initial review: 8/13/10

  Nikon D3000 Review

The D40x redux, redux

  Add a comment or send Thom feedback on this article.

I'm going to try to keep this short, as there isn't a lot to talk about beyond what I've already written about low-end Nikon DSLRs.

The low-end Nikon DSLR has had a long run: D50 to D40 to D40x to D60 to D3000 (and now D3100). Unfortunately, the first four years of design progression showed that Nikon didn't quite know what to do to evolve their bottom end DSLRs. In particular, the D40x to D60 to D3000 progression has produced three 10mp cameras that didn't redefine low-end DSLRs, but really only churned the design space.

The basic premise behind the low-end DSLR is this: cut as much out from the higher-end products that both adds cost and complicates the product, plus add some beginner hand holding. That has meant, for instance, that the screw-drive for older autofocus lenses (lenses prior to AF-S) is removed, as are the DOF Preview button, dedicated buttons for white balance and other camera settings, the Front Command dial, and even the metering selection dial. By comparison, for instance, at the top of the consumer line we have the D300s with 18 buttons and four switches compared to the D3000 having 10 buttons and no switches. Simplification of controls is the name of the game.

Meanwhile, other features get reduced, too: a smaller LCD, a cheaper pentamirror for the viewfinder, and fewer connectors for external things (no HDMI output or DC input, for instance).

The Japanese have long been good at parsing features out to low end models versus high end in consumer electronics. But often their choices seem questionable to the user. That's especially true in the case of the D3000, in my opinion.

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan
The 18-55mm kit lens looks somewhat massive on the small D3000 body.

The D3000 was introduced with the D300s in early fall of 2009. Neither camera made a big splash on the DSLR scene. The D300s was regarded as a slightly warmed over D300, and the D3000 was regarded as a slightly warmed over D60. Of the two, the D3000 is the least ambitious update, perhaps one of the least ambitious updates Nikon has yet to make (the D70s still takes the prize). Unfortunately, this has shown in sales, too. While the D60 was a popular DSLR, the D3000 that replaced it didn't achieve the same level of success, and Nikon's low end sales stalled a bit after aggressively growing for a long period that started with the D50. Part of the problem is that the DSLR craze is wearing down so it takes a substantive change to attract upgraders. Part is that the D3000 seemed a little out-dated even at its birth.

Not Recommended
It's not a great beginner's camera, which was the target user. Serious users can ignore the GUIDE mode and use this as a small, light DX body, but the only thing they'll see an improvement over the D60 in is the autofocus system.








The Basics

The D3000 is not really a new body. It's basically a D60 body with a few tweaks. The physical differences mostly amount to a 3" LCD instead of a 2.5" one and the use of the 11-segment CAM1000 autofocus sensor instead of the 3-segment CAM530 one. If you look closely, you'll also find a GUIDE setting on the Mode dial. Other than that and the model number insignia, you'd be hard pressed to find any changes between a D60 and D3000 on external examination.

Internally not much changed, either. The new autofocus sensor does provide some additional capability (3D tracking, for instance), and Nikon has iterated a few more RETOUCH menu items, but the D3000 is still using the same 10mp imaging sensor as the D60, still has the same viewfinder, and most other specifications look mighty D60-like, too.

The one big change has to do with menu control: the menus have been changed and things moved (various Custom Setting items found their way either to the SHOOTING or SETUP menus), and the new GUIDE system gives you yet another way of "using menus." More on the GUIDE system in a bit.

The bottom line is that the basics haven't changed much. To wit:

10mp 10mp
Shutter Speeds
30 to 1/4000 30 to 1/4000
Flash Sync
1/200 1/200
Matrix Meter
420 pixel CCD 420 pixel CCD
i-TTL, manual i-TTL, manual
CAM 530, only AF-S lenses CAM 1000, only AF-S lenses
SD or SDHC card SD or SDHC card
100-1600 1EV steps + HI1 100-1600 1EV steps + HI1
Frame Rate
3fps 3fps
Color LCD
2.5", 230,000 dots 3", 233,000 dots
Pentamirror, 95%, 0.8x magnification, 18mm eyepoint, -1.6 to +.5 diopters Pentamirror, 95%, 0.78x magnification, 17.9mm eyepoint, -1.6 to +1 diopters
No DOF Preview, No Top LCD, No Mirror Prerelease, No LCD cover, No Front Command dial, No vertical grip, has FUNC button, no bracketing No DOF Preview, No Top LCD, No Mirror Prerelease, No LCD cover, No Front Command dial, No vertical grip, has FUNC button, no bracketing
IR wireless only IR wireless only
5 x 3.7 x 2.5" 5 x 3.8 x 2.5"
1 lb (471g) 1.1 lb (485g)

Not a lot of changes there, right?

Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan
As befitting a low-end camera, the controls on the D3000 are relatively simple, too. Only seven buttons on the back (some Nikons have as many as 16).



Yes, the lack of screw-drive means that you can't use older autofocus lenses. Only AF-S lenses will autofocus on this camera (also Sigma HSM and Tamron with built-in motors). But Nikon now has enough AF-S lenses that this isn't really a terrible problem, and the third parties are adding similar lenses every day. Plus the D3000 has the same "rangefinder" option that the D60 did, which can be useful in manually focusing older lenses. I've written at length about the compromises that result from the requirement that a lens be AF-S to autofocus on these cameras before (e.g. see my D40, D40x, and D60 reviews). I won't belabor that here. Either the lack of the screw drive is a deal breaker for you or it isn't. I'm on the "isn't" side of the fence, but I understand those on the other side of the question.

But let's get to the crux of the review. I liked the D40x. I liked the D60. How come I don't like the D3000 as much? It mostly boils down to time, all those menu changes and the new GUIDE function. Let's tackle them separately.

Time is not the D3000's friend. What passed for state of the art in 2007 isn't in 2010. The D3000 update of the D60 seems weak in state-of-the-art attributes.

Meanwhile, the menu changes are Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde incarnate. The things that moved from the now non-existent CUSTOM SETTING menu to the SHOOTING menu make a lot of sense (focus settings, metering method, and flash mode). But it also means that this low-end beginner's camera now has 15 items on the SHOOTING menu, which means a lot of pressing and scrolling. Yes, most of those are also available via the Information Shooting Display, but even that's now somewhat dodgey: press the info button to bring up the display, then press the Zoom in button (the second "info" button) to get to the direct settings function. What?!? Apparently Nikon fell into a trap: they wanted to be able to completely remove the Information Shooting Display on demand, so they assigned the second press of the info button to turning off the display. This left them with a need for getting to the "setting mode" (always with the modes, Nikon? The world isn't always modal). It feels like a kludge, and it isn't easily discoverable without reading the manual. Bad news for a beginner camera.

But the GUIDE setting on the Mode dial is worse. First, when you make that setting, the old menu system disappears, to be replaced by--yes, you guessed it--another modal one. Now when you press the MENU button you get three pictures to select from (Shoot, View/Delete, Set up). These options contain content that, upon close examination, is highly problematic.

Consider View/Delete, for instance. This is some sort of combination of the PLAYBACK menu and playback mode (indeed, the first item--View single photos--is exactly like playback mode). Basically, the GUIDE settings are an "idiot's mode." But a good idiot's mode helps you learn and progress to a more advanced mode. Nikon's mix-and-match GUIDE just jumbles things. I don't think that the GUIDE system helps new DSLR users to master enough to understand the non-GUIDE use of the camera (which is every other function on the Mode dial!). Good beginner's systems are building blocks to a larger system. Nikon's idea is to just paste different labels and pictures on things, jumble them up, call them different names, and consider it "helpful." It isn't. If you learn the GUIDE system, you don't learn how to use the camera in its normal settings, you just learn the GUIDE system.

But you don't want to learn the GUIDE system! For instance, select "Distant subjects" from the "Easy operation" section of the "Shooting" section (getting an idea about how button happen you'll be?) and you find the camera stating "The camera is now in 'Sports' mode. Choose for fast shutter speeds with low blur." What!?!? Why the heck does a distant subject need fast shutter speeds? Perhaps if the distant subject is a Formula 1 race car headed towards you, but there's a complete disconnect between the setting and the advice being given in many of the "Easy operation" settings. Whoever wrote this system needs a crash course in basic photography. So will the user who tries to master it.

Some of the "Easy operation" settings are a bit strange. For instance, we have "Sleeping faces" as one of our choices. Apparently the goal of this setting is to turn off the flash so that it doesn't wake your subject. Most compact cameras get this more right than the D3000: just turn off the flash! In other words, a No Flash setting.

I understand the idea behind putting a "guide" into a beginners's camera. But Nikon's implementation is such a mess as to be worthless, in my opinion. Indeed, it just complicates what would otherwise be a simple camera.

One thing Nikon did do that's a little better than before is they didn't force as many restrictions with Scene exposure modes. With previous low-end cameras, once you set a Scene exposure mode you usually were locked out of virtually all other settings. They've release a few of those locks (for example, in Sports exposure mode you can override Autofocus Area mode now (but still not White Balance).

The good news about handling is that the PASM exposure mode user who wants to control basic camera settings still can do their thing (though remember there are 15 items on the SHOOTING menu now, so scrolling through menus is going to be common). The buttons that do remain, like the exposure compensation and AE-L/AF-L button are right where we expect them to be. The basic Nikon DSLR functions all still remain at the core. Thank goodness, otherwise this camera would be a disaster.


top | home

No D3000 Guide

I've opted not to write a Complete Guide to the Nikon D3000. I may revisit that decision when the D3100 is out if the two cameras have enough overlap to justify putting them into a volume together. One reason why I decided against doing a D3000 Guide was that it would have meant spending well over a hundred pages "fixing" and explaining that darned Guide mode and thus would have turned more into a general book on photography than one on the camera.




Battery Life
Battery performance is good, about right for the intended user of the camera. I was able to get more than 1000 images to a charge. Nikon suggests that the camera gets 550 image for the CIPA standard test, and 2000 for their continuous release test. Actual use seems to fall in between those two test patterns. I never approached 2000 images in normal use, though I could duplicate Nikon's numbers with exactly their test procedure. But I also wasn't limited to just 550 images, either. The target user for this camera will do just fine with the battery life. The serious users who attempt to use this camera as a small and light every day shooter won't have any troubles with carrying an extra battery, especially since they're small and light.

Writing to Card
The D40, D40x, and D60 weren't exactly speed demons writing to the SD card, but they weren't slouches, either. The D3000 continues that tradition. It's worth moving to at least a Class 4 card with this camera, but anything above that tends to be overkill
. The camera supports SDHC for larger card sizes.

Autofocus System
Autofocus performance is excellent, and improved over previous models.

The use of the CAM1000 system was the one nice update to the camera, and the one thing that changed significantly in the performance area. Not only does this give the camera more area to find focus in, it supports better and more sophisticated focus tracking than the D40, D40x, and D60 bodies did. You don't quite get as much control as you do with the D90, but you get about the same focus performance at the same settings.

Image Quality
I'll be darned if I can find anything worth commenting about beyond what I've already written with the D60 review. It's the same sensor run through the same EXPEED processing, and I don't see any change to any parameter that I can't write off to testing or sample deviation. (Why testing deviation? Because I can't exactly control the temperature at my testing station. It ranges from 70°F to 80°F during the year, and that's enough difference that it can produce small differences in noise. It's another reason why I test each camera more than once.)

Should You Get a D3000?
Probably not. There's only one group that I can recommend the camera to, and that is sophisticated DSLR users who want to build a small, light prime set. For example, using the chipped Voigtlanders and lenses with motors in them you could make a pretty small 20mm, 35mm, and 60mm (Tamron, not Nikon) kit. Add a 10.5mm and the Tamron 90mm and you've got fisheye to 135mm equivalent in five small lenses that complement the body well.

But the target user Nikon intended for this camera should avoid it--the camera is too confusing in the "easy" mode and too complicated in the "normal" mode. The D5000 is a better choice, all things considered (and has visibly better image quality).


  • Wide isn't wide. Nikon hasn't really produced a true wide angle that's small enough to complement this camera.
  • Noise at higher ISO values. While I'm perfectly happy with the ISO 100 to ISO 800 performance, some will want even better results.
  • Complicated for a beginner's camera. The "GUIDE" doesn't. The other menu system scrolls too much.


  • Great AF. The one step forward from the D60 is the better AF system. But remember, you need lenses with motors in them to use it.
  • Small and light. It's about the right size and weight for a "daily driver" camera you carry everywhere with you, at least if you couple it with some small primes. It holds up well, too. | Nikon | Gadgets | Writing | imho | Travel | Privacy statement | Copyright 2010 Thom Hogan. All rights reserved.