Having bought a DSLR from Amazon a couple of years ago in the form of a Sony alpha 200K, and being in the market for a second "entry level" DSLR for my other half so we could go shooting stuff together, this Nikon popped up amongst the competition and we decided to take a punt.
Most of my comparisons will be directed against the afore-mentioned alpha 200, which at the time was considered the entry DSLR of choice by many but has since been replaced by a newer model.
Anyone looking to choose their first DSLR will no doubt come across their advocates of each brand, and nay sayers of the competition. Brand loyalty is pretty fierce amongst the more serious DSLR camera-toting fraternity. It's easy to understand why, as there are various proprietary reasons why someone buying into the field would want to stick with one manufacturer, as invariably most of the accessories will only fit other cameras of the same brand.
When it comes to entry-level DSLRs like the Nikon D3000 and Sony alpha 200, the competition amongst the brands is no less fierce, but fortunately there is no such thing as a bad device in the current offerings from the major brands (also consider Canon, Panasonic and Pentax in this regard). There are some headline features and little nuances that each brand like to highlight, and it will be these things that mark the cameras out.
On initial impressions of the D3000, it fits very nicely in the hand. This alone is an important factor. The alpha is comfortable too, but in a different way as it's grips aren't laid out the same. It's down to personal preference, and I would strongly recommend anyone considering buying a DSL to handle a few in shops before they decide.
The actual feel of the camera, once you've attached the lens, is very good - it feels fractionally more "grown-up" than the alpha, if that makes sense.
The screen on the rear is large and clear, and the menus are ok to navigate, although the alpha trumps it in my opinion with some more logical menu trees, and a convenient quick-access button to some frequently used features.
One thing I felt was particularly useful - but only if it's something that you feel you will make use of - is that it incorporates a full guide within the camera, which can help a new user to learn the features of the camera. Considering I have only flicked through the Sony's manual at rapid pace and then stabbed blindly at the features when out in the field due to my eagerness, it would have been good to have access to an explanation or assistance with some of the features whilst I was out, so having the guide built-in to the Nikon is a bit of a boon. Anyone who already knows how all the features work however, will not be even remotely interested and should strike it off their list of pros.
The included lens is of good quality, and is in Nikon's "VR" range. The range is only 18-55mm, which although pretty common in entry lenses it would be nicer to have something a bit wider. The Sony bundled lens that I got at the time is an 18-70mm. One of things you'll likely find if you do get into photography, is that you'll be hankering after a second lens. Either something speciality, like a fish-eye or telephoto, or one with a greater zoom-range, like a -/200mm or even -/300mm. Having a greater degree of flexibility with the equipped standard lens could delay that possible purchase.
As far as I know, the Nikon actually uses a Sony CCD sensor (as is often the way that there are technology shares going around in the industry). The quality of the shots are all fine for an entry model as is pretty much the case across the board. In my opinion the Nikon can handle higher-sensitivity shots better than the Sony - Sony don't seem to have figured this out in any of their cameras as far as I can tell, but I have first-hand experience of the alpha 200 being really quite useless at high ISOs unless you've got great lighting. The Nikon is by no means great at high ISOs either, with grainy noisy images as you'd expect, but I did find them to be an improvement over the Sony.
There are 2 other key points that I think are worth highlighting - 11 point auto-focus is to be fair, very good for any size DSLR, let alone an entry-level model and is something Nikon is right to shout about. The other point is the 3 fps shooting mode. Very often you'll find that DSLRs can burst shoot a few frames but then trickle down to a relatively slow pace. The Nikon boasts up to a continuous 3fps which is a good performance. - Do bear in mind that you'll be wanting a high-speed memory card to take the strain if you plan on using that feature, else a slower card might slow things down a touch.
There are some features not included in this camera that are coming into fore in the world of DSLR cameras, such as being able to record HD video - but I for one think that goes against the ethos. Maybe I'll be proved wrong in time, but if I wanted an all-singing-all-dancing multimedia camera, I'd get one and I wouldn't expect it to be a DSLR. Another feature that is prevalent in newer DSLRs is something called "Live View" - which if you've been used to using camera phones and compact cameras with no glass viewfinder, basically means the image is presented live on the LCD screen at the rear. Entry DSLRs invariably don't have this feature, and the D3000 is no exception and neither is my old alpha 200. You'd have to go further up the range to get this, and might be a factor worth considering if you think it's going to be important to you. If it is an important feature, then consider a model which can swivel the screen round to different angles as I've trialled this in a shop and can see the benefits if you plan to use the camera in that way.
The included VR lens in the kit does some image stabilising, and works as well as can be expected. The Sony trumps Nikon here in my opinion by building anti-shake in the body of the camera, so any lens you attach is automatically stabilised and helps to bring down the cost of extra lenses. This could be an important consideration for some.
When it comes to Memory cards, unusually, it only accepts SD (or SDHC) cards. I guess this is probably the way forward, but the old chunky CompactFlash is still pretty much a stable to anyone in the DSLR world, so not being able to use CF cards might be a stumbling block for some.
On the whole, I am more than impressed with the D3000. I think perhaps the single overriding thing I like about it is that it feels more substantial, more professional than the Sony alpha200. Granted, I'm comparing a brand new Nikon with a nearly 2 year old Sony which has since been superceded by a newer model (A230K), but the price banding is similar and the target markets are/were the same. I think part of the chunkiness I like is down to the bundled lens which is very good, albeit with a limited if predictable range, but it's got a nice heft to it. The Sony loses out on the heft because it gains in-built stabilisation, so it's swings-and-roundabouts. I can easily recommend this model to anyone new to the world of DSLR's who would appreciate having some useful features and primarily having an in-built guide to using the camera and all its settings. Anyone after something more of a step-up would probably need to go higher up the range.