I am looking at getting a DSLR. I have a little experience with a film SLR but not much more than the basics. I plan to take a range of photo types.

My research has narrowed down the products to the Nikon D5000 and Nikon D90. On paper they look relativity similar with the main differences being a few more on body controls, the physical size and better kit lens of the D90.

My question is that are the differences worth the extra cost for a beginner will I out grow the D5000 too quickly?


10 Answers 10


Go to a physical shop and feel both cameras. While the advice in other answers is good (don't buy features you don't need), ergonomics are important, both size of the body and placement of the controls and just how it "feels". For example, I haven't seen a D5000, but I've handled a D40 and it felt like cheap junk. On the other hand, the D90 feels like a well-built machine. This is something you have to see/feel for yourself.

However, don't go to a camera shop, look at their stuff, and then leave and buy it online. That's unethical.

You might find it a bit more expensive to go this route, but the opportunity to make a better decision and your confidence in that decision is worth it IMO.

Finally, the kit lenses are just fine.

  • I have been to the shop and the D90 does feel more robust than the D5000 though it is significantly bigger and 200g heaver
    – John
    Jul 26, 2010 at 20:41
  • Bigger and heavier is a good thing. Aug 15, 2010 at 6:47
  • 3
    @Bobby, not necessarily. Depends on the use.
    – Reid
    Aug 15, 2010 at 14:59

For me the deciding factor to get D90 is build-in Autofocus Motor which is absent in D5000.

Many good affordable prime lenses require that the camera has an in-body AF motor, for example:

Using those lenses on D5000 would mean that you need to rely on manual focus

  • 1
    +1 as this is the reason I chose my D90. I did have the budget so it was not a money issue but a needs issue. I also purchased body, lense, sb-600 flash separately
    – Wayne
    Jul 29, 2010 at 5:53

If you are beginning, most DSLR will work pretty fine for you. Unless you really don't mind the extra cost and weight, go for the Nikon D5000 and a better lens.

A better lens like a prime 50/1.8 or any other fast lens (faster means lower aperture numbers, like 1.8 or 1.4) are probably going to render you better chances of getting a good picture with a good enough body (which the D5000 is more than).

By the time you have mastered (I don't think "out grow" would apply here) the D5000, there will be plenty of choices on the market for you stepping up. By the way, by then a D90 will probably be quite affordable.


I actually was in the EXACT same boat you are in 7 months ago, I initially purchased the D5000 because it was cheaper without too many other considerations. After using it for a month, I returned it and decided to purchase the D90.

  1. The ability to use commander mode and fire an off-body flash. (SB-600 for me).
  2. The internal focusing motor.

The commander mode was the biggest thing for me. Using an off-body flash has come in handy quite a number of times and gives you a bunch more lighting flexibility.

  • On a side note, I went the body-only route and separately grabbed the 16-85mm as my basic lens and have added a number of lenses since. Aug 12, 2010 at 0:12

For learning/beginner, I recommend getting a used D90 or D80, or even cheaper still a used D40. You can get a complete used D40 with 2 lenses (18-55 and 55-200) and usually cards, bag, etc for under $450 and probably $500 for used D80 with a lens (18-70 or something like it).

They do not have videos, but they have plenty of life to learn from in photography. If you have extra money, invest in lenses instead of bodies.


I made the exact same decision 6 months or so ago, and I chose the D5000. It ended up being about $200 cheaper.

The one big difference is the lack of an internal focus motor on the D5000. If you think you are likely to want to use older lenses, you will not be able to autofocus with them on the D5000. For me, this wasn't a big issue, but it might be for you. The one lens I was looking at that might have been an issue is the AF 50mm, which is super cheap, but it won't AF with the D5000. Physically, I didn't see much difference between the two, the D5000 was a bit smaller and lighter, which I preferred.

Personally, I would at least try to wait another couple weeks, it does sound like the D90 replacement is pretty close to coming out. The video on both of them is not all that useful right now, and supposedly that is one thing that the replacement will fix.

  • 2
    I have a d90 and the video is garbage. Decent enough to give your mom an idea of what was going on at some weird time, but not for anything serious. I wish they would've cut the price of the D90 and left out the video
    – Jody
    Jul 30, 2010 at 2:59
  • @Jody : these are not video recorders, you can't ask that much. Oct 18, 2011 at 12:07

When you saw the differences between the cameras, did any of them make you think 'Yeah, that could come in handy' or were you struggling to see how they would help you? I don't think there's much point splashing out on extra features that you won't use.

The other consideration is the lens; my advice would be to buy the body only, and get a separate lens as kit lenses are generally not that great, even on higher spec cameras. There's another question on this site about what lens a beginner should get; check out some of the answers there, and bear in mind that if you get the cheaper body, you can spend more on a decent lens, which in the end is often more important than the camera when it comes to image quality.


Additionally, according to rumours the D90 will be replaced soon with a newer model: http://nikonrumors.com/2010/07/20/first-word-on-the-nikon-d90-replacement.aspx

  • 2
    So when it comes out you may be able to pick up the D90 at a bargain price as shops clear their stock of the old model. I did this buying my Canon 40D once the 50D was out and got it for less than the 500D. Jul 26, 2010 at 13:07

According to B&H:

I know you can get the D90 kit for 1000$ in the US, but since I am not familiar with the discounted price for the D5000 I will disregard this.

Although the 18-105 is an excellent lens the difference is too much. You can buy the D5000 and a seperate 18-105 and still stay below the D90 kit. The D5000 is certainly sufficient and strong for a beginner. The only reason I would recommend going with the D90 kit is in the case the lens would have made it worthwhile (since you can use it with future bodies).

Since the dry math calculation does not make it worth I don't think you need to strech yourself.


I just purchased a used Nikon D80 with a Nikkor 18-135 from craigslist for $500. If cost is an important factor, I'd recommend looking used. There are great opportunities out there. You could even take the money you saved and spend it on extra lenses. After all, DSLR bodies aren't like the old film cameras - they aren't lifetime purchases. It'll become obsolete while the lenses will prove useful for much longer...

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