Nikon D5000 Digital Camera Review$729.95
The Nikon D5000 did very well in our color accuracy testing, with only the Canon Rebel XS performing significantly better. Flesh tone reproduction is very good, and so are the blues and most green hues, with some minor color shifts in the reds and oranges. Our test images were somewhat oversaturated, at 104.5%, but not enough to catch your eye in an actual photograph.
Our color testing is designed to test accuracy rather than attractiveness (you can always tweak color values to suit your personal preferences later, and better to start with an image that reflects what you actually saw through the viewfinder). As with other Nikons, the D5000 employs the company's Picture Control System which offers presets for Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape. We shot the X-Rite ColorChecker chart in each mode under bright studio lighting and calculated the color error using Imatest software. Neutral proved the most accurate setting, so that's what we used for scoring purposes, and in the chart below. More on how we test color.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
Nikon offers its Picture Control system, with adjustments that affect saturation and hue along with sharpening, contrast and brightness. There are six presets, Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape. These Picture Controls and their customization options will be discussed fully in the Picture Effects section below. Here we want to look specifically at their effects on color reproduction. In the table below we have same-size samples from photos of the X-Rite ColorChecker chart taken with the D5000 at each Picture Control setting (except Monochrome). The leftmost column shows the colors from the original chart.
The overall color accuracy was nearly the same in Neutral (the most accurate mode) and Portrait, though Portrait enhanced the red values and boosted saturation to 109%. Landscape mode pushed saturation way up, to nearly 129%, boosting green and orange values, Standard mode was very similar to Portrait in color reproduction but with even higher 113% saturation. And Vivid lived up to its name, with saturation at 134% and significant shift in blue, green and red values.
As expected, the Nikon D5000 supports both the sRGB color space that's appropriate for most situations and the Adobe RGB color space, with its wider color gamut.
We test two facets of white balance performance, shooting under three types of illumination using the camera's auto white balance system, then taking custom white balance readings and shooting under the same three conditions. The combined scores for the Nikon D5000 were nearly identical to those for the Nikon D90, a middling result that nevertheless surpasses the Canon T1i by a small margin.
We test white balance using the X-Rite Judge II, which produces consistent illumination at a variety of color temperatures, shooting the ColorChecker chart and measuring color error in the test shots using with Imatest.
Automatic White Balance ()
As with most cameras, the auto white balance system had a difficult time with incandescent lighting, producing the kind of overly orange images you're used to seeing in shots taken with standard household bulbs. The shots taken under fluorescent lights were a bit warm but not bad, and shooting under daylight illumination produced reasonably accurate results. In the charts below, the bars indicate color error, so shorter is better.
Custom White Balance ()
Switching to custom white balance setting didn't affect the D5000 results in daylight, though incandescent and fluorescent results were far superior to the auto white balance images. We expect a very high level of color accuracy after taking a custom white balance reading, though, and the D5000 result is only fair compared to the other cameras in our lineup.
The D5000 photos under daylight illumination were cooler than most, but not by very much amount, and significantly more accurate than the Canon T1i. With incandescent lighting the D5000 couldn't match the results from the D90, but still stands up well to the competition. Both Nikons delivered warmer than expected images when shooting under fluorescent lighting in auto WB mode.
While the D5000 did outscore the Canon Rebel T1i slightly, it still falls behind both the Canon Rebel XS and the surprisingly strong Pentax K2000 here.
White Balance Options
In addition to automatic and manual white balance, the D5000 offers twelve presets, including seven different fluorescent light settings.
The wide range of fluorescent presets is welcome, though only one at a time is available through the LCD information display menu; to get at the others, you have to go through the conventional menu system. Setting a manual white balance also requires a trip through the menu system by default, though if you assign the programmable Fn button to white balance control, you can use the control dial to cycle through white balance modes and hold down the Fn button to enter custom white balance setting mode.
If there's a photo on the current memory card with a white balance setting you'd like to replicate, choosing Preset Manual from the white balance menu and then 'Use photo' lets you choose the appropriate shot and set the camera to the same white balance value.
Any of the preset white balance values can be fine-tuned along the blue-amber and green-magenta axes, for greater accuracy or a particular effect you're after (manual white balance settings can't be adjusted). Unfortunately, the display used to make these adjustments is an on-screen color grid rather than an actual photo that shows the effects of the adjustments interactively.
Unlike higher-end Nikon models, there is no option to enter a white balance setting directly in degrees Kelvin.
White balance bracketing is available. A single shot is taken, but it's stored with three different white balance values, one with increased amber, the other with increased blue. Bracketing isn't available on the cyan-magenta axis. The bracketing increment can be set to three levels.
In our long exposure test, which measures both color accuracy and image noise levels at several shutter speeds, the Nikon D5000 turned in very strong results, just a hair's breadth lower than the Canon Rebel XS overall and significantly better than the competitively priced, video-enabled Canon T1i.
To test long exposure performance, we shoot the X-Rite ColorChecker Chart at low light levels (20 lux or below), at shutter speeds ranging from 1 second to 30 seconds. We shoot with long exposure noise reduction turned on and turned off. This feature works by taking a second exposure with the shutter closed, then mathematically eliminating the noise found in the second dark exposure from the original captured image. Since image noise is inherently random, we've found this noise reduction feature rarely does much good and, in many cases, actually produces a lower-quality final image. For the D5000, though, long exposure noise reduction did produce improvements with shutter speeds of 10 seconds or slower, and didn't impact color reproduction. More on how we test long exposure.
Color accuracy varied little as shutter speeds got longer, a good result. Image noise hovered around 0.8% across the range of shutter speeds, with very little variation. Again, this is a very strong performance.
The following chart shows the scoring results for our group of tested cameras, with the Nikon D90 nearly identical to the Rebel XS at the head of the pack.