Nikon D3000 digital SLR
Top shot techniques tutor at a not-so-painful price
Review The D3000 is the new entry-level DSLR from Nikon and it’s aimed at the complete beginner with high-performance ambitions. It replaces the best selling D60 and marks a much needed and anticipated upgrade. The basic kit includes an 18-55mm lens and comes in at £429, stirring up competition for its main rivals the Canon EOS 450D , the Sony A330 and the Olympus E520.
Flash kit: Nikon's D3000
At 126 x 97 x 64mm and weighing 485g, the D3000 retains the design and overall build of the D60. While keeping the 10.2Mp DX-format CCD sensor of previous entry-level models, Nikon has also introduced some handy new features and raised the specs to match some of its higher-end models. A case in point is the inclusion of Nikon’s flagship EXPEED image processing technology and the very useful on-board auto sensor cleaning system.
Among the shooting options available is an intelligent Guide Mode. This is an ideal function for newcomers, this is substantially different from a typical auto exposure mode. By selecting Guide Mode, you access a menu that prompts you to make decisions on the image composition and then makes the right settings for the results you had in mind. Quicker than reading a manual, it offers a much simpler way for the novice to familiarise themselves with the camera’s capabilities as well as time-honoured photographic techniques for pics just like a pro, sort of.
Other features include Scene Recognition, that analyses the composition and optimises the image settings accordingly. Picture Control customises the look of your image before shooting with six different settings: standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait and landscape. Active D-Lighting tackles the difficulties of shooting in bright sunlight and works to preserve details in high contrast images.
The D3000 also offers an improved focusing system akin to the higher-end models with 11 AF points, instead of the 3 AF points of the D60. The new 3D subject tracking system is impressive, working well even with fast-moving subjects. And in common with its bigger siblings, the new Nikon is very responsive, with no real shutter lag and the continuous shooting mode allows you to take up to 3fps.
Guide Mode reveals the adjustments needed to deliver photographic effects
The 3in LCD screen features 230,000 pixels and is a considerably larger screen than its predecessor. It is bright and accurate for checking exposure and has a rapid zoom in capability with excellent definition – useful for examining focus and noise artefacts on images. For a tilting LCD panel, users will need to opt for the much more expensive D5000 . Furthermore, Nikon decided against equipping the D3000 with a Live View mode or movie facility. On the plus side though, the optical viewfinder is well-conceived, providing all the information you need when shooting.
Still, a Live View screen is likely to become the norm in entry-level DSLRs and users are coming to expect it, as it’s especially useful when you cannot frame face-on. That said, using a rear screen is often more confusing than the optical viewfinder, as it can encourage a certain level of detachment when composing a shot. As this is a beginner’s DSLR, the lack of Live View may well be to their advantage but if it is important to you, there are alternatives.
Typically kitted out with a 18-55mm lens, equivalent to 28-85mm on a 35mm camera
The in-built retouching menu features a new Miniature Filter, simulating the narrow focus effect of tilt and shift lenses . It’s a great effect and works best when photographing people or objects from a high point, like a bridge, as it gives the optical illusion of miniaturizing the subject within the focus area against an otherwise normal size background. It’s an interesting option and tests prove it can be used creatively in portraiture too.
The D3000 is small and light fitting in your hand snugly and firmly. Although the body is made of hard plastic, the camera is anything but flimsy, feeling solid and durable. The ergonomic grip is so well designed that shooting with one hand becomes second nature. This is an invaluable aspect if you love taking self-portraits. The compact size of the camera makes it more discreet to carry around, which is an advantage when travelling, especially for safety.
The large rear display does limit space for direct access controls at the back. However, the menu system is quite straightforward and intuitive when it comes to all the main settings and commands. If you are content to use the sub menus to access some of the options occasionally, then just opt for the simplest layout for general use. Incidentally, the display flips 90° horizontally or vertically to follow the landscape/portrait orientation of the camera, so that you can always read the information the right side up.
Overall, the new focusing system works very well and, with challenges such as moving subjects, it stays sharp. However, in the testing environment of low light, its accuracy and responsiveness does suffer somewhat. Yet, for a camera at this level, the image quality of the new D3000 is stunning and shows Nikon’s perseverance to provide beginners with a seemingly professional performance. Even in challenging lighting conditions the exposure system consistently delivered great results and the B mode allowed for some vibrant night photography.
Handles well, even for self-portraits
In RAW (NEF) mode, the level of detail is remarkable, but even with compressed JPEG files, the images were beautifully rich in detail. Particularly impressive is the camera’s handling of low-key areas and high contrast situations. The metering system is also spot-on, whether you like to work with dedicated shooting programs or in full manual mode. Both warm and pastel tones are reproduced in all their nuances with similar effects to the colour rendering of Nikon’s most expensive models.
Before Miniature Effect
After Miniature Effect
While not fully revealing the tilt and shift effect in portraits, the softening of focus is, nonetheless, appealing
ISO Test Shots
With shutter speeds from 1/4000 to 30sec, its ISO range is 100 to 1600. Like most Nikon models, the D3000 gives good results for high ISO levels up to about 800 and, in decent lighting conditions, even ISO 1600 delivers an acceptable level of noise. Also, using a +1EV increment ‘boost’, an equivalent ISO 3200 shot is possible too.
Don't let the lack of movie mode put you off checking out the D3000
The built-in flash is quite mild and subtle, working really well as a fill in light, especially for portraits. Anyone wanting more powerful flash effects can use the hotshoe to attach an external flashgun. Images are stored on SDHC memory cards and the D3000 uses the same EN-EL9a lithium-ion battery as the D5000, with a life of 550 shots and a surprisingly short recharging time.
Testing the D3000 was more fun than expected. It’s packed with features a novice will appreciate, while performing like a much more professional model. The feel of the camera is just what you want from a small DSLR: light and compact with intuitive handling and a solid build. That said, it’s a shame Nikon decided not to include a movie facility or Live View mode, as this might adversely influence the popularity of this otherwise great little camera. Nevertheless, Nikon has released its most beginner-friendly and accessible DSLR to date and, thanks to its terrific performance, intelligent new features and affordable price, it’s certainly one of the best deals on the market. ®
Catherine Monfils  is a professional photographer specialising in portraiture, lifestyle and fashion.
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