Nikon DSLR Camera Review
Nikon jumped on the consumer digital SLR/HD video bandwagon this morning but with a slight twist – not only does its new 12.3MP D5000 snap photos and capture high-def movies, it also sports a unique 2.7-inch flip-out LCD screen.
Along with the vari-angle screen, the new Nikon D5000 trumps the recently announced Canon EOS Rebel T1i (500D) in one other area – price. Retailing for $849 as a kit with a NIKKOR 18-55mm VR lens – $749, body only – the D5000 is about $50 cheaper than the 15.1MP Rebel T1i.
Otherwise though, the two cameras have some similar features and are targeted toward the same audiences – entry-level consumers – making the DSLR/HD combo-cam one of the hottest categories in photography right now. Up until recently, these types of two-in-one DSLRs were aimed mostly at advanced users and professionals.
As for the D5000′s 12.3MP CMOS imaging sensor, I’m told it’s exactly the same as the one in the prosumer-level Nikon D90, which is Nikon’s other DSLR/HD combo cam. So in many ways, the D5000 is a hybrid of a hybrid; blending entry-level and advanced digital SLR features while offering the ability to capture high-resolution photos and HD (720p) video at 24 frames per second.
And then, of course, there’s that twist – the flip-out screen which can be turned below the camera for capturing low-angle photos via the D5000′s Live View mode, and low-angle HD videos in D-Movie mode. The screen can’t turn and twist to the side of the camera as on some of Olympus’ digital SLRs which have vari-angle LCDs, but it can tilt from the back of the camera to help you compose photos when shooting overhead.
Since Olympus’ DSLRs don’t capture video, the Nikon D5000 now has the distinction of being the only DSLR with a vari-angle screen which can also shoot HD video. A bit of a small niche, perhaps, but it is a first.
As was the case with the Canon Rebel T1i last month, DemystifyingDigital.com got some exclusive hands-on time with the D5000 before its launch this morning.
Unlike the Canon camera I tried out in March which was a pre-production “beta” unit,” the Nikon D5000 unit I tested yesterday is a final, working model that’s no different from D5000s that will be turning up in stores later this month.
The following are some of my impressions of the D5000 from the half-day I got to shoot with the camera before this morning’s launch. While by no means a definitive review – for that I usually like to spend at least a week with a camera – I was able to get a good sense of what the D5000 is capable of and what the release of another DSLR-HD combo cam means for consumers.
All end-use photos you see on this page – which I captured yesterday with the D5000 – are finished, final images, unlike the sample shots I took with the pre-production Canon Rebel last month. The same goes for the sample HD video clips I captured with the D5000 which are viewable here and here.
Along with its similarities to the Canon Rebel T1i, the Nikon D5000 has a lot in common with the entry-level Nikon D60 which is staying in the line; and the aforementioned Nikon D90, which shares the same DX-format (aka non-full-frame) sensor.
(I’m told the Nikon D40, which was released way back in 2006, will also be staying in the line. If you’re looking for a bargain, that 6.1MP, entry-entry-level camera is now selling for as low as $400 for the kit.)
The D5000′s small black body has a lot in common with the D60 which, if you have small hands, might be appealing. Large-handed folks such as yours truly aren’t so thrilled with these tiny DSLRs though.
While carrying the camera around yesterday, I almost felt like I was holding a dainty teacup. But that’s just my own pet peeve. It’s clear that Nikon is aiming the D5000 at entry-level females photographers, such as new moms, who will likely find the camera’s petite profile easy to hold and inviting. (Though it’s been about a month since I shot with the Canon Rebel T1i – which is also a small camera – the D5000 feels smaller.)
Despite its small size, the D5000 is a powerful, feature-rich camera. Along with all the previously mentioned specs, the D5000 can capture still images at a fairly fast speed of 4 frames per second, making this a solid choice for Soccer Moms and Soccer Dads wanting to capture their kids in action.
I used the D5000 during one of the first, nice spring days we’ve had in New York City this year, and the camera had no problem keeping up with the tennis players, bikers, and skate-boarders I photographed.
I found the 2.7-inch flip-out screen to be a real plus in most everything I shot. I’ve been saying the same thing about Olympus’ vari-angle LCDs since they first launched several years ago but the video capabilities of the D5000 add another dimension.
Since students in New York City are on spring recess this week, there were a lot of kids out enjoying the day yesterday. With the help of the flip out screen I was able to capture HD videos of tired bikers walking up a steep hill and young skateboarders attempting to do tricks. Since I’m a lot taller than the kids, the flip-out screen allowed me keep the camera below me without bending down to capture videos right at their height. The same was true when shooting still photos from low-angles in Live View mode.
During a press briefing I had with Nikon at the PMA show, a Nikon rep described flipping and twisting down the screen as putting it “on the sight line” and that’s a fairly accurate description. I only wish there was a better way to keep the camera steady when trying to do a tracking shot – the built-in Vibration Reduction (VR) in the 18-55mm helped but only a bit – since HD video makes even a subtle shake seem dramatic.
I also wish the D5000′s monaural microphone had some way to screen out wind sounds. Yesterday was quite gusty and in most of my outdoor clips the dull roar of the wind is distracting.
For shooting overhead photos or video – such as in crowds – I prefer the Olympus’ side-angle, flip-out screen to the D5000′s angled tilt on the back of the camera.
There’s not a dramatic difference between the two systems but I feel I can see the scene better with the tilting, side-angle screen on Olympus’ DSLRs than the D5000′s set-up.
There may be some who are disappointed the D5000 doesn’t have a full HD (1080p) mode, only a 720p mode, but for most users it shouldn’t be an issue. HD video shot at 720p looks great on most computer monitors and good even on HDTV’s of up to 46 inches.
While the Canon Rebel T1i offers 1080p HD video, it’s only at 20fps which isn’t usable if a subject is moving. Also, I’d take the D5000′s cinematic 24fps shooting speed – which emulates the look of film – to the Rebel’s 30fps speed any day.
Making the Scene
Beginning photographers will also like the large selection of automatic scene modes on the Nikon D5000 – 19 in all which is the most of any DSLR on the market. Though it’s not uncommon for a point-and-shoot camera to have so many scene modes – which are pre-selected camera settings that optimize picture-taking in different shooting conditions such as sports, portraits, close-ups of flowers, etc. – the D5000 includes some unusual ones such as Pet Portrait, Autumn Colors, and Blossom.
While some scene modes on digital cameras can be overkill others are actually quite helpful for picture taking. For instance, while shooting the famous “Little Red Lighthouse” under the George Washington Bridge, I turned on the camera’s Autumn Colors mode which helped boost the red in the Lighthouse without oversaturating the sky behind it. Unfortunately, these Nikon scene modes only help in the D5000′s regular photo mode, not in its HD movie mode.
One of the best things about being able to shoot HD video on a digital SLR is that you can adjust the camera’s ISO, which determines how sensitive its imaging sensor is to light. This is great when you’re shooting photos or video in low light and don’t want to use a flash or an alternative light source.
While photographing skateboarders on a shadowy street under the George Washington Bridge, I turned the D500′s ISO setting to 3200 – which makes the sensor extremely sensitive to light – and was able to not only capture nice photos of the skate kids but also pretty decent HD video clips in very dark conditions.
While there was some digital grain in my images – also known as “noise,” which is a distortion of the pixels that can occur when shooting at high ISO settings – it didn’t ruin my photos or my videos. In short, the D5000 handled noise about as well as the D90 which is capable of producing some very clean images even in low light. (The D5000 can shoot as high as ISO 6400 but I don’t recommend it except in extreme low-light conditions when you can’t use a flash.)
On the downside, the D5000′s seems to suffer from the same “rolling shutter” problem the D90′s CMOS had issues with. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s a wobbly or “jell-o” like effect in video footage that occurs during fast motion or when the camera is panned too quickly.
For still photos, the D5000 uses a very good 11-point autofocus system which includes a 3D-tracking mode for staying locked onto a moving subject – such as a dancer or an athlete throughout a scene. As I said before, this camera should have no problems keeping up with basic sports and action shots.
There’s also a Quiet Shooting Mode on the D5000 which quietly releases the shutter so you don’t disturb a sleeping or shy subject. The Quiet Shooting Mode is a little slower than regular mode but it’s a nice option.
D5000 vs. D90
So with all these features on the D5000 including the vari-angle screen and the low price, why would anyone want to buy a Nikon D90 which sells for $999, body only? That’s a good question actually.
For most consumers, there isn’t much reason to upgrade to the D90 except if you want a bigger camera with a more professional feel to it. Otherwise, the differences on the D90 are only going to interest advanced amateurs and pros.
For one, the D90 has a “Commander Mode” which lets you trigger other flashes in a scene, which is great if you’re trying to light up a portrait studio, the interior of house, or an outdoor event. The D90 also offers a Depth of Field preview button, and gives you the option to add a battery grip for vertical shooting. The standard battery life on the D90 is also better than the D5000 – 850 shots compared to 510 shots, on a single charge.
If you’re an entry-level photographers who wants to get your feet wet with a digital SLR that also shoots HD video, the Nikon D5000 is a great option. I only had a few minor quibbles with the camera in the half day I got to shoot with it and the D5000 like the Canon Rebel T1 should open up semi-pro photography and creative HD video capture to a whole new group of users.