With all of the rumors swirling around this one over the last few weeks, it's fair to say that we weren't exactly surprised when Nikon announced its latest consumer DSLR – the Nikon D5000 – right on schedule this evening.
As expected, the D5000 meshes technologies from the current prosumer D90 and consumer D60 models into an all new entry-level model that goes beyond a "parts bin" model: with D90-style HD video capture, a serious AF upgrade, and a unique swivel LCD, the D5000 brings much of the shooting hardware of Nikon's higher-end models to a price and a form factor that should appeal to casual shutterbugs.
If the D5000 didn't quite live up to some of the more outlandish rumors surrounding its hardware (no, there's no full-frame 16 megapixel sensor...), the latest iterration in the D40/D40X/D60 series nonetheless gets a pretty substantial upgrade with the inclusion of what appears to be the same highly regarded 12.3 megapixel CMOS imager that powers the D90. Nikon EXPEED processing pulls prosumer-grade performance from this APS-C (DX format, in Nikon-speak) imager, with an expanded high-sensitivity limit of ISO 6400 and 4.0 fps continuous shooting.
Speaking of D90-grade tech, the D5000's auto focus system also makes a significant leap forward for Nikon's entry-level DSLR line, ditching the long-in-the-tooth three-point AF sensor in favor of an 11-point variant with auto 3D-tracking – just like you'll find on the D90. Likewise, the new model provides Nikon's advanced 3D Color Matrix II metering technology, and an optical viewfinder with better-than-average, 95-percent frame coverage.
Sticking with Nikon's usual approach to its entry-level models, though, what you won't find is an in-body focusing motor, meaning AF is (as with the D40/D40X/D60) limited to newer Nikon lenses with lens-integrated motors.
Live view and the HD experience
Nikon has opted to stick with the 720p/24fps HD video capture format that debuted in the D90 for its latest launch as well. Even without full 1080p video capture, however, the D5000 is still in a fairly exclusive club, and joins Canon's recently announced Rebel T1i as the only squarely consumer-oriented interchangeable lens cameras to allow video capture of any kind.
Video capture is made possible in part through the D5000's inclusion of live view – a technological first for Nikon's entry-level offering. Contrast-detection AF provides real-time, on-screen focusing while in live view mode, allowing users to take advantage of point-and-shoot style features like face detection and even a subject tracking mode while shooting stills.
Unfortunately, the D5000's four contrast-detection AF modes are limited to shooting stills only: you'll have to manually focus the camera when shooting movies.
While the D5000 may lack AF support for video, though, other now-standard video capture accessories – like an HDMI output, and a mono mic for capturing audio – have been included. The D5000 also allows shooters to take full advantage of the camera's Picture Control system in D-Movie mode as well as when shooting stills, meaning users can fine-tune the look and feel of their videos as well with processing presets like Vivid, Landscape, and Neutral.
Vari-angle LCD puts a new twist on swivel screens
The fact that the D5000 packs a 2.7 inch LCD isn't particularly noteworthy in itself, but the fact that the display is mounted for tilt/swivel operation is definitely worth checking out.
Unlike any other camera – DSLR or point-and-shoot – that we're aware of, the D5000's 2.7 inch display provides full, 180-degree tilt/swivel functionality, but swings down (rather than sideways) to do so.
The creative benefits of this arrangement when shooting video, or taking advantage of the D5000's aforementioned live view options, are obvious.
Beyond this novel display, the D5000's interface shares most of its key elements in common with previous entry-level Nikon DSLRs. Similar in styling and size to its D60 predecessor, the D5000 eschews prosumer touches like a top-deck status LCD and a front-side control wheel in favor of a single point of access using the main display and back-panel controls.
Of course, while the D5000 offers Nikon's Scene Recognition System, 19 scene presets, and a host of other auto-exposure technologies, conventional P/A/S/M manual exposure modes give the user the option to take the photographic reigns.
Pricing and availability
As anticipated, the D5000 will be available before the end of the month, priced at $849.95 for the kit with the 18-55mm VR lens, or $729.95 for the D5000 body only.