Speed And Performance

The quoted speed-related specs for the D5000 are reasonably impressive for what is still essentially an entry-level D-SLR. In the 35mm SLR days, 4.0 fps was pretty respectable even on a mid-range model and the EOS 500D ‘only’ does 3.4 fps (still more than fast enough for many users, of course).

We initially tested the Nikon with a Class 4 speed SDHC memory card and this clearly held it back – a sequence of 18 JPEG/large/fine frames was captured in a best time of 4.792 seconds to give a shooting speed of 3.75 fps. With a higher speed Class 6 card installed, a sequence of 24 frames was captured in 6.003 seconds, representing a shooting speed of 3.998 fps… in other words, as near as makes no difference to the quoted 4.0 fps. It’s also worth noting that the test file size was around 6.25 MB which is a little larger than the 5.9 MB size on which Nikon bases its specs. Our timing rig is designed to stop the clock when there’s a hesitation between frames which, of course, means the camera has slowed, if only slightly. This means that you can go on shooting beyond the 24 maximum-quality JPEGs with the D5000, but the overall frame rate will be much slower. The specs say that the buffer capacity with JPEG/large/capture is 63 frames, but we couldn’t get anywhere near this with our tests (even with everything that involved any additional image processing switched off). That said, it’s hard to envisage too many situations where you’d want to shoot sequences much longer than 20 or so frames.

Continuing Nikon’s run of high performers, the image quality is excellent and a convincing argument that 12 MP probably represents the ideal balance of resolution and high-ISO capabilities for the ‘APS-C’ format. The D5000 test images – captured as JPEG/large/fine files – were nicely crisp with good levels of detailing across the tonal range, accurate colour renditions (even with some tricky ‘metallics’) and very smooth gradations. Noise levels are very low up to ISO 1600 and, while some chroma noise was evident at ISO 3200, it wouldn’t prevent you from using this setting if it was necessary. Both the 11-point AF and 420-point metering are already proven performers and now bring their overall reliability and accuracy to the D5000.

As with the D90, the HDV image performance is also superb, but the sound quality is awful and there’s nothing you can do about it as the camera lacks an audio input for an external microphone. The D5000’s built-in mono mic just isn’t up to the job – it has a very small audio dynamic range – and it picks up more handling noise than anything else. Unfortunately, then, this really emasculates the video recording capability and means that – if you’re serious – you’re going to have to go to the trouble of creating separate soundtracks… which sort of defeats the purpose of having the facility in this first place. Let’s hope Nikon gets this message very soon and the next D-SLR with video recording can be fitted with an external mic (mind you, the EOS 500D is similarly constrained so only the 5D Mark II addresses this issue at present).

The Verdict

Has the Nikon magic which started with the D3 and D300 in 2007 finally trickled down to the budget end of its D-SLR range? Traditionally, Nikon has always better understood what’s needed in the higher level SLRs and, when building to a price, its thinking has sometimes been a bit muddled. To some extent this is still true of the D5000 which, depending on who the target audience is, either has features it doesn’t really need or lacks the ones that it does. On balance, it’s more an enthusiast-level camera than anything else, but it’s missing a few of the things these users generally take for granted. Conversely, it’s probably too much camera for the first-timer who would most likely be quite content with a D60-type model boasting the 11-point AF system and all those subject modes. However, working in the D5000’s favour is its superb image quality and the fact that it offers a lot of appealing features – such as the long list of in-camera editing functions – with largely intuitive operation. It’s unquestionably a very good camera, but it’s in the rather unique – and certainly unenviable position – of facing stiff competition both from within (the D90) and from without (the Canon EOS 500D). What may well endu up winning the day for the D5000 is that, in the end, it’s a thoroughly likeable camera that gets the job done efficiently and effectively every time.