sleeves, including a Pentaprism-based viewfinder, a 3in LCD screen composed of 920,000 dots, slighter faster continuous shooting speed (4.5fps compared with 4fps) and a built-in autofocus motor.
By contrast, the D5000 uses a pentamirror system, a smaller 2.7in screen with just 230,000 dots and utilises a lens-based AF system. However, the D5000 does have something the D90 lacks – an articulating LCD screen that swivels up to 270 degrees – more on this later.
The D5000 is available as a body only or kit option. We reviewed the latter that came with an 18-55mm f/3.5-f.5.6 AF-S NIKKOR lens but, of course, you can use a variety of Nikon lenses with this camera. However, the D5000 only supports all functions on AF-S and AF-I-type lenses. For the rest, there are varying degrees of compatibility but, suffice to say, if your lens doesn’t have a built-in AF motor, you’ll be limited to manual focusing.
LCD quality could have been better
The general layout is quite familiar, as you can see from the product photos. The D5000 uses SD/SDHC cards, a lithium-ion battery, and has mini USB, mini HDMI and accessory ports – the latter can be used with an optional GPS unit for geo-tagging shots.
In terms of features, you get both JPEG and RAW (NEF format) shooting options with a top resolution of 4288 x 2848 down to 2144 x 1424. The D5000 has an image sensor cleaning system, EXPEED image processing, shutter speed range 1/4000-30 sec plus bulb and ISO range of 200-3200, with the option of extending this to the equivalent of 100-6400. Note that the ISO extension system uses image processing to achieve this effect.
HD recording is at 24f/s and at 720p
HD video recording (Motion JPEG AVI) offers 1280 x 720 resolution at 24fps, and VGA and QVGA recording options are also available. You can make your own film animations using a stop motion movie function, which lets you select the image size from VGA to 160 x120 and frame rate between 3 to 15fps.
Other features include evaluative (aka 3D colour matrix), centre-weighted and spot metering, Active D-Lighting for improving contrast, nineteen scene modes and six picture control settings, such as vivid and monochrome.
There a plenty of in-camera editing features too, including the ability to convert RAW to JPEG files, plus trimming, red eye reduction, fisheye effect and colour outline – which makes your image look like a line drawing. Oh, and Nikon kindly provides a full paper manual with an excellent index and a software CD-Rom which includes Nikon Transfer. Use this for moving images from camera or media to your PC, and to view JPEG and NEF files, use ViewNX, which also offers adjustments, such as white balance or sharpness.
When it comes to handling, the D5000 is a fair old size and weight, measuring 127 x 104 x 80mm and weighing around 800 grams when loaded up with the kit’s 18-55mm lens, card and battery – the body alone weighs 560 grams. But then again, that does mean you’ve got plenty to grab hold of. Despite the bulk, the D5000 is comfortable to hold and the main controls are close at hand.
Appears bulky but is actually quite comfortable
The sensor cleaning system causes a slight delay on start-up, but the D5000 can fire off its first frame in less than two seconds. You can disable the sensor cleaning function, but we didn’t see a great reduction in start-up time when we tried this. The usual PASM modes, plus movie and scene modes can be quickly accessed via the mode dial.
Before colour outline effect
After colour outline effect
The menu system, however, is rather large and unwieldy. There are six menus to navigate for playback, shooting, custom settings, set-up, retouch and recent settings. The shooting menu alone has 14 parameters that can be adjusted, which are spread over two screens, so there’s a fair bit of scrolling involved. To be fair, many of the major settings, such as ISO, white balance and image size, can be quickly adjusted using the info and function buttons. Still, we have certainly seen friendlier menu systems.
Depending on its position, the screen could be a problem for tripod use
The articulating LCD screen combined with Live View that shows the real time image on the LCD rather than just the viewfinder, means the D5000 is great for shooting at various angles, and it’s very easy to take a self-portrait using the system. However, Nikon has opted to put the screen’s hinge at the bottom of the camera body, so you’re a bit stuffed if you try moving the screen when the camera is tripod mounted.
Shame also, that the screen resolution is relatively coarse. The D5000 has quite a noisy shutter and a Quiet-Shutter release system can be used to reduce the noise. It works by slowing the movement of the mirror, although you still get a fairly loud clicking sound in this mode.
In terms of performance, there’s a lot to like about the D5000. The AF system is swift and responsive, albeit somewhat sluggish when using Live View. Colour, contrast, resolution and exposure were impressive and you’ll certainly get good results with this camera. RAW images appear a tad sharper than JPEGs too.
Noise levels are low, even at high ISO speeds, although we’re not sure why Nikon has bothered with the ISO 6400 equivalent option, as noise levels are high, even when using the camera’s High ISO noise reduction system. Moreover, some photographers might be put off by the fact that the D5000 doesn’t offer a really low ISO speed, such as 64 or 100, but Nikon clearly believes that there’s little to be gained by going any lower with a camera of this quality. We think they are right, but you might think otherwise.
Autofocus was a tad sluggish during Live View shooting
The continuous shooting mode shoots up to 100 JPEG frames in fine resolution at 4f/s, although there is a noticeable slowing down around the 40-frame mark as the buffer begins to fill up. Low light shooting is good, although when shooting outdoors at dusk, we were perplexed to find that the Night Landscape mode refused to operate and the D5000 displayed a message telling us it was because the light level was too low!
Video performance though, was disappointing, and not just because there is no 1080p HD recording option. The 24fps shooting mode means that movement is not as smooth as on videos produced by models offering 30fps. The D5000’s rolling shutter meant that image stability was a bit wobbly, especially when the camera was moved. And exposure was also uneven, creating a series of light and dark bands running down the screen.
The HD movie options have limitations, but as a still camera it's a solid performer
Another issue is that there is no auto-focus in movie mode and any settings have to be made before you start recording. You are also limited to five minutes maximum recording time in HD movie mode, which produces a 2GB file, although lower resolution movies can be recorded for up to twenty minutes.
As a still camera, and let’s be honest, which is why most people will buy the D5000, this model has a lot going for it. You get a good set of features, lots of automation and plenty of manual control for the more adventurous. The articulating LCD screen is a bonus, despite its limitations when using a tripod and it’s relatively low resolution. However, if you’re tempted to trade up for the D5000’s video recording feature, you’ll be disappointed. That said, the D5000 is a fine model and if you’re looking for a camera that offers more than the average entry level DSLR, you should certainly put it on your shopping list. ®
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