Nikon’s D5000 D-SLR; 12.3MP DX Format With Video & Articulating Monitor

I’ll leave it to the numerologists among you to decipher why Nikon has gone to a four-figure code in this latest D-SLR, but it hints at a new generation of interchangeable lens cameras that tempts the previous digicam owner to step up into a land where shutter lag is banished and a host of creative accessories await.

This full-featured D-SLR is small (approximately 5x4x3”) and weighs next to nothing (about 1 lb, 4 oz) sans lens. It has a 2.7” LCD monitor that somehow seems bigger than it is and that is both nice and bright and moves in ways that fully exploit Live View in both Still and Video mode. The camera sells for what Nikon describes as an “estimated street price” of $729.95 body only. They supplied me with a kit lens, an AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR, which seems to add about $150 to the street price (in my web research). This is a nice and silent operating lens with Vibration Reduction capability, albeit with a miserly f/5.6 maximum aperture as soon as you leave wide-angle home base on the zoom. Equally unimpressive is the built-in flash with a GN of 39 (feet/ISO 100), which means if you shoot with the kit lens zoomed you top out at about 8 ft, OK for close-up fill, and a bit more if you raise the ISO. If you get into shooting with this camera you’ll probably yearn for a faster lens and an accessory shoe-mount flash, which would be great as this is actually a very good camera that has many smart features and functions that will appeal to the growing crowd of D-SLR users and especially those coming up through the ranks from a digicam.

High ISO, NR On And Off
One of the charms of current D-SLRs is the image quality at high ISO settings. Though FX (full frame) chips deliver better performance, the D5000 has an excellent High Noise Reduction filter in various strengths. Even without the NR filter, which tends to smooth or blur edges somewhat, the image quality at ISO 3200 is impressive, at least when compared to previous generations. Here’s a shot inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal with High ISO NR at the highest level (1) and a detail showing the smoothing (2) and without any NR set (3) and a detail showing some noise (4). Note that even with NR set to off some noise reduction is done in processing. Overall, quite good at this high a setting.
All Photos © 2009, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved

It seems that Nikon has taken a top down/bottom up approach with this camera, by which I mean that you find features and image quality options available in both higher-end and lower-end D-SLRs, as well as digicams, in the feature set. There’s no pretending that this is a pro model with build and speed to match, but it does have a host of standard and customizable Picture Controls, a top 1⁄4000 sec shutter speed, up to 4 frames per second (fps) shooting rate (manual focus), center-weighted and spot as well as 3D color matrix metering, more Scene modes than you could possibly use (including “pet portrait”), exposure and white balance bracketing, ISO 200-3200 standard range (with a bit more at both ends if you need it), NEF and NEF+JPEG format recording, and, of course these days, video recording capability.

To play with Overlay in the camera, one of many “retouch” features offered, you shoot normally using raw format, then go into the menu and choose Overlay. The image review screen comes up and you choose the two shots (here overlay 3 and 2). Note that I made one shot sharp and one out of focus. You can then choose the “gain” or degree of influence each image will have in the setup; here I kept the sharp image at 1.0 and reduced the fuzzy shot to 0.4. The screen then shows a small preview, and you press OK.

Monitor and menu operations are different from the pro and advanced amateur models in that the D5000 has less on-body buttons that have a direct effect on shooting, such as white balance, ISO, Drive mode, etc. Instead, these are contained in the menu. Notice I didn’t say buried in the menu, as just about every control you might want to use is accessed via the LCD by pushing the “i” button on the camera back. You then toggle easily through the shooting, ISO, white balance, etc. controls. The “i” button brings up the most commonly used and changed items. If you want to get a bit more esoteric for items like the color space, noise reduction settings, and interval timer setup (yes, it has one of those) then you dive deeper into the menu and toggle through the options. The icons etc. on the LCD are big, bright, and readable in all kinds of light. I can’t say the same for the read-outs in the viewfinder, which to me, being an eyeglass wearer, are not so easy to view. I often had to view the scene then drop my eye down to the bottom viewfinder rail to see the numbers.

Fill Flash
The pop-up flash is not very powerful, and if you really like to do family gatherings or extensive flash work get yourself an auxiliary, but for quick outdoor fill the built-in works fine. This shot was made right after sunset with the wall, sign, and flowering bush in deep shadow, but the flash kicked it all up nicely. Exposure on AV mode was f/14 at 1⁄60 sec at ISO 800.

The most attractive part of using the LCD monitor is that it swivels from shut (protective position) 270? around to allow for various shooting and viewing positions. In fact, for video I mounted the D5000 on a Cam Caddie ( and shot it from the hip with the monitor pointing upward, which made for a more candid and relaxed shooting experience (in that people being videoed (taped) did not have to see me pointing the camera from my face toward theirs).

Shots like this are a prime candidate for D-Lighting. The tonal spread is much less contrasty than you might expect when you use this tonal curve adjustment. Yes, the deep shadows will not get nudged too much, but the middle shadows can be brought back. Plus, this allows you to expose so that highlights will not get burnt up while preserving some decent shadow detail.

Raven_High's picture

Seriously considering buying it. This is the standard counterpoint. It is a fair one too. - Mallory Fleming