D5000 Preview

Budget Bargain HDSLR!

It's in full sway. The HDSLR revolution is targeting your wallet and your hopes and dreams. With Nikon's D90, the world turned the corner and now all future DSLRs will have to follow suit.

It's not a DSLR any more. Our word for it is HDSLR, meaning HD+DSLR, a combination still and movie camera with at least 720p24 high definition movie mode. That term has now propogated throughout the interwebitubes so HDSLR is the new DSLR.

Or, does it mean Hybrid DSLR? Either way, DSLRs and a whole bunch of other gizmos are now going into HD video. But let's get it right: this ain't video. It's cinema. As in Movies. As in wholey cow, my camera just started competing with Panavision and Arriflex, not video.

At this hour, there are only a double handful of these hybrid cams out there. Two from Canon, one from Panasonic (4:3 format) and now two from Nikon. Set your seatbelts to stun, folks, this is just the beginning of the revolution.

Still, the big question on everybody's mind is this: Revolution, or merely revolting?

The Nikon D5000 follows closely the relationship between say, a Nikon D80 and D60. The D80 was a pro camera at a prosumer price, and the D60 was a really nice consumer DSLR at an attractive price.

Nikon's D90 took over the marketing slot that the D80 held—a pro camera at a prosumer price—and added HD capability at the minimum 720p 24 fps 16:9 aspect D-Movie format. To achieve this mode, Nikon cut some corners. 24 fps for LCD computer displays is a tad on the short stick side of motion smoothness and the progressive scan frame capture presents some real problems for image capture, but once you get to know where the boundaries are, D-Movie 720p can become a massive amount of fun and productivity.

The D5000 takes over the D60 marketing slot and is a clipped-down D90 in many respects including the 12.9 (total) megapixel CMOS sensor—same as the D90's and similar to the D300's—but it adds a missing component that will find a large audience: the swivel monitor that they call the Vari-Angle LCD. Now Live View SLR shooting and HD image capture will be greatly enhanced by viewing from many angles previously not easy or possible.

You can put the camera on the floor and still see what you're doing. Or hold it stretched high overhead for a ceiling view. Or flip it down and front for self-portraits. No need to put your face behind the camera body any more. The screen can flip flat in self-protect mode or flip around for common DSLR monitor placement.

Unlike the image on the D90 monitor, this is a 2.7-inch, 230,000 "dot" image, meaning it's really equivalent to just under 80,000 full-color pixels—approximately 320 x 213 fully-formed color pixels as in the image above. That's just enough to see what you're doing, but not enough to judge image quality as with the D300/D3X/D90 half-HD screens that have over three times as much resolution (310,000 fully formed color pixels, as in the image below).

Yes, there is really this much difference in D5000 vs. D300 (larger) monitor image quality!

Being a "consumer" camera, Nikon has outfitted the D5000 with a number of features catering to the non-professional. They've added a tubfull of "Scene Modes" including the usual Portrait, Landscape, Full Auto, No Flash, Sports, Night Portrait and Close Up found on the D90.

To these, they have added microscopically nuanced new Scene Modes: Night Landscape, Party/Indoors, Child, Food, Pet Portrait, Dusk/Dawn, Sunset, Candlelight, Autumn Colors, Blossom, Silhouette, Beach/Snow, High Key and Low Key.

Did they miss anything? Sure. Future Nikon consumer HDSLRs will include Scene Modes especially tuned to other common photographic needs. We predict that the HD aspect will drive Nikon to develop special modes for future cams including:

Nudescape, Orange Street Lighting, Blue Street Lighting, Available Darkness (36 db boost to ISO 120,000), Horror Story Drama FX, Disney Wonderland Fog, Warm and Fuzzy, Sin City Hicon, Gritty Documentary, Motion Smear Dream Sequence, Document Color Accurate, LCD Moire Reduction, Baby, Toddler, 2-Year Old, Little Kid, Kid, Pre-Teen, Teen, Young Adult, Adult, Old Person, Dead Folk, Rainbow, Sky Polarize, Moment Of Stability Night Vision, UV, IR, CSI, Sky Grad, Motion Triggered Movie, Follow Crop Subject, Wrinkles Begone, Trigger on Smile and Theater Movie Pirate modes will all appear in 2010, 11, etc. Remember, you heard it here, first.

Seriously, all the cool modes from the D90 seem to be here in the D5000. The same 11 AF points, 420-sensor meter, 1/4000 sec shutter, ISO range from 100 to 6400, PSAM pro exposure modes, same 1280 x 720-24 fps movie system that maximizes HD capture at 5 minutes per shot, same standard definition 3:2 aspect movie modes, same 12 MP still image and smaller files, same Picture Control modes and storage system, same review features including 72 images and calendar modes, same Active D-Lighting, same Retouch menu features, same HDMI output, same SDHC card compatibity, same ADL bracket option, same deep-zoom review inspection down to the pixel-resolution level and same ML-L3 infrared remote trigger that costs a pittance.

What's missing?

The D90 has a larger, brighter optical viewfinder, an internal shaft-drive system for Nikkor AF lenses that need it (like the 10.5mm fisheye and other non-IF autofocus lenses), the ability to mount a battery pack/vertical grip, the sharper 3" monitor, exposure fine tuning (both have EV compensation options), variable Center Weight metering circle sizes, Easy Exposure Compensation mode, Remote On duration timer, Exposure Delay mode, Bracketing Order choice, Commander mode flash for Nikon CLS super speedlights, bigger viewfinder image (about 25% larger) and 4.5 fps continuous mode. Plus a number of detail tweaks

To be fair, the D5000 has 4 fps maximum continuous mode, plus a number of things you can't get in a D90:

  • a new Quiet Picture mode for Live View capture,
  • a comfy graphic info display similar to the one on D40's and the D60,
  • a 1/250 sec flash sync shutter speed (D90: 1/200 sec),
  • the battery from the D40/D40x/D60 cameras (EN-EL9e),
  • a stop motion movie mode from still captures,
  • a graphic "Color Outline" retouch mode,
  • retouch Perspective control,
  • a retouch Soft Filter Effect,
  • a built-in Intervalometer that will capture brackets of exposures at each interval,
  • a smaller footprint and
  • a lower price by about $170 US (net street).

That intervalometer is the same as the one from the D300. We miss it on the D90, but our Phottix Nikos plug-in intervalometer works well there. We like the ergonomics of previous small Nikons, so this same-size HDSLR is a welcome addition to the line. Nikon has given us a great new toy for Dad's Day.

So revolution it is, after all.

It's major positive attribute is cost. If the c. $170 difference between the D5000 and D90 is the difference in Pain Level 1 and Pain Level 3 for you, get the D5000. If you neeeeeed to use older legacy lenses, neeeeed a battery base, neeeed the bigger, sharper monitor, neeed a bigger, brighter viewfinder image, and especially if you need to use the camera as the Commander of the amazing Nikon CLS speedlight system—then the D90 is your friend. After all, it only costs about as much more than the D5000 as a dozen 13-shot venti soy hazelnut vanilla cinnamon white mocha with extra white mocha and caramel drinks at your local Starbucks ($13.76 each with tax), but it is a whole lot healthier.

A lot of people will see this as a major bargain. Especially after they take a gander at our D90 eBook which reveals a metric ton of helpful information about the 720p D-Movie mode that the two cameras share.

Here's a sample from our D90 eBook:

Could this mean a D5000 eBook is on the horizon?

Read the news from the digital camera testers:

DPReview (Askey): Click here.
Imaging Resource: Click here.
(more to come)

Get the eBooks.