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Nikon D3000 Gordon Laing, October 2009
   
 

Nikon D3000 verdict



Nikon’s D3000 is the company’s latest budget DSLR, and it’s an ideal choice for beginners or those upgrading from a point-and-shoot. Like many of Nikon’s recent DSLRs, a great deal may have been inherited from previous models, but by cherry-picking from the range and upgrading key aspects, the D3000 becomes a competitive entry-level DSLR and a worthy rival for Canon and Sony’s budget models.

There is something we should get out of the way before going any further though: the D3000 does not feature Live View or video recording. The latter isn’t an unusual omission on a budget DSLR, but the absence of Live View may bother those upgrading from a point-and-shoot. They’ve been used to framing with the screen at arm’s length, so switching to an optical viewfinder pressed against their eye is a big transition.

To be fair though, Live View isn’t a foregone conclusion on a budget DSLR: of the D3000’s two main rivals from Canon and Sony, only the former has it. So if you want a budget DSLR with Live View, you should be looking at the Canon EOS 1000D / Rebel XS, and we have a full comparison of their features below.






Nikon D3000


But back to the D3000 and its headline features. The new Guide mode is the biggest change over its predecessor, and the feature which stands out amongst its rivals. This approachable wizard-based interface takes you through the process of achieving certain effects, like a portrait with a blurred background or freezing an action shot.

Scratch below the surface and you’ll discover it’s essentially just a friendlier interface for accessing Scene Presets or adjust the aperture and shutter speed, but it succeeds in making the process simpler for beginners. There’s a few aspects in which it could have been better still, such as boosting the ISO (or at least suggesting it) when a subject will be too dark with a fast shutter selected to freeze action. But on the whole it really does make a DSLR much more approachable and easy to use for first-timers, which is Nikon’s core market for the D3000. We’re also pleased to find the context-sensitive help system remains in place, offering relevant advice and explanations at the press of a button.

Before you think the D3000’s improvements over the D60 are all about beginners though, any photographer will welcome the upgrade in auto-focusing. It’s out with the basic 3-point system of the D60 (and earlier entry-level models), and in with the considerably more sophisticated 11-point system as the D90 and D5000. This is a major upgrade which also allows the D3000 to numerically leapfrog its rivals.

Nikon’s even kept the same focusing screen with LCD guidelines which can be switched on and off in the viewfinder. This is now a standard feature across the current Nikon DSLR range, and a key benefit over rivals models. Remember Canon’s only just started offering on-demand guidelines in the viewfinder of its semi-pro EOS 7D.

 
 
Nikon D3000 - screen
 

It’s also nice to have a larger 3in screen, up from the 2.5in of the earlier D60. Indeed this means the D3000 has the biggest screen of its main rivals, although the actual screen resolution is the same on all three models. You won’t notice it in the specs, but Nikon’s also upgraded the information in playback to include RGB histograms.

In terms of image quality, the D3000 delivers a similar degree of detail to its 10 Megapixel rivals, although with an approach to image processing that may be a little laid-back by default for its target audience. Compared side-by-side with the punchy output from Canon’s EOS 1000D / XS and Sony’s Alpha A230, the D3000 often comes across as a bit soft. Take a look at our results pages and you may even think there’s a slight focusing error, but it’s really down to modest sharpening and contrast. Boost these settings, or better still, process your own RAW files, and you’ll see the D3000’s images sharpen-up very nicely. Of course this is all a personal choice, but we believe most people switching from a point-and-shoot will want punchier output by default, so if they find the D3000’s images a little refrained, they’ll want to adjust the Picture Controls.

The D3000 also takes an interesting approach to handling noise at higher sensitivities. Like higher-end models in the range, the D3000 takes a relatively hands-off approach, leaving noise speckles visible when rivals smear them out with noise reduction. We actually prefer Nikon’s strategy here as heavy-handed noise reduction can forever smear out fine detail, whereas at least the D3000 gives you the choice of applying more later if desired.

As for things we didn’t like so much, the D3000 inherits a main user interface which can prove slow and annoying to use for enthusiasts. Unlike rival models which double-up their four-way rocker buttons to provide direct access to things like the sensitivity and white balance, the D3000 often forces you into multiple clicks just to shift the on-screen highlighter to the desired setting. This is unlikely to upset its target market of beginners, but if you’re familiar with DSLRs and want an affordable model, the D3000 could end up frustrating you over time.

Enthusiasts will also lament the continued (and bizarre) absence of exposure bracketing. There’s also no depth-of-field preview or optional battery grip. It should additionally be noted that like Nikon’s previous entry-level models (not to mention the D5000), the D3000 does not feature a built-in motor to autofocus older lenses. So if you’re buying a Nikkor lens, you’ll need one labelled AF-S in order to autofocus. Non AF-S Nikkor lenses become manual focus only. As time goes on, this is less of an issue especially for its target market, but again it’s worth knowing for enthusiasts who may want to use older lenses.

Now before our final verdict, how does the D3000 compare against key rivals?


Compared to Canon EOS 1000D / Rebel XS

 
 
     

Canon’s EOS 1000D / Rebel XS is over a year older than the D3000, but remains Canon’s current entry-level DSLR and hence the main rival for the new budget Nikon. Both the 1000D / XS and D3000 share the same 10 Megapixel resolution, 3fps continuous shooting and the same range from their 18-55mm stabilised kit lenses.

In its favour, the Canon features Live View, a depth-of-field preview facility and comes with free software to remote-control the camera from a PC or Mac, along with a much more sophisticated RAW processing application. In its favour, the D3000 features a slightly more sophisticated 11-point AF system (versus 7-point), a larger 3in screen (versus 2.5in), viewfinder gridlines and a friendlier user interface for beginners.

But for many beginners, the simple fact the Canon is one of the cheapest DSLRs with Live View will make it an easy choice, while a number of sophisticated features and operation will also see it appeal to enthusiasts on a budget. See our Canon EOS 1000D / Rebel XS review for more details.



Compared to Sony Alpha DSLR-A230

 
 
Sony A230 review
 
 
The Alpha A230 is Sony’s latest entry-level DSLR and another key rival for the Nikon D3000. Again like the Canon and Nikon bodies, the A230 offers 10 Megapixel resolution, an 18-55mm kit lens and image stabilisation of some description. Like the D3000 (but unlike the Canon), the A230 also doesn't have Live View capabilities, although again dig deeper and more variations become apparent.

In its favour, the Alpha A230 again has built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you attach, an HDMI port and a comfortably cheaper price tag. There's a lot going for the A230, but the D3000 sports a number of advantages, a few of which are also shared with the Canon 1000D / XS.

In its favour, the D3000 has on-demand grid lines in its viewfinder, slightly faster continuous JPEG shooting, a larger 3in screen, a slightly more sophisticated AF system (11-points versus nine), optical stabilisation which you can see through the viewfinder, a slightly more powerful internal flash and a standard TV output. Both the D3000 and Alpha A230 are aimed at DSLR beginners, but Nikon’s model is friendlier in operation and boasts superior metering. In terms of image quality, the D3000 may take a fairly laid-back approach to processing by default, but it can be sharpened-up if desired, and crucially it also offers better quality at higher sensitivities. In terms of ergonomics, the Nikon is also preferred.

It sounds like a slam-dunk for the D3000 in overall features, quality and ease of use, but remember the Sony has two extremely compelling things in its favour: built-in stabilisation and by far the lowest price tag of the three main rivals. These could be sufficient to swing-it for many new DSLR buyers on a budget. Look out for our forthcoming review of the Alpha A230.



Compared to Nikon D5000

 
Nikon D5000 review
 
     

Nikon’s D5000 is the next model up in the range, and while both it and the D3000 share the same AF system, on-demand viewfinder grid lines and DX 18-55mm VR kit lens, there are many key differences.

Most notably, the D5000 features Nikon’s 12.3 Megapixel CMOS sensor, widely used across its range including the D90 and D300s. Not only does this sensor deliver two extra Megapixels and some of the cleanest, noise-free images in its class, it also equips the D5000 (and the D90 and D300s) with Live View and an HD Movie Mode.

The D5000 may have a slightly smaller 2.7in screen, but it’s fully articulated, allowing you to easily compose at unusual angles in Live View – and advantage it also has over the D90 and D300s, although those models boast higher resolution VGA screens. Continuous shooting on the D5000 is also one third quicker than the D3000 at 4fps.

In its favour, the D3000 has a slightly larger 3in screen (fixed in position, but then without Live View, it doesn’t matter), the new easy-to-use Guide mode, and is of course cheaper. But the D5000 already has a very capable help system, and if your budget can stretch it simply offers a lot more features for the money, including 2009’s key features of Live View and HD Movies. See our Nikon D5000 review for more details.

Nikon D3000 final verdict

When Nikon launched the D5000 as its new ‘affordable’ DSLR, it left a big gap for a true budget model to replace the ageing D40, D40x and D60. Now that model’s arrived in the form of the D3000, and as expected, it inherits much from its predecessor, along with picking a few upgraded components from higher-end models.

As such, the D3000 employs the body and sensor of the earlier D60, adds a bigger screen and swaps the basic 3-point AF system for the considerably more sophisticated 11-point AF system (not to mention the useful viewfinder grid-lines) of the D5000 and D90.

The headline new feature though is the Guide mode, which despite a few missed opportunities, really does make the D3000 the most approachable DSLR to date. Coupled with the existing context-sensitive help system, the D3000 is arguably the best choice for first-time DSLR owners.

But like its predecessor, the D3000 eschews a number of features which could frustrate more sophisticated owners over time. There’s no exposure bracketing, no depth-of-field preview, no autofocus on older lenses and no battery grip (at least from Nikon anyway), while some settings can take an unnecessary number of clicks to access. We know the D3000 is primarily aimed at beginners who won’t care about any of this, but equally there’s a number of enthusiasts who are looking for a DSLR on a tight budget who’ll be put off.

While Nikon proudly markets the D3000’s ease-of-use at DSLR beginners and those upgrading from a point and shoot camera, it also can’t hide the fact there’s no Live View or movie mode facility. The latter may not be available on budget DSLRs quite yet, but Live View is expected by many buyers who’ve become used to framing with a screen. Embarrassingly for Nikon, Live View has also been a standard fixture on entry-level DSLRs from Canon and Olympus for well over a year. Indeed it was notable by its absence on the earlier D60, which makes it even more painful not to find it here on a mid-2009 model.

Of course Live View may not matter to you, and it doesn’t seem to have harmed sales of Nikon’s earlier entry-level DSLRs, but for better or worse, it’s a feature many new buyers look out for, and one that’s crucially on some of the competition.

Ultimately though the Nikon D3000 is an ideal choice for DSLR beginners or first-time owners who can live without Live View. The Guide mode and help system are unrivalled for friendliness and approachability, while behind the scenes are powerful metering and AF systems which ensure a high success rate. As such the D3000 easily comes Recommended for beginners, but anyone who’s already familiar with DSLRs or simply wants Live View on a budget may find the Canon EOS 1000D / XS a better overall choice.

 


Good points

Very friendly and easy to use.
Goal-oriented Guide mode.
Decent metering and 11-point AF system.
Switchable guide-lines in viewfinder.

Bad points
No live view or movie mode.
Some settings require too many clicks.
No exposure bracketing or DOF preview.
No AF with older (non AF-S) lenses.



Scores

(compared to 2009 budget DSLRs)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

16 / 20
17 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20
15 / 20

80%


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