Nikon D90 vs D5000 vs D3000: Which one is right for you?

If you’re reading this post then you’re probably looking at one of Nikon’s consumer DSLRs. I’ve been shooting with a D70 and now a D90 for 5 years and recently walked several co-workers through buying a DSLR. I thought I’d share how I laid things out for them. As of February 2010 Nikon has three offerings in the consumer DSLR market: the D3000, D5000 and D90. Nikon has placed each of the cameras about $200-300 apart from each other.

D3000

When the D5000 came out Nikon needed something new to fill in the low end of their line up. The D3000 is pretty much the exact same camera as the D40x and D60 that previously held this spot. Aside from a .5″ larger LCD screen, there’s not going to be much difference between them. If you’ve never touched a DSLR before and your budget is tight, then this is a good place to start. It will be a good solid camera, but until Nikon refreshes it with a new model I don’t think the D3000 offers the best bang for your buck.

Amazon has the D3000 with 18-55mm VR kit lens for about $465.

D5000

Nikon D5000The D5000 is a big step up from the D3000 in terms of technology and functionality. The most visible difference is the tilt and swing LCD screen, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Internally, the D5000 has a much newer CMOS sensor than the D3000. This is the same sensor in the D90 and it provides much better performance at higher ISO settings. It also inherited built in chromatic aberration correction from the D90 which removes fringing that can appear in brightly lit shots. You also get the ability to take video.

At this point, features are starting to trickle down from improvements being made on more expensive models. If you are more serious about photography, but still relatively new to the DSLR world then this is a good option. The added features are well worth the extra money.

Amazon has the D5000 with 18-55mm VR kit lens for about $685.

D90

Nikon D90The D90 sits at the top of Nikon’s consumer DSLR line up. From here there’s a fairly big jump to the prosumer D300. There’s two things that really set the D90 above the D5000: controls and lens compatibility.

Without getting into every little difference in controls I’ll just highlight two. The first is the D90′s front scroll wheel. The D5000 and D3000 both have one on the back for your thumb, but the second wheel on the D90 gives you quick access to changing other settings. In manual mode for example, one wheel controls the aperture and one controls the shutter. On the D5000 and D3000 you’d have to fiddle with menus to set one of them. In Program mode, which I shoot 95% of the time, the back wheel can tweak the shutter/aperture ratio, but I configured the front wheel to set exposure compensation which normally requires a simultaneous button press.

The next control difference is the inclusion of a customizable shortcut button on the front of the camera next to the lens mount. This can be hit with your index or middle finger to bring up a menu of shortcuts to the menu items you use most. I have a couple things like ISO and White Balance menus on there that I access frequently enough to not want to dig through the entire menu system. Both of these additional controls are big for me and I don’t think I’d want to move to a camera without them.

The other thing to consider when comparing the D90 and it’s D5000/D3000 counterparts is lens compatibility. The D90 includes a built in AF motor which means it is compatible with older AF lenses; the other two do not. On the D5000 and D3000, the only lenses that will autofocus are the ones with AF-S built in which isn’t a big deal if you plan to stick with the 18-55mm or other newer lenses. If you wanted to shoot something like the older but excellent 50mm f/1.8 then the D90 is your best option.

If my discussion of the D90 went over your head then that’s a good indication the D5000 is more than enough camera for you. The D90 provides good bang for your buck if you are going to get serious about photography. The kit includes an 18-105mm VR lens which will give you more reach than the 18-55mm. You also have the option of getting the D90 body by itself and then adding on whichever lens fits your needs the best.

Amazon has the D90 with 18-105mm VR kit lens for about $1035. The D90 Body is about $780 by itself.

4 thoughts on “Nikon D90 vs D5000 vs D3000: Which one is right for you?”

  1. Good reviews of the D90 and other Nikon DSLR’s. I also liked the review on the 35mm lens from last year. Thanks! I have a question though. Setting the ISO in program mode on the D90 still baffles me. Often it seems to only shoot at the maximum ISO that I set. Can you give me your impressions of the auto ISO on the D90 and how you use it? Thanks!

  2. hi. good review there. im looking for DSLR here. since u know a lot about DSLR, i think this is a place for me to ask ques. i never own a DSLR b4 but use it few times (during my sis’s wedding –sort of a little family photographer there, not that good, though. :P) so, after playing around with few DSLR and loved it, i decided to buy one for myself.
    when i told my friends (that kinda involve with photography) that i wanna buy a DSLR, the 1st ques would b why do u wanna buy DSLR? they become very discouraging. they told me that i should go with compact cam as lots of cameras now is really good and advance. they say if u dont want to go pro, theres no pint of owning DSLR.
    emm well, the thing is i am willing to learn all the stuff. sure, im not intending to go pro, but i do want to learn to be a good photographer. as a hobby. i want to use it in family occasion (weddings, dinners ect) or just other spontaneous events like go for swimming or beach. oh and also travelling.

    i really like D5000. but i heard that the lenses are expensive. i might not get into buying lenses now, but maybe in 2/3 yrs. or should i go with d3000 instead? what do you think? bcos i heard lens far more imprtant than the body.

    for short, i want a DSLR for beginners, to use: for family occasions, some actions n sport, spontaneous n travel once in a while.

  3. Myra,

    Your reason for getting a DSLR has to be the (technical) quality of photos you get. BTW most SLRs you buy would be bought as a kit – Body + Lens.

    Ask yourself:

    1. Do you notice when (if) with a picture of a child in front of a pyramid of vegetables at Safeway or a farmers market, that the camera guessed wrong and instead of the child the vegetables are in sharp focus?

    2. Do you *need* to take pictures under low light without the flash turned on?

    3. Do you care about “fill flash”? If you don’t know what this is, then you want to google that, and read the first 10 pages that come up as matches. Your mileage will vary.

    Get a point and shoot with more than auto mode. I have used a Canon Power Shot 6MP for years. It gives me exposure compensation, flash control, aperture priority, shutter priority and such other niceties as ISO control.

    (BTW – if the previous sentence left you confused, dont bother with a DSLR till you educate yourself. You will just waste money.)

    In short, educate yourself: Go to photo.net (photo dot net). go to ken rockwell dot com (all one word). http://www.kenrockwell.com.

    Remember, this is about the ride, and not the photographic equipment (guys like me call it “gear”.). Get on for the ride. Have Fun!!

    P.S. Ansel Adams did not have a Canon or Nikon DSLR.

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