Nikon D3000 picks up where the D60 left off, but can Nikon repeat its success with the D3000?
Long before compacts could project images and printers could talk to you, Nikon’s D40 stood for something altogether more basic. As the company’s most affordable DSLR, it provided the most tempting reason for people to ditch their compacts and upgrade. Its blend of a small chassis, competent but unintimidating feature set and low price struck a chord with consumers, and as a result it did phenomenally well. After all, two and a half years is quite some time for a DSLR to remain on the market, but Nikon managed to keep both the D40 and its sterling reputation alive for the duration.
It inspired both the D40x and D60 models which followed shortly after, but all three have since been retired. And while Nikon is keen to point out that the model doesn’t technically replace any of these, for all intents and purposes it fills much the same gap.
In keeping with its budget, no-frills credentials, the D3000 doesn’t feature live view or the more recent and more in-vogue facility to record video, but it does at least sweep up other key features that have emerged during the past few years – thus bringing it more in line with other recent DSLRs.
Nikon D3000 review – Features
Nikon D3000 review – sensor
The sensor itself is a 10.2MP CCD chip, as was the case in the previous D40x and D60 models.
APS-C in size it results in a 1.5x focal length magnification factor for mounted lenses, and produces an image in both Raw and JPEG formats.
Sadly, one of the main shortcomings of the D40 has remained, in that the camera doesn’t allow for the simultaneous recording of Raw images and highest-quality JPEGs, only those compressed using the basic option.
Nikon D3000 test – dust reduction
While the D40 had no form of dust reduction, the D3000 takes care of this in two ways; first by a vibrating low-pass filter mechanism to shake off dust particles, and also using Nikon’s Airflow Control system which first appeared on the D60.
This latter technology uses the movement of the mirror to push dust downwards onto an adhesive strip, away from the low-pass filter.
Nikon D3000 review – focusing system
Another improvement comes with the camera’s focusing system. The D60 only featured a trio of focusing points along the horizontal, but Nikon has graced the D3000 with the Multi-CAM 1000 system with 11 AF points – the central of which being cross type for improved accuracy and speed.
The previously seen 3D tracking option has also been included among the AF area modes to keep moving subjects focused, though the camera follows the D60 in having no built-in focusing motor.
Autofocusing is therefore achieved via the lens’s focusing motor, which again means that certain older Nikon optics and those outside of Nikon’s AF-S and AF-I range will be manual-focus only.
Having said this, partly as a result of the success of Nikon’s previous motorless DSLR bodies, the last few years have seen third-party manufacturers develop a wide range of motorised lenses, which offer full compatibility with the camera.
Nikon D3000 test – lens
The camera comes bundled with a Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G VR lens, which equates to a focal range of 27-82.5mm on the D3000. With Vibration Reduction built in, Nikon claims the lens offers three stops past the slowest shutter speed that could be otherwise be successfully used.
Nikon D3000 review – scene recognition system
Nikon’s Scene Recognition System, seen on a number of other Nikon DSLRs, uses the camera’s 420-pixel RGB sensor to analyse a scene’s composition, before adjusting the exposure, white balance and autofocus prior to the image being captured.
The sensor allows for matrix, centre-weighted and spot metering of scenes, with exposure compensation available over a range of -/+ 5EV. Sensitivity may be set over a range of ISO 100-1600, and extended to the ISO 3200-equivalent Hi-1 setting if needed, while Active D-lighting may be used to preserve details in highlights and shadows, when shooting in tricky lighting.
Nikon D3000 test – picture control system
In addition to the Scene Recognition System, Nikon’s now-standard Picture Control System comprises six individual colour profiles to suit the subject being shot.
These may be adjusted to taste, in terms of contrast, sharpness and so on, though should you wish to post-process your images in-camera there is a raft of options allowing you to do so. These range from cropping and toning options, to colour balance and Raw processing.
It’s even possible to give images the tilt-shift treatment using the Miniature effect option, while you can also compile a sequence of images into a stop-motion movie, which is saved as an AVI file.
Design & Performance
Nikon D3000 review – Design
Externally, the D3000 bears a striking resemblance to the outgoing D60. Both cameras adhere to the same button and control configuration, though there have been a few minor alterations on the new model to facilitate easier shooting, in addition to a slight cosmetic makeover.
Nikon D3000 review – LCD screen
The most obvious change is the size of the LCD screen, which with an extra 0.5in in size allows for the graphic user information to be larger and clearer, but with the exception of a few new additions in the D3000 what both cameras actually display is essentially the same.
Nikon D3000 test – guide mode
There is, however, a new Guide mode which complements the existing Help facility which has worked its way through many Nikon DSLRs. The role of the new feature is to further simplify the shooting, viewing and setting up process, with three sub-menus titled accordingly.
In the Shoot menu, the options present themselves as either camera settings or scenarios – such as softening backgrounds, no flash, close ups, and (curiously) sleeping faces – which choose an appropriate scene or exposure mode with which to take the image.
The View/delete menu includes options to view single, multiple or a whole slide show’s-worth of photos, while the Set up menu comprises 16 key settings such as image size, card formatting and LCD brightness.
I found that the design of the camera posed no particular problems with regards to shooting, with the exception of a single issue when shooting in the portrait orientation. The aperture, shutter speed and so on is changed via the sole command dial on the camera’s rear, and, given the camera’s relatively small body, whenever I changed exposure values the knuckle of my thumb would dig itself into my forehead – which wasn’t particularly comfortable.
Nikon D3000 review – Performance
Nikon D3000 review – in-camera help
With the Guide system at the user’s disposal, it’s easy for a complete novice to begin taking a variety of images without needing to venture into the main menu at all. As such it helps to fulfil the camera’s aim, but I do feel that there is a limit as to how many different ways a beginner needs in-camera assistance.
There are, after all, seven scene modes, auto and program modes, a Help facility to explain anything you come across and the aforementioned Guide mode. If nothing else, this multitude of options could confuse the user as to what settings and modes they should be using to take images. Otherwise, the menu system is easy to navigate, with everything clearly labelled and no ambiguous shortening of feature names, as can often be the case.
Nikon D3000 test – speed
One of the more noticeable aspects of the camera’s performance is the impact of Active D-lighting on processing speed.
Using the same memory card in both the D3000 and a D40 which I had to hand, I found little difference in speed when equivalent settings were selected (the D40 had a slight edge which could be attributed to its smaller files). But when Active D-lighting was selected on the D3000, this seemed to add anything between a second or two to the time it took for the file to appear on the LCD, and the access lamp to stop blinking.
With the D40 not having Active D-lighting I wasn’t able to compare this between the two, but having to wait around two seconds post-capture is a little tardy even by entry-level standards. This was even more evident when shooting a burst of images, where the camera would hang while the buffer cleared itself.
Nikon D3000 review – focusing
With its Silent Wave Motor, the 18-55mm kit lens focuses silently, though it’s clear it’s not the fastest in its class. Using the central cross-type point alone performance is generally good, though when the other points are called upon (such as when using the Auto area AF mode) the camera slows right down and hesitates a touch before confirming focus.
The 3D tracking option is a welcome inclusion on the model, and I found it generally worked well to keep track of moving subjects, but overall the system benefits greatly from a faster-focusing lens.
Nikon D3000 test – LCD screen and viewfinder
The camera’s LCD screen may feature a standard 230,000-dot resolution, but even in harsh sunlight I found I could review images clearly, despite it being a little reflective. Likewise, the viewfinder is clear and generously-sized to allow accurate framing, and I found the option of a grid overlay particularly useful when shooting anything with linear detail, where a wonky horizon would be more evident.
Image Quality & Value
Nikon D3000 review – Value for Money
Looking at comparable entry-level offerings the D3000 does well to hold its own in terms of specifications and price, particularly when you consider that the lesser-specified D60 was commanding much the same price not long before the D3000’s introduction.
Nikon D3000 review – Image Quality
Nikon D3000 – Exposure
Set to matrix metering, the camera does well to balance exposure, with only the odd underexposure. The Auto D-lighting facility does make a difference to bring back highlights and lift shadows, though this is far more evident when shooting in particularly contrasty conditions – otherwise its effects are slight.
Nikon D3000 – Colour and white balance
In terms of colour and white balance the D3000 displays similar characteristics to some of its stablemates, in that it generally opts for a slight neutrality – some users may therefore wish to add a little saturation in order to bring colours out. Indoors, the camera tones down the warm glow of artificial tungsten lighting a little, which while not entirely accurate can be beneficial when shooting portraits, for example, where more of a neutrality may be preferable.
Nikon D3000 – Raw and JPEG
Considering that the camera only records Basic quality JPEGs alongside its Raw files, when the two are compared the JPEGs hold up quite well. When equivalent Raw and high-quality JPEGs are examined the differences are also slight, though JPEGs do seem be a touch softer.
Nikon D3000 – Image Noise and ISO
Noise rises steadily through the range, with just slight chroma noise and a texture appearing from around ISO 400 onwards. Up until ISO 1600, the D3000 does well to preserve detail and sharpness while keeping noise levels low and unobtrusive, though the Hi-1 setting, equivalent to ISO 3200, should only be used in emergencies, as it does introduce a fair helping of chroma noise into images, together with a rough texture which is harder to rectify in post-processing. There is only one option for noise reduction, and while this does make a difference to filter out some of the coarser noise, it does take a little sharpness out of the image with it.
Nikon D3000 – ISO quality
Noise rises steadily through the ISO range, and at the lower end of the scale the noise is of a tight, non-destructive grain.
Images only really suffer past ISO 1600, with more of a texture that’s harder to rectify.
I’ve enjoyed using the D3000, as it accomplishes everything it promises with few surprises along the way.
While it’s not the cheapest DSLR on the market it’s slowly falling in price to meet its peers, though you can already find a body-only option for around £370, should you already own any Nikkor lenses.
I do have some reservations, though: the processing times when using Active D-lighting, for example, or lack of a depth-of-field preview facility.
I also don’t think it would be unreasonable to expect live view, given how useful it can be with regards to composition.
Even so, the new Guide function scores points for its simplicity, and the graphic user interface is arguably the nicest to use out of any current entry-level DSLR.
Add to this reliable and consistent image quality, and as a whole package the camera does well to solidify Nikon’s commitment to the entry-level user.