Nikon D5000

July 13th, 2010  |  Published in pictures and photography  |  3 Comments

I’m giving a Nikon D5000 a try. From everything I’ve read, it’s most competitive with the Pentax K-x (about which I’ve written) in most regards, and you can see the AF point in the viewfinder. (More on that in a second.)

I spent some time handling a Canon PowerShot G11 and PowerShot S90 a few nights ago, and I was very tempted to go back to a high-end P&S. But in a week I’ll have a very specific need to do some indoor shooting that has to be better than I can reasonably expect from a P&S. I also want more reach on the zoom than I can get with anything besides one of the super-zoom P&Ses (e.g. the PowerShot SX20).

So while I wandered from display to display trying to make up my mind, I spotted Nikon’s 35mm F1.8G DX lens, which is pretty affordable and provides something I’ve been wanting for a while anyhow and couldn’t get very cheaply for a Pentax. I even got $20 off the sticker price because the only one in stock had been opened but still seemed to be factory wrapped on the inside. So while a longer zoom than the 18-55mm kit lens is on the shopping list, a decent normal prime that can do well indoors is higher up on the list. The professional reviews are good and the user reviews are stellar.

There are rumors that Pentax will be correcting the whole AF point issue in an upcoming low-end DSLR, but prime shooting season (for me, anyhow) is here now and that 35mm lens I got for the Nikon is a powerful enticement to make the move either way.

Initial Impressions of the Nikon D5000

I haven’t taken many shots with it yet, and I’ve spent a lot of time going through Ken Rockwell’s user’s guide, which has taught me a lot more than reading the manual probably will.

Some things I really like:

  • Since low-end DSLRs tend to keep the number of physical knobs low, you end up spending a lot of time in the on-screen menus. Nikon solved some of this hassle by including a flexible menu item that either a. shows the most recent settings you’ve changed or b. shows some favorite settings you want to be able to get at quickly (“My Menu”). That’s pretty handy.

  • I’ve got an Eye-Fi Pro X2, and the D5000 knows when I’m using it. It provides a pulsing Eye-Fi logo in the information display to show when files are being uploaded (so I know not to power off the camera). I haven’t even scratched the surface of the Eye-Fi, but I’m glad the camera can talk to it.

  • The informational display provides a reasonable simulation of the top LCD you get on higher-end dSLRs. There’s a lot of useful information at a glance, including ISO, white balance, flash settings, etc. One button press allows access to all those settings without drilling down through the traditional hierarchical menu structure.

Some things I’m not so sure about:

  • The rear display can be flipped out (from a bottom hinge) and moved around or closed against the body, and it provides a live preview mode. People say that’s good for macro and tripod photography. I’ll be interested to see if I develop any habits around that. I understand autofocus in live preview is terrible, limiting it to something you’d use for very static shots. I’ve lined up a few shots with it, but I haven’t taken it walking around the neighborhood yet.

  • There’s a video mode. Nobody seems to think much of it and it doesn’t sound very flexible. Ken Rockwell calls it “a goof.”

On Nikon’s even-more-budget D3000, which I shot with for a day after returning the Pentax, there’s no video mode (and no live preview). Personally, I’d rather Nikon had left both off the D5000 and merged the D3000 and D5000 into a single model priced closer to the D3000. It feels like the D3000 was rushed in to defend against stuff slightly cheaper than a D5000, which had stuff it shouldn’t have had in the first place. The video and live preview really do feel like “everybody else has ’em, too” features. Or worse, “if we add them now, nobody else will have them yet, even if they suck.” I think that’s just life down in the entry-level dSLR world. They’re all trying to figure out how to pick off people wandering over from the P&S world, defend themselves against the micro-4/3 cameras, and provide just little enough functionality to suck people up-market.

Something I learned about after buying and like a lot:

I ended up with this camera because I wanted to know where my AF point was through the viewfinder. I’m sort of crabby about where the AF point is because I hate popping a flash and that means I typically have to trade away depth of field when I’m shooting indoors. The traditional “focus and recompose” approach can be problematic in situations like that. So, the thing I think is cool about the Nikon:

It has a “3D focus tracking” mode that allows you to focus and recompose. You pick an AF point, depress the shutter button half way to get a lock, then recompose. Rather than keeping the AF point locked, the camera shifts the AF point as you move the camera, keeping the object under the AF point locked by shifting the active AF point to follow. Nikon touts the feature as a way to control focus when doing sports photography or tracking a moving object. Since it respects the manually set AF point, it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot to lose using it: Either set the point, hold position and shoot; or set the point and recompose and let the AF point shift as needed. There’s a certain amount of automation that I’d normally mistrust, but it feels like there’s just enough user control over how it works to make it worth experimenting with. Even if the focus point wanders off somewhere The Digital Brain told it to go for no good reason, it can be brought back by re-setting the AF point.

Getting to Know It

Every time I buy a new camera, there’s a feeling-out period that’s sort of an emotional rollercoaster. During the first several days, I’m always thinking about whether I put the packing material back in the box and made sure not to tear the cellophane on anything, because I could stumble across something at any point that bothers me enough to take the camera back.

Since I was a Canon loyalist for a long time, it took me a while to get used to the Pentax, which didn’t do as well when it came to menu design. There were a few points in the first few days I had the Pentax home that I was second guessing myself for not going with a Digital Rebel, which would have felt more familiar. When I got a PowerShot G9 as a less bulky compact to go with the Pentax, I felt a lot more comfortable picking it up and using it because of my familiarity with Canon menus.

I feel a lot less jittery with the Nikon. Some things are a little strange on it (the lens release button is on the other side of the body, for instance), and the menus feel busier, but nothing gives me that moment of heart-stopping pause where I think “Oh, man … I’m gonna have to take this thing back.” I hate taking things back. Once I got used to my old Pentax K100D, I knew it was a camera I’d be able to keep for a while. I already have that feeling with the Nikon. It would be nice to chase features up to the D90, and it would have been nice to have a Pentax K-7 in my budget, but this is the second dSLR I’ve ever bought and it has taught me that low-end dSLRs pretty nicely match my experience and patience to futz with a camera. If I didn’t their indoor speed so frustrating, I’d probably feel like higher-end P&S cameras were more to my taste.

Oppressed Consumer Groups

Everything’s a fuckin’ travesty with you, man! And what was all that shit about Vietnam? What the FUCK, has anything got to do with Vietnam?

— The Dude

One thing I’m pretty sure I’m happy to leave behind about the Pentax world: All the photography board fulminating about “sheeple” who buy Canons and Nikons. I have no idea whether the Nikon People harbor their own number of Canon haters or maybe some elaborate grievance narrative — I haven’t been subscribed to enough boards long enough to find out. For now, I’ll be glad to be away from all the whinging about “Canikon losers.”

Seriously … Ted Stevens was right when he said the Internet is not a big truck. He was wrong when he said it was a series of tubes. It is really a giant conveyor belt that carries people with a lot of emotional baggage straight through my eyeballs and into my brain-hole.


  1. Kurt Shunnarah says:

    November 4th, 2010 at 8:25 am (#)

    Useful post, exactly what I was on the search for.

  2. Kent J says:

    February 17th, 2011 at 2:44 pm (#)

    I am only into my d5000 2 weeks. First DSLR. I definitly do NOT like the mechanics of using Video. You can’t shoot through the view finder, have to choose live view, which is a problem if sun is shining on that monitor, can’t see it. Also you have to push a different button to start video. So. For example I was shooting Rhinos at a zoo. Some nice single shooting, they are slow, then boom they fall down and roll in the mud like a horse. I wanted to catch it on video. I have to pull the camera down, hit a button, re-aim and then remember to hit a different button, not the ‘normal’ one. Silly. Okay. I vented. So far i like the rest of the camera and have a lot to learn. Will stop even dealing with Video. Stills are better anyhow. It feels like 6 shots taken quicklky tell a much better story than ooo.. high def video. Much better.

  3. Diana O says:

    June 24th, 2011 at 9:02 pm (#)

    Great post, and the post on the Pentax K-x as well.

    I have purchased the Pentax K-x, used it intermittently for about 5 months. I am very unhappy with the limitations on autofocus, which you explained so well! After scanning the Pentax forums (like you said) I was really beginning to believe I was losing my mind–my pictures must not be as soft and unfocused as I thought. (Oh all the accusatory forum language about “pixel peepers” and people who wanted “pictures so sharp you could cut with them.”)

    Well yeah, you betcha I want sharp! When a Canon SureShot takes sharper pictures than an $800 camera, that is just flat discouraging!

    You restored my faith with a detailed, rational description of the drawbacks of the auto focusing system in the K-x. It’s a real problem, and it’s great to identify it.

    I’m sellin’ it and buying a Nikon!

    Thanks, and I will be reading more of your blog. I enjoyed it. (PS: I am a past pro photographer with film and this was my first higher end DSLR.)

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