Nikon D5000 Digital SLR Camera

The Nikon D5000 ($850 with an 18mm-to-55mm f3.5-5.6G VR lens, as of 5/15/09) strikes a great balance between price and features. It deviates from the nomenclature of its closest siblings, the and , but no matter: It combines many of the best aspects of both while adding its own extras to the mix.

The D5000's most distinctive feature is its 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot, tilt-and-swivel LCD screen--a first among Nikon cameras. The display provides surprising clarity given its image depth (the D90's LCD clocks in at 920,000 dots). It doesn't articulate and swing out; but it does flip out and down, and it can turn around and inward for protection. Although I would have preferred a greater range of motion, I still loved the freedom and enhanced creativity that the movable screen provided. The camera's compact size and light weight also enable users to make the most of unusual camera angles, such as shooting overhead or close to the ground.

This sub-$1000 model brings many of the features found in the D90 (about $1150 with kit lens) to people who want a smaller, lighter, and less costly . The D5000 isn't as rugged as the D90, and it's slightly larger and heavier than the D60. The camera has a pleasing balance to it, though, with logical button placement (similar to the D60, but with a few modifications). I especially liked the five-way directional pad and the Live View button located just above it.

However, I missed having an easy-access button to set focus points (the D5000 has an 11-point autofocus system, same as the D90). And initially I was puzzled by the presence of two similarly labeled information buttons; I had to read the manual to tell them apart (one invokes the detailed on-screen settings and status display while the other changes the options within the status display). At least the manual is clearly presented and written.

Like the D60, this model lacks an integrated autofocus motor; that means you can use only AF-S mount lenses. Its battery is rated for about 500 shots, and that's about what I achieved in real-world use.

In the PC World Test Center's evaluation of image quality, the D5000's photos looked a bit dark and muddied at automatic settings, but improved at manual settings. In my casual shooting outdoors, the manual settings were more consistent, but the Program mode setting often overexposed my images. For example, a daytime scene shot under Program mode appeared too bright at the camera's autoselected 1/125 of a second at f5.6 exposure; but that same scene looked far more balanced when shot under Shutter Priority mode and using the camera's internal metering to gauge the appropriate exposure (which ended up at 1/250 of a second, at f5.6).