Middle class, a review of the Nikon D5000
Having nothing new to say about the D5000 is really a luxury problem. After having previously reviewed the Nikon D300s and D3000, two cameras on opposing ends of a feature (and price) scale, half way through shooting with the D5000 it dawned on me that the camera really lands in between the two end points of the D300s/D90 and D3000 scale. Middle class, if you will.
So where exactly do the camera's features fall on this scale?
Plain and simple, when the Nikon D300 was debuted a couple of years ago, it was one of the best sensors in its class. It still is, but other sensors are catching up, such as Canon's 7D and some of Sony's and Pentax's cameras. After the D300, the same sensor (or possibly even developed a bit more) was used in first the D90, then D300s and now the D5000. With the D5000's 12MP APS-C sized CMOS sensor I am comfortable shooting the camera up to ISO 3200, even pushing it to the limit at ISO 6400 is possible and usable if you add some hokus-pokus in form of, say, converting the image to black and white or keeping the print small.
In terms of bang-for-bucks, you do get more by buying the D5000 over the D90/D300s when you strictly look at sensor quality per dollar spent. Roughly speaking, the D5000 is 30-60% less expensive than the D90/D300s respectively. Pretty sweet deal!
Autofocus and fps
For an entry level camera, the D5000 is actually pretty snappy. It clocks in @ 4 fps (frames per second). This is just shy of the D90's 4.5 fps, and a bit better than the D3000's 3 fps. Having shot with and tested entry level cameras before, I have always felt that the 2.5-3 fps was a tad too slow. 4 fps felt good and adequate for most shooting.
Autofocus on the D5000 is OK, but not award-winning. In this shot I was aiming to get the eyes in focus, instead I ended up with a sharp chest, and slightly out of focus head of the tiny bird (even more pronounced in the right-hand shot).
As far as I can tell, the D3000 and D5000 share the same 11 point AF system. I am still a big fan of the fact you so easily can select the focus point you want to shoot with using the directional 4-way pad. This was one of the features also highlighted in my D3000 review. Super!
Nikon D5000 ergonomics. Colour me excited!
In all fairness, I have to disclose that I like the Nikon ergonomics. Somehow, they just seem to fit me and my style of shooting. Fanboy'ism aside, for a entry level body it is actually quite comfortable to hold and shoot with for an entire day. Often time, entry level bodies are too small and don't provide a proper grip. Not so with the D5000 (or the D3000). Very comfortable, even for hands size M and L.
As a first on a Nikon body, the D5000 features a tilting LCD. Having previously tested the Sony a330 (read my review), which also sports a tilting LCD, I have come to like the feature. It makes live-view sooooo much easier to use, and truthfully I don't see why all new DLSRs do not come with this feature as standard. Comparing Sony's implementation with Nikon's, I have to give the upper hand to Nikon. Additionally to what the Sony screen does, it allows you to shoot with a tilted LCD in portrait mode, and (very cleverly) it rotates completely so the a plastic backside is revealed and protects the LCD from scratches. Very nifty! Only downside, as you can see in the image above, is the extra couple of millimetres the implementation adds to the back of the camera.
Ooh! one of my least favourite features of DSLRs, the built-in video. Don't get me wrong, I love video for what it has done to keeping the industry innovative and on its toes, and personally I cannot wait to get blown away by the video 2-3 iterations from now. But not so right now with the first generation of DSLR video.
Maybe it's just that I am a horrible videographer and don't get how to produce great moving pictures. Could be. Could also be that it is a lot easier to produce great still image quality out-of-the-box with a DSLR, than it is to produce similar great moving images. Besides the DLSR video shortcomings, it requires a lot lot of add-ons, such as a sturdy (and expensive), fluid-head tripod, continuos (expensive) lighting, and a good (expensive) microphone to list the most essentials. Even with all of that additional gear, you are still left with a video implementation that do not autofocus/autofocuses very slowly, and have no or very little manual controls on top of other shortcomings.
Phew! that was quite the rambling. But what it boils down to is when you shop for a new DSLR, buy it for the superb still image quality, not for the video functionality.
Nikon 55-200mm VR and 70-300mm VR lenses
As an early Christmas gift, Nikon included two lenses to test with the camera: the 55-200mm f4-5.6 VR lens and 70-300mm f4-f5.6 VR lens. Two very good lenses.
Having shot with the lenses both privately and for a client (the 70-300mm VR on my D700), I have to say that the two lenses are indeed very, very good. If you shoot Nikon and are looking for a telephoto lens, look no further. Factoring in that both lenses are in the lower end of the price scale, the deal just becomes sweeter.
Using longer telephoto lenses automatically compresses the background giving you better foreground/background separation. Perfect for portraits. Just take a couple more steps back than you normally would.
Both lenses remain very sharp in the first two thirds of their focal lengths, but when you hit the longer end of the lenses (@ 120-150mm on the 55-200mm VR and 220-250mm on the 70-300mm VR) you start to see a slight drop in sharpness wide open coupled with a reduced colour rendition and contrast. The missing colour and contrast can easily be pulled back in post processing, and the sharpness can be regained by stopping down one stop. Not a deal breaker in any shape or form.
All in all
The Nikon D5000 comes highly recommended as a very capable DSLR with great features and (importantly) a very, very good sensor. If this is your first DSLR, you should be able to get a lot of milage out of it before upgrading. If you are looking to couple your DLSR with a telephoto lens, look no further than the 55-200mm or 70-300mm VR lenses. The final choice between the two lenses depends on how much reach you need and how much you want to spend for that reach.
All shots are with a combo of the Nikon D700/D5000 coupled with either the Nikon 55-200mm VR or 70-300mm VR lenses. The product shots are with the D700 and Nikon 105mm f2.8 VR and 50mm f1.4 G lenses. All test shots are with natural, beautiful light as the only light source. The product shots have added light from a SB900 speedlight.
- 85mm f1.4
- San Francisco
- shutter speed