Monday, November 8, 2010

Nikon D5000 or Nikon D90?

This is for you who are considering getting a DSLR, especially a Nikon DSLR.

For a beginner considering a DSLR, the hottest most talked about Entry-Level DSLR is no doubt is the Nikon D5000. If you are planning to get a Nikon D5000, and most likely you will ask yourself these frequently asked questions:

What is the lowest street price in town?
What are the advantages and drawbacks?
What are the alternate models and price difference?
Which one suits me better?

Here you shall get a clearer picture as we discuss the must-know information about D5000 and D90, from a beginner point of view, and the Body only (without considering the kit lens or package).

What are the major differences between Nikon D5000 and Nikon D90?
The table below summarized the major same and different features:

Nikon D5000 Nikon D90
Price (May 2009) RM2460 RM3080
Release Date April 2009 August 2008
Sensor 12.3 million effective pixels
23.6 x 15.8 mm CMOS (DX format)
Image size 4,288 x 2,848 (12 MP)
3,216 x 2,136
2,144 x 1,424
Sensitivity ISO 200 - 3200
ISO 100-6400 with boost
Image Processor Nikon EXPEED
Movie mode Yes
Live View mode Yes
Subject Tracking in Liveview AF Yes -
Auto Focus 11 area TTL
Nikon Multi-CAM1000
In-Body Focus Motor - Yes
Continuous Shoots 4 fps 4.5 fps
Airflow Control System Yes -
Viewfinder Type Pentamirror Pentaprism
Viewfinder Magnification 0.78x 0.94x
LCD Monitor Size 2.7″ TFT 3.0″ TFT
LCD Monitor Resolution 230,000 pixel TFT 920,000 pixel TFT
Articulated LCD Monitor Yes -
Top Panel LCD Monitor - Yes
Sub Command Dial (Front) - Yes
Dimension 127 x 104 x 80 mm
(5.0 x 4.1 x 3.1 in)
132 x 103 x 77 mm
(5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in)
Weight (with battery) 611 g (1.3 lb) 703 g (1.6 lb)
Optional Vertical Grip - Yes
Battery Type Nikon EN-EL9a Nikon EN-EL3e
Battery capacity 1080mAh 1500mAh

What is the best price in town?
As in May 2009, the best street price in Penang as below:
Nikon D5000 (Body Only) RM2460
Nikon D5000 (with 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR kit lens) RM2790
Nikon D90 (Body Only) RM3080
Nikon D90 (with 18-105mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR kit lens) RM3980

Nikon D5000 costs RM2460, the price is pretty attractive for a great Nikon DSLR. However, you may want to consider top up additional 25% (RM620) to leap from a beginner model to the mid-range model - Nikon D90. Questions are, is it necessary? Is it worth the extra? What are the major differences? These are the subjects that we will look into in a short moment.

What’s new in Nikon D5000?
Nikon D5000 the newest DSLR model announced in April 2009. Nikon D90 was announced in August 2008, which means Nikon D90 is six months older than the Nikon D5000. In general, Nikon D90 has better features and more functions; However, despite Nikon D5000 is the lower-end model, it still throws a few good punches with many same important features as the Nikon D90, and even carry some extra features not in the Nikon D90.

The main attraction of the new D5000 is the two axis articulating LCD screen that is capable of flipping to all direction, which is not available in other Nikon SLR models. This is the features is used to be exclusive to high-end Compact Camera like the Canon PowerShot G-series. It is also the first, and so far the one and only DSLR featuring two axes articulating LCD screen. Currently the DSLR that features articulating LCD are the Sony Alpha a300 & a350. However, a300 & a350 both features only single articulating axis with very limited tilting angle.

Same Image sensor, size, sensitivity & processor
Both Nikon D5000 and D90 shares a common heart of the image, not only they both use the same Image sensor with 12.3 million effective pixels, CMOS size, and Sensitivity, they also using the same 12 bit Nikon EXPEED image processor and engine. Therefore, technically both cameras should produce identical image quality.

Movie and Live View mode
Movie and Live View are used to be exclusive features to Compact Camera. Both Nikon D5000 and Nikon D90 are Generation 2.0 DSLR with capable of recording movie, and features Live View.

Movie recording in DSLR are relatively new features, rooms for improvements are plenty and not even close to Camcorder quality. Nikon D90 is the first Nikon DSLR features movie recording; it also features a major problem where the Auto Focus is locked during movie recording. Unless your subject is stationary, else it would be an issue. D5000 fixed this issue and able to track a moving subject. However, the movie recording still leaves lots of room for improvement for future model. Currently all DSLR are still have very limited video recording function.

Both Nikon D5000 and Nikon D90 features Live View mode. However, Live View for Nikon D5000 has a distinct advantage over Nikon D90 with the articulation LCD screen, which makes Nikon D5000 much easier to shoot in a crowded area or trying to squeeze the camera into hard to reach angle like any Compact Camera. This is also the main selling point of Nikon D5000

Auto Focus and Focus Motor
Both Nikon D5000 and Nikon D90 features the same 11 area TTL and using the same Nikon Multi-CAM 1000 system. The Professional Level Nikon D200 is also using the same Auto Focus System. Both of them Auto Focus can perform equally fast and accurate.

One of the Nikon D90 distinct advantages over Nikon D5000 is the in-Body Focus Motor while Nikon D5000 does not have that. The In-Body Focus Motor is designed to run the focusing system in older non-AF-S (Autofocus-Silent Wave Motor) or non-AF-I (Autofocus-Internal Motor) lenses with no CPU built into the lens and relies on the mechanical focusing system in the Body. Therefore, D90 has better full compatible to wider range of lenses. Many great Nikon lenses are still not yet updated to the new AF-S lens specification.

The main drawback of Nikon D5000 is lack of Built-In Focus Motor, to keep the cost down of course. Same goes with all previous Entry Level Nikon DSLR such as D40, D40x and D60 but except D50. Nikon D5000 will only be optimized on AF-S/AF-I lenses. Non-AF-S/AF-I lenses in Nikon D5000 will not be optimized and only manual focus can be used.

Many of the great older lenses are still in production. One of the famous old lenses like the Nikon 50mm F/1.8D that costs only RM390 offers superior optical design will be fully compatible with Nikon D90, else the Nikon D5000 will have to opt for the recently revised Nikon 50mm F/1.4G that costs RM1780. However, Nikon is revising all the previous lenses slowly one by one to the AF-S lens specification. If you stay with only AF-S/AF-I lenses, then Nikon D5000 should not be a problem.

Continuous Shoots
Continuous Shoots also known as Burst Mode, one of the selectable Shooting Mode. Both Nikon D90 and Nikon D5000 offer impressive frame rate of 4.5fps and 4fps respectively. Nikon D90 is 11% faster than Nikon D5000. Either 4 or 4.5 fps is impressive and fast enough for either Entry-Level or Mid-Range.

Just for comparison. Professional Level DSLR, Nikon D300 can do 6-8fps, Nikon D700 can do 5-8fps, and Nikon D3 can do 9fps (or 11fps on DX format).

Image Sensor Cleaning System
Both Nikon D5000 and Nikon D90 features Image Sensor Cleaning. One remarkable sensor cleaning feature in D5000 is the Airflow Control System (as appear in Nikon D60). During shooting, this system will guide dust to a specially integrated filter, and be blown out of the housing. The Airflow Control System is an additional system which effectively keeps dust away from the sensor.

This is not a feature that you should put weight on it. It is nice to have, but not important.

Viewfinder System
Viewfinder is referring to the small window located at the back of the Body. You capture what you see inside the viewfinder. There are two type of SLR viewfinder. Pentamirror, and Pentaprism. In case you wonder, neither one will make any difference in the picture captured.

The viewfinder for Nikon D5000 uses a Pentamirror. Pentamirror is basically pieces of mirrors arranged or glued together to simulate the effect of Pentaprism, but the drawback is smaller and darker image through the viewfinder. It is cheaper to produce, and lighter than Pentaprism.

The viewfinder for Nikon D90 uses Pentaprism which the original design of SLR. Pentaprism made from a solid piece of glass with specific cut corners to deliver bigger, brighter and clearer image through the viewfinder. It is also more expensive to produce. All Nikon’s Professional DSLR such as D300, D700, and D3 are using the Pentaprism.

LCD Monitor
Nikon D5000 is using a small 230,000 pixel TFT LCD on a small 2.7″ screen. The advantage of the Nikon D5000 is the screen has an articulated LCD monitor despite the low resolution and smaller LCD.

The LCD screen used in D90 offers four times finer with 920,000 pixel TFT LCD than the Nikon D5000, it is also on a much larger 3″ TFT LCD.

Top Panel LCD Monitor
The Top Panel LCD Monitor is designed to display important setting on a permanent basis such as Image Quality, Image Size, Focus Point, Bracketing, Battery Life, Number of Shots left, Aperture Size, Shutter Speed, Shooting Mode, White Balance, ISO, etc… Unlike the main LCD screen, the Top Panel LCD Monitor draws very little energy to power the screen, and the display is permanently on. It is always useful as quick references without dig into the Main LCD screen every time.

One of the distinct missing features in Nikon D5000 is the Top Panel LCD Monitor. Nikon D5000 is fully relying on the main LCD as the all-in-one screen. LiveView, Movie, and Settings are shared on the same LCD screen.

Nikon D90 remains the Top LCD Monitor built on the top part of the screen as can be found most DSLR.

Sub Command Dial
Sub Command Dial is the second dial located at the front of the grip right before the on/off switch. It is used to change secondary settings. For example when on a Manual Mode, Primary Dial is to set the Shutter Speed, while the Sub Command Dial is to set the Aperture.

Nikon D5000 has no Sub Command Dial. In order to change the setting as assigned in the Sub Command Dial, Nikon D500 will have to use the command dial on its own for Shutter Speed or combine with the exposure compensation button to set Aperture.

Size and Weight
Nikon D90 feels much solid and bigger than the Nikon D5000. When you hold a D90, it feels solid, and nice to grip on. Else the Nikon D5000 feels much lighter, smaller, and feels fragile or like a toy camera. It is up to personal preference, some may prefer a lighter Body for easier to carry and travel, but some may prefer a heavier and solid Body.

Vertical Grip
The Vertical Grip is an optional device that attached to the bottom of the camera as add-on to the Body with a replicated set of commonly used buttons such as Shutter Release, Main/Sub Command Dial and AF Lock. The main purpose of Vertical Grip is to help Photographer to maintain the normal hand grip position while shooting in Portrait mode without turning the hand to an uncomfortable 90 degree angle. It is also designed to load an additional battery to double up the battery life, and to increase the burst mode speed. Vertical Grip also known as Battery Grip, Battery Pack.

Nikon D90 features an optional MB-D80 Battery Pack, which is the same Battery Pack, made for the previous Mid-range model Nikon D80. The MB-D80 is not designed to improve burst mode.

Nikon D5000 is not designed to take Vertical Grip, just like all other Entry-Level DSLR.

Battery Type and Capacity
Nikon D90 uses the Nikon EN-EL3e Battery with 1500mAh capacity, and it can last approx 850 shots, on CIPA standard.

Nikon D5000 uses a smaller Nikon En-EL9a Battery with only 1080mAh capacity, and it can last approx 510 shots on CIPA standard.

Both Nikon D90 and D5000 offers different user interface, and plus minus here and there, which is very minor. Like the Nikon D5000 has two extra in-camera retouching options (aka photoshop), Nikon D5000 built-in flash does not support Nikon Creative Lighting Systen, etc… not even worth mentioning here.

The price for D5000 falls just right in the middle between Nikon D60 and Nikon D90. With only a mere difference of RM620 (25% of Nikon D5000) between Nikon D5000 and Nikon D90, this is what you pay for the price difference:

- In-Body Focus Motor as compatible to major and older Nikon lenses
- faster by 0.5fps in Burst Mode
- Larger and brighter viewfinder made with Pentaprism
- Larger and four times finer LCD Monitor
- Top Panel LCD Monitor, dedicated LCD screen for settings and configuration like all Professional DSLR.
- Sub Command Dial, make life easier, like all Professional DSLR.
- Optional to expand the system with Vertical Grip
- Longer Battery Life
- Larger and steadier Body

You may miss these new features in D5000:
- Articulating LCD Monitor, easier to reach difficult angle
- Subject Tracking in LiveView AF

If you decide to get Nikon D5000, this is what you will get compared to Nikon D90:
- Cheaper by RM620
- Articulating LCD Screen
- Smaller and Lighter Body

but compromise with:
- Use AF-S Lenses only
- Slower by a mere 0.5fps in Burst Mode
- Smaller and darker viewfinder with Pentamirror
- Smaller 2.7″ LCD with 4 times lower resolution
- No top Panel LCD Monitor
- No Sub Command Dial
- No Vertical Grip
- Shorter Battery Life

At this moment (May 2009), Nikon D5000 is a new breed with high price tag. With only merely RM620 difference and yet the features are so far apart. It is not the time to get the Nikon D5000; the price is not justifiable to the features lost against just an articulating LCD advantage. After all, articulating LCD is an optional luxury feature to attract large consumer Compact Camera market to the DSLR market.

25% difference is not justifiable for Nikon D5000 until the price is much further apart from Nikon D90. 33%-40% of Nikon D90 only then is justifiable for Nikon D5000.

If you plan to use the camera for long run, better bang for the buck, try photography as a serious hobby, then go for Nikon D90.

If you only want something just for fun, better than a Compact Camera, and no plan of further future investment, Nikon D5000 is a fine choice.

My final verdict is, get the Nikon D90 if you can afford the additional RM620. I don’t see why not since you are ready to spend minimum RM2460 in the first place.

(credit to :


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