It's hard to make the shooting experience of an entry-level digital SLR feel anything more than cheap and cheerful, but that's what Nikon has done with the D3000. Lightweight, easy to use and able to deliver some great pictures with a decent lens attached, there's only one or two quibbles about the camera that stop us giving it a full two thumbs up. The D3000 comes in a single lens kit with the old workhorse 18-55mm VR for AU$999 and a dual-lens kit with the 55-200mm VR for AU$1299.
There's a lot to say about consistency between cameras in a manufacturer's range, and the D3000 has similar aspects to its predecessors and stable mates in spades. The slightly mottled plastic around the body is the standard Nikon feel, and overall build quality is excellent considering the price range.
It feels just a bit bigger than the D40 — 10 grams heavier at 485g, in fact — with a strikingly similar layout and configuration. In fact, looking at them both from the front, you'd be hard pressed to find any differences between them apart from the model number badges. At the back, the 3-inch LCD is surrounded by four buttons on the left, and a four-way control pad on the right. There's one solitary control wheel used to change aperture and shutter, and a standard exposure and focus lock button, but that's it. A little spartan, but with such limited space the layout does the job.
All buttons and dials are nicely positioned for those with small hands — someone with a bigger set of mitts might have some difficulty with precision as the D3000 is really quite dainty. The door covering the SD/SDHC card slot is flimsy though, and could easily break off with a bit too much force pushing it the wrong way.
The D3000 isn't going to get any balcony serenades from lovers of feature-stuffed cameras — for that you'll want to look at the Chicken Kiev Turducken D90. But what it does have is a 10.2-megapixel CCD sensor and a 3-inch LCD screen (only 230,000 dots though, and it's a little grainy and difficult to see in strong sunlight). It uses a different sensor to the D5000 — that one was a 12.3-megapixel CMOS sensor. There's 11 focus points, a significant upgrade from the three on offer with the D40, and it carries over the 3D tracking AF mode that we saw in the D5000.or even the
For AU$999 we would have liked to see live view included — those looking for a straight upgrade from their compacts, beware. There's also no D-Movie, Nikon's HD video functionality, but we can see why the latter was excluded to help reduce cost. Continuing the move towards standardising memory card formats across the range, the D3000 uses SD or SDHC cards in a slot nestled into the right hand-grip area — the same as the D5000 and D90.
D-Lighting and Active D-Lighting are also included, a function that attempts to provide an increased dynamic range to shadow and highlight areas. And although the lens mount means that any F-mount Nikon lens can be used, only AF-S lenses will autofocus. Also note that there's no in-body image stabilisation — for that you will have to rely on a Nikon VR lens (the kit 18-55mm lens is VR).
A dedicated guide mode designed for first-time dSLR users is accessible from the mode dial. When selected, it gives a graphical interface that guides you through some common things you might want to do with your digital camera. There are the standard "View/Delete photos" and "Set up" options, and of course "Shoot", which then gives you two further options — either easy or advanced operation. Within easy mode, the camera will take full control and you can choose your target: whether that's something like no flash, distant subjects, portraits or moving subjects just to list a few. There's another screen that gives you a brief run-down on what your selection means, and finally you get to shoot.
Advanced mode makes things a little more interesting, with just three options to choose from: soften backgrounds and to freeze motion (of people and vehicles). Naturally, anyone who's even a little more advanced than absolute beginner will know that with these selections, the camera goes into either aperture or shutter priority mode to achieve the desired effect. We'll leave it up to you to discover which one is which, but don't worry, the camera tells you.
We're starting to see a lot of manufacturers trying to make the leap into the digital SLR world less intimidating. Sony, for example, implements a similar system on its entry-level Alpha range. While it's a great thing to encourage people beyond a simple point-and-shoot methodology, we wonder if it will actually prompt people to start experimenting with other settings and exposure rather than just relying on automatic or scene modes all the time.
The D3000 took 0.25 second to grab its first shot, which makes it a smidgen slower than the D5000 but still very impressive for an entry-level model. It's also on-par, if not a little quicker, than the old D40 and D60's start-up times. Shutter lag is barely noticeable in general use.