Nikon’s D5000 D-SLR; 12.3MP DX Format With Video & Articulating Monitor Page 2

The D5000 tempts you to do more in camera processing than any camera I have yet tested. The Scene modes go beyond the usual birthday cake (party/indoors) and sports modes you find on digicams (although they are there as well) to offer tonal curve adjustments in the guise of phrases like “high key,” “low key,” and even one dubbed “silhouette” that is actually great for making high-contrast images. While I have not tested the Olympus “art” cameras (see Joe Farace’s reviews on these), I imagine they offer the same kind of in camera options that are, in a word, fun.

But what is most profound to me is that the D5000 takes chimping to a whole new level, where you not only review your images after shooting but, as Nikon refers to it, you “retouch” them as you do. This includes enhancing certain colors, working the color balance, overlaying images, creating “e-mailable” copies, applying filter effects, straightening images, reducing lens distortion (!), enhancing distortion (adding a fisheye effect), making color outlines, doing perspective control (!), and so forth, all in camera. While editing on a fairly small LCD screen is not the best way to do this, it is actually quite easy and attractive to do this work in the field prior to downloading the images to your computer and makes waiting for a bus much more fun. I guess this workflow is designed for the generation that seems to think it’s OK to watch Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey on an iPod, but overall my experience was very positive, and, to repeat, fun.

The vagaries of reproduction gave me the feeling that showing you side-by-side shots of D-Lighting on and off might not be too productive, so I decided to show you the Levels histogram from comparative shots instead. Note how the D-Lighting on shot (1) brings much more info to the mid tones and pushes the highlight back ever so slightly. It’s meant to put more info in the shadows, and so it seems it does, as evidenced by the histogram of the D-Lighting off image (2). Here’s the shot (3) made with D-Lighting on; in the off shot (not shown) the foreground was in much deeper shadow and the background was less saturated with color. My advice—when shooting in a city on a sunny day keep D-Lighting on all the time, and use the more intense settings when things get really contrasty.

For the most part I recommend shooting raw+JPEG with this camera, and the choices seem simplified (read on) to three levels of JPEG, one NEF alone (Nikon’s raw), and three NEF+JPEG options. The reason I think you should always use raw as an option is that some of the Retouch menu items only work with raw images, and shooting raw just makes sense in this day and age. Even if you do not plan to get into processing the raw images in a computer I am fairly certain you will want to do so in camera.

Grab Shots
Even though this is a full-fledged D-SLR it has many features that make it a good family camera, of course including a very responsive and easy to access Video mode. Getting kids to sit long for any pose is tough, so I appreciate the way the camera is ready to go—with NO shutter lag—when the moment presents itself. These kids posed for about 2 seconds with this wallaby and then they were off, so I appreciated Program mode at ISO 200 for an exposure of f/8 at 1⁄250 sec.

The JPEG options are actually a combination of pixel size and compression options, but you have to work with two menus to finalize them. It ends up being just as confusing as the Canon setups where you have every possible JPEG compression/size on the Quality menu, but here it is separated into the Image Quality and Image Size menus, so make sure you know what you want to work with later before choosing each. The instruction book is a bit confusing on this score, so the deal is that Image Quality is the compression ratio (1:4 to 1:16, Fine to Basic) and the Image Size is the pixel count (4288x2848/Large to 2144x1424/Small). Is it better to have all these options on one menu or split in two, as Nikon has done here? Both are overkill in my book, and although on the face of it the Nikon menu seems less intimidating it is by no means less confusing. For my money shoot NEF+JPEG Fine/Large and then deal with resampling later, which you can actually do as a batch process in the Retouch menu, a terrific feature on this camera. You can choose from 640x480 to as small as 160x120, and create copies for e-mail, web pages, etc. with ease.

The 3D matrix meter in the D5000 is rather uncanny at unraveling fairly complex exposure situations, such as this reflecting sun shot. But you also have center-weighted and spot, with numerous exposure compensation and bracketing functions, if and when you need it. Exposure at ISO 200 was f/10 at 1⁄400 sec.

I am often disappointed in the control layout and ease of making changes in the field with this class of camera, but I cannot say that about the D5000. In an interior shot I wanted to test the effects of higher ISOs and NR (Noise Reduction) levels, and changing both was made easier by the system always reverting back to the last setting after a decision was made, not back to step one where you had to re-plow through the menu to get where you need to go. In fact, the My Menu option allows you to register up to 20 setups, or to recall the last 20 setups you made. This is like having the “Recent” list available in Photoshop or Word that has helped me find more than one file after I had closed it and accidentally saved it to some obscure folder.

Early Spring
It’s easy to change settings to react to every subject and scene. During this walk in early spring the light kept changing, so when it got overcast I set the camera at ISO 640, shot with matrix metering and aperture priority at f/14, and switched on VR to get things steady at a 1⁄50 sec exposure time. The D5000 was responsive to every situation and made it easy to change settings on the fly.

The same goes for setting aperture, shutter speed, etc. in the various Exposure modes, and for making choices about exposure and flash compensation. Rather than present obstacles for customization and personal exposure readings the D5000 seems to encourage them in each and every operation it offers. True, those used to having multifunctional buttons for every operation on the camera body might feel a bit frustrated by the layout, but unless you always have to change on the fly when shooting I don’t think you will miss them.

You might think that a camera of this class would skimp on Custom Settings, the customization of button functions or the operational options that were once the domain of the pro class. Not at all here, with setups available for AF, exposure, AE Lock and timers, display, bracketing, and assignment of functions to control buttons and dials. The same goes for playback functions and displays, where histograms, overexposure warnings, shooting data, a calendar view (!), zoom in, and even GPS (with optional GP-1) are available. And in bracketing you can choose exposure, white balance, and even tonal curve adjustments (Nikon’s D-Lighting, with one shot made with D-Lighting off and the other set at the level of D-Lighting you have chosen).

Perspective Control
It might be hard to believe but the D5000 has an actual perspective control function in its Retouch menu. While rudimentary, it allows you to tilt in both vertical and horizontal planes. You also have a fisheye and distortion control filter built-in (the fisheye to add an effect, the distortion control to negate barrel or pincushion distortion), all of which means the D5000 takes chimping to an entirely new level. This shot was corrected using perspective control. It was shot with the 18-55mm VR lens at 18mm (24mm equivalent) and exhibited the typical falling back syndrome, until it was fixed using perspective control.

I have always admired Nikon’s commitment to their lens mount, and the D5000 continues the tradition by taking on just about every lens Nikon has made. I spent part of the time shooting with an “ancient” Nikkor 24mm f/2 AI-S lens and while of course AF does not function and there is no linkage so all exposure is manual and “guesstimate,” it means that those older Nikkor lenses still have value in the digital age. The 1.5x multiplication factor on this DX-format sensor means that my 24mm is a 36mm, but that’s not the point—it’s that you can reasonably expect that any Nikon lens you buy today will be usable way down the line on whatever camera they make.

I do have one very major complaint with this camera, and that’s lack of a viewfinder depth of field preview function. When I teach photography I show this feature to the class and it opens up lots of creative options to those with it, and creates great disappointment in those who realize their cameras are without it. Many beginners do not know it is there, and do not miss it until they know it is lacking. Yes, you can set up various Scene modes and easily manipulate aperture for various sharpness relationships, but there is, to me, simply no substitute for seeing the effect as you work.

The shooting tests I did covered various lighting scenarios both indoors and out. I shot at high ISOs using various noise reduction filter settings and worked with the video side of the D5000. The video operation, by the way, is very easy—you push the LV (Live View) button and the LCD reveals the image, then just press the OK button to start recording. You cannot interrupt the recording with a still; that simply stops the video. But the quality of the video was very pleasing and I trust that those who choose this camera partly because of this feature will use it extensively.

So, perhaps the four-number coding on this camera refers to a new breed of multimedia D-SLR/video recorder with GPS that allows you to retouch images without ever going near a computer. If so, it is another step forward in making cameras truly omnivorous in how they capture images and allow you to manipulate, display, and share them.

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Raven_High's picture

Seriously considering buying it. This is the standard counterpoint. It is a fair one too. - Mallory Fleming