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Nikon D3000 Gordon Laing, October 2009
 

Nikon D3000 design and controls

The D3000 is Nikon’s latest entry-level DSLR, replacing the earlier D60. Externally, it’s virtually identical to the D60 and D40x before that. Like those models it’s a relatively small and light DSLR, with a plastic shell and simple controls aimed at beginners. We’ve pictured it below alongside its two biggest rivals in the budget DSLR market: Canon’s EOS 1000D / Rebel XS and Sony’s Alpha DSLR-A230.


 
 

Measuring 126x97x64mm, the D3000 is the same width and depth as the D60, but 3mm taller. Nikon has however shaved 10g from the total weight, with the D3000 weighing 536g when fitted with its rechargeable battery or 801g when the DX 18-55mm VR kit lens also mounted. Canon’s EOS 1000D / XS is virtually the same size at 126x98x62mm, while Sony’s Alpha A230 is a tad bigger at 128x97x68mm. Both rivals come up slightly lighter in their body plus battery configurations at 500g each.

While the dimensions and construction may be similar though, the look and feel of the three rivals are quite different. This is very much a personal choice, but in our hands, the Nikon D3000 felt best of all three with Nikon’s trademark hooked inner area in the grip giving the impression of greater security.

 
 

Don’t get us wrong though, the D3000’s grip doesn’t feel anywhere near as good as those on Nikon’s higher-end DSLRs, like the D90, but ergonomically it remains a step-up from most budget models. Canon’s EOS 1000D / XS came a close second, with both models feeling much better in our hands than Sony’s Alpha A230 with its unusual pointed grip which we just didn’t get on with. Once again this is a personal choice and we’d recommend anyone who’s undecided about all three should pick them up in person.

 
 

In terms of controls, the D3000 is virtually identical to its predecessor with only minor changes. The upper right side is home to the main command dial which offers Auto, Program, Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priority modes along with seven scene presets. New to the D3000’s mode dial though is a GUIDE option which as its name suggests, provides goal-oriented guidance for beginners. This is one of the major differences between the D3000 and its predecessor – not to mention its rivals - and we’ll be discussing it in greater detail lower down this page.

The rotary on / off switch is positioned around the shutter release, with two buttons alongside. One adjusts the exposure compensation, while the other toggles the screen information on and off. Interestingly this ‘Info’ button was dedicated to adjusting the Active D-Lighting options on the D60, as it employed sensors below the viewfinder to automatically switch the screen on and off. Thanks to its larger screen though, the D3000 has sacrificed these sensors, so it’s back to the same arrangement as the earlier D40x where the screen has to be manually switched on and off (at least until power-saving switches it off for you).

 
 

The rear surface features a similar number of buttons to its rivals, but there’s far less labelling – indeed like the D60, the traditional four-way rocker to the right of the screen is bereft of any labelling what-so-ever. At first this may seem a strange omission, but it’s all part of Nikon’s strategy to make the D3000 as approachable and unintimidating as possible. It’s also because unlike rival models, these rocker controls do not have a dual purpose, and are only used for basic menu navigation.

A thumb dial in the upper right corner of the D3000’s rear allows you to make exposure adjustments or scroll through images in playback, while a button labelled with a question mark in the lower left corner presents context-sensitive help on the screen. A button below it labelled with a letter ‘i’ is used to access a number of settings including White Balance, ISO, focusing, metering and quality modes from the default information screen.

 

To adjust any of these you’ll first need to press the ‘i’ button with the screen already on, which switches the D3000 to its ‘Quick Settings’ mode. This presents a number of settings along the right and bottom sides of the screen in a backwards ‘L’ shape with one highlighted in yellow. Next you use the four-way rocker to highlight the desired setting before pressing OK to finally access the available options.

While we understand Nikon’s designed this system for first-time DSLR owners, it can become infuriatingly slow in practice for anyone who’s familiar with the system. Depending on which function was highlighted last, you could find yourself having to press the rocker control many times to navigate to another setting just to make a simple adjustment. Nikon really should have offered direct access to the most common settings like ISO and White Balance by doubling-up the functions of either the four-way rocker like almost every other camera. Canon and Sony both offer direct access to these settings, and it’s annoying not to find them here.

 

On the upside the D3000, like its predecessor, shows handy thumbnail examples of how each setting may be used in practice, several of which we’ll show below and on the next page. And offering some relief is a programmable function button on the body’s left side, which by default sets the self-timer, but can be set to alternatively offer direct access to the release mode, quality, ISO, white balance, or Active D-Lighting settings.

Note there’s still no optical depth-of-field preview on the D3000, although Sony’s Alpha A230 doesn’t have one either. Canon is standing relatively alone in the budget category by offering one on its EOS 1000D / XS.


Nikon D3000 flash

 
 
 
 
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The Nikon D3000 is equipped with both a popup flash with a Guide number of 12 and a hotshoe for external flashguns.

Flash compensation and power level is adjustable, and you can also choose from red-eye, slow-sync and rear-curtain options.

The built-in flash Guide number increases to 13 with manual control, which matches that of the Canon EOS 1000D / XS; both beat the relatively weak popup flash on the Sony A230 which has a Guide number of 10.

 
The D3000’s built-in flash can either popup automatically or by pressing a button on the side of the D3000, and once you’re finished with it, just push it back into place.

Like the D60, the D3000’s maximum flash sync speed is an average 1/200, leaving us to fondly reminisce about the discontinued D40 which inherited the surprisingly quick 1/500 flash sync speed of the much older D50; ironic since both were entry-level models.

If you mount a compatible flashgun like the SB-400, SB-600, SB-800 or SB-900, the D3000 can support the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) which offers iTTL control.

Nikon D3000 Viewfinder

The Nikon D3000 employs a penta-mirror optical viewfinder system which delivers 95% coverage and 0.8x magnification. This is the same specification as its predecessor, although there’s two key differences we’ll mention in a moment.

   

Technically speaking, the apparent size of the D3000’s viewfinder falls between that of the Sony A230 and Canon EOS 1000 / XS, being fractionally smaller than the former and fractionally larger than the latter. But look through all three one after each other and you’re unlikely to notice any difference – in terms of coverage and apparent size anyway.

What you will notice though is the number of AF markings: the earlier D60 was equipped with a very basic three-point AF system which over time had been over-taken by the 7-point and 9-point systems of the Canon 100D / XS and Sony A230 respectively. Now the D3000 leapfrogs both rivals by inheriting the 11-point AF system of the higher-end D90 and D5000 models. This is a significant upgrade which we’ll describe in detail on the Features page.

 

We’re pleased to report the D3000 has also inherited the on-demand LCD alignment grid of the D90 and D5000. This is a wonderful facility where helpful guidelines can be switched on or off as desired in the viewfinder, and a key advantage it has over rival models; indeed Canon has only just started offering something similar on its high-end EOS 7D. To be fair though it is worth noting the Canon EOS 1000D / XS offers a grid option during Live View.

Sadly the D3000’s improved viewfinder still doesn’t show the ISO value at all times. In this respect it’s no different from Sony’s A230, although to its credit, Canon shows the information at all times on the EOS 1000D / XS.

Additionally, the second difference between the D3000’s viewfinder and its predecessor isn’t such a happy one: the eye sensors below the D60’s viewfinder have been sacrificed here to make room for the bigger screen. This means the screen won’t switch off automatically when you bring your eye to the viewfinder, and you’ll instead have to either manually switch it off with a button-press, or wait for the power-saving to kick-in. To be fair, Canon’s EOS 1000D / XS doesn’t have eye sensors either, although Sony’s Alpha A230 does.

 

Nikon D3000 screen and menus

 
 

The Nikon D3000 is equipped with a 3in / 230k screen – that’s half an inch bigger than its predecessor, although the same resolution. This bigger screen is the most obvious external difference between the D3000 and the D60, and also makes it the biggest in the budget DSLR category, compared to the 2.7in screen of the Sony A230 and the 2.5in screen on the Canon EOS 1000D / XS.

A bigger screen is certainly a nice thing to have on a digital camera, although in the case of the D3000, it’s meant sacrificing the viewfinder eye-sensors of the earlier D60. More importantly, like its predecessor, the D3000 cannot use its screen for composition. There’s no Live View here we’re afraid (and by extension, no movie mode either), which may not bother traditionalists, but could be an issue for the D3000’s target audience of first-time DSLR owners upgrading from a point-and-shoot. To be fair though, Sony’s Alpha A230 doesn’t have Live View either, leaving Canon’s year-old EOS 1000D / XS to be one of the few budget DSLRs to offer the facility.

Like other budget DSLRs, the D3000’s screen is used to display all shooting information, and like its predecessor, there’s the choice of two presentation styles: the default Graphic format accompanies the figures with a graphical representation of the aperture iris surrounded by marks for the shutter speed, while the optional Classic format emulates the LCD status screens which adorn the top panels of higher-end DSLRs.

     

It’s nice to have the choice of styles and you can even customise the colour scheme: Blue, Black or Orange for the Classic view, or Green, Black or Brown for the Graphic view. The wallpaper option of the D60 is no longer available though.

Like all DSLRs which use their main colour screens to show information, there’s a wealth of details, although with minor rearrangements from the D60’s presentation. The shutter speed and aperture sensibly take centre stage with shooting mode, battery life and a number of other icons running along the top, while AF area, flash, exposure and flash compensation run along the bottom. The shots remaining figure has been relocated to the very lower right corner in a light strip.

   

Running down the right side of the screen are the current quality, white balance, ISO, Release Mode, AF mode, AF area, metering mode and Active D-Lighting settings, and to adjust any of them simply press the ‘i’ button in the bottom left corner. As described above, this highlights one of the settings in yellow. You then use the four-way rocker to highlight the desired option before clicking OK to see a screen of relevant options; each option is accompanied by a thumbnail image illustrating how or where you might use that setting. The thumbnails are certainly helpful, but as mentioned above, we found the required number of button presses to access each setting can be a little laborious.

In a nice feature borrowed from Sony’s Alpha DSLRs (and originally from Konica Minolta before that), the D3000 rotates its shooting information as you turn the camera on its sides for portrait aspect shots – this way the text always remains upright on the screen. The graphical representation of the aperture may disappear as the screen rotates, and as soon as you press the ‘i’ button to change anything you’ll also be returned to the landscape orientation, but it’s still a nice touch. In these respects, it’s the same as the D60.

 
 

Like its predecessor, the D3000 has sensibly retained the context-sensitive help system which displays handy hints on the current setting or menu whenever you press the Question mark button. Sometimes you’ll see the question mark blinking in the corner of the screen, in which case the D3000 believes something’s wrong and wants to make a suggestion, such as to use the flash. If only all cameras were this friendly.

The D3000 however goes one step further than its predecessor with its headlining Guide mode – a brand new feature which proudly has its own position on the main mode dial. Through a friendly wizard, the Guide mode essentially asks what kind of photo you want to take and then chooses the optimal settings to achieve the desired effect.

     
     

It starts with three main options: Shoot, View / Delete and Setup. Choosing Shoot presents three options: Easy Operation, Advanced Operation and Timers & Remote Control. In the Easy Operation section the D3000 lets you choose from what are effectively nine scene presets: Auto, No Flash, Distant Subjects, Close-ups, Sleeping Faces, Moving Subjects, Landscapes, Portraits and Night Portraits. Some simply recognise that in the specified situation the flash or AF illuminator would either be unwelcome or redundant, so prevent it from operating.

     

Things get more interesting in the Advanced Operation section, where you’re given the choice of Soften Backgrounds, Freeze motion (people) and Freeze motion (vehicles). As you might expect, these become friendly interfaces for using Aperture and Shutter Priority. Soften Backgrounds automatically switches the D3000 into Aperture Priority mode, and lets you choose an f-number, with the camera explaining that lower f-numbers blur the background.

     

Similarly the Freeze motion options switch the D3000 into Shutter Priority mode and allow you to adjust the shutter speed, with the D3000 advising fast shutter speeds should be chosen to ‘freeze’ motion. The people and vehicle options advise using shutter speeds of at least 1/200 or 1/1000 respectively.

If you try and choose too fast a shutter speed for the available light, the D3000 warns the subject will become too dark. Interestingly rather then automatically bumping up the sensitivity though, the D3000 sticks with a fixed value and ‘lets’ you change it manually later, which seems less helpful than it could have been. Once you’ve chosen the desired shutter or aperture value, the D3000 then asks if you’d like more settings, or start shooting. The more settings option lets you adjust the flash mode, picture control, release mode, exposure compensation, AF area or mode, and the flash compensation, each accompanied by thumbnail images showing how each might be used.

The Timers and remote control section simply presents the release mode options in a redesigned menu, allowing you to choose between single, continuous, self-timer, or remote control with the optional wireless remote. Likewise, returning to the first page, the View / delete and Set up options present simplified versions of the normal menu sections for each.

     

In use, the Guide section certainly presents a beginner-friendly interface to operating the D3000, and we can imagine many first-timers leaving it on this mode most of the time. But it’s certainly not 100% foolproof across all the options. As mentioned above, the Advanced modes can let you dial-in an aperture or shutter speed which will result in under or over-exposure, and while the D3000 will warn you of this, the Guide mode won’t automatically adjust the sensitivity to solve at least some of these situations. For example if you choose to Freeze motion in the Advanced mode with too fast a shutter speed for the available light, the D3000 simply says the image will be too dark, rather than increasing the ISO to compensate, or at least suggesting it.

As you can see from the screengrabs above, the Advanced mode also expects you to understand shutter speeds presented as fractions and the aperture expressed as f-numbers. These are easy concepts for those familiar with the technical side of photography, but complete beginners may have found it easier if fractions and f-numbers were hidden altogether and instead simple sliders shown with graphics indicating blurriness at one end and sharpness at the other.

In this respect, Sony and Canon’s beginner interfaces are arguably more intuitive (if not quite as hand-holding). To be fair, these criticisms only apply to the D3000’s ‘Advanced Operation’ section in Guide mode, and complete beginners should head for the Easy Operation section instead, where things really are genuinely easy. We’re being critical here because on the whole, Nikon leads the pack in overall friendliness on its DSLRs, and the Guide mode further enhances this experience. As such the D3000 remains the easiest overall DSLR we’ve tested for beginners, but we feel the Advanced Operation mode could have been a little more helpful.

 

Nikon D3000 menus

At first glance, the D3000’s menus look similar to the D60, but there’s been some rearrangements. The Custom settings menu has now gone, with key options (like configuring the Function and AE / AF lock buttons) now relocated to the main Setup menu. New to the D3000 over the D60 is a Recent Settings menu which keeps a record of your last seven changes for easy reference.

     

The Retouch menu is still present, offering in-camera adjustments which include D-Lighting, red-eye correction, crop, various filter effects, colour balance, image overlay, RAW processing, an outlining effect and a Miniature option which throws everything other than a narrow strip out of focus for a tilt and shift effect.

     

The D3000 has however inherited the D60’s Stop Motion option which can assemble a sequence of up to 100 still images into a movie clip exported in the AVI format. You can switch the output resolution between 640x480, 320x240 and 160x120 pixels, and the frame rate from 3, 6, 10 or 15fps. With the maximum 100 frames and smoothest 15fps frame rate, a sequence will last six seconds and typically measure around 15MB at VGA resolution.

It’s a shame there’s no smooth 30fps option nor a built-in Intervalometer which will automatically take the photos for you, but it’s still a fun addition and the closest the D3000 (or indeed its budget rivals) come to offering a movie mode.

     

During playback you can cycle through a number of pages which have been updated in line with Nikon’s higher-end bodies. As such with all Display options ticked, you can view three pages of shooting information, a thumbnail with either brightness or RGB histograms, or blinking highlights. This is a big improvement over the D60 which only offered a brightness histogram, and forced you to enter the colour balance section of the retouch menu to reveal RGB histograms. Thanks for adding these to the D3000 Nikon.

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Nikon D3000 battery and connectivity

The Nikon D3000 employs a slightly updated version of the battery in its predecessor. The new EN-EL9a is rated at 1080mAh (80 more than the EN-EL9), with Nikon claiming it’s now good for 550 shots under CIPA conditions compared to the 500 of the D60.

 
 
 

Battery life is indicated by a three segment graphic on the main screen, although unlike higher end models in the range, there’s no support for Nikon’s Fuel Gauge system which provides an accurate feedback of the battery life and condition (albeit via a menu option).

Like its predecessor, there’s no official battery grip. Sony’s Alpha A230 doesn’t have a battery grip either, once again leaving the Canon EOS 1000D / XS as the only one in the budget triplet with the capability.

The Nikon D3000 has an SD memory card slot behind a door on the right side and like most DSLRs no card is supplied as standard. If more than 1000 pictures are remaining, the number is rounded and abbreviated to read, say, 1.1K for 1100 photos.

Behind a flap on the left side are a USB port, TV output and a recessed reset button. A USB cable is supplied, but in a money-saving exercise, the TV cable is an optional accessory in some regions. So of the three budget rivals, only Sony’s Alpha A230 offers an HDMI output, although it does so at the cost of a standard TV output.

Now let’s find out more about the D3000’s features including its lens, focusing, sensor and continuous shooting capabilities.


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