Whether you like to call them entry-level, advanced amateur, "prosumer," or travel DSLRs, there is a huge market for lightweight DLSR cameras priced below $1,000. In fact, this is the single largest market for DSLR camera sales. 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 technology from their mid-graded D90 and put it into a lower-priced entry-level DSLR ... the new Nikon D5000.
Nikon received some positive press coverage and some strong sales numbers following the release of the D90, Nikon's first DSLR capable of live view through the camera's LCD and able to record 720p video. Recognizing the need for a similar camera priced below $1,000, Nikon added the D5000 to list. Our review unit of the new D5000 rolled into the office late last week, and I've been spending some time getting to know Nikon's newest budget DSLR.
The D5000 replaces the D60 in Nikon's lineup, and the D5000 features the same 12.3 megapixel CMOS imager used in the D90 with live view and movie capabilities. 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 D5000 is Nikon's first DSLR with a 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.
As someone who uses cameras and lenses from multiple manufacturers, I've come to recognize that every manufacturer has strengths and weaknesses. In addition to fast AF, excellent metering, and a great flash system, Nikon is widely respected for having a good control layout so photographers can find the buttons or dials needed to create great photos. Since my current travel camera is a D40X, I immediately felt right at home with the D5000's controls. The arrangement is definitely similar enough to the D40/D40X/D60 that those seeking a back-up or replacement to their old Nikon DSLR will quickly feel right at home.
Something that's very new to former Nikon owners is the other major feature that the D5000 inherits from the D90: Live View mode (using the camera's LCD) both for recording still images and for recording video. That may or may not be a good thing depending on your past experience. Most amateurs who have been using compact digital cameras enjoy using the LCD to compose images, but chances are good that experienced photographers and videographers would prefer to stick to a live viewfinder. On the bright side, the 2.7 inch LCD on the D5000 features a tilt/swivel frame that allows you to position the screen in exactly the right angle to get the perfect shot.
The entry-level D5000 is bigger than the D40X and D60 cameras it replaces, but is still smaller than the mid-grade D90. In fact, the D5000 is larger and heavier enough that it's possible some D40/D40X/D60 owners may decide not to upgrade because of the increase bulk. Mercifully, despite the larger size and weight, the D5000 feels remarkably comfortable to hold. The hand grip is every bit as comfortable as the one in the D40/D60 series cameras, and all of the buttons and control dials are well placed for easy use.
Nikon made some obvious improvements to the performance of the D5000 compared to the D60. First, continuous or burst shooting speed is now four frames per second compared to only 3 fps in the D60. Additionally, the new 11-point AF system allows for better creative control and faster AF tracking when shooting moving subjects. Obviously, we'll do some controlled focusing speed tests on the D5000, both with the standard AF and with the contrast-detect AF used in Live View mode, and give a full report back in our full review.
Nikon also tried to raise the bar in terms of image quality with the D5000. The 12.3 megapixel CMOS image sensor not only provides greater resolution, but it also provides an extended ISO range from ISO 100 (Lo1) to ISO 6400 (Hi1). I'll reserve detail and noise analysis for the full review, but so far I like what I see in terms of color reproduction, dynamic range, and visible noise.
The D5000 also features a few in-camera image processing tools that help you create better looking images. Specifically, the "Active D-Lighting" feature 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.
After a few days shooting with the D5000 I found the Active D-Lighting feature more useful than I anticipated based on my previous experience using D-Lighting with the Nikon D40X. I can easily see why this feature is turned on by default when you first use the camera ... as it usually does an excellent job of preserving details without too much of that "post processed" look.
The D5000, like its big brother the D90, can capture movies at 1280x720, 640x424, or 320x216 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.
It's "average consumers" who might have several things to complain about when it comes to the D5000. As I mentioned earlier, the D5000 replaces the D60 in Nikon's line up of DSLR cameras, but the D5000 is several hundred dollars more expensive than the entry-level D60. Granted, much (if not all) of the price difference is due to the addition of HD video capture and a swivel LCD, but the bottom line for many camera shoppers is that the D5000 is more expensive.
We'll have complete details on how the D5000 performs as well as a series of video samples to show you in our full review of the D5000 very soon, so stay tuned to DigitalCameraReview.com for more.