Nikon D5000 Review

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  • Pros

    • Good performance
    • HD video capability
    • Less expensive than D90
  • Cons

    • Video time limited
    • No AF for video
    • Expensive for entry-level


On the surface, the arrival of the D5000 was only a matter of time. According to figures released from Nikon, sales of the entry-level D40, D40X, and D60 cameras account for roughly 80 percent of all Nikon DSLR sales. It’s no wonder that Nikon was so eager to take the new high resolution sensor and video mode from their mid-grade D90 and put it into a lower-priced entry-level DSLR … the new Nikon D5000.

Nikon D5000

We’ll explore the D5000’s video performance at length, but rest assured, if you liked the video quality from the D90 then you’ll feel the same way about the D5000.

The D5000 features the same 12.9 megapixel (12.3 million effective pixels) APS-C (or DX format, in Nikon’s nomenclature) sensor and Nikon’s latest generation EXPEED processor found in the D90. It also inherits the 11 point AF system with color and distance tracking as well as optional viewfinder gridlines from the D90. The viewfinder magnification is slightly smaller than the one in the D40X/D60, but the extra AF points and viewfinder gridlines make for a superior user experience.

The most noteworthy feature on the D5000 is the all new tilt and swivel LCD display used for a standard status display as well as live view and image/video playback. The only other new features of note are the new higher-capacity EN-EL9a battery and the optional MC-DC2 remote cord. Overall, the total package is pretty impressive for an advanced consumer camera like the D5000.

The D5000 shares the same 200 to 3200 nominal ISO range (with ISO 100 and 6400 options available), and the ability to use “Active D-Lighting” (Nikon’s proprietary feature that boosts shadow details and helps prevent overexposed highlights so you don’t have to spend as much time editing your photos after you take them).

There’s built-in image sensor cleaning, a continuous shooting rate of “up to” 4fps, and live-view with contrast-detection auto focus. In addition to the typical DSLR manual exposure modes, there are five advanced scene modes that can help ease the transition worries of folks coming into the camera from more fully automatic compact digitals. The D5000 also has automatic and selectable D-Lighting to provide a wider dynamic range, 3D Color Matrix Metering II with scene recognition exposure system, a built-in flash, and a shutter tested to more than 100,000 cycles.

The D5000 uses SD/SDHC memory media and Nikon includes a rechargeable li-ion battery, quick charger, eyepiece cap, rubber eyecup, USB and A/V cables, camera strap, monitor cover, body cap, accessory shoe cover, and CD-ROM of software with each camera.

There are seven primary shooting modes:

  • Auto: An automatic “point-and-shoot” mode with virtually all camera settings determined by the camera according to conditions; flash will fire automatically if the subject is poorly lit. The Picture Control (PC) menu, which provides a wide range of sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue adjustments, is disabled in this mode.
  • Program: Camera sets shutter speed and aperture for optimal exposure
  • Aperture Priority: User selects aperture, camera determines shutter speed
  • Shutter Priority: User selects shutter speed, camera determines aperture
  • Manual: User selects shutter speed and aperture
  • Scene: The D90 offers portrait, landscape, close-up, sports, and night portrait scene presets in which the camera optimizes settings according to the mode chosen
  • D-Movie: HD video capture is available at up to 720p (1280 x 720 pixels) and 24 fps in Motion JPEG format; we’ll go into more detail about the D5000’s video in the “Image Quality” section of the review

With regard to the close-up mode in the list of scene presets, this option adjusts camera settings and sets the AF point to the center of the image, but does not otherwise invest this camera with any particular close-up capability: it takes a lens to do that. Fortunately, many Nikon zoom lenses have reasonably impressive close focus capabilities, and the 18-55mm VR and 24-120mm VR lenses used during this review did a pretty impressive job … allowing me to get close enough for some simple flower shots.

Nikon D5000

Nikon D5000

The design of the D5000 looks strikingly similar to the D40X/D60, but the D5000 is noticeably larger than the D40X (seen below) since the new camera has to make room for the tilt and swivel LCD. It’s not as large as the D90, but if you enjoy the size and weight of the D40X/D60 then you may find the D5000 just a little too big.

Nikon D5000

Nikon D5000

Styling and Build Quality
While not as physically small as the entry level D40/40X/60 models, the D5000 features similar plastic construction and is obviously less rugged than the D90 or D300.

Nikon D5000

Although I did complain about the increased size of the D5000, it’s worth mentioning that the larger size of the camera makes the camera grip more comfortable to hold for people with larger hands.

Nikon D5000

Ergonomics and Interface
Despite being more compact than the D90, the D5000 is packed with plenty of controls on the top and back of the body, even adding a few extra buttons compared to the D40X/D60.

Nikon D5000

The button layout is extremely similar to what was used on the D40X/D60, so anyone familiar with those cameras should have a relatively easy time learning the control interface on the D5000. Live view (using the monitor to compose/capture still images or movies) can be accessed quickly via the live view button.

Nikon D5000

The deep handgrip provides a firm hold while at the same time maintaining acceptable clearance from the lens barrel, the thumb rest at the rear of the body is a little small for cradling the thumb, but it gives you a place to keep your thumb near the controls. The index finger falls naturally onto the shutter button.

Nikon D5000

The D5000 features a 2.7 inch, 230,000 dot monitor with the first tilt and swivel mount used on a Nikon SLR. The monitor offers 100 percent frame coverage and is adjustable via internal menu for seven levels of brightness.

Nikon D5000

The screen is a pleasure to use for image review in good lighting conditions, and the adjustable brightness settings help when using the monitor for composition outdoors in direct sunlight. Live view can be used for still image capture and must be used for movie capture, but if the monitor had a higher resolution it would be easier to confirm focus using the monitor.

The viewfinder is something of a disappointment on the D5000. The viewfinder offers the same 95 percent frame coverage used on the D40X and D60, but the magnification is now only 0.78x compared to 0.8x on the D40X and D60. The diopter adjustment for individual eyesight helps you see through the lens in correct focus if you’re wearing glasses and shoot without them.

The D5000 is intended to replace the D60 on the consumer end of Nikon’s SLR offerings. That said, the D5000 features several performance improvements over the D60 that make the D5000 closer to the mid-level D90. Is the D5000 really good enough to challenge a “prosumer” camera like the D90? In the right hands … yes. The D5000 has most of the features seen in the D90, and if you’re willing to use only AF-S lenses and can handle 4 fps burst shooting instead of 4.5 fps then the D5000 is essentially just a cheaper D90.

In fact, although the D5000 is limited to only 4 fps in continuous/burst mode, it can capture up to 63 JPEG images or 11 RAW files while the D90 is limited to just 25 JPEGs or 7 RAW files.

Timings and Shutter Lag
Like most current-generation Nikon SLRs, the D5000 is ready to go as soon as you hit the power button. Likewise, shutter lag and auto focus lag aren’t an issue. Here are a few figures showing the timings in our lab:

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon D5000
Canon Rebel XS 0.03
Pentax K2000 0.04
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200
Olympus E-420 0.05

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 0.17
Nikon D5000
Canon Rebel XS 0.19
Pentax K2000 0.32
Olympus E-420 0.48

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames* Framerate*
Nikon D5000 30 3.9 fps
Olympus E-420 10 3.4 fps
Pentax K2000 5 3.4 fps
Canon Rebel XS 8 3.0 fps
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 9 2.9 fps

* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera’s fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). “Frames” notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

We were favorably impressed in our lab testing with the D5000’s continuous shooting capabilities. While it hovered just under the advertised 4 fps mark regardless of burst length, we were consistently able to exceed the stated buffer limit of 25 fine JPEG frames ? getting a full 30 at all times with a fast card. It should be noted, though, that you’ll have to disable the built-in Distortion Control function to get more than five frames per burst.

Overall, the performance of the D5000 seems strikingly similar to the D90 and is a reasonable step up for D60 users.

Auto Focus
The D5000 uses the same version of the Nikon Multi-CAM 1000 AF Module found in the D90. Its 11 focus points include the “rule of thirds” locations in the frame for folks who practice that form of composition. Single-point AF is suggested for static subjects, dynamic-area AF for moving subjects, auto-area AF for spontaneous shooting, and 3D-tracking (11 points) AF when changing the composition after focusing on a subject. This is a huge step up from the 3-area TTL Nikon Multi-CAM530 AF module in the D60.

I found auto focus performance extremely good in bright lighting conditions, and most of the time the D5000 even managed to acquire focus rapidly under dim light. The timing numbers seen in the previous section suggest just how rapid the system is ? right at the front of the pack for a non-pro camera.

The dynamic-area AF in the D5000 performs pretty well on moving subjects. Again, this is essentially identical to the D90, so holding focus on moving subjects like athletes or wild animals should be extremely easy for even novice photographers.

Lens Mount
The D5000 uses the same modified Nikon F bayonet lens mount used on the D40/D40X/D60 cameras, which means about 40 million Nikon lenses dating back to 1959 will mate to the camera. Unfortunately, like those other entry-level Nikon cameras, there is no AF motor built into the body, meaning only lenses with autofocus motors (such as Nikon AF-S lenses) will AF on the D5000.

The D5000 has a built-in flash that is virtually identical to the one used in the D60 and D90 with a range of about 17 feet at ISO 200. Additionally, the camera is equipped with a hot shoe to accept more powerful flash units should the user so desire. Color rendition was good, and flash recycle times were speedy ? the flash was ready to go almost instantly in normal conditions and within 4 seconds after a full discharge. With flash enabled the D5000 won’t let you take another photograph until the flash is fully charged.

Nikon D5000

When shooting in auto mode and some scene modes the flash will enable automatically should addition lighting be needed; manual deployment of the flash is required in all other shooting modes. Nikon cautions that lens hoods should be removed when using the built in flash.

Image Stabilization
It’s a Nikon, so image stabilization is built in specific lenses that carry a “VR” designation, like the 18-55mm kit lens supplied with our review D5000.

Nikon D5000

Nikon claims up to a 3 stop advantage for VR lenses (a few others, notably the VR18-200, have the VR II system for which Nikon claims up to a 4 stop advantage). VR may be disabled on the lens by the user, but the camera automatically enables VR lenses when set for D-Movie mode.

The D5000 uses a revised version of the battery from the D40 and D60. It’s backwards compatible and can be used in the older cameras and with the same charger. The new EN-EL9a has an increased capacity of 7.8Wh, compared to the 7.2Wh rating of the old EN-EL9.

Nikon rates the D5000’s EN-EL9a lithium-ion battery for 510 shots … which is more than what the old battery delivered in the D60, but considerably less than the D90’s 850 shots using the EN-EL3e. Battery life looks to be in the CIPA ballpark based on my experience with this camera, but it’s always prudent to carry a spare battery for all day shooting treks.

Nikon doesn’t offer a multi power battery grip for the D5000, but if history is any indicator then various third-party manufacturers should develop a battery grip for the D5000 before the end of the year.

Although I use cameras and lenses from a number of different manufacturers, Nikon SLRs consistently deliver images with solid color, good white balance, and excellent metering. Since the D5000 packs essentially the same sensor as the D90 and D300, it’s easy to assume you’ll get similar image quality out of all these cameras.

Images made at default settings with the D5000 were pleasing to my eye in terms of accurate color reproduction, contrast, and sharpness. Granted, sharpness and brightness could have used a little boost, and I often found myself using a minimal increase in exposure compensation (+0.3EV). The only other change I made to the camera settings was to increase the saturation in some of the flower images. Overall, the Picture Control menu offers fantastic control over sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue. The Active D-Lighting feature (which is on by default) does a fantastic job of bringing out shadow detail while preserving highlights. That said, if the Active D-Lighting feature is on, you cannot adjust contrast and brightness in the Picture Control menu.

Video Quality
If you just want a quick overview of the D5000’s video quality, rest assured that the video capability of this camera is quite good. If you’re used to the video quality in a compact point-and-shoot camera, then the D5000 will certainly impress you in terms of color, smoothness, and detail.

The D5000, like its big brother the D90, can capture movies at 1280×720, 640×424, or 320×216 sizes, all at a 24 fps (the same speed as theatrical film). The fact that many different Nikon lenses can be used with the D5000 to shoot video means that the D5000 actually has a substantial advantage over consumer-grade video cameras. Zoom lenses can be zoomed while capturing video, fast prime lenses allow you to shoot in extreme low light, VR lenses function to reduce camera shake.

The only major limitations to using the D5000 as a video camera are that videos are limited to 5 minutes in length or a maximum file size of 2GB and you can’t use auto focus. That’s right. The camera won’t auto focus while shooting video ? you use the AF sensor to lock focus before you start recording video and you hope that the camera-to-subject distance remains constant … otherwise your video will be out of focus. Of course, you can manually focus, but most average consumers don’t enjoy using manual focus.

The other thing to keep in mind is that video has to be done via Live View mode (using the monitor). This isn’t inherently good or bad. Folks who’ve shot video with compact digital cameras may feel right at home (at least until they have to go to manual focus). Still, it’s a safe bet that at least a few seasoned SLR users will want to shoot video with this camera using the viewfinder.

The next potentially negative issue about the video performance of the D5000 is the effect of what’s known as rolling shutter when capturing video. The “rolling shutter” effect essentially causes vertical objects to take on a distorted tilt when a camera is panned across a field of view, such as tracking a running subject against a stationary background.

Here are some sample movies taken during a recent trip to the Cincinnati Zoo. The second video of the polar bear shows some obvious effects of rolling shutter during the beginning of the video. Again, the video quality is pretty impressive, but the need to pre-focus or use manual focus might be a little frustrating for some users.

The D5000 can produce high quality video, assuming the camera-to-subject distance remains relatively constant (or you use manual focus) and avoid situations that give rise to the rolling shutter effect. Bottom line, if video is your primary concern, buy a video camera. If you want a still camera with a video capability, the D5000 is the most affordable Nikon solution currently on the market.

Exposure, Processing, and Color
The D5000 is now the least expensive Nikon to offer the 3D Color Matrix Metering II with Scene Recognition System found on higher-priced Nikon cameras. The 420-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering II system works with the Scene Recognition System to evaluate various elements of the scene to produce a near perfect exposure. This isn’t as good as the 1005-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering system found in high-end Nikons, but it’s identical to what is used in the D90.

My experience with the D5000 suggests the camera is prone to slight underexposure in difficult, high contrast situations in order to preserve highlight details. This is essentially the opposite problem that the D90 had, which tended to overexpose slightly during our tests. For those photographers who don’t want to use the 3D Matrix metering, center weighted and spot metering options also available.

In addition to the standard Picture Control menu options for changing the way the camera processes images, the D5000 also offers a Retouch Menu, including D-Lighting, red-eye correction, trim, monochrome, filter effects, color balance, small picture, image overlay, quick retouch, straighten, distortion control, fisheye, and NEF (Nikon Electronic Format) processing ? Nikon’s RAW file format. The in-camera NEF processing is particularly valuable if you’re using non-Nikon software to edit your images. NEF processing allows the user to make a JPEG copy of these files in camera while retaining the original NEF files for later editing.

As previously mentioned, color reproduction is good in the D5000. The following are examples of standard, neutral, and vivid color options; each has more modifications available via sub menus.

Nikon D5000

Nikon D5000

Nikon D5000

White Balance
Auto WB worked well under a variety of lighting conditions with the exception of incandescent, which shot quite warm.

Nikon D5000
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light

The D5000 offers 12 dedicated WB settings along with auto, plus the ability to set WB according to color temperatures in a range from 2500 to 10000 degrees Kelvin or a custom WB established by the user. As if that isn’t enough, the D5000 also offers WB bracketing … a feature where the camera takes three different images set to different color temperatures in the hope of capturing the perfect white balance.

Sensitivity and Noise
The studio shots from the D5000 look unsurprisingly like the D90 and D300 ? low ISO noise through ISO 800 with obvious detail loss at the expense of noise at ISO 1600 and 3200. ISO 6400 is still usable when there’s no other way to get the shot, but don’t expect to capture much fine detail.

Nikon D5000
Lo 1 (ISO 100)
Nikon D5000
Lo 1 (ISO 100), 100% crop
Nikon D5000
ISO 200
Nikon D5000
ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon D5000
ISO 400
Nikon D5000
ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon D5000
ISO 800
Nikon D5000
ISO 800, 100% crop
Nikon D5000
ISO 1600
Nikon D5000
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Nikon D5000
ISO 3200
Nikon D5000
ISO 3200, 100% crop
Nikon D5000
Hi 1 (ISO 6400)
Nikon D5000
Hi 1 (ISO 6400), 100% crop

Overall, the D5000 does pretty well in the ISO department. Current D60 users may notice some improvement, but the signal-to-noise ratio seems largely identical to the D90 and D300.

Additional Sample Images

Nikon D5000 Nikon D5000
Nikon D5000 Nikon D5000
Nikon D5000 Nikon D5000

When Nikon released the D90 consumers quickly fell in love with the video capability built into a full-featured DSLR. Unfortunately, the largest market interested in shooting video with a DSLR is the entry-level consumer market … and the D90 is just a little too large and expensive for entry-level enthusiasts. Considering that entry-level DSLRs make up about 80 percent of Nikon’s DSLR sales, the D5000 is an obvious evolution. That said, the minor size, weight, and price increase over the D60 might be enough to prevent potential D5000 owners from making a purchase.

The vast majority of entry-level DSLR owners use their DSLR like an advanced point-and-shoot camera with only one or two lenses, so making a larger, heavier, and more expensive camera probably isn’t ideal for the entry-level market. That said, the D5000 is essentially a cheaper version of the D90 … so if you can live with using only AF-S lenses and a smaller viewfinder then the D5000 is a great low-cost alternative to the D90.

In the end, the biggest complaint I have with the D5000 isn’t related to performance or features ? it’s all a matter of positioning. The D5000 should be a direct (though slightly improved) replacement for the D60, but in reality it fits better in the Nikon line up between the D60 and the D90. If the D5000 was $100 cheaper I’d have an easier time accepting it as a replacement for the D60. As it stands now, the D5000 is a great camera that isn’t quite sure if it’s an entry-level camera or a “prosumer” camera.


  • Good image quality and performance
  • HD video capability
  • Essentially a D90 for less money


  • HD video time limited
  • No AF for video
  • Too expensive for an entry-level camera
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