Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent detail and resolution at low ISO settings (especially in raw mode)
- Very capable AF system, including 3D AF tracking, on a par with much more expensive DSLRs
- Versatile and fun retouch options including in-camera raw processing
- Effectively unlimited shooting in JPEG mode (with ADL turned off)
- User-friendly ergonomics, without sacrificing control
- Good build quality for the price - no creaks
- Active D-Lighting helps recover the maximum tonal detail from tricky scenes
- Reliable exposures, with and without flash (albeit a little bright)
- Excellent exposure compensation range of -+5EV
- Good battery life for its class
- Refreshingly conservative approach to high ISO noise reduction (at default settings)
- View NX software hugely improved over Picture Project (Not as good as Capture NX2 though)
- Built-in AF assist lamp
- Competitive pricing
Conclusion - Cons
- Unreliable white balance under artificial lighting
- Slight tendency to overexpose in contrasty conditions
- No Live View
- Screen resolution slightly too low for checking accurate focus
- Very little control over high ISO noise reduction
- No front control dial
- No depth-of-field preview button
- No exposure bracketing
- No in-body stabilization (although VR is included in many of Nikon's current entry-level lenses)
- Luminance noise becomes a problem above ISO 800
- Slightly soft JPEG output at default settings (but this is far from unusual)
- Screen-centric interface won't appeal to everyone
- No AF support for non AF-S (or third-party equivalent) lenses
- No GPS (via Nikon's GP-1 accessory) support
The Nikon D40 was a groundbreaking camera, not only for Nikon, but for the entire entry-level sector of the DSLR market. What made the D40 so different to what had gone before was its untraditional interface, which was intended to explain, rather than simply display, key shooting parameters. The D3000 takes this pedagogical approach to the next level with its new 'guide' mode, but in essence, the basics are unchanged. In recent years, Nikon has followed a 'trickle-down' policy in its DSLR line, gradually introducing features from its top-end models into the lower-level offerings. Ergonomically, the D3000 is clearly a close relation of the D40 and D60, but in some respects - especially when we start digging around inside its setup and shooting menus - it is much closer to the D5000 and D90.
There is no doubt that the D3000 is an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary update, but the few features that have been added to the D3000 compared to the D60 are of real value, and the 11-point AF system alone makes the D3000 a bargain at its current asking price. It's a shame that the bundled 18-55mm kit lens doesn't show off the AF capabilities of the camera to a better extent, but the same is true of most kit lenses. A greater frustration - at least to anyone with a collection of older Nikon lenses - is that AF is unavailable with non AF-S optics. Fortunately, the D3000 does offer an effective (and very accurate) manual focusing rangefinder indicator in the viewfinder, but it's of little help when you're faced with a moving subject.
As far as image quality is concerned, the D3000 is a thoroughly satisfying camera, without being exceptional. The white balance system doesn't cope all that well with artificial lighting, but the same is true of the D5000 and D90 as well, and it isn’t significantly worse than anything else in the entry-level sector. Like a lot of recent Nikon DSLRs the D3000 has a tendency to deliver rather bright mid tones, which can threaten highlight detail, especially in JPEGs, but on the plus side, images are nice and bright and look great when printed straight from the camera. Something that is noticeable, compared to the D5000 and D90, is a greater amount of coloured fringing around high-contrast edges in images shot with the D3000's bundled 18-55mm zoom. The higher-end cameras feature in-camera chromatic abberation reduction in JPEGs, but the D3000 does not.
High ISO performance is nothing to shout about, but with noise reduction turned 'off' (note: some noise reduction is still applied at this setting), images shot at ISO 3200 have a grittiness that really suits certain subjects, especially when shot in (or converted to) black and white. Within the most often used ISO range of 100-800 though, the D3000 gives excellent image quality, and as you can see from the studio tests we've published here, despite its relatively low pixel count, the D3000's CCD sensor is capable of impressive resolution.
In general use, the D3000 is a very agreeable companion. There are a few frustrations, naturally - the smallish viewfinder and lack of depth of field preview and exposure bracketing spring to mind - but these are not necessarily things that would concern a novice DSLR user. And this, of course, is the audience to which the D3000 is designed to appeal.
Photographers with long experience of other Nikon DSLRs may not enjoy the D3000's dissimilar handling experience all that much, but to a novice DSLR user coming straight from a compact camera or a camera phone, the D3000 offers an excellent combination of advanced features and ease of use. My only serious complaint about the D3000's handling is that although its screen is bright and contrasty, its resolution is a little too low to accurately confirm critical focus when the subject is relatively small in the frame.
The final word
The D3000 is an excellent camera, and great value at its current street price. What the D3000 conspicuously lacks however, compared to competitive cameras like the Canon EOS 1000D and the recently announced Pentax K-X, is a Live View mode. Nikon is gambling on the assumption that first-time DSLR buyers don't really need Live View, and the success of the D40/D40x and D60 (none of which offered Live View either) could be taken as supporting evidence. However, moving into 2010, Live View is fast becoming a standard feature. It is certainly true that many DSLR owners whose cameras have a Live View function rarely use it, but that doesn't mean that a camera without Live View is just as attractive as one with - especially to someone buying their first DSLR.
In fact, those that are new to a particular hobby are often more likely to fixate on features than those with enough experience to gauge what they actually need. Whether this will seriously impact upon the success of the D3000 or not I don't know, but even without Live View, the D3000 still offers one of the best all-round feature sets of any entry-level DSLR, and is definitely worthy of consideration.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
First timers wanting an easy to use SLR
Not so good for
More demanding users, working in low light
The D3000 may not have all the latest bells and whistles feature-wise, but what it does it does extremely well. If you can live without live view and movie modes it's the perfect beginner's camera.
Original Rating (Dec 2009): Highly Recommended
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean