We put Nikon’s D3000 D-SLR to the test
The D3000 is Nikon’s latest entry-level model, priced at £430 body-only and £500 with a 18-55mm standard zoom lens. At first glance, the D3000 has a conventional appearance – it’s petite and it has all the usual buttons and controls that you’d expect. There’s no obvious giveaway that this D-SLR is aimed at less inexperienced users. However, look at the mode dial on the top plate and you’ll see the word ‘GUIDE’ amid the exposure and subject modes. When you set this, the monitor shows three menu options: Shoot, View/Delete and Set-up. You can select these using the OK button at the centre of multi-selector control on the back panel.
Enter the Shoot option and there’s the choice of Easy or Advanced operation, plus Timers & Remote Control. When you select the Easy operation, you’re given nine options, including Auto, Distant Subjects, Landscape and Sleeping Faces. The idea is that you select the option that’s most appropriate for the situation and the camera sets itself up for that subject. Choose Sleeping Faces, for instance, and the D3000’s monitor tells you that Child mode is set and the flash is turned off.
You can stop here and start taking pictures, but there’s also a ‘More Settings’ option. Choosing this gives you access to Flash, Release and AF-Area modes. Here, you can fine-tune how you want the camera to work in these three key areas. To make things easier, each option has a brief explanation supported by a picture to illustrate the point.
In the Advanced Operation menu you’ll find three options: Soften Backgrounds, Freeze Motion (People) and Freeze Motion (Vehicles). Soften Backgrounds is all about aperture control, while the two Freeze Motion modes deal with shutter speed choice.
Apertures and shutter speeds are often perplexing to new camera users, and Nikon has tackled this issue by showing each effect graphically as you change the camera’s settings. For example, there’s an iris icon to illustrate the effect of changing aperture value. Set-up mode gives you quick access to less frequently used parameters, such as Image Quality, Active D-lighting (which helps deal with high-contrast situations) and Format Memory Card.
The intelligent GUIDE mode means that control of factors such as white balance and ISO selection is taken away from the user. Both are set to Auto in GUIDE mode, which keeps matters simple.
Having put so much effort into the GUIDE mode, perhaps you could have forgiven Nikon for skimping a little on the rest of the D3000’s features – but the good news is that it hasn’t.
There’s the standard array of exposure modes (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual) and subject modes (Macro, Landscape, Portrait, Action, etc), so you can get more involved in the technique side if things if desired. Throughout the menu system, pressing the ? button on Normal View will give you brief explanations and guidance, which are a great help.
There are also plenty of options in the Set-up and Shooting menus that enable you to tailor the camera to your needs. The Retouch menu has great creative potential – for example, Nikon RAW files can be processed in-camera, images can be merged and there’s a new Miniature mode. Shoot from a high viewpoint and you can get some interesting effects with this option. The effect is applied to image files, but the original is left untouched in case you change your mind later.
We had no major problems with the exposure system and autofocusing. While the D3000 isn’t as quick as the best camera on the market, it’s accurate and smooth with the 18-55mm zoom lens.
Exposure performance in particular is worth a mention. Out of the hundreds of images taken for this review, less than a handful suffered from poor exposure.
ISO performance was also impressive. You can see noise at ISO 800 but it’s not obtrusive, and even at the normal top setting of 1600 it’s well under control. At Hi 1 (ISO 3200 equivalent) there’s obvious noise and colour saturation is poor, but if you need to use this speed, getting sharp pictures is usually more important than overall image quality.
The D3000 is slow to preview images on the monitor. In Fine JPEG and RAW modes this takes over three seconds, which seems like an eternity. However, newcomers to D-SLR photography probably won’t realise how slow this is compared with its rivals.
In Continuous Shooting mode, the D3000 is able to take five Fine quality JPEGs or four RAW files before the camera stops to write images to the SD card. The buffer then takes about 12-13 seconds to clear completely, or you can take extra shots after 3-4 seconds.
These times were achieved using an 8GB SanDisk Extreme III SD card. The Nikon D3000 is an impressive D-SLR and is decent value for the price. The fact that it sports features aimed at less experienced users, such as the GUIDE mode, also works in its favour. Better still, if you’ve mastered the basics of SLR photography, this camera has plenty of potential and offers lots of advanced features to stretch you.
There are few downsides, but the slow image preview time is a headache and if you’re moving up from a compact camera, you might find the lack of Live View off-putting.
Some test pictures, all taken by Will Cheung: