Nikon introduces another model tier to its D-SLR range primarily to compete with Canon’s highly successful EOS 400/450/500D dynasty. Paul Burrows tries out the ‘entry-level plus’ D5000.

Underneath the D5000’s compact bodyshell is quite a lot of the D90, including its 12.9 megapixels CMOS sensor, 11-point AF system and an HDV recording capability.

We’re now at a point in the D-SLR world where the model ranges – at least from the leading brands – match those that were available at the height of the 35mm camera’s popularity. Canon now has a line-up of eight models and, with the arrival of the D5000, so does Nikon (although the D40 will shortly disappear from the Australian market where, rightly or wrongly, six megapixels no longer cuts the mustard).

This stratification not only signals a maturing of the market – which, when you think about it, has happened remarkably quickly – but greatly widens the D-SLR’s appeal. Making new converts to SLR photography is now a major objective of all the manufacturers as they seek to expand beyond the enthusiast sector which, like it or not, is comparatively small. And while there have been some exciting developments in enthusiastlevel models, what’s happening in the lower ranks is arguably a lot more significant right now. Canon says that its EOS 500D is one of its most important new models for some time – and that’s from the company that has recently given us the 50D and the 5D Mark II – and so, not surprisingly, Nikon is placing an equal amount of expectation on the not-so-broad shoulders of the D5000.

As the D60 is now the base model locally, the D5000 is the next cab off the rank and, as such, it’s going to be challenged to meet quite a wide range of user requirements – affordability (compared to the D90), enhanced performance (compared to the D60) and a level of features that’s not too daunting for the novice and not too ‘no frills’ for the more experienced user (who, for instance, may now be ready to step up from a D40/D40X or even a D60). This is a fairly demanding design brief – and the EOS 500D is under similar pressure – but Nikon has been on a roll since the D3 and D300, and the forwardthinking has been steadily trickling down its D-SLR range.

Middle Ground

Put simply, the D5000 is a D60 with the D90’s innards including the HDV recording facility, but this is a bit of an oversimplification as it has an all-new bodyshell – that’s actually slightly larger and heavier overall – and it lacks quite a few of the pricier model’s higher-end features (depth-offield preview being just one).

The differentiation between the D5000 and the D60 is quite marked, but it does have quite a lot in common with the D90 and, being both smaller and cheaper (by $200 with the same 18-55mm VR ‘kit’ lens), has the potential to encroach into the latter’s sales territory. What may well stop this happening, however, is that the D5000 continues Nikon’s policy of eliminating the focusing motor from the bodies of its lowerlevel D-SLRs. Consequently, AF operations are only possible with AF-S type motorised lenses which won’t be a problem for newcomers to the system, but may well deter anybody with earlier AF-Nikkors. In this regard, the D90 is still ‘old school’ and, incidentally, the entry-level model for anybody with non-SWM lenses. It’s also true to say that the D5000 has more of a budget camera look and feel about it which may not appeal to anybody who prefers a camera with a bit of heft. That said, it’s still a well-built camera with a strong polycarbonate shell and a stainless steel lens mount and, interestingly, a shutter assembly tested to 100,000 cycles. Making such claims is rare with lower-end D-SLRs – as many users simply never get close to taking that many exposures – but we suspect this is because the D5000 has the D90’s shutter unit so it’s an extra selling point.

Incidentally, are you wondering where the four-digit model number came from? So are we, but we suspect this camera might well have been going to be the D500 until Nikon got a whiff of the 500D and added an extra zero at the last minute. Pity, because ‘D500 versus 500D’ would have made a great headline.