The D5000 takes a bit of a different step to the previous digital SLRs from the Japanese brand. From the front the camera looks the same as older models like the D60, but cast your eye around to the back of the unit and things begin to look a little different. The first thing you'll no doubt notice is the 2.7-inch LCD screen, which pops out (more on this later), and the button configuration has been tweaked slightly from older models.
At the side of the camera sit ports for AV out, HDMI out and a GPS connector. The camera is designed nicely for one-handed shooters who like to capture from the hip, as your right thumb doesn't fall accidentally on any button or dial by accident. That said we still miss the front control wheel that's found on higher-end Nikon dSLRs; instead you have to make do with just one wheel at the back. The four-way control pad is generally intuitive to use even if it feels a little flimsy at times.
There are a lot of comparisons that we can make between the Nikon D5000 and the Canon EOS 500D, so we'll get them out of the way first and then concentrate on the camera's performance on its own. They share a lot of similar features, the most significant being their ability to capture high-definition video (D5000 at 720p though) and that they both sit a bit better than entry-level model. The Nikon has to make do with just 12.3 megapixels compared to the Canon's 15.1, but it does win points for having the rotating LCD screen that pops out and underneath the camera body. This is slightly different to the articulating screens we're used to seeing on other dSLRs like the Olympus E-620, which come out from the side of the camera.
With the 35mm DX lens attached (Credit: CBSi)
That said, the D5000's version is quite useful for tricky shooting situations. It's not perfect though, because if you have the LCD screen facing out from the camera and you lean in to use the viewfinder, the screen won't turn off automatically when you put the camera to your eye — not great for night-time shooting as you'll temporarily blind yourself. There's a dedicated button to turn off the screen, but we prefer the Canon version which has a sensor to detect when to switch the screen off accordingly.
The kit 18-55mm lens is a little more cumbersome than we would have liked, but if we were buying the camera, we'd just go for the body-only option and pair it with the 35mm Nikkor DX lens instead. That said, the 18-55mm Nikkor is a very nice lens, with good clarity and sharpness across the frame and little chromatic aberration noticeable.
Performance and image quality
The first thing you are likely to notice about the D5000 is the incredibly quick start-up and shot-to-shot time, with the camera being ready to shoot within 0.5 seconds of switching it on. The rest of the performance follows suit with the D5000 holding its own against other cameras in its class. Shooting speed is something that the Nikon excels at, being able to capture 4 frames per second. For most situations like shooting fast moving kids or sports photography the camera will cope well.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Noise control was very good for a dSLR of its class though there were visible artefacts at ISO 1600. Note also that ISO 200 is the lowest native ISO for the D5000, though you can reduce it to the "Lo" settings to achieve lower levels. We also enjoyed the rich colours from the D5000. While not as immediately punchy as those from the 500D, the Nikon was able to keep a lot more of the shadow detail and didn't blow out as many highlights as the Canon did.
In retrospect, this had a lot to do with the D5000 tending to underexpose except in the most well lit situations. Unfortunately, due to the low resolution of the screen you can't always tell on close inspection either, and trying to find an easily accessible histogram is just as difficult. For reference, you need to activate it by going to menu > display mode > RGB histogram.
The size of the viewfinder makes it really difficult to determine focus when adjusting manually, and it is also slightly dim making this task even trickier in low light situations. Fortunately, the AF gets it right most of the time which takes a lot of the guesswork out of focusing, but it is very easy to change the focus points by accident when selecting other options in the information panel.
Movie mode was competent, but not the strongest component of the D5000, with the audio in particular being muffled and difficult to make out in situations with a lot of background noise. Unfortunately, like the 500D, there is no external microphone input. We still think there is a fair way to go before HD video on these digital SLRs is a make-or-break purchasing decision.
The shutter noise is fairly quiet, though there is a special quiet shutter setting for situations where you need to be more silent than a mouse. Activate it through the shooting menu, take your shot and keep pressing the shutter button down until you have moved away from the scene. Release the button to make the mirror come back into position again. It's a great concept that actually works — and even in general use without activating the quiet shutter mode, the D5000's shutter and mirror movement is softer than many other cameras in its class.
Judged on its own merits, the D5000 is a great digital SLR for those wanting something a bit better than the entry-level D60 model. Including HD video at 720p is slightly gimmicky given that its implementation is still not perfect, and the articulating LCD screen is actually much better value. In some respects, the D5000 equals or betters the functionality and performance of the D90 — certainly in regards to overall performance it trounces the other camera. Some design and operational quirks stop us awarding it a higher score, but these are nothing you can't get accustomed to with time.