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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 D5000 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 won't be identical but the results will be consistent enough for the Nikon spokesperson we spoke to describe Picture Controls as: 'the digital film of the future,' which is nice.

Nikon D5000 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
StandardNeutralVividMono
PortraitLandscapeAdobe RGB

Artificial light White Balance

The D5000's performance is not nearly as accurate as the D90 was in the same test. However, its choice of seven Fluorescent presets means there's likely to be at least one setting in which it will produce excellent results. The problem with having so many options is choosing the correct one for the situation you're shooting in (personally I can't spot the difference between a Daylight Fluorescent and a Day White Fluorescent tube when I walk into an unfamiliar room), not helped by the inability to switch between fluorescent presets from the interactive control panel. It's quite possible to shoot a raw image then pre-process that in-camera to test the effects of each preset, then use the White Balance option in the shooting menu to select that preset, but if you're going to do all that, it's probably easier to shoot a neutral target and set a custom white balance from that.

Other than that, the performance is a little disappointing after the very good performance of the D90. It could be that Nikon has tried to make the camera more 'entry-level friendly' (by retaining 'atmosphere' rather than accuracy), or that the camera is based around a slightly different processor (Nikon does not specify whether it uses the same processors in different cameras, instead applying the 'Expeed' branding to all the processors it uses).

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 9.6%, Blue: -16.5%, Poor
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 7.8%, Blue: -10.2%, Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 5.9%, Blue: -11.9%, Average
Fluorescent - White Fluorescent preset WB
Red: 0.0%, Blue: -0.3%, Excellent

Flash

It's hard to argue with this flash performance - both the exposure and color rendition are very good. The D5000 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). The effect is that highlights are preserved and detail pulled out of the shadows.

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 that these changes only appear in JPEG (they are not perfectly reproducible in RAW converters - even Capture NX). The default setting for Active D-Lighting on the D5000 is 'Auto,' which assesses the contrast in the scene and applies what it considers to be an appropriate level of D-Lighting.

On the whole, it's a question of taste but there are plenty of situations in which a small increase in noise is an acceptable price to pay for a final image with a more balanced tonal range, so we'd be inclined to leave it on Auto or even hike it up to Extra High in some situations. Those people shooting RAW and planning to post-process all their images are probably better off switching it off, however.

Active D-Lighting Off ISO 200, 1/60 sec, F8
Active D-Lighting Low ISO 200, 1/60 sec, F8
Active D-Lighting Normal ISO 200, 1/60 sec, F8
Active D-Lighting High ISO 200, 1/80 sec, F8
Active D-Lighting Extra High ISO 200, 1/100 sec, F8

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

Our comments about the D5000 are, unsurprisingly, an awful lot like the ones we made about the D90. As we've seen throughout our lab tests, Nikon is applying considerably less sharpening than its rivals, meaning that the first impression is that the D5000's output is soft at the pixel level. However, unlike some camera's we've recently tested, the Nikon's JPEG engine can produce better results with a slight tweaking of the parameters.

To prove this point, we have tried re-processing a raw file in the camera and applying a touch more sharpening and a slight contrast increase. As can be seen, the results are much more like those of the D5000's peers. Below we've included 100% crops from our comparison shot and a real-world scene, to show the effects of this slight correction.

Standard (Contrast 0, Sharpening 3) Contrast +1, Sharpening 4

However, the other thing we took issue with on the D90 - its willingness to overexpose - seems to have been corrected. In most situations, the D5000 appears to err on the side of underexposure. This means you may sometimes have to add a bit of positive exposure compensation to make your images reflect the brightness of the original scene but has the advantage that you're less likely to suffer from large numbers of over-bright images with unrecoverable detail (you can pull-up detail you've captured, but you can't pull down detail you haven't).

For a camera of this level, where it's not guaranteed that every user will get involved in correcting the exposure, we'd much rather see the camera tend towards underexposure like this, rather than overexposure.

The D5000 also automatically corrects chromatic aberration, just as the D90 did, and can optionally correct geometric distortion when using Nikkor lenses (at the cost of slower continuous shooting).

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