Nikon D5000 Hands-on Review
All the ‘Hoo-hah’ Features of a D90 in a Smaller, Less Costly Body
Text by Allan Weitz
X-format CMOS sensor, Live View, and 720p video capture for under a thousand dollars – Nikon lovers were gushing all over themselves. With Summer 2009 approaching fast, Nikon has rolled out the D5000, which incorporates most all of the eyebrow-raising features of the D90 in a smaller (D40/60/80)-sized body and at a significantly lower price.
The D5000 retains the key selling points that sent Nikonians flocking to the sales counters including the same 12.3Mp CMOS censor, HD 720p Video Capture with D-Movie Exposure Control, Live View Mode, along with In-Camera Image Editing and a variety of Personal Picture Control Settings.
The folks at Nikon also threw in a few features not found on the D90 including an Airflow Control System designed to work in tandem with the camera’s dust-reduction system to prevent dust from lodging onto the imaging sensor; Subject Tracking to further enhance the D5000’s 11-point AF system; and an industry first in APS-format DSLRs, an articulated LCD to make shooting at extreme angles easier. The D5000 can also fire off continuous bursts of up to 63 JPEGs (or 11 RAW) versus 25 JPEGs (or 7 RAW) for the D90.
For shooting in concert halls, around sleeping babies, and other noise-sensitive environments (sleeping guard dogs?) the D5000 features a Quiet Shooting mode that greatly dampens camera shutter noise.
There are also 2 new in-camera retouching tools found on the D5000. One is an artsy Color Outline tool, and the other is a truly real-world-useful Perspective Control feature that corrects the keystone distortions that occur when you aim your camera upward or downward. Situations that normally call for a tilt-shift lens can now be addressed in-camera using the camera’s LCD as a guide. You simply take a picture, play it back, select Perspective Control in the Photo Effects menu, then make your corrections, and save the image as a new image file. And while this neat feature will never replace the imaging abilities of a real-deal tilt-shift lens, it’s still a killer app for correcting garden-variety keystone distortions.
If there’s a downside to this nifty perspective control tool, it would have to be the fact new images are numbered chronologically. This means unless you make corrections immediately, the camera-given number of your new corrected image can vastly differ from the original image number, making it harder to organize your images without going in and renaming your files. Will this ‘flaw’ trip up the universe? Nah, but it’s certainly worth mentioning for those who like everything in their lives to stack up without speed bumps.
Other pro features found in the D5000 include Active D-Lighting for maximum shadow and highlight detail, Nikon 3D Color Matrix II metering, an advanced Scene Recognition System supported by a 420-pixel RGB sensor, the ability to shoot in RAW, 3 levels of JPEG compression, or RAW+JPEG image capture, burst-rates up to 4 fps, an EXPEED image processor, and a 3-tier dust-removal system. AVI-format video clips can be captured at 3 levels of compression in lengths up to 20 minutes with the ability to apply exposure compensation when shooting in Program, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority, and Manual modes.
Not necessarily a pro feature but valuable none-the-less is a pop-up flash, which proves handy for small group and party shots as well as eliminating ‘raccoon eyes’ when shooting informal portraits outdoors under a bright, mid-day sun. Timid souls will also find solace in the D5000’s extremely user-friendly interface, which utilizes well-defined, thumbnail photos, animated icons and large-font text on the camera’s LCD to guide you along.
In case you’re wondering what you give up by not going with a D90, you can start with the option of adding a battery grip, which may or may not be an issue depending the size of your hands (the D5000 body is quite compact) and whether or not you need/prefer a vertical mode shutter release button and Command Dial.
The LCD on the D5000 is a 2.7″ (230,000-dot) screen versus the 3″ (920,000-dot) screen found on the D90. The trade-off here is the D90’s LCD is sharper but the D5000’s LCD tilts. The viewing systems between the D90 and D5000 also differ. The D90 has a glass pentaprism versus a pentamirror viewing system in the D5000, which for most users should be a non-issue. Lastly, the D5000, unlike the D90, lacks in-body focusing motors, which limits the D5000 to AF-S and AF-I NIKKOR lenses, though it can be used with Type G, D, AI-P, and non-CPU-series Nikkor optics with select functionality. (Note- Nikon’s D40, D40x, and D60 also lack in-camera AF motors)
Like the D90, the D5000 features Live View, which enables you to compose your images on the camera’s LCD. Depending on your needs, you can program the camera to display a straight, uncluttered view of the scene, or with key exposure data along the top, bottom, and portions of the left side of the screen. To better compose your image and/or level the images horizon line, you can also superimpose a grid across the screen.
ISO sensitivity levels can be set from a native ISO 200 through ISO 3200. They can also be expanded to a low of ISO 100 and a high of ISO 6400. In practice, image files held up quite well through ISO 1600 before noise and breakdowns of tonal gradations started becoming noticeable.
If you plan on purchasing the Nikon D5000 for its video abilities, you’ll truly appreciate the new camera’s variable-angle LCD, which as they do on traditional camcorders, makes shooting video far less awkward when shooting from angles other than eye level. This convenient tilt feature also comes in handy when shooting stills from angles difficult to preview using the camera’s viewfinder. You’ll also value the ability to shoot video using a range of focal length lenses far broader than the focal range of any fixed-lens camcorder. For video playback on your TV the D5000 features an HDMI