Nikon D3000 review

Many of us naturally assume the more physically imposing the camera, the trickier it will be to use. Realising that a perceived steep learning curve can only serve to put people off, Nikon’s 10.2-megapixel CCD-sporting D3000 is not only smaller than most competing digital SLRs but, like Sony’s A380 (reviewed in the Autumn issue), on-screen help is also provided via a sensitively named ‘Intelligent Guide’ Mode.

A familiar top-mounted shooting mode dial on the D3000 features not just an option to select the Guide, but also six pre-optimised scene settings for common subjects the creative quartet of program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual for more experienced users. It also offers regular auto, so the camera can be used kind of like a ‘snapshot on steroids’ by beginners.

Compact, light and durable is Nikon’s stated intention and even with bundled 18-55mm image stabilised zoom lens attached that’s what we get. The D3000 at once feels comfortable yet substantial when gripped in the palm, fingers moulding to the gentle sloping curve of the right-hand grip. In common with most ‘starter’ models, the eye relief for the optical viewfinder doesn’t jut out very far, meaning that as you bring your eye level to it your nose butts up against the rear 3in, 230k resolution screen below. Still, visibility is clear and with the on/off switch surrounding the main shutter release button, a thumb flick means users can be up and shooting from cold in just over a second – maximum continuous capture speed set at three frames per second.

Picture control

The camera is quick to lock onto target courtesy of 3D subject tracking and 11 auto focus points spread across the frame – not a bad specification for an entry-level model – with whichever is in use highlighted when the shutter button is depressed halfway. What this camera lacks, however, is Live View – the ability to use the screen to compose as well as review shots and shooting information – plus a top-mounted second LCD window to quickly review/alter settings. Both of these features can be found on more expensive models.

Further hands-on control is provided by a Picture Control menu – letting the user select the warmer colours of ‘Vivid’ mode, for example, in preference to the more naturalistic Standard or Neutral – along with monochrome and pre-tweaked settings for more flattering portraits and landscapes. In-camera retouching is also offered as an alternative to editing images once downloaded to your desktop, with a new miniature mode aping the effects of tilt and shift lenses in rendering people when viewed from on-high, like toy figures in a model village. Adjusted images are saved alongside the original file, with the ability to adjust colour in-camera and warm up formerly ‘cold’ images for us particularly effective.

Showing its ability to perform with the grown-ups, unprocessed Raw file-format shooting is offered as an alternative to, or in tandem with, regular JPEG. However, if you choose to shoot both together the compression level of the latter is higher; meaning only basic quality JPEGs can be captured rather than the maximum quality. Pictures are committed to SD media cards or higher-capacity SDHC.

The competent D3000 includes the D-lighting feature offered throughout the Nikon DSLR range, which automatically adjusts to even out tricky exposures – for example, bright backgrounds and dark foregrounds that would otherwise result in a silhouette. Otherwise, it’s very easy to just activate the pop-up flash to fill in any shadow detail, with a hotshoe provided for attaching an optional flashgun.

Though quality with the attached lens isn’t bad, we noticed some loss of focus towards the edges of the frame when shooting at maximum wide angle. There’s no doubt, however, the image stabilisation proves a boon to reduce blur when shooting hand held in low light. Despite offering ‘only’ 10 megapixels, in general a good level of detail is captured – more than sufficient for its target market. Built-in sensor cleaning prevents any undesirables intruding when swapping lenses and otherwise showing up as dust spots on images.

OUR VERDICT

Nikon, along with its rivals, has long suggested its entry-level DSLRs are cameras the inexperienced can grow into. For once, that doesn’t just sound like marketing flannel. The D3000 is fun to use and if you want to get serious, you can. It’s still an entry-level model, but with bells on.

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