Nikon D5000 Review

The D5000 is a strong addition to Nikon’s DSLR line up. In conjunction with the D3000 to replace the D40 and D60, Nikon has significantly raised the quality of their entry-level DSLRs to a minimum of 10MP (D3000, and the D5000 has a little more) with the prosumer-level 11-AF-point Multi-CAM 1000 AF module. While a bit larger than the D40 and D60, the D5000 remains compact and easy to use.


The D5000 is ideal for casual photographers who would like a small DSLR with current sensor technology as well as a few more controls and customizable features. The more advanced amateur photographers who prefer more manual controls will likely appreciate the additional features on the D90 and D300s.

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Nikon’s Compact Digital SLRs

In late 2006, Nikon introduced the D40, which was the first of a new class of very small and light consumer digital SLR cameras which are easy to use and convenient to carry around. In the next three years, Nikon added the D40x, D60, and most recently the D5000 and D3000 in 2009. All of these small DSLRs share these characteristics:

  • No on-camera auto focus motor; therefore these cameras can only AF with lenses that have the AF motor built into the lens, commonly known as AF-S in Nikon terminology.
  • Can only meter with Nikon F mount lenses with a built-in CPU; that includes essentially all AF lenses plus a few late manual-focus P lenses. The Nikon D50, D70/D70s, D80, D90, and D100 have this same limitation.
  • Only one command dial, one LCD on the back (i.e. no top LCD), and only a few control buttons. Some of the less-frequently-used controls are via menu selection only.
  • Use the small EN-EL9 and EN-EL9a batteries.

Currently, the D5000 has the most capabilities among these compact consumer DSLRs. While it has all of the above characteristics from this class, it shares a similar 12MP CMOS sensor with the higher-end D90 and D300s, and it has some more advanced features and options for the sophisticated photographers.

Key D5000 Features

  • 12MP CMOS sensor, 4288×2848 pixels
  • ISO sensitivity from 200 to 3200, plus low 1, hi 1 and hi 2 extensions
  • Multi-CAM 1000 AF module with 11 AF points, center AF point cross type
  • 2.7-inch swivel LCD
  • Nikon EXPEED image processing
  • Nikon Active D Lighting
  • Auto sensor cleaning
  • 4-frames-per-second continuous capture
  • Scene Modes
  • File formats: RAW (NEF Nikon Electronic Format), JPEG fine, normal, or basic, RAW + JPEG any one quality
  • Micro USB jack for image transfer (not the older, still more common mini USB). A micro USB cable is included.


The D5000 is slightly larger than the D40, D60 and D3000 but remains very compact. These small DSLRs are very popular among women because of their convenience. If you have large hands, you may find the D5000 too small, although its grip on the right side has sufficient thickness such that it is still quite comfortable for people with larger hands. Nikon does not offer any optional vertical grip for the D5000 (or for that matter any one of these compact DSLRs) to make it larger.

The controls are very typical for this class of compact DSLRs. There is one knob on top of the camera to select the exposure modes and scene modes. There is only one command dial for selecting the aperture and shutter speed. A column of buttons of the left side provides menu, zoom in and zoom out selections. Other commonly used selections such as image quality (RAW, JPEG options), ISO, white balance, AF mode, etc., are all via menu selection only. However, the D5000 has an “i” button; double press on that will give you a menu for changing image quality (RAW, JPEG), white balance, ISO, metering mode, etc. It is unnecessary to go deep into the menu frequently.



The D5000 has a pentamirror, 0.78x viewfinder that shows approximately 95% of the frame. To me, this is a typical consumer-grade viewfinder that is on par with those on the D100, D40 and D60; it is adequate but not as bright and large as the viewfinders on the D90 and D300s; it is certainly inferior to those on FX-format DSLRs.

Across the bottom of the viewfinder is the display of exposure information including the aperture, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity and remaining frame count. The D5000 has the on-demand gridline option to help you keep the horizon (and other horizontal subjects inside the frame) straight.

For the purpose of composing images, I think the D5000’s viewfinder is fine. It can be a problem if one needs to make critical manual focus adjustment. For that, the D5000 provides the live view option, which makes fine tuning focus from a tripod very easy.

Swivel LCD and Live View

The D5000 is the first Nikon DSLR with a swivel LCD. Since the swivel LCD needs a frame around it, the LCD is a smaller 2.7" instead of the standard 3" nowadays. The D5000’s LCD pivots at the bottom of the camera so that it flips down instead of swings to the left. I prefer this design because it is easy to hold the camera overhead to capture from a high angle while composing with the flipped down LCD. However, if the D5000 is mounted on a tripod, the tripod can get in the way of the LCD movement, especially if the tripod has a large platform.

Some people have concerns that the swivel LCD is vulnerable and can break easily. It’s probably likely that if you flip it out and then bump the LCD against some hard object, it can put a lot of pressure on the hinge and break it. However, I don’t think it is particularly fragile. My wife has been using camcorders with swivel LCDs for over a decade without any problems.


Movie Mode (Video)

When you are in the live view mode, pressing on the OK button will start video capture on the D5000; another press on that button will stop video capture. During video capture, the D5000 cannot auto focus nor change aperture and shutter speed. Exposure control is via ISO gain adjustment only once video capture starts. Therefore, while the video quality is very good, overall control is quite limited. Additionally, the audio quality from the built-in microphones is fairly poor.

Another factor to capture good video is camera support. If you hand hold a video cam without the proper stabilizer system or use a still-photography tripod without the video fluid head system, it is likely that your video will shake.

Overall, I am glad to have video capture on the D5000 as an additional feature for occasional use. However, by no means is it a replacement for a dedicated video camera and its support should one need to capture video on a regular basis.

Auto Focus

The D5000 uses the same Multi-CAM 1000 AF module as the D200, which I have owned since 2007 such that I am quite familiar with its strengths and weaknesses. On the D5000, it performs in a similar fashion. For outdoor photography under brightly lit conditions, it is very good. The Group Dynamic option is especially convenient for sports photography. However, indoors under dim light, only the center AF point that is of cross type is highly effective. If you use any one of the other 10 line type AF point, you may experience some AF “hunting” under low light.

The live view mode has its own contrast-detect AF system since the regular one cannot be engaged when the mirror is up. Under live view, AF is extremely slow as it typically takes 2 to 3 seconds to achieve focus. There is also a face priority option which is quite successful for detecting faces inside the frame. AF accuracy is quite good under live view.


High-ISO Results

My rule of thumb is that a Nikon DSLR will give you good high ISO results up to one stop below its top rated ISO. The D5000’s 12MP CMOS sensor is rated from ISO 200 to 3200, and my tests confirm that it indeed provides good results up to ISO 1600. At ISO 3200, the images are quite noisy if there is a lot of dark, underexposed areas.

Essentially the D5000’s high-ISO results are similar to those from the nikon_d300s, which uses a similar sensor. It is about one stop better than those Nikon DSLRs that use the 10MP CCD sensor, including the nikon_d60, nikon_D80, and nikon_d3000-kit-1, and one stop inferior to the 12MP FX-format models such as the nikon_d3, and nikon_D700.


With a few exceptions, almost all Nikon F-mount lenses since their introduction in 1959 can be mounted onto the D5000 to capture images, including most pre-AI (Auto Indexing) lenses from before 1977. Recent 2009 statistics show that Nikon has manufactured over 50 million F-mount lenses in the last half century. However, the D5000 can only meter with modern lenses that have a built-in CPU chip to relay aperture opening electronically to the camera body. Essentially all Nikon AF lenses plus a few late manual-focus P lenses have a CPU chip in the lens. Additionally, since the D5000 body has no built-in AF motor, only Nikon AF-S (including the earlier AF-I) and equivalent third-party lenses that have an in-lens AF motor can auto focus with the D5000. Other AF and AF-D lenses that have no motor become manual-focus only on the D5000.

The D5000 is available as a camera body only or as a kit with a few different lens choices. The nikon_18-55_vr, is a highly affordable option. Optically this lens is good and the vibration reduction (VR) feature is a great help. The maximum aperture f/5.6 on the long end is on the slow side so that a flash is pretty much required for any indoor photography. The construction is typical consumer grade with a plastic lens mount. There is no distance scale on the lens, and unlike higher-end AF-S lenses, you cannot manually override the (auto) focus when the lens is set to A (auto focus). You must manually set the lens to M (manual focus) first and the focusing ring on the front end of the lens is quite narrow.

A slightly different option is the nikon_18-105, zoom. Optical quality is fine and the zoom range is considerably larger on the long end, but construction quality remains consumer grade with a plastic mount.

For indoor work, Nikon now has a very affordable nikon_35/1.8, that is highly popular among consumer DSLR users. It is a fast lens that is small in size. The mostly plastic construction is adequate and its lens mount is metal. Its AF can be overridden manually without switching to manual focus. The main disadvantage is that it has a moderate amount of color fringing (chromatic aberration).

For telephoto lenses, Nikon has an affordable nikon_55-200_VR, which is good optically but also on the slow side with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 on the long (200mm) end. This lens also has a very consumer-grade plastic mount.


Flash Photography

The D5000 has a built-in pop-up flash that has limited power, and unlike those on higher-end models such as the D90 and D300/D300s, the D5000’s pop-up flash cannot be the Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) master flash to control remote slaves.

For those who use flash frequently, they are better off with an external flash. The D5000 uses Nikon’s current i-TTL flash technology and is compatible with flashes such as the nikon_SB-400, and nikon_SB-600. The SB-400 is a small flash that also has limited power and cannot be rotated upward for bounce flash in the vertical orientation. The SB-600 has more power and is more versatile; it is larger but is still quite reasonable on the D5000’s hot shoe. If you are serious about flash photography, I would get the SB-600.

There are also the more advanced nikon_SB-800, (discontinued) and nikon_SB-900, iTTL flashes, but while they are compatible with the D5000, they seem to be way too big for this small camera (especially the SB-900). For more information on Nikon i-TTL flashes, please see’s Nikon i-TTL Flash Guide.


Nikon D3000 vs. D5000

Both cameras have the same AF module, but the D3000 uses an older 10MP CCD sensor that is similar to the ones on the D200, D80, and D60. That CCD sensor typically provides one fewer stop of high-ISO capability. E.g., ISO 800 on the D3000 should give you similar results as ISO 1600 on the D5000. Additionally, the D5000 has the following extra features over the D3000:

  • Live View
  • Movie Mode
  • Swivel LCD, at a slightly smaller 2.7". The D3000 has a fixed 3" LCD.
  • More Custom Settings

The D3000 is very small and has the bare minimum controls. It does have a Guide mode to help beginners learn how to use that camera. The D5000 is a bit larger, has a newer improved sensor, and has more custom settings.

Nikon D90 vs. D5000

Internally, there are a lot of similarities between the D90 and D5000 as they share the same 12MP CMOS sensor and the same AF system. Both have live view and the movie (video) mode. Externally, the D90 is quite different from those small consumer DSLRs as its has a larger camera body, built-in AF motor, a more comfortable pentaprism viewfinder, a lot more dedicated control buttons including two command dials for faster access to various features.

The D90 has the following additional features for sophisticated photographers:

  • Built-in AF motor: can auto focus with no-AF-motor AF/AF-D type lenses
  • Pop-up flash can be Nikon CLS mater to control remote slave flashes
  • FP flash sync option for flash sync up to 1/4000 sec
  • Two command dials and more dedicated control buttons
  • Top LCD to display frame count and exposure information
  • Depth-of-field preview button
  • Optional MB-D80 grip (originally designed for the D80 so that its model number remains as MB-D80. There is no MB-D90.)
  • High-quality 920K-dot, 3" back LCD (fixed, not swivel)
  • Higher-capacity EN-EL3e battery

While the D5000 provides more advanced options than its peers of small consumer DSLRs (e.g. the D40, D60, and D3000), it is still intended for more casual photographers who want a small and convenient DSLR. Its 2.7" swivel LCD is also convenient.

In other words, the internals between the D90 and D5000 are very similar so that they are both capable of taking similar high quality images. The differences are mainly the more sophisticated control dials, buttons, and additional options on the D90, the ability to auto focus with more lenses and the optional grip. The more serious photographers will appreciate the additional features on the D90.

Nikon D5000 vs. Other Brands

Other DSLRs in a similar class as the D5000 include the Canon Rebel T1i, Olympus E-620, and the Sony Alpha A380.

The Canon EOS Rebel T1i (500D) is probably the D5000’s closest competition. It has a 15MP sensor and records 1080p HD video. It also has live view and uses a 9 point AF module. Clearly the T1i’s features are very similar to those on the D5000.

The Olympus E-620 has a 13MP sensor and a 7-point AF system, but 5 of the 7 are cross-type. The E-620 has in-body image stabilization but even though it has live view, it cannot capture video.

The Sony A380 features a 14MP sensor and uses a separate sensor in the viewfinder to provide the live view image. Therefore, its 9-point AF system can continue to function under live view, but its live view only shows 90% of the frame. The A380 also has in-body image stabilization but cannot capture video.


D5000 Recall

In July 2009, Nikon made a world-wide recall of some early D5000 bodies because of a potential power-control component problem. If you are buying a new D5000, by the time you read this article, the defect should not be an issue any more, but I would double check just to be on the safe side. However, if you are buying it used, you certainly want to check its serial number to see whether it is included in the recall and verify with the seller whether it has been repaired. For more details and serial number check, see Nikon USA’s D5000 Service Advisory and Nikon Europe’s Notice for Users.


The D5000 is a strong addition to Nikon’s DSLR line up. While a bit larger than the D40 and D60, the D5000 remains compact and easy to use. As far as features go, the D5000 is surprisingly close to those on the D90, which is the next level up among Nikon DSLRs as they use the same sensor and the same AF module. However, the D5000 still shares the small size and some limitations such as the lack of an AF motor and dedicated control buttons as the other small consumer DSLRs. The video feature is a nice addition for occasional use to a camera that is mainly for still photography. The D5000 should not be considered as a substitution for a video camera.

The D5000 is ideal for casual photographers who would like a small DSLR with current sensor technology as well as a few more controls and customizable features. The more advanced amateur photographers who prefer more manual controls will likely appreciate the additional features on the D90 and D300s.


Where to Buy’s partners offer the nikon_D5000, at various reasonable prices and you help to support


Text ©2009 Shun Cheung. Photos ©2009 Shun Cheung.

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    • Nice write-up. The comparisons between models are useful and they provide a better feel for a reference.
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    • I believe under the flash compatibility section, the second time the Sb400 is mentioned, the article meant Sb900.
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    • Thanks W.G. We'll fix that.
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    • While I truly appreciate some of your comparisons, your arrogance truly comes through in this article. I lost count of the time you used the word "only" (it only does this or only has that). My conclusion of your conclusion is that it is great if you don't know what your doing but for you and your ultimately superior skills and knowledge it is basically crap that you yourself would never consider.
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    • I did a lot of research before purchasing the D5000. I wanted to dump the weight of heavier Nikon's but still wanted all the image quality of the D5000's big brothers. DxO rates the D90 and D5000 s at the top of the APS camera lineup. Not bad. My take as a 15 year enthusiastic amateur is that the D5000 need not be branded as a beginners camera. Using aperture priority which is what I most always use one rear dial is sufficient. Build quality is very nice. Nikon makes the best plastic cameras in the industry. Compare it to a Rebel or Sony and you'll see what I mean. Sure if I was a pro wedding or event photographer I'd want to show up with a more impressive camera if for nothing more than personal image alone but calling the D5000 a beginners camera is a bit of an injustice. I see it as a light weight gem with the features that can get the job done in most situations.
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    • I have taken about 500 pictures already. This camera is a jewel... The image quality is the best that I have encountered so far. The image's colors are perfect, but camera allow you to be "creative" and create black and white, sepia among others.. add "filters" change all or nothing...

      Most controls can be as simple or complex as you want: for example, white balance offer you a splendid set of features so you get the exact neutral tone you are looking for... you can measure with a grey card, you can use a color matrix, you can make things warmer or cooler...

      Also worth noting is the burst mode that allow you to take around 60 non-stop continuous images... more than enough for moving subjects, chasing kids and such... and video... wow, you can have the "film" look in your video! Salesman told me that i would record 1080p video but is actually 720p, but the quality is amazing... focusing can be tricky sometimes for the camera but once you connect this baby to your HD TV it is like heaven: just smiles and pure enjoyment: colors are vibrant, all is beautiful!

      Let's talk about noise... what noise? I use the camera indoors, no flash, iso at 1600 and there is virtually no noise... bump it to 3200 and yes there is some but nothing compared to older DSLR's ( Noise test at Nikon D5000 review video ) ... bravo Nikon!

      Yes, please check about the power issue, first camera I got had the problem but the store change it for me, no problem. Ask the store to tell you the serial number and check in Nikon's website before you commit your purchase. You will not be disappointed! The kit with 2 VR lenses ran $900 plus tax.

      To conclude: The D5000 is a beautiful camera: high resolution, well constructed, produces amazing photos, all buttons feel right, the large display in back is incredible, very sharp! (I decided to use it mostly for playback as focusing is slow if you use LiveView to take stills...)

      WISHES: Stereo sound in video for more realistic experience, and faster focusing when using the LiveView, that's all.

      Oh... and you know the best part of all? The camera recognizes my superb 80mm 1.4, my 60mm macro and other lenses that i have from my.... can you believe it? my Nikkormat camera, today's high tech coupled with beautiful, all metal-heavy duty-big chunk of glass-lenses. Just need to set this camera on M and provide my own exposure! It is a superb combo... (I had a D70 and D1x and those lenses where very hard to attach...)

      Ok, enough for now, get yours and enjoy

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    • I'm a college student and I'm very new to the world of photography for it has interested it me lately. I was so far using jus a compact canon powershot A430. Something that i purchased some 4 years ago and when i dint even know what photography was. For quite some time I have been reading all about various DSLRs and finally I have ordered a D5000 today. I'm likely to get delivery by tomorrow. I'm studying law and of course i have nothing to do with camera professionally. More I'll write once i play with the features as to how this camera is to a novice.
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    • here are a few samples.... i'm a rookie by all the means... so this might give you an idea as to how this product is in hands of a rookie...

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    • I have had Nikon DSLR's for the past decade starting with the D100 and D70 these were great cameras. When the D200 arrived I purchased  a body this was a vast improvement on the earlier models. The the D300 arrived this was the greatest improvemment on the previous models. I am a wildlife photographer and still use my D200 and D300 for this purpose. I was getting fedup with carrying a heavy camera bag around for day to day use and invested in the D5000. The build quality is very good it is easy to use and the results match my D200 & D300. The only thing is that it will not work with some of my lenses but I have purchased several lenses that it works with.

      I would highly recommend the camera for both biginners and advanced users.

      Rodger Lee Wild Photos UK.




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    • I have used D5000 from past 4 months..Before this i used Panasonic g2(Micro 4/3). I must tell you this camera a beauty..I always shoot JPG+RAW and this camera defeats all in the same price range in terms of color accuracy(specially reds), high iso performance, image editing features, chromatic aberration...

      I always shoot in manual mode so if somebody is concerned if this camera is not suitable for manual enthusiast then i must say this camera lacks only two thigs DOF preview button and white balance button. Trust me DOF preview button is not useful because after f/8 everything is so dark that you can not decide DOF on DX sensor. secondly WB is always accurate if you shot canon before then you will admit the capability of D5000.

      Yes one thing i agree it do not have commander flash option and pentaprism(is any other camera has in same price range).How many canons have flash controller?

      You can buy D90 if you shoot lot of portrait work and you need commander flash and you dont need D7000's superior sensor for high iso. For everything else D5000 is simply best in budget and you have some dollars to buy remote release and tripod...


      All the best..




      (Digital user but fan of Velvia)




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