There's no doubting the D5000 is a Nikon, with its classic styling offering no departures in terms of the body design or basic control layout.
The 2.7in screen on the back isn't the largest either, but it's literally the most flexible. Give the ridged tabs a tug and it comes away from the body of the camera via a hinge at the bottom; it can be pivoted through 180 degrees, and swivelled too. If you tend to chuck your camera haphazardly in a bag, you can turn the screen round so it faces the back of the camera to protect it.
And in conjunction with the Live View mode, it means you can frame shots very close to the ground or over your head which, with a traditional SLR, would be completely hit-and-miss. The contrast-detect autofocus makes this less flexible than that of the Alpha A330, but it's still a valuable tool to be able to resort to if circumstances demand.
The D5000 also offers 720p HD video recording, putting it in the elite company of the Canon 500D and Panasonic GH-1. The video mode is a little hampered, though. The lack of 1080p isn't too surprising at this price, but the five-minute limit on HD recording (a function, says Nikon, of the Motion JPEG format) is a bigger worry.
Budding cinematographers aren't going to worry - very few shots last for more than five minutes - but it's hardly ideal for children's birthday parties and other more prosaic uses.
Our tests also reveal that the Canon 500D produces cleaner, sharper video, probably because of the H.264 MOV file format. The 500D is the more flexible in terms of time too, allowing you to shoot up to 29mins 59 secs of footage.
But this is a DSLR, not a dedicated video camera, and when it comes to stills the Nikon is the best camera here overall, able to produce some superb images.
The autofocus system is directly derived from the higher-end D90, with 11 focus points to the Canon 500D's nine. It also has a 3D tracking mode, allowing the camera to move the focus point as a subject moves across the frame, or in response to the frame itself being recomposed.
In the area that Canon has traditionally stolen a march - high ISO noise performance - Nikon is now the equal of its rival. It's only when you go up to ISO 1600 that noise really begins to make itself felt at all, and ISO 3200 is as usable as the previous generation was at ISO 1600.
The D5000 has an ISO 6400 extended-sensitivity option too, but we'd still shy away from it in all but emergency situations. It's an exceptionally good performance overall, though.
For occasional sports use the D5000 is the best in its class: it's the first mid-range DSLR to feature a burst frame rate of 4fps - which our testing confirmed it really does achieve - and, in conjunction with the 3D-tracking autofocus, your ratio of hits in sport and wildlife photography should get a marked lift.
You also get one of our favourite tricks: the ISO Auto mode. This lets you explicitly set the maximum shutter speed at which the camera starts to increase the ISO level to compensate for low light.
If you're really concerned about finessing your images, the D5000 can even correct the inevitable slight geometric distortion caused by your lens, as long as it's a Nikkor model (Nikon's own lens brand). Not only that, but it can deal with chromatic aberrations too, effectively giving the stock lens a software-based upgrade.
In terms of detail, the D5000's 12.3-megapixel sensor loses nothing to the higher pixel counts of others this month. Although Nikon's default sharpening settings are less aggressive than most, upping the sharpening settings from the default gives results as good as any other camera on test.
With a recent price drop bringing the D5000 in line with the Canon 500D, and the Sony A330 taking second spot, Canon is edged out this month. There's little doubt that the Nikon's basic picture-taking capabilities are markedly - if marginally - superior. Overall the D5000 is the best DSLR you can currently buy for less than $1500.