So many camera makers have had so many attempts at producing the perfect digital SLR for beginners that you've got to wonder if Nikon can really add anything new with the D3000. Its specs are pretty conservative, featuring a basic, 10.2-megapixel CCD sensor with no movie mode or live view. But then the D3000 isn't too pricey, at around £430, and that's including Nikon's very decent 18-55mm VR kit lens.
It's all about quality rather than quantity. The D3000 doesn't do anything that its rivals don't, and, fundamentally, appears little different to the D60 and the D40x that went before it. But the argument will be that you're paying for proven functionality and steady improvements, not cutting-edge technology.
One of the improvements is a new 11-point autofocus system, which is certainly a step-up from the basic, 3-point AF of the old D60, although it's not necessarily any more beginner-friendly. Also new is the interface, which makes a fresh stab at trying to display the effects of lens aperture and shutter speed (the D60's attempt was rather confusing). Nikon's especially proud of the new 'guide' mode, which prompts you to choose the type of picture you're trying to take, and then sets up the camera for you so that you can see what to do.
If you don't want to bother with any of that just yet, you can leave everything to the D3000's automatic scene-recognition system. Indeed, the results are so good so often that many beginners might not bother going any further.
The picture quality is first-rate, although we saw some overexposure on our test shot (oddly the D300S that we reviewed at the same time did the same thing). Much of the credit for this quality has to go to Nikon's 18-55mm VR kit lens, which is much sharper at the edges of the frame than most of its rivals. It's good at its maximum zoom setting, too.
Those who've upgraded from a compact may have to look hard to see any significant improvement in detail at low ISOs (it's mostly in subtle textures), but the improvement at high ISOs is huge. The D3000 is better at ISO 1,600 than most compacts are at ISO 400.
You can have some fun with the built-in retouching functions too, especially Nikon's new 'miniature' effect, which can make city streets look like pieces from a Hornby train set.
The D3000 might seem like the best of all possible worlds for a beginner -- an inexpensive dSLR that's easy to use, leading you through the technicalities, before offering all the manual controls and overrides you could want later on.
Well, that's mostly the case. But the penalty for all that user-friendliness is a set of manual controls that's buried just slightly too deep. You can see straight away what the white balance, ISO and other settings are, but it takes just a few too many button clicks to change them. It was just the same with the D60.
What this means is that, although the D3000 is good, you could very quickly outgrow it. There's no problem at all with the picture quality, even if the D3000 does have a comparatively low-tech sensor. But, if you want your camera to be a learning tool rather than just something to grab snaps with, the D3000's control system could soon start getting on your nerves.
The Nikon D3000 is very middle-of-the-road, but its pictures are great, its technology is perfectly adequate and it's as simple to use as Nikon says it is. Even the price is alright -- it's much more than you might have paid for a starter dSLR a couple of years ago, but rivals have gone up in price too.
Edited by Charles Kloet