Nikon D3000 Review
by Adam Crawford -  9/8/2009

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.

Nikon D3000

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.

Nikon D3000

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...

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 5.0x3.8x2.6 inches while the D90 is 5.2x4.1x3.0 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.

Nikon D3000

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.

Nikon D3000

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:

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:

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.

Nikon D3000

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.

The Nikon D3000 sits just below the D5000, which was released early this year. The D3000 was recently announced alongside the D300s, the replacement model for the older D300. While the D60 and D40 are still both in production, the D3000 is a more advanced model that includes an 11-point autofocus system in the body of the camera (D40 and D60 use AF-S lenses to achieve autofocus solely), giving you more for your money in an entry-level model.

Shooting Performance
There are currently five DX-format Nikon DSLRs on the market today, with the D3000 in the lower echelon. The D3000, an entry-level model, shares many characteristics as the higher-end D90, and still achieves amazing image quality at the various ISO settings. The Nikon EXPEED Image Processor has been one the most exceptional accompaniments of image sensor and processor in recent years, giving the photographer absolute durability and control in low-light conditions. The rich tones and different picture modes give off some of the best hues and image captures I've seen in this level of camera, making it one of the strongest performers available at the $600 level.

The D3000 shows off its price point in our timings tests. I think it's absolutely essential to report that the time between the shutter press and being able to view your images on screen is very sluggish, sometimes even seeming to take more than four seconds for image review. This can be crippling for continuous shooting, which takes much longer than 5 seconds to review images you've shot in succession, making the D3000's image memory buffer quite slow.

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Olympus E-620 0.02
Nikon D3000 0.03
Pentax K2000 0.04
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 0.04

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 0.19
Pentax K2000 0.32
Olympus E-620 0.32
Nikon D3000 0.60

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Olympus E-620 6 4.1 fps
Canon EOS Rebel T1i 170 3.8 fps
Nikon D3000 5 3.5 fps
Pentax K2000 5 3.4 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.

The D3000 came in mostly at the bottom of the pack in regards to shutter lag and AF acquisition. Studying the performance with the lab results show the shutter lag to be right smack dab in the middle at 0.03 seconds, which in all actuality is only the minutest of difference between all the studied camera timings. While the in the field, the shutter lag was not an issue, and the D3000 didn't seem to suffer except continuous shooting and waiting for the image buffer to clear.

In terms of auto focus acquisition, it took just over half a second (0.60 seconds) before it was able to achieve focus. We exceeded Nikon's claim of 3 fps continuous shooting in our own lab test, clocking five full-resolution JPEGS at 3.5 fps with VR switched off.

Flash performance was good. Some of the test images that I captured showed a nice prevention of shadow casts when a subject was up against the wall. It also offered a nice amount of different options like Slow Sync for a subtle fill, and overall it is a nice feature to have built into a DSLR.

Nikon D3000
Basic Flash

Nikon D3000
Slow Sync

All in all, you get what you pay for in performance. The D3000 isn't exactly slow, but if you want a faster camera, you could certainly pay more for one.

Lens Mount/Kit Lens
Image stabilization is only gained through Nikon Vibration Reduction (VR) lenses, which happens to come with the 18-55mm kit lens that the D3000 is sold with. The VR lens is supposed to help you gain a few stops of light. I used the lens to check how it worked in low light, and it did indeed give me a faster shutter speed when turned on, gaining a few stops of light like it was supposed to.

Image Quality
Image quality from the Nikon D3000 is great, and maybe one of the best image producers straight out of the camera that I've tested this year. From Active D-Lighting to the different picture modes, the D3000 makes an excellent image and gives you the control to make it how you want it, or for that matter, how you see it. The Active D-Lighting has become a great feature in Nikon cameras, and as you can see from the results, shadow areas and midtones are reproduced much better with it than without it.

Nikon D3000
D-Lighting Off

Nikon D3000
D-Lighting On

As far as chromatic aberrations, purple fringing and other degradations, I wasn't able to find much wrong with the processed images once I got them on my computer. Quality-wise, these 10 megapixel images are top notch.

The default setting on the D3000 is called Standard, and is a faithful image reproduction. Looking at the rest of the settings compared to Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape, the image retains sharpness in all of these choices. There is very little difference between Standard and Neutral picture modes, however, but Vivid obviously adds a bit of saturation and more vibrant hues when used.

Nikon D3000

Nikon D3000

Nikon D3000

The D3000 provides complete control over exposure in metering and EV stops. There are three light metering modes - matrix metering, center-weighted and spot metering. Matrix metering worked well to find light values in the entire frame. My sample shot reflects the overall darkness of the indoor lighting conditions, and was very accurate. Center-Weighted reflected a nice frame, and gave the middle subject a nice exposure so that the camera gave it a bit more light. The Spot metering setting gave a huge precedence to center frame, slightly overexposing for the lighting conditions, but still producing a balanced exposure at the area of incidence in the center.

Nikon D3000
Matrix Metering

Nikon D3000
Center-Weighted Metering

Nikon D3000
Spot Metering

Auto white balance was hardly ever fooled shooting in the field, even in low light. Some of my darkest exposures used AWB, and came out just how I was seeing the image from my own eyes. In the lab test, shooting with a 3200K incandescent lamp shot okay, predictably giving a warm cast to the image.

Nikon D3000
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

Light sensitivity with the D3000 is exceptional, as with most Nikon DSLRs. From 100-800 you get quite a usable image, with just a slight grain noise at 1600. While shooting out in the field I was able to use ISO 100 with full manual settings at sunset and get an image with the smallest amount of noise, which was impressive. In quite a few sailboat shots I gained great detail and very little degradation. Light sensitivity is on par with the D90 and D300 cameras.

Nikon D3000
ISO 100
Nikon D3000
ISO 100, 100% crop
Nikon D3000
ISO 200
Nikon D3000
ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon D3000
ISO 400
Nikon D3000
ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon D3000
ISO 800
Nikon D3000
ISO 800, 100% crop
Nikon D3000
ISO 1600
Nikon D3000
ISO 1600, 100% crop

Additional Sample Images

Nikon D3000 Nikon D3000
Nikon D3000 Nikon D3000
Nikon D3000 Nikon D3000

For a great price like $600, the Nikon D3000 is an excellent value, especially if you are ready to move into more advanced photographic waters. Once you start acquiring the lenses, a few years down the road you can replace the body and still have the glass.

Nikon is known for their DSLRs and the quality of optics in their NIKKOR lenses. The D3000 gives you a great camera body and a great lens with image stabilization along with many other features to help you along the way like exceptional light sensitivity and great image reproduction. Other benefits for the beginner include full automatic control for those uncomfortable with manual settings to help the transition into DSLR photography, a 10.2 megapixel image sensor, and the Nikon Guide Mode.

The Nikon Guide Mode alone will teach anyone photography through an easy menu system and selection. You get the automatic system along with full manual control all rolled up into one nice camera. While there are some downsides to the cameras like slower AF and a sluggish image buffer system, the price and overall output that the D3000 can achieve make it a great camera to consider if you have the dough during these tough times.