Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent image quality
- Good tonal response and dynamic range
- Very impressive high ISO performance
- Easy-to-use control system
- Feels very fast and responsive in use
- Twist and swivel screen useful for certain shooting types
- Useful in-camera RAW processing option
- Good viewfinder for class with optional composition grid
- Excellent degree of customization (reversible dial and meter ease transition from other systems)
- Fast Autofocus with useful control options
- Automatic correction of chromatic aberration
- Reliable metering that will tend towards underexposure when caught-out
- Programmable FUNC button with useful list of functions
- Configurable 'My Menu'
- Fast power on, responsive in-use
- Auto-focus assist lamp rather than requiring flash to be raised
- Control over high sensitivity noise reduction
- Customizable automatic sensitivity (ISO)
- Fast continuous shooting mode
- Extensive retouching features including D-Lighting, Red-eye reduction and distortion correction
- Option to correct geometric distortion in JPEGs while shooting (though camera slows a little)
- Dedicated help button provides in-menu assistance
- 720p HD video
- Good battery life
Conclusion - Cons
- Control system rather dependant on multiple button presses
- Contrast detect AF so slow it's useless for most types of photography (which is often the case on DSLRs)
- No built-in AF motor restricts lens choice (though most popular lenses do work)
- Default JPEG output soft (shoot RAW for best results)
- Moderate screen resolution (and too reflective in bright light)
- Video capability rather limited
- No mass storage USB support
The Nikon D5000 aims to be a lot of things to a lot of people - stepping in above the D60 as an offering designed to attract upgraders from older entry-level DSLRs, as well as lending a welcoming hand-up to DSLR ownership for compact camera users looking to get more involved in their hobby. And, on the whole, it performs both tasks pretty well. The features and technologies passed down from the D90 make it a very capable camera but the difference in feature set - low-res LCD, smaller viewfinder, single control dial, fewer direct-access buttons, smaller battery and more limited lens compatibility - should mean it doesn't tread on its big-brother's toes too much.
It's pretty impressive that so much of the D300's technology has, in the space of just 18 months, gone from appearing in an $1800 camera to one that can be had for under $700. The image quality is undeniably impressive - the default JPEG settings might be a touch too tailored towards the D300 market but they can be tweaked to produce the bright, punchy output that former compact camera users are likely to expect. The high ISO performance is very good as is the dynamic range, with or without the useful Active D-Lighting feature.
The D5000 sits slightly awkwardly between categories - it's a large camera but one that, in common with the much smaller D60, relies on menus or its info screen for accessing many settings. There's a risk that this info-screen-driven operation will put-off more experienced users who will want to regularly play around with features such as Active D-Lighting and White Balance. It won't be a problem for first-time DSLR users though, who are likely to be immediately familiar with the idea of multiple button presses to change semi-frequently used options.
In terms of handling, the D5000 is a much more elegant camera to hold than it is to behold - it might look a little lumpy but it sits well in the hand: something not always guaranteed at this level. Then there's the swivel screen - which is likely to be the feature than makes you choose this camera or drives you away. The placement of the hinge can mean you have to position it carefully before mounting the camera on a tripod, for instance. It's worth trying: you'll either love it and have to buy this (or the E-620) or you'll find yourself deciding that it's not something you'll use terribly often and that you'd prefer the high-resolution screen of the Canon EOS 500D or the more expensive Nikon D90.
The final word
Ultimately, whether the D5000 is the right camera for is likely to hinge on what you think of the flip-out/swivel LCD. In every other respect, the D5000 is exactly the solid product you'd expect of a camera put together from so many well-proven parts. It's a camera packed full of features, including a good set of RAW and JPEG processing tools and effects, and video has been implemented in such a way that it's there if you want it and doesn't get in the way if you don't.
More importantly, the underlying features are well done, so that it's easy to get good picture out of - the autofocus is pretty sophisticated, reliable and easy-to-use and in difficult-to-meter situations, the camera's exposure errs on the side of underexposure, to prevent detail being lost. Overall it's a very good camera that's up against some very good competition - whether it lands any knock-out blows is really down to how well it fits in your hand and how well its feature set suits your needs.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
Anyone looking for good results without a lot of effort
Not so good for
Manual photography enthusiasts
The D5000 takes the D3000's ease of use and sprinkles in some of the D90's more advanced features to create a user-friendly but surprisingly sophisticated photography tool. It may not be that pretty, but it handles well and produces reliably good results without the need for much user intervention, yet has plenty to offer the more serious user too.
Original Rating (June 2009): Highly Recommended
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean