Editor's note: We mistakenly wrote that the D5000 included a wireless flash controller in this review's summary. We have removed this information.
The Nikon D80 lasted a long time at the top of our entry-level dSLR list, and the D5000 has been an eagerly awaited replacement for that just-under-$1,000 kit segment. And there are plenty of significant changes in this model. Nikon switches to a CMOS sensor instead of the CCD it's been using in its entry-level models, in this case, the same 12.3-megapixel version that's in the D90. Plus there's the new (to Nikon's dSLRs) flip-down-and-swivel LCD, and an improved AF system--the same 11-point AF system as the D90--that distinguish it clearly from the cheaper D60. But, as frequently happens, this poses quite a bit of competition for the more expensive D90. Especially since it has a newer version of the Expeed image processor (with improved Auto Active D-Lighting and face-priority AF) and enhanced Live View AF, along with a connector for the optional GP-1 hot shoe GPS. It also supports direct wireless upload when you use an Eye-Fi card.
The D5000 is available in two configurations, at least from Nikon: body only and a kit with the 18-55mm VR lens. I wouldn't be surprised if a dual-lens kit with the additional 55-200mm lens eventually showed up as well.
Constructed of polycarbonate over stainless steel, the 21.6-ounce D5000 weighs a few ounces more than the D60 and competing Canon EOS Rebel T1i but about 4 ounces less than the D90. It feels plasticky, but not cheap--pretty typical for its price segment--although the SD slot cover does seem a bit flimsier than usual.
The control layout is pretty typical, although Nikon seems to have eliminated more direct-access buttons than most products in its class and replaced them entirely with the interactive display. Through it, in combination with the back dial and multi selector, you adjust shutter speed, aperture, image size and quality, white balance, ISO sensitivity, focus mode, AF area (single, multi, wide area, and 3D tracking), metering, D-Lighting, exposure bracketing (three shots in up to two stop increments), Picture Control, exposure and flash compensation, and flash mode. I generally like the interactive displays, but the D5000's LCD is a bit difficult to see in sunlight, which made changing settings somewhat problematic. There's also a programmable function button that falls under your left thumb--I like that location--to which you can assign direct access to drive modes, image size and quality, ISO sensitivity, white balance, Active D-Lighting, raw override, and bracketing.
There's no dedicated mode for shooting video (that's a good thing); instead, while in Live View mode, you use the OK button to stop and start recording. Though it doesn't do continuous autofocus, you can initiate AF while recording. Like Canon's, however, it's very slow and a bit noisy. (For more on the design, click through the slideshow. For a complete list of features and their implementations, you can download a PDF copy of the D5000's manual.)