We liked the Nikon D300 (review) a lot. The the D90 (review) brought the D300 image quality to a Nikon camera below $1000 and added video at the same time. Now the D5000 has an even about $200 lower price point and also features video. The feature set is kind of reduced but this is no real problem for our kind of work.
What we like:
- 4 fps frame rate quite snappy for these kind of consumer DSLRs
- Like the D90 bracketing is now +/- 2EV (see our freehand HDR shot below)
- Swivel LCD (read below)
- Handling is very good
Some improvements we like to see:
Note on Swivel LCD: We like the fact that the D5000 features a swivel LCD. This is just needed for all cameras that feature live view. Not sure how much the D5000 LCD design (at the bottom of the camera) leads to issues with tripods, clamps and plates.
Note on Video: We are not qualified to judge video on any camera and don't use video much (may change over time). This means we judge a camera by its still image quality.
Note on lenses: In the old film days there was this rule: save on the camera body and spend on lenses (actually not many followed this rule then because cameras are such great toys). Over the last years this rule was not quite true anymore because the lower end cameras did not have the same quality of sensors. Now we think that a sensor of a D5000 and the D300 are very quite close in terms of image quality. The Nikon kit lenses are not bad for what you pay but can't really show what the camera can deliver. Unfortunately better zooms often cost more than the D5000 body itself. This means that selecting your lenses is as or even more important than your camera. We think of 3 levels of lenses:
- Kit lenses: basic entry level
- Consumer lenses: better than kit lenses but not pro level
- Pro lenses: These lenses cost a lot and very often much more than the D5000 body itself. Once you have this level of lenses you likely also look for top level bodies.
We would recommend to buy some consumer grade lenses to match with the D5000.
- Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX
- AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED
These will be likely decent lenses but top pro lenses will cost quite a bit more. Once you go beyond 40mm look for VR lenses if you plan to shoot freehand.
We converted with ACR 5.4 with mostly default noise and sharpening settings and used also a low amount of EasyDS and DOP Contrast Plus.
Note: EasyDS shows both more detail and more grain. This way we can see how much real detail is available.
Bear Coffee Shop
ISO noise is very good up to 800 and even images at 1600 are often usable. We think the noise behavior of the D5000 noise is state of the art for any APS-C sized digital SLR in 2009.
We try to stay at ISO 100-800 with the Nikon D5000.
Note about high ISO noise: Many people ask why they should worry about noise at ISO 800 or more if they only use 400 ISO at max. This is of course a good question. In the past we did not care either. Then we changed our photographic style and make now often use of Tonemapping (learn more about HDR and Tonemapping). During this process we brighten the shadows and this brings out the noise otherwise seen at way higher ISO. It often starts to matter with even ISO 200 photos.
Freehand HDR: San Juan Bautista Mission
Plaza Hall Porch
Marlon Brando (movie "The Wild One") and the Hollister Bikers Mural
The Nikon D5000 is a very good entry level DSLR. Pair the D5000 with good lenses and you will be able to get excellent results. It took us a while to get used to the different user interface (compared to the D300/D700). Once we learned how to use the D5000 the camera handled just fine.