Why I bought the Nikon D5000 and sold off my Nikon D90

First published on: Sunday, 10 May 2009

I’ve had a few people email me about my decision to sell off my Nikon D90 to finance the purchase of a brand new Nikon D5000.

Update: Nikon D5000 vs Nikon D90 Compared.

Here are just some of the reasons I did what I did:

  1. I wanted a smaller camera and lighter camera.

  2. I wanted to have the convenience of the articulating LCD on the D5000. Very often, I photograph close-ups of subjects near the ground or above my head, and the flip-out LCD makes it so much more easier to perform the task. The D5000 reminds me of how I used to shoot with my Nikon Coolpix 45000.

  3. I liked that the D5000 has more scene modes than the D90.

I’d often heard about how quiet the shutter and mirror mechanisms were on the Nikon D40 and Nikon D60. The D5000 has the same mechanisms, and it’s pure joy to be shooting with a camera that is so very silent.

But here’s the caveat: the D5000 won’t be suitable for photographers who desire a camera that’s easy to shoot events, weddings and fast-paced action with. Some reasons for this follow:

  1. The D90 makes it so much easier to fine-tune white balance. With the press of a button and a turn of the front dial, you can quickly dial in a warmer (amber, A1 to A6) or cooler (blue, B1 to B6) temperature.

  2. The D90’s pop-up flash is able to wirelessly trigger up to two different groups of CLS-compatible (CLS stands for Nikon’s Creative Lighting System wireless flash technology) Nikon flash units such as the Nikon SB-900 AF Speedlight Flash, SB-800 and SB-600.

  3. Most of the critical shooting functions such as the ISO and metering mode can be accessed more directly and quicker on the D90 via buttons and / or dials. You can even program the FUNC (Fn) button on the D90 to quickly bring you to your customized My Menu where you can change, for instance, the amount of Active D-Lighting, High ISO Noise Reduction and other settings that you might have added to the My Menu. This is vital if your shooting conditions change by the minute, if not seconds.

  4. The brighter and bigger pentaprism viewfinder on the D90 (the D5000 has a pentamirror VF) means you get a clearer image in the VF and will experience less eye fatigue. This is especially important if you have to look through the VF continuously for extended periods of time, exactly the kind of conditions shooting fast-paced weddings will put you in.

  5. The surer handgrip on the D90 gives greater confidence for shooting the camera handheld while viewing and composing the scene through the viewfinder.

Another big difference between the D90 and D5000 is the D90 has a built-in focus motor that allows you to AF (autofocus) with popular, non AF-S lenses such as the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor and Nikon 50mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor lenses.

You would have to manually focus these lenses on the D5000, but the D5000 makes it slightly easier on you by providing an electronic rangefinder function, a feature that’s not available on the D90. This function makes use of the exposure meter in the viewfinder to indicate whether the current focus is in front of, or behind the subject, or whether the focus is spot on.

Given the way I use my own 50/1.8D AF-D lens, which is to take the occasional portrait or product shot, I don’t really miss not having the built-in AF motor. Most of the lenses that I’ve used recently (Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor, Nikon 60mm f/2.8G ED AF-S Micro-Nikkor and Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor lenses), or currently own (Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G VR and Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens), are AF-S lenses anyway.

On the LCD specifications, yes — the LCD on the D90 trumps the D5000’s based on the specs. Unlike the very noticeable difference in the viewfinders though, it’s extremely difficult to discern any quality variation in the image displayed on the LCDs of the D90 and D5000.

There are a number of individuals, most of them who don’t even own or use a D5000, who insist that you’ll see jaggies on the D5000’s LCD image, and the resolution is so low as to not allow you to judge critical focus in Live View mode, or that you cannot tell if the image is in focus or not in playback mode.

Holding the LCD at normal viewing distances, LCD color, clarity and contrast are, frankly, visually the same between the two cameras. The live image on the D5000’s LCD is sharp and detailed enough to allow me to manually focus a Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di SP A/M 1:1 Macro lens (Nikon mount) on my D5000 on the buttons of my Nikon D90. The lint of the D90’s LCD happened to be on approximately the same plane of focus as the buttons, and you can see how sharp the buttons and the lint are.

Handheld, and manually focused on the buttons on the Nikon D90 using Live View on the Nikon D5000 -- DSC_0318

I dare say that in a blind test, and with the exception of the different physical sizes, you won’t be able to distinguish between images displayed in the two LCDs either. Analogies touting the superiority of 1080p LCD monitors or full HD (high-definition) TV over CRT screens cannot be applied here, I’m afraid.

Image quality (even when comparing high ISO photos) from both cameras is the same, as far as I can tell, so should not be a factor in your decision.


In summary, buy the D5000 if you shoot photographs at a leisurely pace (see Note 1), and would enjoy the extremely quiet shutter and find the scene modes to be a great convenience.

Buy the D90 for its far better viewfinder, quicker access to settings and CLS-capable internal flash.


Note 1: When I said “leisurely pace”, I meant that the D5000 is suited to photographers who don’t have the requirement to look through the viewfinder for long, uninterrupted periods of time, perhaps to grab that “money shot” of a fast-paced event in progress. For such photographers, the D90 is the better camera simply because you’ll get less eye fatigue, as I mentioned, due to its bigger and brighter viewfinder. For those who don’t mind waiting for, thinking of and setting up the shot, the D5000 with its tilt LCS would be preferable, in my opinion.

In no way should my use of the word “leisurely” be taken to suggest that the D5000 isn’t capable of being used to shoot fast-paced subjects in motion, as I find its AF acquisition speed (and accuracy), and shot-to-shot briskness is the equal of the D90’s performance. But don’t just take my word for it. Read “muzzy996“‘s acount of using the Nikon D5000 plus Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR DX Zoom-Nikkor lens at his son’s relay race at school.


Nikon D90 — Main page

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