- Excellent image quality
- Auto modes for beginner
- Good in low light
- Sluggish image buffer
- No live view
- No video recording
The Nikon D3000 is an entry-level DSLR, but don’t let the term fool you. When you place the label “Entry Level” on a camera, it might call to mind a camera with no frills, limited uses, and little more to offer than an automatic shooting experience. This has been disproved by the latest crop of cameras released in the past two years, and the D3000 continues to set the bar high for an entry-level camera. This new generation of point-and-shoots and entry-level DSLRs not only push the boundary of low-light performance and mega resolutions, they give that power to a whole new audience of beginning photographers.
Major manufacturers have also been pushing prices down, giving us powerful entry-level DSLRs for well under $1,000 – it was only up to a few years ago cameras like the Canon EOS Rebels were first to blast away this price point.
Not only do DSLRs offer you manual control over shooting, they give you the advantage of using different kinds of lenses. It’s important to remember when buying a DSLR that you’re also buying into a system of lenses, not just a camera. The power of having a DSLR is that you can place any of your old lenses onto a new camera body in the future.
Enter the Nikon D3000, a new entry-level DSLR with a 10.2 megapixel DX-format CCD APS-C image sensor, 11-point Autofocus system with 3D tracking (which comes on the higher-end D5000 and D90), Active D-Lighting and an AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens for $599.
The D3000 is focused on the consumer that is looking to move from an advanced point-and-shoot into the DSLR arena, and so is equipped with some very automatic features, including the Nikon Guide Mode that offers extensive shooting tips all the way to setting up the camera. The D3000 also features six automatic exposure modes ranging from panorama to portraits. This should make it easy for even the newest of photographers to gain entry to the DSLR game. Let’s see how well it tested…
BUILD AND DESIGN
The D3000 feels and looks exactly like the other DSLRs from Nikon, and is only different from the D90 and D5000, both higher-end models, by a few tenths of an inch. The D3000 measures 5.0×3.8×2.6 inches while the D90 is 5.2×4.1×3.0 inches, though the D3000 weighs a bit less at 1 lb 1 oz, making the Nikon entry-level to prosumer DSLR models almost identical in shape and size as well as overall appearance.
One of the main distinctions between it and the other models is that it has a smaller resolution of 10.2 megapixels, which could seem blasphemous in today’s market when most cameras are coming out well over 12 megapixels. This should not be a deterrent however, but a welcomed surprise that provides bigger photosites on the image sensor so that low-light shots should come out a little better than a packed chip with too many of them – the older D60 model also sports a 10.2 megapixel sensor.
Another major distinction between the D3000 and the D90 and D5000 is that the image sensor is a CCD and not a CMOS chip, which means they are separate, but somewhat similar technologies that are used to turn light into digital values, i.e., the analog-to-digital (A/D conversion), but differ in the method of doing so. The basic thing to know here is that CMOS chips are faster than CCD chips, and are used in most of the pro DSLRs.
Besides some of these major distinctions, the D3000 holds some cool new features like the aforementioned Nikon Guide Mode that works differently than just an auto exposure mode. It’s located on the mode dial on top of the D3000. Switching to the Guide mode prompts a menu that will allow you to use the multi selector to select a shooting scenario you want, click on it, and then it will take you to the exact auto exposure mode or settings that you will need to get the desired shot.
Other features include a nice 230,000 dot 3.0 inch LCD, 3 frames per second shooting to catch action sequences, D-Lighting to help get the best exposure in shadows and highlights, and ISO control from 100-1600 with a HI1 setting that expands the range to 3200.
Ergonomics and Controls
As I said above, there is very little distinction in the shape and design of Nikon DSLRs. The D3000 is no exception, giving off that classic Nikon look. It has your typical hotshoe, mode dial, a command dial and a multi selector to control it all. It also sports a built-in flash, an AF lock button, Fn (function button), shutter, and a few other buttons that carry out different tasks.
The D3000 is a hard-plastic construction that feels great in the hand. It is not too big and not too small, and is only slightly bigger than Panasonic’s GH1 micro four-thirds camera, making it very portable and less cumbersome than bigger DSLR models.
The shutter button is distinctly Nikon, with the On/Off switch surrounding the shutter, which is different than most DSLR models. It also has the distinctive orange/red hand bar under the shutter release that you’ll only find on a Nikon.
As far as layout and controls, none of the buttons should be daunting for experienced DSLR users, but those new to DSLR photography will find themselves somewhat confused by different symbols and various buttons. As there is a learning curve to this sort of camera, the Guide Mode should be a good place to start as well as the manual.
Menus and Modes
The menu system on the D3000 has a lot to it. To access the various menu subsets you need to press the ?Menu’ button on the back of the camera and use the multi selector to guide yourself through.
It’s a straightforward menu system with five different tabs. They include:
- Playback menu: Controls the image display information like histogram all the way to deleting images
- Shooting Menu: For everything from Picture Control to Active D-Lighting. Gets you into the heart of the controls for the camera
- Setup Menu: Allows for customization of different functions like Mirror Lock Up and memory card formatting
- Retouch Menu: For in-camera editing
- Recent Settings Menu: Lists the 20 most recent settings you used that can be quickly accessed so you can use them again and again.
For quick access to shooting settings without going directly through the Menu button, you can press the Information Display button, which looks like a magnifying glass with a plus sign in the middle. By pressing the Information Display button you’ll be able to change the white balance, AF mode, metering, exposure compensation, flash mode and many other functions with the multi selector. This is an easy way to change things without too much hassle, and works quite well and intuitively.
The Guide Mode is also an easy menu system. You’ll use the multi selector to make selections here. Guide Mode initially offers three different command prompts including Shoot for picture-taking help, View/Delete for image review, and Setup for simplified access to shooting settings.
Here is a list of the different shooting modes that the D3000 offers:
- Programmed Auto: In this mode the camera automatically chooses the optimal shooting settings, both an aperture and shutter speed setting.
- Shutter-Priority Auto: This mode allows you to choose your shutter speed while the camera chooses the best aperture for your chosen speed.
- Aperture-Priority Auto: The opposite of S mode, in that you choose the aperture you want while the camera chooses the shutter speed.
- Manual: In this mode you have total control over shutter and aperture speed, and the most control over exposure.
- Portrait: This mode is for taking model shots, which softens skin tones and helps to blow out the background with a shallower depth of field to give emphasis to your foreground subject.
- Landscape: For vivid landscape shots where you want focus throughout the frame, while still providing lush greens and other tones when a beautiful landscape is captured.
- Child: For taking snapshots of kids, it soften the tones of skin while giving backgrounds a vivid look.
- Close Up: Flower macro captures or small objects you want to take a close picture of.
- Sports: Gives you a fast shutter speed and continuous shooting so that you can capture split seconds of action and sports.
- Night Portrait: Simply for taking portraits of people at night.
The overall menu system for the Nikon D3000 is a combination of easy commands, albeit one with a little bit of a learning curve. On the one hand you have the Guide Mode, which makes it extremely easy to comprehend and use, and then the Menu button that takes you through five different sub categories. Although it is easy to use, consult the manual before getting too far into it.
The D3000 uses a 3.0 inch TFT LCD screen with 230,000 dots and a viewfinder for composition. It is important to note that there is no live view mode at all, so you can only compose a shot via the viewfinder.
The LCD is bright and extremely accurate for exposure reproduction, allowing you to zoom in on the smallest of details to see if you captured the image you wanted or not. The viewfinder is also nice, providing a lot of shooting information that you can see without taking your eye off of it.