Nikon’s newest and cheapest entry-level digital SLR, the D3000, squarely targets beginners to SLR photography and does it well. From its compactness, to easy to use menu system, to in-camera walk-throughs, the D3000 does a strong job of making itself non-intimidating to users.

The camera is equipped with a 10.2 megapixel sensor, a 3 inch 230,000 pixel LCD, and a max shooting speed of 3 frames per second. The D3000 body and AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR kit lens is priced together at around $550 and is a solid choice as a beginner SLR.

d3000 Nikon D3000 Review   The Little DSLR That Could 

Nikon was gracious enough to loan PhotoBlazr a D3000 and its new AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens for 3 weeks to test it under real-world conditions. As I put this little SLR through it’s paces, I had to constantly remind myself to look at this camera from it’s main target market’s point of view, namely as a brand new beginner to SLR photography. This was easier said than done, going from using Nikon’s pro cameras, which are chock full of features, to a basic SLR, takes some adjustment. The question I wanted to ultimately answer though was – if I were a beginner to SLR photography, would I want this to be my first SLR camera? Furthermore, as a new SLR user, would I be able to learn photography using this camera, and would I be able to take great photos of family, kids, vacations and events?

Portability & Construction

So, to answer these questions, I carried the D3000 with me as much as I practically could and found one of the features I loved most about it was its compact size and portability in conjunction with its ruggedness. Though this camera is  considered a budget DSLR, Nikon didn’t skimp on the build quality resulting in a camera that feels quite solid but light in your hands.

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The D3000 isn’t heavy at all – only 1.2lbs, one of Nikon’s lightest SLRs, and it can be slung around your neck for hours without causing trouble. This is a far cry from the heavier prosumer DSLRs I’m used to which will always tug at my neck like an anvil after a long day of shooting! In fact, the D3000 is an excellent choice for a travel camera. Even with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens, it can conveniently fit into a backpack, a duffel bag, or a small camera bag. This makes it ideal for many first-time SLR buyers who are often looking to replace their point & shoot cameras with a more powerful one, but not lose the advantage of portability. On top of that, the construction felt very sturdy, unlike many competing SLRs in this range, and I had no qualms with its build quality. The camera’s lightness and portability allowed me to walk around the Forks Market in Winnipeg for hours taking photos quickly with little effort.

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Features & Ease of Use

The D3000 replaces the D60, Nikon’s best selling consumer SLR, and introduced several new features with it:

  • 11 point autofocus system
  • 3D autofocus tracking
  • larger LCD (3 inch versus 2.7 inch on the D60)

The auto-focus (AF) enhancements are nice touches and keeps the camera up to date with respect to technology, but in my opinion to a beginner, any auto-focus system in the consumer camera range is likely to be met with a fair bit of indifference. As long as the auto-focus works well, as most modern AF systems do, I find it unlikely that a beginner SLR user would notice a real difference. That said, I was impressed to see that Nikon included 11 point AF and the 3D AF feature in this entry-level camera – both of which are advanced AF modes that are found in their end models. Overall, I found the 11 point AF worked very well, and was always able to focus in on subjects in a decent amount of time. The D3000 AF is not the fastest on the market, but it is definitely good enough to meet the needs of the target demographic.

The D3000 uses SD memory cards and is SD-HC compatible as well which is a nice touch, and comes with Nikon’s standard built-in flash and is compatible with the higher end off-camera flashes such as the SB-900 and SB-600. You can also shoot in RAW or JPEG format, and the camera includes a Stop-Motion Movie mode which stitches multiple photos into a sequence.  I would have personally preferred a full movie mode, but at this price point, I won’t complain too much.

Menu System

The most useful new feature will probably be the new ‘Guide’ mode. The Guide mode is Nikon’s helpful in-camera walk-throughs for beginners to photography. When this option is chosen on the mode dial, the menu displays three main options to guide users through the main steps in taking photographs. I found that I could easily understand the menus and their objectives without having to read the manual – a good indicator that Nikon’s attempt to simplify SLR operations for beginners was a success.

 

D3000 Guide Menu

 

  1. Shoot: This mode allows users to select further options under an ‘Easy’ or ‘Advanced’ operation category, enabling the camera to either go into a fully automatic (‘point and shoot’) mode, or giving the user control over apertures and shutter speeds. The guide menus use non-technical language to help make these choices easier to understand – for example, the Easy Mode would use descriptions such ‘Distant subjects’ and ‘Moving subjects’ for selectable modes. It doesn’t get much simpler than that with SLR photography.

  2. View/Delete: This mode brings up the options to go through photos and delete them if desired.

  3. Setup: Brings up setup options for the camera.

I will mention that I tended not to use the Guide mode in the field because I did not have the time to read through menus in the middle of a scene I was photographing. So this Guide mode could be a little impractical for everyday use, but I expect users will play around with it at home, learn how to use their camera through the menus, and then switch to the other regular shooting modes when out in the field.

I found the shooting menu system in general to be very easy to use, and even though there was a lack of specialized dials and buttons which higher-end SLRs have, I was able to reach the shooting options I needed quickly and effectively using the menus. This was mainly because when in shooting mode, the main LCD displays all the important options in one screen such as ISO, single/continuous shooting modes, exposure compensation and flash compensation.

d3000 lcd info e 3 Nikon D3000 Review   The Little DSLR That Could

 

At the click of a button, you can choose any of the options without having to navigate several menus or options. I loved this feature, and found that I was easily changing shooting options on the fly as I moved around my subjects.

Metering

The D3000 comes with Matrix, Center-weighted and Spot metering options, all of which did a great job in exposing photos automatically under tough conditions. The auto Matrix metering for example rendered the scene below well, balancing the dark and light areas nicely.

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I shot fruit under fluorescent lights and found the colour rendition was excellent with the camera producing some lovely vibrant images that was true to the scene I was photographing like the one below.

 

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ISO Performance

OK, so I know what you must be asking yourself right about now – what about the D3000’s shortcomings? Well, there is one big one. As I started shooting into the night with lower light levels, the ‘Auto’ mode on the camera automatically increased my ISO level to compensate for the low light, and that was when I started noticing the image quality worsening due to noise. Sensor noise is akin to film grain, and becomes more pronounced at higher ISO levels. A lot of noise can reduce the amount of detail that can be seen in a photo, reducing the image quality and is generally undesirable.

ISO performance on the D3000 is definitely not a strength. The ISO settings that are available on this camera are: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200. Many DSLRs can handle noise well up to ISO 1600 nowadays, but even at ISO 400, I was able to see the sensor noise affecting the D3000 photos as demonstrated in the samples below.

Click on the images to see the full-size versions.

ISO400full

ISO 400

ISO1600Full

ISO 1600

Here’s a full range of ISO test photos I took in the hotel room one cold winter night in Winnipeg! I took the same scene at different ISOs and cropped it to 100% to show the varying noise levels. Click on the images to see the full size files.

d3000test main

 

d3000test (1 of 6) d3000test (2 of 6)
 ISO 100                                         ISO 200

d3000test (3 of 6) d3000test (4 of 6)
ISO 400                                        ISO 800

d3000test (5 of 6) d3000test (6 of 6)
ISO 1600                                       ISO 3200

 

Based on these results, I would personally not shoot at ISO 1600 or higher, and would probably try my hardest to keep photographs below ISO 400 if I want to make prints, as opposed to putting them online somewhere. This was a disappointing revelation for an SLR that does everything else quite well, but considering the target audience, I would wonder whether this is a deal breaker. For most beginner SLR users, the D3000’s performance is still much better than the typical point and shoot camera’s dismal record of ISO quality, so I think the price and feature set still offer good value to this particular audience.

Comparisons

The next Nikon camera in this range is the D5000 which offers a number of significant features over the D3000 for about $200 dollars more:

  • 12.3 MP CMOS
  • Tilt/swivel LCD screen
  • Live View
  • Movie Mode
  • 4 FPS
  • Exposure bracketing

Though we haven’t tested the D5000 here, the camera’s CMOS sensor should have better ISO tolerance than the D3000’s. The Tilt/Swivel LCD screen might be considered a bit of a novelty, but the movie mode and exposure bracketing features are interesting enhancements that can help one’s creative juices flow for only a couple of hundred dollars more. Of course, many new beginner SLR users will have their hands full already learning to use SLR cameras before moving into movies.

Conclusions

The D3000 is a very capable camera that is a great choice for an SLR beginner. It’s low price in conjunction with the features it provides with its easy to use interface allows users to learn and grow with their camera. Though ISO performance is not as strong as other cameras in this range, the D3000 still provides solid value. If you don’t shoot a lot of low light scenes, then the D3000’s ISO performance is quite adequate. Otherwise, the D5000 and its CMOS sensor may be an option you should explore. Overall, the D3000’s compact but rugged build makes it a great SLR for traveling and for events where portability is a necessity.

What’s Hot:

  • Great price
  • Easy to use menus
  • Compact and rugged

What’s Cold:

  • Significant noise at high ISO settings

Overall Ratings:

d3000rating1 Nikon D3000 Review   The Little DSLR That Could