The Nikon D80 lasted a long time at the top of our entry-level dSLR list, and the D5000 has been an eagerly awaited replacement in that just-under-£700 kit segment. And there are plenty of significant changes in this model. Nikon switches to a CMOS sensor instead of the CCD it's been using in its entry-level models, in this case, the same 12.3-megapixel version that's in the D90.
Plus there's the new (to Nikon's dSLRs) flip-down-and-swivel LCD, and an improved AF system -- the same 11-point AF system as the D90 -- that distinguish it clearly from the cheaper D60. But, as frequently happens, this threatens to cannibalise the market for the more expensive D90. Especially since it has a newer version of the Expeed image processor (with improved Auto Active D-Lighting and face-priority AF) and enhanced Live View AF, along with a connector for the optional GP-1 hot shoe GPS.
The D5000 is available in two configurations, at least from Nikon: body only and a kit with the 18-55mm VR lens, which is the more common offering online, for around £650. We wouldn't be surprised if a dual-lens kit with the additional 55-200mm lens eventually became official, as retailers are already offering it.
Constructed of polycarbonate over stainless steel, the 610g D5000 weighs 100g or so more than the D60 and competing Canon EOS 500D, but slightly less than the D90. It feels plasticky, but not cheap -- pretty typical for its price segment -- although the SD slot cover does seem rather flimsier than usual.
The control layout is pretty typical, although Nikon seems to have eliminated more direct-access buttons than most products in its class and replaced them entirely with the interactive display. Through it, in combination with the back dial and multi selector, you can adjust shutter speed, aperture, image size and quality, white balance, ISO sensitivity, focus mode, AF area (single, multi, wide area and 3D tracking), metering, D-Lighting, exposure bracketing (three shots in up to two stop increments), Picture Control, exposure and flash compensation, and flash mode.
We like the interactive displays, but the D5000's LCD is rather difficult to see in sunlight, which made changing settings somewhat problematic. There's also a programmable function button that falls under your left thumb -- which we found handy -- to which you can assign direct access to drive modes, image size and quality, ISO sensitivity, white balance, Active D-Lighting, raw override and bracketing.
There's no dedicated mode for shooting video -- a good thing -- instead, while in Live View mode, you use the OK button to stop and start recording. Though it doesn't do continuous autofocus, you can initiate AF while recording. Like Canon's, however, it's very slow and rather noisy.
We feel somewhat ambivalent about the D5000's design. Articulated LCDs are great and definitely enhance the usability of Live View. But ultimately we find the flip-down version on the D5000 less useful than the flip-out versions on Olympus' SLRs: it's good for overhead and hip-level shooting, but not as comfortable for sideways. Of course, from that perspective it's far more flexible than Canon's fixed LCDs. But the D5000's LCD isn't very good. In addition to the aforementioned visibility problem in direct sunlight, it seemed soft -- we couldn't tell if our photos were sharp, and manual focus in Live View (and video recording) was nearly impossible.
Furthermore, there's no way to keep the multi selector switch from accidentally moving the selected AF points, which we did, repeatedly. Finally, the viewfinder is small and dim, and the AF lock light is way down in the lower left corner where you have to strain to see it. On the upside, it has an optional grid display.
The D5000 definitely comes through on performance and photo quality, however. It's fast, and generally outshoots the D90, most notably in low-light autofocus. It powers on and shoots in about 0.2 seconds, with shot lag as good as 0.3 seconds under good light and a still-respectable 0.7 seconds in dim conditions.
It shoots and saves JPEG files slightly faster than raw, though they both end up at about 0.5 seconds -- adding flash bumps that just slightly to 0.9 seconds. Burst shooting clocks about 4 frames per second -- same as the D90 -- putting it at the head of this class. The AF system is pretty good too, and the whole thing is certainly fast enough to keep up with the typical shooting material of children, sport and pets. The battery lasts a relatively long time as well -- it's CIPA rated at about 510 shots.
It also delivers excellent photo quality for the price, with solid exposure (though not as bright and straight-to-printer friendly as the 500D's) and great colour. Its noise profile is very good up until ISO 1,600 and, for a variety of scenes, usable through its extended ISO 6,400 (Hi). The kit lens is above average as well: very sharp and able to focus quite closely.
As with the D90, though, the video is slightly disappointing. The camera only shoots 24fps 720p, which isn't a fast enough frame rate to render quite as smoothly as we've come to expect and doesn't scale very well to full-screen playback. It's usable, and fine if you're interested in experimenting, but it doesn't look sharp or polished.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
As long as you don't get as hung up as we did on its operational quirks or have high expectations of shooting video, there's plenty to like about the Nikon D5000 -- especially if you're most interested in its core aptitudes: a wealth of features, speedy shooting and high-quality photographs for the money.
Edited by Nick Hide