The most advanced entry Nikon DSLR yet with HD video as a bonus. (July 17th, 2009)
Product Manufacturer: Nikon
Price: $730 (body-only), $850 (18-55mm kit)
- Swiveling LCD.
- Compact design; a good beginner/travel camera.
- Good image quality and ISO levels.
- Relatively fast 4FPS burst shooting.
- Inexpensive for HD video.
- A bit too small; buttons crowded and reduced.
- Dark viewfinder, no top-mounted LCD.
- HD video still exhibits "wobble."
- Reduced options for remote flashes.
image quality and the 18-55mm VR lens
Image quality of the Nikon is excellent in normal ISO ranges of about 200 to 800. Other testers of the D5000 claim the camera puts out visibly noisy images above ISO 800; in my experience, it's practical to move as high as ISO 3,200 if you're willing to invoke a deliberate film grain effect from the noise that becomes visible in the shadows. Noise-centric photographers will of course have a narrower range to choose from, but we actually like what we’ve seen with the D5000 as a whole. Technically, ISO speeds extend to a special Low1 mode (approximately ISO 100) to High1 (ISO 6400), but the sweet spot remains in the regular modes. That shots across virtually all this range remain usable are a testament to the quality of the image sensor, which is the same as in the D90.
The burst rate with the D5000 is equally impressive for its category. Able to plow through 63 large (Fine quality) JPEGs at a frame rate of 4 frames per second, the DSLR can also shoot 11 RAW files at the same 4FPS. While slightly slower than the D90's 4.5 and slower in absolute standards -- a Canon 1D Mark III can peak at 10FPS -- it's good for the class.
The 18-55mm kit lens is surprisingly very nice, even as it uses a plastic lens mount instead of the metal on higher-end Nikon. The more we use this type of mount, the less we are bothered by it. The big knurled rubber ring controls the zoom while the miniscule, almost toy-like focusing grip at the front of the lens lets those who chose to, row the focusing ring for themselves. The Vibration Reduction (VR) function of this lens enables photography in lower light with less shake visible in the image.
But it's not foolproof; truly dark scenes or a combination of low light and fast movement will still produce blurry images. For those keeping count, this lens has a 35mm equivalency of approximately 28 to 85mm, so it will handle common tasks but will need to be swapped out for a wide-angle or telephoto shot. If you're used to longer ranges or shooting macro and other wide shots, consider buying the body-only version of the camera and the lens you really want, such as the 18-105mm general purpose lens.
Night shooting: ISO 200, 1 second exposure, f9
Night shooting: ISO 200, 4 seconds exposure, f16
Shutter speeds run the gamut from 30 glacial seconds, plus bulb, to an action stopping 1/4000th of a second; again, this isn't as fast as some cameras but makes it entirely usable for most sports shooting. Notably, the viewfinder is made up of a pentamirror instead of a pentaprism as found in higher priced DSLRs. The upside (for the manufacturer) is lower costs, while the downside (for the end user) is a dimmer viewfinder. Photographers who rely heavily on optics rather than the camera's Live View mode should steer towards the D90, Rebel T1i or other cameras with brighter viewfinders.
That same Live View is an important but by now ubiquitous feature on Nikon's cameras, and for the most part it carries the same strengths and weaknesses as on other DSLRs. Using it forces the camera to use slower contrast autofocusing, like a point-and-shoot, that takes a few seconds to lock in; you can alternately press a button to force a much quicker focus at the expense of temporarily losing sight of the subject. The upshot of Live View, however, is composing without looking into the eyepiece, and it's here that the D5000 shines: since you can maneuver the LCD to get a head-on view at most common angles, the feature is eminently more useful than it is on a camera with a fixed display. It's likely that Nikon designed the camera with the assumption that many might skip the optical viewfinder altogether.
As with the D90, the key marketing point for the D5000 is its 720p shooting mode. The mode carries over almost exactly, but that's a potential problem: it shoots at 24FPS rather than the 30 of the Rebel T1i and still uses a rolling shutter technique to capture clips, creating an unusual "wobble" during camera movement as the top and bottom of the scene don't stay in sync. That doesn't exist in the Rebel T1i or other video-capable DSLRs. Video size is also a concern: in 720p resolution, recording is limited to five-minute segments. There's also just a single microphone with no option for an external plug-in, so sound will take a definite backseat.
Video can still be useful on the D5000, and at this price the weaknesses are easier to swallow. Still, for now it's best left to controlled tripod use and for imaging first and foremost, not sound as well.
Footage from the D90; D5000 footage is identical.
A built-in pop-up flash holds sway atop the D5000’s pentamirror. By itself, it’s the perfect “walking around” rig. But if you need to trigger Nikon’s Creative Lighting System strobes, you’ll need one more to place in the camera’s hotshoe. This is unlike the big brother D90, where the pop up flash also doubles as a CLS commander strobe. It’s not a deal breaker to be certain, but it would be a great addition.