Nikon D5000 is the latest mid-range consumer DSLR with high definition video and vari-angle screen.
The Nikon D5000 squeezes into the gap between the D60 and the D90, as their mid-range consumer model. The D5000 may not seem like a logical model number but it does offer a fitting feature set for its positioning, and brings HD video to the mix. More importantly for Nikon, this model squares up pretty closely to the new Canon EOS 500D. Last month’s Canon EOS 500D test proved it to be a worthy competitor but the Nikon D5000 comes in almost £150 cheaper at RRP and with a rather nifty vari-angle LCD.
Though articulating screens on DSLRs are not a new occurrence, this is the first Nikon model to feature one. As more and more functions filter up from bridge cameras to DSLRs this one seems one of the most useful, especially for when composing using the live view function.
It seems that video capture is the latest must-have feature for DSLRs; this is now Nikon’s second HD movie-shooting model and is unlikely to be its last.
So does this latest model offer anything more than a few fancy features, and can it take on the latest Canon offering? We take a closer look to see how the D5000 holds up.
Nikon D5000 review – Features
Nikon D5000 sensor
The D5000 uses the same 12.3 megapixel sensor that features in both the D90 and D300 models, so is working with proven technology. The APS-C sized CMOS device gives a focal magnification of 1.5x and produces images at 4288 x 2848 pixels, or just over 36 x 24cm in size at 300dpi. It also maintains the same low light capabilities as in the past, offering a standard range of ISO 200 to 3200, with a low-1 setting equivalent to ISO 100 and a high-1 equivalent to ISO 6400.
The ISO range provides adjustments at one-third stop intervals throughout the range for fine adjustment.
Nikon D5000 drive modes
The drive modes offer a range of options from self-timer and remote settings, to continuous shooting, which it does at four frames per second.
The D5000 also includes a quiet shooting mode, which reduces the noise made by the shutter by slowing the movement of the mirror, for occasions such as weddings or concerts.
Nikon D5000 autofocus system
The autofocus system is the Multi-CAM 1000 – as featured on the D90 – with 11 focus points, including one cross type sensor in the centre for improved detection. The diamond layout allows coverage for most eventualities in both horizontal and vertical shooting positions. Focusing can be set to either single-servo for stationary shots, continuous-servo to track moving subjects, or the auto selection, which can switch between the single and continuous modes as necessary.
Nikon D5000 metering modes
For metering there is a choice of three modes: full evaluative, known as 3D colour matrix II; Centre-weighted, with 75% biased towards the centre circle, and Spot.
Exposure compensation is offered at a generous five stops in each direction at third or half stop increments, and the same for exposure bracketing over three frames.
For improved levels of detail in your images the D-lighting system adapts the dynamic range, providing more detail in shadow areas and highlights. The D-lighting can be set in Auto mode or in various strengths of Low, Normal, High or Extra High, and alternatively been turned off all together.
White balance control is provided either in Auto or from a series of 12 manual presets. Each of these presets then offers fine adjustment by means of a four directional colour graph, while a further Manual preset allows you to take a measurement from an existing photo or from the current scene.
For run-down of the camera’s key selling points, as well as a video of the main features check out Amateur Photographers’ Advertisement feature of the Nikon D5000
Nikon D5000 dust reduction system
The dust reduction system on this camera is three-stage to ensure that images remain mark-free at all times. The most visible of these is the vibrating low-pass filter in front of the sensor, as each time the camera is turned on or off the LCD screen displays ‘image sensor cleaning’ as the filter shakes any dust loose.
The air-flow technology, as seen on the D60 is also used by using the movement of the shutter and mirror to push the air through the body, taking any dust build up with it. The final precaution is a software based solution that allows you to take a sample image as a dust reference point which will help remove dust spots during post-processing in Nikon’s Capture NX software.
Nikon D5000 live view
As has now become expected of all new DSLRs, the Nikon D5000 offers live view composition from the LCD screen. This is available for all of the shooting modes and offers an accurate interpretation of the final image with 100% coverage.
There are a various live view focusing options available, from a simple manual focus, aided by the ability to zoom in on an area to ensure accurate focusing, to a selection of intelligent autofocus methods using a contrast detect system directly from the sensor. These include a wide area AF, a normal area AF selectable from any point on the image, face detection and subject tracking.
Nikon D5000 movie mode
One of the most talked about features on this, and its competitor models, is the movie mode. The D5000 offers High Definition video capture to a maximum of 1280×720 pixels (720P) at 24 frames per second – though an interlaced, or scaled up, version can be outputted at 1080i.
Once recording there is no option for autofocus, therefore focusing must be performed manually from the lens.
Exposure is controlled automatically and even the exposure compensation becomes non-functional while recording. It is still possible to take a still image at any point during but recording will not automatically recommence afterwards.
Another clever feature that can be found from within the menu is interval shooting. It allows you to set the camera to take multiple still images for a specified number of shots at a chosen interval rate. These can then be made into a stop-motion movie either in-camera or during post processing.
Nikon D5000 connectivity
Tucked away under the protective panel on the side of the camera are the outputs for connecting the camera. As well as the usual mini USB terminal there is a mini HDMI port to allow you to hook the camera up directly to a high definition television to playback your images and movies. There is also a socket to attach Nikon’s GPS device to allow geo-positional tagging of your images.
Nikon D5000 LCD screen
The LCD screen is unique on this camera because of its vari-angle adjustment. A bracket on the bottom of the screen allows it to be rotated vertically through 180 degrees and horizontally through 270 degrees to allowing it to be clearly viewed from almost any angle.
Though we have previously seen adjustable screens on Sony, Olympus and Panasonic models, this is the first Nikon DSLR to include such a feature. This benefit has caused certain sacrifices to be made however, in that the screen itself is a relatively small 2.7in in size and a less impressive 230k dots in resolution.
Nikon D5000 scene modes
For users less familiar with manual functions, the D5000 offers an extensive range of scene modes. Six primary settings appear on the shooting dial including portrait, landscape, action and macro, while a further 13 are available by moving the rear dial, while in the Scene mode. These include more specific modes such as autumn colours and pet portrait, plus advance modes such as high and low key.
Nikon D5000 retouch menu
For those who prefer to print directly from the camera, avoiding post-processing, or just become or creative in-camera, the retouch menu provides a range of image effects and corrections that can be applied to your images after the shot is taken, in the camera. These range from D-lighting to filter effects, and even allow you to process files shot in Raw into JPEG images. In each case the original file is maintained and a second file created on the card.
Nikon D5000 size
The overall size of the D5000 errs on the smaller side and yet it still manages to feel robust and chunky in your hand. It is fractionally larger than Canon’s 500D but is significantly around 20mm longer. This means that those with an average hand size can keep all four fingers on the grip. This allows you to keep a steady hold of the camera at all times, and on the back there is a raised ledge and textured platform for a comfortable thumb position.
Nikon D5000 weight
Weighing in at 560g it isn’t the lightest model on the market, partly bolstered by the vari-angle mechanism for the screen, but this does give the device a more positive feel in your hand, and helps to counter against larger lenses should you wish to opt for longer or faster varieties. Everything feels well produced and sturdy, from the flash compartment to the socket covers and, though clearly designed for lighter consumer use, looks like it is built to withstand extensive use.
Nikon D5000 function buttons
The function buttons are of a reasonable size and well spaced to avoid any accidental selection. Overall though, shortcut buttons have been kept to a minimum. The shooting dial, though shallow is easy to operate thanks to a heavily textured surround. Those familiar to Nikon cameras will have very little to surprise them, as feature positions remain very similar to past models. Some may be disappointed to see just one control dial and a lack of a lock for the four-way controller but the trade off for size and simplicity on this model more than justifies their absence for most users this camera will appeal to.
Nikon D5000 screen
Design-wise the vari-angle screen is one of the most interesting features on this camera. Unlike previous tilting screens seen on DSLRs, the D5000 has its bracket at the bottom. This does avoid compromising too much space, allowing it to keep its set of buttons on the left for instance, but it does have some issues. For self portrait use, or shots with the LCD pointing forwards, the screen must be folded underneath the camera, making it impossible to do with the camera mounted on a tripod or sitting on any surface. However for any other use it works very well, and is actually much better than a side mounted screen for high and low angle shots.
Nikon D5000 menu display
The menu display is bright and clear, and divided into six icon-ised sections for playback, shooting, custom settings etc. There is also a My Menu that allows you to add your most used functions into a single list. The LCD screen is also used to display all of the shooting information. It does this in a choice of classic or graphical displays, both of which can be shown in a choice of three colours. The graphic menu displays the shooting dial while being turned and then an illustration of the aperture hole, that opens and closes as you adjust the aperture to show what the camera is doing. It also shows the shutter speed in full fractions to give a clearer indication for new users.
Performance and value
Nikon D5000 review – Performance
Nikon D5000 autofocus system
The autofocus system, as already seen in the highly successful D90 is impressive. Single point focusing is fast and accurate in almost all conditions and the 3D tracking mode is quite impressive for this level of camera. When switching to live view mode the focusing relies on a contrast detect system, instead of the dedicated focus sensor module. This is significantly slower to lock on but does still give a choice of modes, including an effective face recognition AF.
Nikon D5000 metering
The 3D Matrix metering proves itself more than capable in most situations, providing an even exposure. The centre-weighted and spot modes are useful however, for trickier lighting situations such as back lighting or high contrast scenes. Generally the metering tends to slightly underexpose rather than overexpose but, by incorporating the D lighting system, no detail was lost and it actually meant that bright skies were controlled much more proficiently than in some competitor models.
Nikon D5000 shooting speed
The continuous shooting speed of 4fps is impressive and also takes a lead on its competition. Using a SanDisk Extreme III 1GB SD card it kept shooting for up to 100 fine JPEG images, 11 Raw images, or seven Raw plus Fine JPEG images. Write times for a single shot were just 1sec for Fine JPEG, 1.5sec for Raw, and 2sec for Raw plus Fine JPEG.
Nikon D5000 LCD screen
The LCD screen has huge benefits for live view or movie shooting, thanks to its vari-angle bracket, making it easy to view from waist-level or at awkward angles but the size and resolution are less impressive. In general use the screen appears plenty bright enough and is definitely large enough for composition and review but when compared directly to newer 3in models with 900,000+ dots, the D5000’s 2.7in 230,000-dot screen does fall down slightly. Whether I’d give up the vari-angle screen for more resolution and a bigger screen is another question.
Nikon D5000 movie mode
Just having a movie mode was enough to be sensational but now with Cameras such great movie functions now out there we need to know a little more about how this compares. Firstly, the lack of full 1080P HD is a slight disappointment but as the Canon 500D only offers this at a slow 20fps, it’s not a huge issue – especially as you’d need to be viewing the results on at least a 32in screen to see any difference at all between 720P and 1080P.
However, the EOS 500D does shoot 720P at 30fps compared to the 24fps from the Nikon D5000, and this drop in frame rate is more noticeable. Producing an effective and quiet autofocus for a DSLR movie mode still seems to be an issue for all models so Nikon’s decision to leave it off is not losing it points; at least until the new Panasonic GH-1 hits the shops. One benefit users may find for this movie mode is the file format. It saves into .AVI format which seems from our experience to be supported more readily than the Quicktime .MOV format, though modern editing software should support both.
Nikon D5000 built-in flash
The built-in flash unit gives a fairly standard guide number of 13m, though this equates to 18m at the D5000’s native ISO 200 value. Generally though, it offers good coverage and decent results for a flash of this type.
Nikon D5000 review – Value For Money
Based purely on recommended retail prices, this model is significantly cheaper than the new Canon EOS 500D and offers all the benefits of the more expensive Nikon D90 in a smaller body.
In many areas it doesn’t quite match up to the new Canon – resolution, ISO range, screen size and movie size are all lower – but the differences are minimal and for the price difference you can almost accept this.
Nikon fans will be faced with a tougher choice though between this and the older D90 – which can now be bought on the high street for cheaper than the D5000. There are benefits, the vari-angle nature of the screen among them, but against the larger body and the higher resolution LCD of the D90, it may be a tough choice.
It is slightly unfair however to compare the D5000 to discounted older models and within its market it offers a very competitive performance. In the last month the price of the Canon 500D has already dropped by £110 and we expect the competition between these two cameras to result in some great deals to be had.
Nikon D5000 tone and exposure
Images have a great tonal range, and especially benefit from the D-lighting system to maintain shadow and highlight detail. In bright conditions the metering causes images to be slightly underexposed but this is more often preferable to overexposure and for instant results can be counteracted using the exposure compensation.
However, for the most part exposure is very even around the mid-tone using the evaluative 3D Matrix mode, and gave equally impressive results from centre-weighted and spot modes.
Nikon D5000 white balance and colour
For the most part the Auto White Balance setting produces bright, zingy colours without going over-board and appearing fake.
However, at higher ISO settings results tended to become slightly cooler. The Auto setting dealt with indoor and outdoor conditions equally well and rarely needed altering, though the wide range of white balance presets and the fine-tuning available for each mode mean that, should you wish, you could tailor your settings precisely to your liking.
200ISO (first image) 6400ISO (second image)
Nikon D5000 noise
Low-light capability has been one of Nikon’s strong points over its recent models and the D5000 doesn’t let the side down. Despite a relatively stunted range of 200-3200, the results remain well detailed and free of colour noise, only suffering slightly in terms of warmth.
At the expanded Hi-1 setting, equivalent to ISO 6400, noise does start to become more apparent, especially in the shadows but even so this is still a decent performance.
Raw (first image) JPEG (second image)
These 700×700 pixel sections of the same image show the difference between the Raw and JPEG files – with the Raw file giving a crisper result.
Nikon D5000 Raw/JPEG
Both sets of images perform very well, even down to 300% magnification, and both appear sharp to the pixel. The Raw files do have a certain extra level of crispness though, perhaps helped by a greater level of darker tones to bolster the blacks, and smother tonal gradation as shown in the histograms.
The main advantages of the Raw file are that in their unprocessed form they allow a much great degree of adjustment and sharpening without degrading the image – should they need it. The camera comes with the View NX software for basic Raw conversion but for fine tuning the more advanced Capture NX2 is available at an extra cost.
Nikon D5000 sharpness and detail
The level of detail in the images is very impressive even at high magnification. For low-light it was possible to raise the ISO comfortably to ISO 800 without any significant loss in detail or sharpness. This combined with the vibration reduction motors in the 18-55mm kit lens made shooting hand-held, without risking camera shake, easy in all but the darkest environments.
Nikon D5000 D-lighting
The D-lighting system works to increase the dynamic range by boosting the shadow areas and holding back the highlights. The result is a more evenly toned image with greater detail, closer to as we would see it with our own eyes. The D5000 offers various levels of D-lighting, which can be selected manually, alternatively it can be set to Auto or turned off completely.
Nikon D5000 Movie mode
Shooting video on this camera can produce results far superior to most consumer camcorders. At up to 720P high definition and 24fps you can capture blisteringly sharp images. However, standards of video capture have been set very high in recent DSLRs and it would have been nice to see a full 1080P setting, or at least 30fps shooting speed. A lack of autofocus here, mainly due to potential noise to the microphone, means that you must pre-focus or use the manual lens ring.
There’s no doubting the abilities of this camera to produce stunning still images ? and moving images ? but it does sit against some tough competitors, including some of Nikon’s own models. The vari-angle LCD screen is a hugely impressive feature that I’m sure will soon become a common sight amongst future models but currently gives this camera a unique selling point.
In some areas, such as the movie mode and the LCD screen, I felt that it could have been a little more impressive but this would cause the D90 to immediately look out of date. I feel overall the D5000 is a victim of the price increases and had the camera been launched £150 cheaper, setting it halfway between the current D60 and D90 street prices, there would be no questioning of its merits. However, it is unfair to measure new model launch prices against street prices on established models, as prices within the first few months can change rapidly and this camera was never meant to be a competitor for the D90. Price issues aside this is a stunning piece of kit. It’s worth scouring for a good price but you should definitely have this camera on your shortlist.
Nikon D5000 manual
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Nikon D5000 manual – pdf
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Buy a printed copy of the Nikon D5000 manual
Get a printed manual, or printed tests for the Nikon D5000 manual from the What Digital Camera camera manuals site
For general help and advice in using a DSLR, see our techniques section
View sample photos of the Nikon D5000
11-point, Multi-CAM 1000 with TTL phase detection
View product shots of the Nikon D5000
Yes, GN 13m @ ISO 100
On colour graph
Yes ? three frames in steps of one
sRGB, Adobe RGB
Electronically controlled vertical-travel focal-plane
No (lens based)
+/-5 stops in 1/3 or ½ EV
Single-servo (AF-S), continuous servo (AF-C), auto selection (AF-A)
Image sensor cleaning, image dust off reference data
127 x 104 x 80mm
EN-EL9a Li-ion rechargeable
High speed USB, HDMI
Single-frame, continuous, self-timer, delayed remote, quick response, quiet
Eye-level pentamirror single lens reflex
Auto, 12 preset modes with fine tuning, custom
420-pixel RGB sensor TTL (3D Matrix II evaluative, Centre weighted, Spot)
3-stage JPEG, 1-stage Raw
200-3200, (Expanded ISO 100-6400 equivalents)
M, A, S, P, Auto, Flash off, 19 scene modes
1/4000 – 30secs, bulb
JPEG, Raw (NEF), JPEG+Raw
2.7in TFT 230k dots
4288 x 2848
12.3MP effective CMOS