Time and again over the past few years has the Nikon D40 won our Editors' Choice in the budget DSLR category. Now the D3000, which packs a larger 10.2-megapixel resolution, faster speeds, and much better autofocus takes its place as the best entry level DSLR. Although the category has since expanded to include reasonably priced DSLRs that shoot HD video, the D3000 rules the budget category because of its superior image quality.
At 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.5 inches, the D3000 is about the size of the Canon Digital Rebel T1i, but at 1.8 pounds it's about 0.7 ounces heavier. To photogs upgrading from a D40, it's virtually the same size (the D40 measures 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 inches). That extra weight, however, translates to a solid, durable feel, while still being light enough to store in a bag or comfortably sling around your neck or shoulder.
As a beginner-friendly camera, the D3000 forgoes some common dedicated buttons--such as ISO--and instead folds them into the menus. The buttons flanking the bright 230,000-dot, 3.0-inch LCD (the D40 has a 2.5-inch screen with the same LCD monitor resolution) include playback, menu, and delete buttons, a navigational pad, and twin buttons for zooming in and out of photos in playback mode.
On top of the camera is a mode dial with info and exposure buttons located just below the shutter. Conveniently, an Autofocus/Autoexposure lock button sits on the back below the top edge, making it easy to press if you're trying to quickly set up a sharp photo of a moving subject. There's also another dial on the upper back used to adjust on-screen settings in manual mode. You can always do this in the menus, but if you set the screen to Display mode, it's easier to see the settings and change them in one fell swoop by using the dials.
Nikon has taken its once-intimidating UI and made it much more accessible. In fact, we even prefer it to Canon's, which has generally had the reputation of being more intuitive to use. For instance, as you adjust the aperture you can see an on-screen lens open and close, giving newbies a better idea of how those numbers might translate to different image quality.
Our 10.2-megapixel shots looked sharp, and we love that a budget camera like this has a fine 11-point autofocus sensor, whereas the similarly priced Canon Digital Rebel XS (now $569) has just 7 focusing points (the D40 has 3-point AF). Meanwhile, more expensive cameras such as the Canon Digital Rebel T1i have 9 focusing points.
The standard 18-55mm lens also now houses vibration reduction technology for image stabilization, a feature the D40's kit doesn't have.
In general, the D3000's colors were accurate, although less saturated than the Rebel T1i's (some photographers might prefer this look). Should you need extra oomph in low light, the D3000 goes up to ISO 3200, whereas the Rebel XS' maximum setting is ISO 1600.
We noticed that in Auto and Macro modes, the pop-up flash sometimes overwhelmed outdoor and close-up shots, where other cameras, such as the Canon T1i, Pentax K-x, and Sony Alpha A380 (all slightly more expensive models), showed less severe exposure in the same shooting conditions. However, the D3000 performed excellently in harshly lit environments, capturing foreground detail without blowing out the background. This is a fault we found with the pricier Canon Digital Rebel T1i and Pentax K-x.
Speed and Battery Life
The D3000 starts up particularly fast, and its shot-to-shot speeds feel on a par with similar models, such as the Rebel XS. Its burst shooting rate of 3 fps is equal to the Rebel XS and Rebel T1i, and is a step up from the D40's rate of 2.5 fps. Moreover, the $599 Pentax K-x, which shoots a fast 4.7 fps, is the faster budget shooter in high-octane situations. Its focusing speeds are what you'd expect from a digital SLR, which is more than fast enough for the entry-level crowd this camera targets.
Like other comparable DSLRs, the D3000's battery is rated for 500 shots. When we took it to the busy Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year, the D3000 made it through every long day of shooting with juice to spare.
The $549 Nikon D3000 presents some noteworthy improvements over the Nikon D40--the Editors' Choice-winning budget DSLR--thanks to a higher resolution, a lens with image stabilization, finer autofocus, and faster burst shooting. For a still-reasonable $799, you can now find DSLRs that shoot HD video, such as the Canon Digital Rebel T1i. However, for shoppers on a budget (or those who don't plan on shooting video), the D3000 is an easy-to-use camera that takes strong photos.