Yes, it happened! Jessops – a high street camera shop for my American readers – got themselves sorted and finally got my camera from head office. Having promised a review a long time ago I decided it would be nice to let you have my impressions.
(photo courtesy of dpreview.com)
It is a pretty little thing. Small by DSLR standards, it’s not too small to handle as its buttons are placed sensibly far enough apart from each other. So what do I think? Well, I’m going to divide this mini-review into two parts: handing and image quality.
For a camera costing less than £500 it handles very well. Build quality is good. The plastic doesn’t feel cheap and there is a thoughtfully placed rubber grip for your thumb on the back panel. My only immediate handling complaint would be that my thumb – I have long fingers – sits very close to the Live View button, and I’ve accidentally pressed it when shooting with gloves. Other than that it has a familiar feel, much like a smaller version of my D700. Interestingly Nikon has only included one scrolling wheel, at the rear of the body. On my D700 there is one at the rear, nicely placed for your thumb, but another on the front of the body, just above the red stripe. As that is the primary control wheel set up on my D700 it took a few moments to get used to the difference.
The flip out screen is theoretically a nice feature, but it flips out below the camera. This makes it impossible to use with a tripod. You can’t use it to take pictures of yourself and friends for example, which is, in my opinion, quite an oversight. There is a noticable loss of resolution with the smaller screen, although I never felt that I couldn’t tell if a photo was sharp enough. A flip out screen is great if you shoot in live view mode, however the contrast autofocus is very slow, un-usably so in my opinion. In practice then the flip out screen is a gimmick to attract people from compact cameras to DSLRs. Its one saving grace is that the screen can be flipped inwards to protect itself.
The fact that the D5000 is aimed at compact camera converts with a bit more cash to burn also shows in its controls. It only has one customisable button, every other menu option has to be accessed via the info screen on the back of the camera. The camera doesn’t have a mini-screen next to the shutter, which I thought would bother me, but actually I tend to check my camera settings through the viewfinder, so it’s not much of a problem. There are two options for the info screen, the default is actually quite pretty. It displays all the information you need, as well as a useful aperture graphic that shows what the inside of the lens is doing at different f-stops. Not necessary, but a really nice feature for explaining how that part of photography works. On the top of the body the primary control wheel is jammed with different scene modes. Useful for the amateur, but if I was training someone I would prefer that they learnt how and what makes a good portrait photo, rather than how to select the portrait scene mode. Other than the single customisable button, the D5000 does well for handling generally. I haven’t felt frustrated that I haven’t been able to get to my settings fast enough when shooting.
It should be mentioned that the D5000 doesn’t have an in-built autofocus motor. To get autofocus you have to use Nikon AF-S lenses, that have their own motors. It’s not the end of the world, as I’m happy to use manual focus, and all but one of my lenses are AF-S. However if Canon can fit motors into camera bodies equally as small there seems no reason for Nikon not to include one.
This is the reason I purchased the D5000 as a professional back up. It has the same image sensor as the Nikon D90, which matches the low light performance of the D300 (A camera costing £1200). I will properly review its low light performance at a later date, but the D5000 should punch well above its weight.
In reviewing image quality its only fair to include a few shots. These are not designed for you to judge the camera – they are all too processed for that – but hopefully they give you an idea of how easy it is to take good pictures with the D5000. I challenge anyone to tell low ISO results apart from my D700 images.
For a £500 camera to produce these results is stunning, and shows how far DSLRs have come in the last few years. I’m incredibly impressed with the D5000, having shot with it a little. The real test will be my next wedding when it will get pushed to 3200 ISO, then it will fall short of the magnificent D700. However, for its size, portability and price tag the D5000 is an excellent little camera.