Written by Gordon Laing
Nikon D5000 verdict
The D5000 is the latest in a long line of impressive DSLRs from Nikon, delivering great image quality and a powerful feature-set that represents a significant upgrade over its predecessor, the D60. Like many of today’s new DSLRs, the D5000 borrows a great deal from a higher-end model in the range, in this case the D90, but repackages it in a more affordable form factor with at least one key advantage in its favour.
While arch rival Canon continues to increase resolutions, Nikon has sensibly stood still with the D5000, equipping it with exactly the same sensor as the D90. It’s sensible because while the Canon EOS 500D / Rebel T1i features three extra Megapixels, the D5000 delivers what we regard to be superior image quality overall. Set the Canon to 100 ISO with a decent lens and it will out-resolve the D5000, but use the standard kit lenses or increase the sensitivity much beyond 200 ISO and the D5000 takes the lead.
You can see examples of this in our Real Life Resolution and High ISO Noise pages: Nikon struck a great balance between number of pixels and real-life performance with the earlier D90, and the D5000 inherits that. The D5000’s kit lens may not have the reach of the D90’s DX 18-105mm VR, but it also remains a decent performer for the money. So in terms of image quality, the D5000 matches the D90’s output and therefore becomes one of the best at its price point.
Nikon could have hobbled other aspects of the D5000 to protect the D90, but generously equips its latest body with the same sensitivity, Live View capabilities, 720p HD movie mode, 11-point AF system, on-demand viewfinder guidelines, and even almost the same continuous shooting speed. Sure the D5000 is a tad slower at 4fps to the D90’s 4.5fps, but by actually delivering this figure in practice, it’s comfortably quicker than most rivals. It’s great to enjoy so much of the D90 in a cheaper body, but equally important to remember it adds up to a major upgrade over the D60.
The D5000 may borrow heavily from the D90, but features one very unique aspect of its own: a fully-articulated screen. Like the Olympus E-620’s screen, this flips-out to provide considerable compositional flexibility in Live View, especially when framing at very low angles or over the heads of crowds. Annoyingly the screen’s flexibility is restricted when mounted on a tripod, so unlike the Olympus E-620, you won’t be able to twist it round to face the subject in a self-portrait. It’s also important to remember focusing (like most DSLRs) is relatively slow in Live View, so you won’t be exploiting the flexible screen for capturing subjects in motion, but if your subject is mostly static, it can still be a boon.
The D5000’s HD Movie mode remains a headline feature and we’ve dedicated an entire page of this review to it, but because it shares the same implementation as the D90, our verdict remains unchanged. Like all DSLR movie modes, there’s a number of caveats which prevent it from ever being a day-to-day replacement for a camcorder, but if you’re willing to work-around the foibles and embrace the pro-points, you can capture some great-looking footage. It’s a shame there’s still no external microphone input, but then neither has the D90 or Canon 500D / T1i. See our detailed page on the movie mode for full details.
The D5000 may inherit a great deal from the D90, but it’s certainly not forgotten its predecessor nor its target market. So like the D60 before it, the D5000 becomes one of the most beginner-friendly DSLRs on the market, offering context-sensitive help at every turn. If you’re stuck at any point, just press the Question Mark button and the D5000 will display helpful advice, and when changing settings, thumbnails show examples of how you might use it. The D5000 also inherits the D60’s Time-lapse option, but makes it much more usable with Interval Shooting options which aren’t even present on the D90.
Again like the D60, there’s the bare minimum of buttons, and most only have a single function. Combined with the help system, this makes the D5000 one of the least intimidating DSLRs around, although like its predecessors, the user interface can become frustratingly slow to navigate for more experienced photographers.
It’s also worth noting the D5000 is comfortably larger and heavier than its closest rivals, with the articulated screen giving it a chunkier (and dare we say, less attractive) appearance than previous models. This is of course entirely personal, but as always we’d strongly recommend picking up your shortlisted models in person and seeing which feel best in your hands.
Speaking of other models, let’s see how the D5000 fits into the Nikon range and compares against rivals before our final verdict.
Compared to Nikon D60
Nikon’s D60 was essentially a refresh of the earlier D40x, but while it introduced the DX 18-55mm VR kit lens, it lacked features like Live View which were already becoming commonplace on DSLRs. As such while its successor the D5000 shares the same kit lens, it represents a significant upgrade in almost every other respect.
The D5000 boasts two extra Megapixels and a switch from CCD to CMOS, double the maximum sensitivity (6400 ISO compared to 3200 ISO), quicker continuous shooting (4fps compared to 3fps), a more sophisticated AF system (11 points compared to just three), a fully-articulated screen (that’s also a little larger at 2.7in) and 13 additional scene presets. The D5000 also brings the D60 up-to-date with the long overdue addition of Live View, along with the D90’s HD movie recording. On top of that you also get an HDMI port and support for Nikon’s optional GPS accessory.
While the optical viewfinder now features the handy on-demand LCD gridlines of higher-end Nikon DSLRs, the actual magnification is sadly down slightly from the D60 for a fractionally smaller view. But this aside, the D5000 delivers a large boost in features over its predecessor covering both modern and traditional respects. It’s a worthy successor.
But if you’re not bothered by these features and just want a solid 10 Megapixel entry-level DSLR, the D60 remains a good option and it’s worth keeping an eye on prices while stocks last; likewise, the D5000 may see the already low-priced D40 fall even further, as this model has also now been discontinued. See our Nikon D60 and Nikon D40 reviews for more details.
Compared to Nikon D90
The Nikon D90 is the next model up from the D5000, and in the general DSLR market represents a step-up in quality and features over many rivals – but by inheriting many key respects of this model, the D5000 becomes a pretty capable alternative. Consider what both cameras have in common: the same 12.3 Megapixel sensor and 12-bit processing, the same 11-point AF system, the same Live View capabilities and the same HD movie mode. Both also share HDMI ports, on-demand LCD grid-lines in the optical viewfinder, and support for Nikon’s optional GPS accessory.
In its favour, the new D5000 additionally features a fully-articulated screen, along with more scene presets, interval shooting and a time-lapse movie mode. Nikon’s latest entry-level model is certainly looking very strong, but there are of course advantages to the higher-end D90.
In its favour, the D90 features a brighter and much larger penta-prism viewfinder with 0.94x magnification compared to the relatively small 0.78x of the D5000. The screen may not flip-out, but it’s bigger and much more detailed at 3in / 920k. While the D5000 shoots respectably quickly at 4fps, the D90 is a tad faster at 4.5fps and it also features a more powerful battery along with an optional battery grip and a built-in flash with a strobing function. The D90 boasts what most would consider to superior build quality, while additionally featuring an LCD information screen on the upper right surface; the standard kit also has almost twice the reach with the classy Nikkor DX 18-105mm VR lens. Finally, the D90 still houses a motor to auto-focus older lenses that don’t have their own built-in.
So while the D90’s lacking the articulated screen of its latest counterpart, it continues to appeal more to photographic enthusiasts who value the benefits listed above. See our Nikon D90 review for more details.
Compared to Canon EOS 500D / Rebel T1i
Canon’s latest upper-entry-level DSLR, the EOS 500D / Rebel T1i is likely to be one of the D5000’s biggest rivals. Both cameras share much in common including Live View, HD movie recording and HDMI output, and both come with 18-55mm kit lenses for roughly the same price, but there are many differences to weigh-up.
At first glance, the Canon EOS 500D / T1i appears to trump the D5000 in a number of key specifications: the resolution is higher (15.1 Megapixels versus 12.3), the maximum sensitivity is higher (12800 ISO compared to 6400), tonal depth is greater (14 bits versus 12), the screen is bigger and more detailed (3in VGA vs 2.7in QVGA), the viewfinder slightly larger, there’s a depth-of-field preview, a live histogram in live view, an optional battery grip, and the headline movie mode can capture 1080p video compared to 720p. Like all Canon DSLRs, you also get free PC / Mac based remote control and decent RAW conversion software. So Canon’s won the battle, right? Well not necessarily.
In its favour the D5000 has a fully-articulated screen which allows great compositional flexibility in Live View, it sports quicker continuous shooting (4fps vs 3.4fps), a slightly more sophisticated AF system (11-point versus 9-point), on-demand grid lines in the optical viewfinder, interval shooting, a time-lapse movie mode, and an easier user interface for beginners. In terms of resolution, the 500D / T1i may have the advantage in numbers, but in our tests there was very little in it, and crucially, the D5000 boasted superior noise and detail at higher sensitivities.
It’s also important to debunk Canon’s claim of Full HD video, as the 1080p mode on the 500D / T1i is ‘only’ at 20fps, so in reality, both it and the D5000 are arguably in the same class with 720p. Many will also prefer the Motion JPEG compression system employed by Nikon which is much easier to edit than the H.264 format used by Canon, not to mention its choice of 24fps over 30fps.
Ultimately you need to weigh-up the features and handling to decide which will work out best for your style of photography. If you prefer Canon’s approach to Live View, a user interface that’s more targeted at enthusiasts than beginners, and a larger, detailed monitor to a smaller one that flips-out, then the 500D / T1i could be for you – especially if you’re also thinking of fitting superior optics sooner rather than later. See our Canon EOS 500D / Rebel T1i review for more details.
Compared to Olympus E-620
The Olympus E-620 is the second major rival for the Nikon D5000, with both sporting 12 Megapixel resolution and fully-articulated 2.7in screens. In its favour the E-620 features built-in Image Stabilisation which works with any lens you attach, a more sensibly-located hinge for the screen, depth-of-field previews, a live histogram in live view, a series of artistic in-camera filters, and is also smaller and lighter, without compromising comfort or ergonomics; there’s also an optional battery grip and even an underwater housing available.
In its favour, the D5000 features an HD movie mode, an HDMI port, double the maximum sensitivity, a more sophisticated 11-point AF system (compared to 7-point), interval shooting, a time-lapse movie mode and on-demand guidelines in the viewfinder. The D5000 also has a physically larger sensor which as you’d expect, allow it to deliver lower noise levels at high sensitivities.
Once again it boils down to choosing the feature-set which best-suits your requirements, not to mention the ergonomics. The Olympus may not sport a movie mode nor as big a sensor, but having built-in stabilisation which works with any lens is a huge advantage in its favour, as is the compact but comfortable body.
Crucially, for a little less than the Nikon kit, you could buy an E-620 with not one, but two lenses: a 14-42mm and a 40-150mm. Considering both become stabilised by the body, that’s a pretty compelling deal, or there’s the standard single lens kit costing around 20% less than the D5000 kit. Our full review of the Olympus E-620 is coming soon.
If you’re after a camera with a DSLR-sized sensor, removable lenses, an articulated screen and proper 1080p HD movie recording, you should also be considering Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GH1 – although unlike the models above, its video recording and Live View functions are core features rather than being bolted-on and compromised in some respects. It looks pricey at almost twice the price of the D5000 (check latest USA price here), but the standard kit comes with a 28-280mm equivalent super-zoom lens with smooth aperture adjustment designed for video. See our Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 preview for more details.
Nikon D5000 final verdict
There’s a lot to like about the Nikon D5000. It takes the great image quality of the D90, not to mention its HD movie mode and AF system, repackages it into a D60-styled body with beginner-friendly controls, and completes it with a fully-articulated screen on the back. It’s a compelling combination of features and pitched just right for beginners who’ll want guidance and a camera that grows with them.
It’s not all good news of course: the D5000 is relatively large and heavy for an entry-level model, its viewfinder a tad smaller than the competition, the screen’s hinge position reduces flexibility when mounted on a tripod, the movie mode (like all DSLRs with the facility) has a number of operational caveats, the user interface can be slow for experienced users, and Nikon continues to sell its RAW conversion and remote control software as optional extras. There’s also no battery-grip, and like earlier entry-level Nikon DSLRs, there’s no built-in motor to autofocus older lenses which don’t have their own AF motors.
These are minor downsides for its target market though. The biggest issue facing the D5000 is it replaces a series of budget DSLRs which were simply much cheaper. Don’t get us wrong, the D5000 represents decent value for what it offers, but at the time of writing, the D60 and D40 kits were priced at roughly two thirds and one half the price of the D5000 kit. The D5000 may offer much more than either model, but the DSLR beginners it’s aiming for are often on a tighter budget and many will consider older models in the Nikon range or rivals.
Speaking of rivals, the D5000 also has two very tough ones in the form of Canon’s EOS 500D / Rebel T1i and the Olympus E-620. Each has a number of pros and cons discussed above, and if you’re considering a DSLR at this price point, you should closely compare all three.
If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly DSLR though with powerful features and image quality to match, the Nikon D5000 is a great choice, and comes Highly Recommended. If it really does replace both the D60 and D40 though, Nikon now has a gap at the truly affordable end of the range. Check back soon for our video tour!
(compared to 2009 budget DSLRs)
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