What's the Best Digital SLR Camera for Beginners?
Advice: Our current favorite among beginner models is the Nikon D5000. It's not the cheapest -- even from Nikon -- but it has great room to grow. The D5000 is very similar to the company's pricier D90 camera and comes with one significant upgrade: An articulating, 2.7-inch LCD screen allows you to frame the photo while holding the camera above your head, down at your waist, or even facing towards you for a self-portrait. That gives it a leg up on Canon's Digital Rebel line of entry-level SLRs.
The LCD is especially handy when using the D5000's video-capture feature, since you don't have to hold the camera right up to your nose while shooting. The 720p HD movies it takes don't match the crisp images you can get with a dedicated high-def camcorder, but they make a fun supplement to the excellent 12-megapixel still photos.
Colors in those pictures are very detailed: The D5000 captures subtleties in hue that other cameras might miss, for example. But colors do appear a bit muted in the default 'Natural' setting. Switching to the 'Vivid' mode fixes that, or you can adjust individual settings manually.
Exposure quality was also excellent. The D5000 accurately gauges complex lighting (such as a bright afternoon with deep shadows under trees) so that no part of a photo appears too dark or too light. And Nikon's adjustable D-Lighting effect can further brighten up dark areas, if needed.
Like Canon's DSLRs, Nikon's camera uses a high-end sensor technology called 'CMOS' that produces crisp photos in low light. But some cheaper entry-level SLRs, including Nikon's new D3000, have an older technology, called CCD, that doesn't work as well. (The D3000 also lacks an articulating LCD screen and video capture.)
The controls and interface are serviceable. We like the circle on the LCD that fills in or opens up to indicate the aperture setting. Our one gripe is the three-step process of pressing the 'i' button, using a directional pad to select a setting on the screen, and then pressing 'OK' before you can start making adjustments. But we got used to it after a little practice.
The D5000 kit comes well equipped with a decent 18-55-millimeter, anti-shake zoom lens, a "hot shoe" for attaching a larger flash than the little built-in unit, and an HDMI output for sending photos and high-def videos straight to an HDTV. It also has a jack for Nikon's GPS receiver, so you can automatically add location data to photos. The D5000 takes all relatively modern Nikon lenses that have built-in autofocus motors. Or you can manfully focus any of the older, simpler lenses.
The camera-and-lens kit lists for $850. You can find the body alone for about $750.