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Color reproduction

Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart. Place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.

Picture Controls (Nikon's name for its image parameter presets), can be modified, saved and transferred between the D3000 and all the more expensive Nikon DSLRs to allow consistency of output between different cameras. Obviously the noise and noise reduction characteristics each camera will have an impact on the final results so the output might not be strictly identical but the results will be consistent enough that someone swapping between a D3000 and - say - a D300s at a wedding or other event is unlikely to notice the difference in output.

Nikon D3000 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
StandardLandscapeNeutralPortrait
VividMonochromeAdobe RGB

Artificial light White Balance

Like it's elder brother the D5000, the D3000 doesn't turn in a stellar performance in these tests, although the huge variation in temperatures that exists under the umbrella terms 'tungsten' and 'fluorescent' makes these types of lighting a difficult task for any camera. The Nikon D3000 is unusual in having seven different white balance presets for fluorescent lighting: the 'white fluorescent' preset has done the best job of dealing with the standard domestic-type tubes that we use in this test. The problem with having so many different presets, of course, is that unless you have a preternatural ability to identify different types of bulb (maybe you're a sales assistant in a fluorescent light store, or perhaps your only friends as a child were light bulbs) it will probably take longer to find the right one that it would to take a custom white balance reading.

Nikon's approach to tungsten lighting appears to be rather different in the D3000 (and D5000) than its higher-end DSLRs. Rather than neutralizing the warmth to the point of making everything look rather gray and dead (as the D700 and D300s can do in some situations) the D3000 turns in warmer, less clinical images. Which approach is 'better' depends on your individual taste, but the color balance of all white balance settings (including auto) can be shifted on a amber-blue/green-magenta axis if necessary.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 6.8%, Blue: -14.10%, Poor
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 4.3%, Blue: -8.6%, Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 6.7%, Blue: -12.8%, Average
Fluorescent - White Fluorescent preset WB
Red: 1.7%, Blue: -2.0%, Good

Flash

It's hard to argue with this flash performance - both the exposure and color rendition are very good, albeit perhaps a little on the dark side in our portrait. Like the D5000, the D3000 doesn't have the wireless external flash control features built into the D90 and more expensive models but it does give a pretty good level of control over the behavior of the built-in flash (with easy access to flash exposure compensation and first/second curtain sync).

Active D-Lighting

Active D-Lighting has been included in Nikon DSLRs since the D300. It mixes a metering correction and tone curve shift (as per Canon's Highlight Tone Priority mode), with sophisticated dynamic range compression techniques, based on technologies from Apical (similar to those in the Sony DRO and Olympus SAT modes). ADL aims to preserve highlights and pull a little more detail out of shadows than would otherwise be possible in a single exposure.

The theory is that this results in images that are closer to the way the human brain perceives the scene. The cost is that you get additional noise in shadow regions of the images, and as we have seen in the 'performance' section of this test, in the case of the D3000, the camera slows down considerably as a result of the higher processing demands.

In the D3000, Active D-Lighting is either on or off, and doesn't offer the more nuanced controls of more advanced cameras in Nikon's range. The effect of ADL can be very subtle, but in some situations, such as backlit portraits, it can have a more extreme, almost 'HDR' effect. You can see here that turning ADL on has recovered some highlight detail, and has extended the mid tones further into the shadow range, noticeably brightening the area just inside the tunnel and the immediate foreground.

Active D-Lighting Off ISO 100, 1/20 sec, F5
Active D-Lighting On ISO 100, 1/13 sec, F5

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

The D3000 is the only Nikon DSLR to feature a CCD sensor and as such, it is the last of a dying breed. Although CMOS is more popular these days for large imaging sensors, back when Nikon was developing its first 'proper' DSLR, the D1 of 1999, CCD was the preferred technology. At the time this was largely because of CCD's lower complexity, correspondingly lower cost, and larger 'fill factor' (the area of a sensor that is light sensitive, rather than taken up with circuitry etc.,) compared to CMOS. For a long time, the advantages of CMOS sensors (pixel-level processing and noise reduction, lower power consumption and faster data read-out amongst others) were academic, in that the cost of putting the sensors into digital cameras didn't justify the benefits. Fast forward to 2009 though, and CMOS sensors are the norm. However, despite the primacy of CMOS in today's DSLR marketplace, the CCD sensor in the D3000 gives very high quality images.

At the most commonly used ISO settings of 100-800, the D3000 can still slug it out with the best of the competition, and to any practical extent, at low ISO settings the D3000's image quality is on a par with the slightly higher resolution D5000 and D90. The difference between 10 and 12 million pixels is negligible in normal use, and with a high quality lens attached, detail resolution from the D3000's CCD sensor is very high. Here, I shot the same scene three times using a high quality lens (the AF-S Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8 G ED) at f/8, to really get a feel for what the sensor can do.

The first image was taken in JPEG (Large/Fine) mode with sharpening at its default level +3, the second with sharpening turned up to +6, and the third in raw mode, processed initially in Adobe Camera Raw with no sharpening, and again, sharpened for maximum possible detail. It is clear from these images that the camera's JPEG engine does a pretty good job at bringing very fine detail out of high contrast edges, but that - as usual - a lot more can be squeezed out of the raw files. Although the final image, sharpened for maximum detail in ACR, is actually bordering on over sharpened, the amount of detail that has been recovered is astonishing, even down to the leading on these ornate windows.

JPEG standard (Contrast 0, Sharpening 3)
JPEG (Contrast 0, Sharpening 6)
Raw (ACR, no sharpening)
Raw (ACR, sharpening for maximum detail)

Where the D3000 starts to struggle is in very poor light at high ISO settings, and although, given the choice, we would always take grittiness over blotchiness, images from the D3000 at ISO 3200 and 1600 are noticeably grainier than equivalent shots from some competitive cameras. Part of this grittiness is down to Nikon's rather conservative luminance noise-reduction (which partly explains the differences between the output of the D3000 and Sony Alpha 230, for example) but there is no getting away from the fact that this is an old sensor in digital camera terms, and the bar for high ISO image quality has been raised a lot in recent years.

Having said that, shooting in raw mode allows a lot of scope for post-capture adjustment, even if the included View NX software offers a rather meager feature set compared to competitive bundled software like Canon's Digital Photo Professional. Naturally, though, it is the JPEG output of the D3000 that is likely to be of most relevance to its intended audience, and although JPEG files are slightly softer than raw files (when run through View NX at default conversion settings) a small tweak of the in-camera sharpening is enough to crispen things up a bit, as you can see from the images above. Assuming accurate white balance, colors are accurate in the 'Standard' picture control preset, but again, plenty of other options are available, and all of the presets can be fine-tuned either in-camera or via View NX.

The D3000's metering and white balance systems are clearly very closely related to those used in the Nikon D5000, and in general, my experience of the D3000 in uses matches that of the more advanced camera. The metering is clearly fairly heavily influenced by the active AF point, which is worth keeping an eye on, but in general, exposures are accurate in almost all situations. The only environments in which exposure compensation might need to be employed are when shooting against predominantly light or dark backgrounds, or in very low light, where the camera has a tendency to deliver artificially bright mid tones. The omission of exposure bracketing is annoying, but on the plus side the D3000's -/+5EV exposure compensation range is very generous, and arguably more useful most of the time.

For those photographers that prefer to keep post-processing to a minimum, the Retouch menu is on hand to provide a surprising amount of control in-camera. It is a shame to see that the D5000's handy perspective correction feature has been missed out, but still, in-camera cropping, filter effect options and post-capture trimming are a useful alternative to more time-consuming adjustment on a computer. New to the D3000 is a 'miniature effect' filter which aims to replicate the appearance of using a tilt-and-shift lens. It's a fun effect, but unsurprisingly, nowhere near as versatile as a the real thing. Also fun is stop-motion movie, a simple macro type function that allows you to create a .AVI video file from a series of JPEGs at frame rates of between 3 and 15 frames per second. Inspired by London's feverish attempts to prepare for the 2012 Olympics, we prepared this movie for your viewing pleasure. (640x480 pixels, 6 frames per second)

As well as offering plenty of fun things to do with JPEGs, the D3000 also provides in-camera raw conversion with several parameters, including white balance and exposure adjustment. It's a shame that no control is offered over sharpening and noise-reduction, but simply having the option of making JPEG files from raw images in-camera may appeal to novices that would otherwise be confused or intimidated by raw capture.

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