Angela Nicholson explains the benefits of buying a second DSLR and compares some of these more affordable DSLR cameras with enthusiast-centric models

Buying a second DSLR – Nikon

Nikon users can expect consistent results across the manufacturer’s DSLR range and the D3000 makes a great small second body.

Nikon D300s DSLRAs it has a street price of around £298, the D3000 is the most obvious candidate for a second body for Nikon users, but it doesn’t feature Live View or video technology. If either of these is important, then the D5000 is a better choice, although it costs around £170 more.

This camera also has an articulated screen that is especially useful when shooting from a high or low angle. However, if you are looking for a small DSLR that has all the fundamental controls required for digital photography, the D3000 is an excellent choice.

Image quality

One of the great things about the current Nikon DSLR range is that the key systems are the same or similar. So, although the D3000, for example, has 11 AF points rather than the 51 of the D300S, 3D Tracking is still available in addition to the Single-point, Dynamic area and Auto-area options. Nikon’s Scene Recognition System, which helps inform the AF, white balance and exposure systems, is found in every Nikon DSLR. This means that white balance and image colour are generally consistent across the Nikon DSLR range.

Nikon has stuck fairly stubbornly to 12-million-pixel sensors for its DSLRs, with only the D3000 (10.2 million) and the D3X (24.5 million) varying from this. For D300S and D90 owners, shooting on a D3000 means a drop of just 1.4in from the length and 0.85in from the width of prints made at 300dpi.

One reason Nikon has continued with 10- and 12-million-pixel sensors when other manufacturers have pushed the pixel count higher is that it enables the cameras to produce comparatively clean images that contain plenty of detail.

Interestingly, while the D300S, D90 and D5000 have the same 12.3-million-pixel sensor, the 10.2 million-pixel D3000 can resolve a similar amount of detail. The raw files from all four achieved a maximum resolution score of 22 on our test chart, but the D3000 images require a little more sharpening.

D300S

Nikon D300s DSLRAs with the Canon range, there are major differences in the build and handling characteristics of Nikon’s entry- and enthusiast-level DSLRs.

The D300S, although referred to by Nikon as a professional-level camera, is a firm favourite with enthusiasts and has a much more solid build than the entry-level D3000. This is hardly surprising given the difference in their street price is in excess of £800.

Image: Nikon’s enthusiast-level cameras have a front dial that speeds up exposure adjustment

D3000 and D5000

Nikon D3000 DSLRBoth the D3000 and D5000 have far fewer buttons than the D300S, so there is greater reliance on the menu and interactive information or Graphic User Interface (GUI) screens for making adjustments to settings.

Unlike the D300S and D90, the D3000 and D5000 have only one control dial, located on their backs above the thumb rest, so this must be used in combination with the +/- button to set exposure. This may take some getting used to by those working with more advanced cameras.

 Nikon articulated screen: The D5000 has an articulated screen, Live View and video

Image: The D5000 has an articulated screen, Live View and video

Telephoto lenses on small bodies

Smaller DSLRs often feel unbalanced when a long telephoto lens is mounted, especially if the body has a very shallow grip. Even with quite light lenses it is difficult to get a steady shot without some form of support for the lens. A tripod is ideal, but in many cases it is just a question of holding the camera differently, with the main weight being taken by a hand under the lens rather than on the camera. With larger lenses the weight can even damage the camera’s mount if the optic is not supported properly.

The best way to deal with these problems is to hold the lens rather than the camera between shots, and avoid carrying the camera on a strap. If the lens has a collar with a tripod bush this often makes an ideal carry-handle and it keeps the weight off the camera’s mount.

  D700 D300S D90 D5000 D3000
Date tested 23 Aug 2008 26 Sept 2009 25 Oct 2008 30 May 2009 5 Sept 2009
Pixel count 12.1 million 12.3 million 12.3 million 12.3 million 10.2 million
Street price £1,763 £1,138 £649 £468 £298
AF points 51  51 11 11 11
Max sensitivity range ISO 100-25,600 ISO 100-6400 ISO 100-6400 ISO 100-6400 ISO 100-3200
Memory card CF CF, SD/SDHC SD/SDHC SD/SDHC SD/SDHC
Battery EN-EL3a EN-EL3e EN-EL3e EN-EL9a EN-EL9a
Grip MB-D10 MB-D10 MB-D80 N/A N/A

  1. 1. Choosing a second body
  2. 2. Buying a second DSLR - Canon
  3. 3. Buying a second DSLR - Nikon
  4. 4. Buying a second DSLR - Olympus
  5. 5. Buying a second DSLR - Pentax
  6. 6. Buying a second DSLR - Sony
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