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Nikon Coolpix 5000

Nikon moves into the 5 megapixel era with a new chip, new lens, and new body, but no retreat from the legendary Nikon feature set!

Review First Posted: 9/18/2001



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MSRP $1099 US

 

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5.00 (effective) megapixel CCD delivers images up to 2560 x 1920 pixels
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New Nikkor lens provides 28-85mm equivalent zoom range
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"Articulated" LCD tilts/swivels 270 degrees
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White balance bracketing and noise reduction modes extend capability
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Hot shoe for direct flash connection

 

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Manufacturer Overview
Nikon is one of the few companies that you can say truly needs no introduction in the world of photography. Their name has been identified with professional and high-end amateur photography for a good 5 decades now, and they've been very successful at translating that long history of expertise into the digital arena. Their 2.1 megapixel Coolpix 950 and 3.3 megapixel Coolpix 990 and 995 digicams have led the popularity charts at the high end of the "prosumer" market segment since their respective introductions. The key has been the combination of excellent picture quality with an amazing range of features, all calculated to give the photographer the maximum control over the picture-taking process.

With recent announcements and introductions of five megapixel cameras from Minolta and Sony, many have wondered what Nikon might have up its sleeve. Well, wonder no more, on September 18, 2001, Nikon announced their 5 megapixel Coolpix 5000. While the body design marks a radical departure from Nikon's long-familiar swivel-body configuration, the controls and features will be very familiar to fans of the earlier high-end Nikon prosumer models.

Back in September, I just posted a "First Look" review, as the unit I received for preliminary evaluation was an early prototype, not suited for showing sample photos from, nor for conducting my usual quantitative performance tests. I've now had hands-on a production model of the camera, and can report on the results of the full range of all my tests. Read on for all the details.

 

High Points

 

 

Executive Overview

The latest edition in the Coolpix line, the Nikon Coolpix 5000 offers a true, 5-megapixel CCD for capturing high quality, sharp images with great color. The Coolpix 5000 is fairly compact, especially when measured up against several previous Coolpix models, at just 4.0 x 3.2 x 2.7 inches (101.5 x 81.5 x 67.5 millimeters). While it won't fit into a standard shirt pocket, the Coolpix 5000 should easily fit into a medium-sized purse, though a soft camera bag is the best method of transportation. The Coolpix 5000 is just a little hefty at 12.6 ounces (360 grams), most likely due to the slightly large hand grip and lens. In addition to the hand grip, which is substantial, the Coolpix 5000 comes with a neck strap, for increased portability.

A newly-designed 3x Nikkor 7.1-21.4mm lens is built into the camera, providing a zoom range equivalent to a 28-85mm lens on a 35mm camera. Focus can be automatically or manually controlled, with an adjustable AF area. In addition to the 3x optical zoom, the Coolpix 5000 also provides up to 4x digital zoom, depending on the image size selected. (Keep in mind that digital zoom often compromises image quality because only the central portion of the CCD's image is enlarged, decreasing resolution.) Both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.8-inch LCD monitor are included on the Coolpix 5000 for composing your shots. The low-temperature, polysilicon TFT LCD monitor has a rotating design, allowing it to pop up from the back panel and swivel around approximately 270 degrees. The LCD can also flip around and fold flat against the back panel, giving it the familiar rear-panel position common to most digicams. Finally, it can be closed when not in use, protecting the monitor from dirt and scratches.

Following the standard of prior high-end Nikon Coolpix digicams, the Coolpix 5000 features extensive exposure control. Program AE, Flexible Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes are available, each with a wide range of features. Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 (1/2,000 in most modes) to eight seconds, with a Bulb setting for exposures up to five minutes. A Noise Reduction option decreases the image noise that would normally be present in long exposures. The maximum aperture is f/2.8 - f/4.8, depending on the zoom setting, and is adjustable in 1/3 EV steps. Four metering options are available, including 256-Segment Matrix, Center-Weighted, Spot, and AF Spot (which ties the metering spot to the selected AF area). ISO can be set to a range of values, including Auto, 100, 200, 400, and 800. The camera's adjustable White Balance setting offers Auto, Fine (daylight), Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Speedlight, or Preset (which allows you to manually adjust the white value by using a white card or object as a reference point). Additionally, all white balance settings can be adjusted from -3 to +3 units on an arbitrary scale. A White Balance Bracketing mode captures three images with slightly different white balance adjustments, letting you pick the best image when you view the photos on your computer.

Exposure compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments, and is controllable in all exposure modes. The Auto Bracketing feature takes three or five shots of the same subject with varying exposure values determined either by the photographer in Manual mode or by the camera in all other modes, with variable exposure steps between shots. Best Shot Select snaps multiple images and then automatically picks the sharpest, making it feasible to handhold the camera for surprisingly long exposures. The "Quick Review" button lets you quickly check the last shot taken without leaving Record mode, going so far as to make most of the Playback mode options available, while permitting a very quick return to shooting. Through the camera's settings menu, you can adjust the image sharpness and color saturation. An Image Adjustment menu offers Contrast, Lightness, and Monochrome adjustments as well. Additionally, the Coolpix 5000 allows you to save up to three sets of user settings for focus, exposure, and other camera options, for rapid recall via the setup menu. A Self-Timer mode offers a three or 10-second countdown before firing the shutter. The camera's built-in flash operates in Auto, Flash Cancel, Anytime Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Sync modes. An external flash hot shoe is also included in the camera's design accommodates a more powerful external flash unit.

The Coolpix 5000 offers a wide range of "motor drive" rapid-exposure modes for capturing quick sequences of images. Continuous L, Continuous H, High Speed Continuous, Ultra High Speed Continuous, and Multi-Shot 16 modes are available through the settings menu, and offer a range of sequence shooting speeds. (Multi-Shot 16 mode subdivides the image area into 16 sections and captures a "mini-movie" of small images at 400 x 300-pixel resolution.) Finally, Movie mode records moving images (with sound) for as long as 40 seconds (depending on the amount of available memory space) at approximately 15 frames per second. Movies are recorded in the QVGA (320x240) resolution size.

The Coolpix 5000 stores images to CompactFlash cards (Type I or II), and a 32MB card is packaged with the camera. File formats include several levels of compressed JPEG files as well as an uncompressed TIFF mode (Hi quality setting). Available image sizes are 2,560 x 1,920, 3:2 Ratio (2,560 x 1,700), 1,600 x 1,200 (UXGA), 1,280 x 960 (SXGA), 1,024 x 768 (XGA), and 640 x 480 (VGA) pixels. A Video Out jack allows the camera to be connected to a television set, for larger screen image review.

A rechargeable EN-EL1 lithium-ion battery pack powers the camera, and an AC adapter is available as a separate accessory. (The battery and charger are included in the box with the Coolpix 5000.) The camera connects to a computer via a USB cable (included), and the accompanying software provides image downloading and organizing capabilities.

With its full exposure control, customizable user interface, and loads of features, the Coolpix 5000 is a worthy contender in the digicam marketplace. The 5-megapixel CCD and 3x Nikkor lens capture sharp, clear images with great quality and color. I also really liked the rotating LCD monitor, which makes shooting at odd angles a lot more comfortable. Like the previous Coolpix digicams that went before, the new Coolpix 5000 offers everything I look for in a "prosumer" level digicam. Given the Coolpix track record and its excellent capabilities, I think the Coolpix 5000 will do very well for itself.

 

 

Design

The Coolpix 5000 is a significant departure from the swivel-case designs of prior high-end Coolpix models. Rather than split the case to allow the lens and LCD screen to swivel independently of each other, the Coolpix 5000 uses a "Vari-angle" LCD design that's a dead ringer for the design I liked so much on the Canon Pro 90 IS and G2 cameras. This results in a more conventional camera body design, but retains the viewing flexibility formerly provided by the swivel body. It'll likely be a matter of personal preference whether you like the swivel body or swivel-LCD design better, but I personally find the Coolpix 5000 easier to work with than the 995 and its predecessors.

The shape of the Coolpix 5000 is rather tall and shallow (front to back), with dimensions of 4.0 x 3.2 x 2.7 inches (101.5 x 81.5 x 67.5mm). It has a pleasant heft, feeling neither particularly heavy or light, and weighing in at 12.6 ounces (360 grams) without battery or memory card. With the battery installed, it weighs in at 14.4 ounces, or 412 grams.

Fans of the earlier Coolpix cameras will also applaud the return to an all-metal body design last seen in the Coolpix 990 model. (Many Nikon aficionados complained bitterly about the move to high-impact plastic for the body of the recently introduced 995, preferring the all-metal design of the earlier 950 and 990 models.)

Another big change from previous Nikon consumer digicams is the provision of a full hot shoe atop the camera, a welcome move away from the proprietary strobe sync adapter seen on the 950, 990, and 995 models. (While an adapter was available to convert the proprietary Nikon sync connector to conventional strobe connections, the part was harder to come by than the proverbial hen's teeth, with few if any resellers routinely stocking it.)

From the front, the camera looks a lot like any of a dozen current digicams, although its rather tall profile is a little unusual. Visible on the front panel are the large flash tube (its size apparently not translating into any greater flash range though), the window for the optical viewfinder, and the AE/AF-lock button. Just above and to the right of the AE/AF-L button are two small holes for the microphone, used to record audio when in movie mode. At the top of the body, just to the left of the flash tube, is a tiny opening for the flash exposure sensor. The sloping front of the hand grip, visible here on the left, holds the shutter button, on/off switch, and a mysterious clear window that serves no apparent function. (I was told that this was to have been a flash sensor, but it looks a lot more like a lamp of some kind. I wonder if Nikon had considered adding a focus-assist light to the 5000, but dropped it for some reason at the last minute. - A shame if so, focus-assist illuminators are becoming increasingly common on high-end digicams, and are a seriously useful feature for low light photography. Perhaps we can hope for the Coolpix 5001?)

 

The Coolpix 5000 actually isn't a very large camera, but it tends to look bigger in photos due to its more upright form factor. The photo above shows the camera with a CompactFlash card in front of it to show its scale. - As you can see, it's actually quite compact...

 

The camera's right side (viewed from the back) houses the memory card compartment (a Type II Compact Flash slot), an eyelet for the neck strap, and a flap that hides the USB and external power connectors. I liked the positive snap-action operation of the memory compartment cover. The spring action is apparently contained in the hinge mechanism, and it provides a much better "feel" than the usual friction snap-latch that's used at the outside edges of these flaps on other cameras I've seen. Nikon also got the orientation of the memory card right on this model too: The card faces the front of the camera, so the little lip on the rear of the card projects toward the back of the camera. This makes it very easy to hook a fingernail under the lip, easing extraction of the card from the camera.

The left side of the camera is pretty empty. The only items here are the other neckstrap eyelet, and a flap hiding the jack for the audio/video cable.

 

 

The top of the camera has relatively few controls, as the data readout found atop many cameras has been moved to the rear panel. The most obvious feature here is the hot shoe, with the standard 5-contact design used by the Nikon Speedlights, even though many of the contacts are apparently not active on the 5000. Also on top are the shutter button and surrounding power switch, the Mode and +/- buttons, the Function button, and a command wheel at the back rear corner. As on the 995, the command wheel is used in conjunction with various buttons on the body of the camera to make camera settings. In aperture or shutter priority or full manual exposure modes, the command wheel directly adjusts aperture and shutter speed settings. In programmed exposure mode, the command wheel lets you vary the camera's program, to select larger or smaller aperture settings than the defaults, with the camera then choosing the corresponding shutter speed to match.)

Most of the controls and user interface elements for the Coolpix 5000 are on the back of the camera. At top left, we see the optical viewfinder eyepiece, with status LEDs on its left, showing focus and flash status. A small slider adjustment underneath the eyepiece makes diopter adjustments for eyeglass wearers. Just to the right of the viewfinder is the LCD data readout, which displays a variety of camera status information. The data readout is also an integral part of the 5000's control architecture. Most settings adjustments that make use of a button and the command wheel together use the data readout screen to show the current selection. This arrangement is a carryover from the previous Coolpix designs, and is a feature I like quite a bit. - The data readout panel has much lower power consumption than the large LCD screen, so this design cuts power consumption dramatically relative to cameras forced to rely more upon their color LCD displays.

At top right you can see the command wheel edge-on, and just below that the toggle control for the zoom lens. The back of the camera body is sculpted here, providing a nice indentation and associated ridge for your thumb to grab onto. You do have to shift your thumb down to actuate the zoom toggle, but the grip is quite comfortable, and I never found myself accidentally actuating the zoom control when I was just holding the camera normally.

Continuing down the back panel, we see a slide switch to select between record and playback modes, a multipurpose button that controls ISO (in conjunction with the command wheel), flash mode, and thumbnail display (in playback mode). Below that is a button that controls focus in record mode and image deletion in playback mode. Under that is the size/quality button that changes image size when used in conjunction with the command wheel, and image quality when it is actuated alone. To the right of these buttons, a conventional 4-way rocker toggle control is used for making selections in the LCD menu system.

I've shown the camera in two operating configurations, with the LCD turned in against the camera body, and with it facing out toward the user. With the LCD facing out, three control buttons are exposed. These aren't labeled on the prototype model shown, but they control (from the left) the quick review function, the LCD menu system, and the LCD display itself. (The button controlling the LCD display is labeled on production models, but the others are "soft buttons", whose function is shown by legends displayed on the LCD panel.)

The bottom of the Coolpix 5000 is nice and flat, with some raised rubber inserts that help the camera grip tripod mounting plates. The tripod socket itself is a rugged metal unit, with mounting screws that seem to indicate that it's replaceable. Kudos to Nikon on both fronts! The tripod socket is also roughly centered on the camera body, which is good for mounting stability, but which does put the lens quite a bit off-center from the mount. This isn't an issue for normal shooting, but does mean that a special tripod head will be needed to shoot panoramic images, to compensate for the parallax error introduced by offset between the lens' optical center and the tripod mount. Having the tripod socket centered also means you can't remove the battery without unmounting the camera from the tripod plate. (Again, not an issue for most users, but something I'm attuned to given how much I shoot in the studio with cameras I test.)

Finally, here's an interesting little item I noticed: There's a small plastic plate next to the battery compartment that pops out quite easily. (A little too easily, IMHO.) Underneath there's a place obviously made for a connector of some sort. (The shot above shows the bottom with this cover plate removed.) When I asked Nikon about it, they replied that this is where the power/vertical hand grip will plug into. I confess that up until that point, I somehow hadn't grasped (no pun intended) that the power pack using 6 AA batteries was going to plug in as a hand grip. (It was right there in the marketing literature, our eyes just skipped past the fact that the 6-AA pack was also a hand grip. Very interesting, particularly so since it will provide a very hefty boost in power capacity. (Six 1700 mAh NiMH AA cells will provide about 2.5 times the power of the standard EN-EL1 internal Li-Ion battery, a very welcome addition for serious users. - See also my comments on the Maha/PowerEx LiIon PowerBank external battery pack in the Power section of this review.)

 

 

Viewfinder

The Coolpix 5000 offers a real-image optical viewfinder, as well as a color LCD monitor for composing images. The optical viewfinder zooms along with the lens, but does not reflect any digital zoom (which requires the LCD monitor to be active). A diopter adjustment dial adjusts the view to accommodate eyeglass wearers. The viewfinder optics have a fairly high eyepoint, meaning that most eyeglass wearers should have little trouble using the viewfinder for framing. Another nice touch is that the viewfinder eyepiece is close enough to the left edge of the camera that right-eyed users can use it comfortably without mashing their noses against the back of the camera.


The 1.8-inch, 110,000-dot, low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCD monitor features a swivel design. The LCD monitor actually lifts up off of the back panel, flipping out toward the left side of the camera. Once opened, the LCD monitor can swivel around to face upwards or downwards with a radius of 270 degrees. You can also turn the LCD monitor around to face the camera and then close it to protect the monitor from any accidental scratches. I really like swiveling LCD designs, as they greatly increase the camera's shooting flexibility, allowing you to hold the camera at a variety of angles and still clearly see the LCD display.

A nice touch in the Coolpix 5000's LCD viewfinder implementation is that you can adjust not only the viewfinder brightness, but it's color (hue) as well. A menu option lets you adjust the viewfinder color either towards the blue or towards the red, to help match the viewfinder display to the actual color balance of the captured images. I applaud this, but note that having control only over blue/red tints is only a partial solution. (Technically, you need separate controls for red, green, and blue, in order to be able to completely control the display color. You could get away with only varying two of these relative to the third, and I suspect that full control would result in a bewildering user interface, but would still like to see some attempt to offer more complete color adjustment. Nikon does deserve significant credit for providing any sort of LCD hue adjustment at all though.)

The Coolpix 5000 carries over a unique feature from the 995 and 990 before it, itself borrowed from Nikon's high-end film cameras: The powerful zone-based autofocus system. The camera can automatically choose between five different autofocus zones, or you can lock it in on any one of them manually. Either way, the viewfinder displays all five zones, and highlights the currently active one in red. Very slick!

 



A particularly nice feature that was new on the Coolpix 995, but that's since appeared on the 885 as well, is the "quick review" function. This lets you quickly check the last exposure while still in record mode, simply by pressing the Quick Review button above the LCD screen. This isn't an uncommon feature on digicams, but what's absolutely unique on the Coolpix cameras is its "picture in picture" review mode (shown here), which opens a playback window in the upper left-hand corner of the display screen, while keeping the viewfinder image live on the remaining LCD area. Note too, that this image isn't restricted to the most recently captured photo: You can scroll through all the images on the memory card by pressing the rocker button arrows. The first press of the Quick button activates the picture in picture review mode, a second press enables full-screen playback, and a third press returns you to full capture mode. At any point, pressing the shutter button returns you to capture mode and snaps a picture. Cool!



In Playback mode, the LCD offers a wealth of information via several display pages. In total, no fewer than five information screens are available, accessed by turning the Command wheel. The first display is the standard Playback information readout, which reports the date and time of the shot, file name, quality setting, and the image number on the card. The next two screens report a long listing of camera and exposure settings, including the firmware version, focal length, shutter speed, ISO, etc. A fourth information page shows a histogram view of the image, illustrating the distribution of brightness values in the image, with the left edge corresponding to pure black, and the right edge to pure white. Once you learn how to read it, a histogram is phenomenally useful in determining whether you've managed to capture a good exposure or not. Ideally, a well-exposed image would produce a histogram curve that just filled the graph from left to right, indicating that it contained a full range of tonal values. The final information screen shows lens, shutter, and focus settings, and indicates (by the green brackets) what the autofocus system had locked onto when the picture was taken. Histogram displays won't always show you if only a small portion of your image is blown-out: To address this need, the 5000 blinks those parts of the image that are overexposed, letting you see exactly where you're losing highlight detail. Very nice, I'd like to see more manufacturers adopt this feature!



Also in Playback mode, the LCD offers a thumbnail index display, showing either four or nine images to a page depending on the setting. The index display is controlled by the zoom lever: Pressing the wide-angle side of the zoom lever increases the number of thumbnails displayed (from 1 to 4 to 9), while pressing the telephoto side decreases "zooms in", decreasing the number from 9 to 4 to 1. If you continue pressing the telephoto end of the zoom lever in playback mode, a playback zoom feature enlarges the image up to 6x, letting you get a pretty good idea of how well-focused the image is, check the framing, and examine details to see if you got the shot you wanted. When you're zoomed in on an image, you can pan around the image with the rocker control.


 

 

Optics

Built into the Coolpix 5000 is a 3x Nikkor 7.1-21.4mm lens, the equivalent to a 28-85mm lens on a 35mm camera. (This is a wider angle zoom than those on most digicams. As more cameras are appearing with the physically larger 5.2 megapixel CCD chips, we're beginning to see more models with wider-angle zoom lenses.) The all-glass lens is made up of nine elements in seven groups. The maximum aperture varies from f/2.8 to f/4.8, depending on the lens zoom setting, with the largest aperture available when the lens is at its maximum wide angle focal length. Apertures are adjustable in 10 steps with 1/3 EV increments, and are created by a seven-blade iris diaphragm. (The seven-blade diaphragm is a nice but subtle touch - it will produce less distortion in sharp, specular highlights than apertures made by diaphragms with fewer blades in them, and hence more irregular shapes. The seven-blade iris also provides finer-grained aperture control.)

Focus on the Coolpix 5000 operates under automatic or manual control, and ranges from 19.7 inches (50 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode. A Macro mode offers a range from 0.8 to 19.7 inches (2 to 50 centimeters). The Coolpix 5000's autofocus mechanism employs a contrast-detection method, and the focus can be determined from a five-area multi-pattern or spot AF area, in the same way as on the 990, 995, and now the 885 models. There are five possible focus zones (center, top, bottom, left, right), which can be very useful for achieving accurate focus on off-center subjects. The Focus option under the settings menu allows you to choose modes in which the camera chooses the focus zone, or in which you can explicitly set the location of the focus area (a nice feature that works well when combined with the spot metering mode, which can likewise be directed to determine exposure from the same 5 zones). In the "Auto" option for focus area selection, the camera chooses the area corresponding to the object closest to the camera. When the area focus option is set to Off, the camera bases focus on the central area. (One Playback mode information screen displays a focus area overlay, and shows which focus area was chosen for each image, by highlighting the appropriate set of marks in green.)

Two AF modes are also available: Continuous AF and Single AF. Continuous AF mode means that the camera is constantly adjusting the focus. In Single AF mode, focus is only determined when the Shutter button is halfway pressed. When the LCD viewfinder is off, the camera is always in Single AF mode. By default, when the LCD is on, the camera continuously focuses. A menu option lets you set the camera to Single AF when the LCD is on though.

The manual focus option is accessed through the rear-panel AF button, used in conjunction with the command wheel. (Avoiding the silliness of having both a "MF" button and a menu option that enables/disables it.) Like the 995, the Coolpix 5000 offers 50 focus steps from 10cm to infinity. The focus distance is reported in the top right corner of the LCD display.

Another neat Nikon feature is the "Focus Confirmation" option, available as a menu selection in record mode. When activated, this feature applies a strong "sharpening" operator to the LCD display. The result is that the LCD image very clearly "snaps" into focus when proper focus is achieved, making the LCD display much more useful that it ordinarily would be for manual focusing. Focus Confirmation can be set to be on all the time, off all the time, or only on when the camera is being manually focused. Very handy!

The lens itself has a set of body threads around its base, and it apparently can use many of the broad range of Nikkor accessory lenses developed for previous Coolpix models. These include accessory lenses for wide-angle, telephoto, macro, and fisheye focal lengths, as well as a slide copying adapter. A new very wide-angle converter will be available for the Coolpix 5000, providing an equivalent 35mm focal length of 19mm. This is very wide, unusual for consumer-level digicams. Once an accessory lens is attached, you'll need to select the corresponding lens type in the lens settings menu. (The camera adjusts its operation for different lens types by restricting the zoom range to avoid vignetting, switching to center-weighted metering for the fisheye adapter, etc.)

The Coolpix 5000's digital telephoto feature is enabled through the Zoom option under the Setup menu, and enlarges images up to 4x. An indicator on the LCD monitor displays the range of digital zoom at each step (from 1.1x to 4.0x). Keep in mind that digital telephoto only enlarges the center of the image, resulting in reduced resolution and more artifacts as more digital zoom is used. The camera appears to automatically switch to center-weighted metering and a center autofocus target when digital zoom is active. Also under the Zoom option, you can set the startup position of the lens (either wide or telephoto) and activate the Fixed Aperture function, which keeps the aperture fixed as the lens zooms. (This last being a very handy option when working with studio strobes or other strobes with fixed output levels.)

In their promotional literature, Nikon touts the speed of the Coolpix 5000. The lens on my test unit did appear to zoom in and out quite a bit faster than that on the 995, but the tradeoff is that it makes much more noise when operating. Nikon also claims very fast autofocus speed, but this claim is apparently limited to the "prefocused" shutter delay, when the camera is prefocused by half-pressing and holding the shutter button prior to the exposure itself. In my own tests, shutter lag was moderately faster than average in this mode, at 0.157 seconds, but only average in full autofocus mode.

Optical distortion on the Coolpix 5000 is a bit high at the wide-angle end, where I measured about 0.88 percent barrel distortion (average is about 0.8 percent). The telephoto end fared slightly better, though I measured roughly 0.19 percent barrel distortion (average is that level or a little lower). Both distortion figures are slightly higher than average for cameras with 3x zoom lenses in this class, but not far off the mark. (Barrel distortion in digicam lenses is a pet peeve of mine though, hence my attention to it here.) Chromatic aberration is moderate, showing about three or four pixels of red coloration and five or six pixels of green coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The chromatic aberration doesn't seem much worse than average (on this test at least), but IMHO, "average" is too high for a high-end camera like the Coolpix 5000. (For what it's worth, the Canon G2's lens had a bit less, while the Sony F707's lens had the same amount or more.)

 

 

Exposure

Just as we've come to expect with Nikon digital cameras, the Coolpix 5000 provides a lot of exposure control, with a choice of Program AE, Flexible Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes. A wide range of shutter speeds are available, from 1/4,000 to eight seconds. (Although the 1/4,000 shutter time is only available when the lens is set to its smallest aperture. The fastest shutter time is 1/2,000 otherwise.), and a Bulb mode for longer exposures up to one or five minutes. (The maximum bulb exposure time defaults to 1 minute, but can be increased to 5 minutes via a menu option.) In addition to the benefit of a Program AE mode which automatically selects the aperture and shutter speed, the Flexible Program AE mode offers the ability to select from a range of exposure settings by turning the Command Wheel. (Simply turn the Command Wheel on its own while in Program mode, and an asterisk appears next to the "P" in the LCD display. Further rotation of the Command Wheel will cycle through the available combinations of shutter speed and aperture.) This lets you select from several equivalent exposures, allowing you to decide between a faster shutter speed or a smaller lens aperture. Personally, I find this more useful than the more common aperture- or shutter-priority metering options, as it gives the camera more latitude to get the shot you want, while letting you express a "preference" for larger or smaller aperture settings.

As noted above, the top shutter speed of 1/4,000 of a second is only available when the lens is set to its minimum aperture. - My guess is that the shutter is some sort of a moving-blade design, and the maximum shutter speed is limited by the distance the blade has to traverse to interrupt the light path: This time is reduced when the lens is at its minimum aperture.

Metering Options
Four metering options are available on the Coolpix 5000: 256-Segment Matrix, Center-Weighted, Spot, and AF Spot. The 256-Segment Matrix setting meters the exposure based on several areas in the frame, averaging the values together to determine the best overall exposure. Center-Weighted metering measures light from the entire frame but places the greatest emphasis on a circular area in the center. Spot metering is pretty self-explanatory, taking a reading from the dead center of the image (best when using the AE Lock function). With AF Spot the spot metering actually centers on the specific focus area selected, giving you the option for off-center spot metering. (See the previous Optics section of this review for a discussion of the 5000's AF Area focusing mode.)

ISO& White Balance Options
ISO can be set to a range of values, including Auto, 100, 200, 400, and 800. White balance can be set to Auto, Fine (daylight), Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Speedlight, or Preset (which allows you to manually adjust the white value by using a white card or object as a reference point). All white balance settings can be adjusted from -3 to +3 units on an arbitrary scale. (This is a feature that's relatively unique to Nikon cameras, and one that I particularly appreciate. In my experience, I very frequently find that I'd like to "tweak" the preset white balance settings of a camera, and Nikon's finally given us a way to do it. When I tested the Coolpix 885, I found that setting the incandescent white balance adjustment up by 2-3 units produced much more natural photos under household incandescent lighting.) There's also a White Balance Bracketing mode, which captures three images at slightly different white balance adjustments allowing you to pick the best image when you get them all back on your computer.

Basic Exposure Adjustment
Exposure compensation on the Coolpix 5000 is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments, and is controllable in all exposure modes. The Auto Bracketing feature takes three or five shots of the same subject with varying exposure values determined either by the photographer in Manual mode or by the camera in all other modes. Exposure settings for bracketing can vary from -2 to +2 EV (values are added to the already chosen exposure compensation value), with step sizes of one-third, one-half, or one EV unit, and the bracketing biased toward either underexposure, overexposure, or centered around the main exposure value.

Another signature Nikon feature is the Image Adjustment menu. This menu offers options that let you increase or decrease contrast, as well as lighten or darken the entire image. An interesting feature about these tonal adjustments is that the 5000's "lighten" and "darken" options allow you to adjust the midtone values of the image without affecting the white and black values. (That is, "lighten" will brighten the middle brightness values in the image, without blowing-out white areas, or lightening black ones.)

Color Adjustments - Saturation Control
This is a feature appearing on more and more cameras these days. Until recently, each camera produced a particular color balance and intensity, and what it gave was what you got. Lately, there seems to be a movement afoot (which I highly endorse) to give the user more direct control over their picture-taking, including color saturation. (If the term is unfamiliar to you, think of it as color "intensity.") Like other recent Coolpix digicams, the 5000 provides a range of color saturation options, including maximum, normal, moderate, minimum, and black & white. I actually prefer to see more, finer-grained steps for color saturation than the 5000 provides (allowing you to really customize the camera to your personal preferences, rather than just using color saturation as a special effect), but this is nonetheless a step in the right direction.

Sharp Shots in Low Light: The Best Shot Selector
One of the more unique Nikon digicam features, the Best Shot Selector (BSS) takes several images and allows the camera to choose only the sharpest (least blurred) to be saved. Best Shot Select makes it feasible to handhold the camera for surprisingly long exposures. You can also check your own work immediately as the camera gives you a quick preview of the captured image (when shooting with the LCD monitor) and gives you an option to delete or save the image. I've really enjoyed the available-light and low-light photos BSS has let me bring home those times when I've taken a Nikon digicam with me on a trip or outing. Since it chooses the sharpest image from among several that it shoots, it's at its best when you have a fairly static subject. - When shooting people-pictures, it tends to miss fleeting expressions. Still, it's a remarkably useful photographic tool, one I'd be happy to see on cameras from other manufacturers.

Detail Control: Image Sharpness Adjustment
This feature has become almost mandatory on higher-end digicams. All digital cameras apply some amount of in-camera "sharpening" to their photos, to reverse the tendency of the CCD cells to smooth-out detail in the image. This is fine for "normal" photos, but there are times when you'll want more or less sharpening than the camera designers elected to add. (More often less than more.) Like its lesser siblings in the Coolpix line, the 5000 offers a variety of options for adjusting the amount of in-camera sharpening applied, from lots to none.

User Settings for Convenience
The Coolpix 5000 allows you to save up to four sets of user settings for focus, exposure, and other camera options, for rapid recall via the setup menu. This can be a real time saver in rapidly switching between widely different sets of shooting conditions. My one complaint about the implementation of the User Settings on the Coolpix 5000 is that you have to select one of them, or you can't access any of the camera's powerful special features. The default "A" user setting corresponds to the camera's full auto mode. This isn't a big deal, just confusing on first exposure to it. (It made me actually read the manual to find out how to enable the camera's advanced capabilities. If I have to read the manual to figure something out about a camera, it's way too obscure for "normal" users, IMHO.) I doubt this will actually prevent anyone from enjoying their Coolpix 5000, but do think the distinction between "auto" and "advanced" modes should be made a lot more clear in the user interface.

Self-Timer
No big deal about this, just a standard self-timer function. The one added sophistication though, is that you can select either a 3 second or 10 second delay. The shorter delay is great for those times when you're talking a long exposure on a tripod, and want to use the self-timer to trip the shutter so you won't jiggle the camera.

Long Exposures & Noise
I mentioned earlier that the Coolpix 5000 has a "bulb" exposure mode that allows exposures as long as (one or five) minutes. This is an exceptionally long exposure time, but would normally be almost useless due to the amount of CCD noise that can accumulate during that interval. Like other recent Coolpix models, the 5000 uses a noise reduction technology that appears to use a form of "dark frame subtraction," whereby a second exposure is snapped immediately after the first, but with the shutter closed. The pattern of noise in this "dark frame" is then subtracted from the image itself, resulting in a drastic reduction in apparent noise levels. (I suspect that the actual algorithm is more complex than simple subtraction though, involving data substitution to prevent black pixels where the noise current saturated the CCD photosite.) This Noise Reduction can be enabled via a menu option, and is applied to any exposure longer than 1/4 of a second.

I didn't have a cable ("remote") release to use for testing long exposures with the Coolpix 5000 sample unit, so wasn't able to shoot any test images that would be worth posting. (Even on a rock-solid tripod, the jiggle from pressing the shutter button in bulb mode with your finger gives blurry photos.) Casual testing though, showed that even unusually (absurdly?) long time exposures (2 minutes at ISO 100, for instance) came out showing very low noise, and essentially no "hot" pixels when the noise-reduction system was engaged. Very impressive, the Coolpix 5000 looks like a great low-light shooter! (Also see my notes in the Test Results section of this review for an example of an amazing Photoshop "action" by Fred Miranda that cuts image noise dramatically!)

Clear Image Mode
This is a new feature on the Coolpix 5000, intended to reduce image noise and improve color and tonal gradation in images of SXGA resolution (1280 x 960) and smaller. Based on my own testing though, I'm personally not convinced of its usefulness.

According to the manual, in Clear Image mode, the Coolpix 5000 snaps three exposures for each image, two with the shutter open, and one with it closed. It then compares these & averages the results to reduce the noise in the image. When I looked at test shots of my "Davebox" target (the best choice to evaluate flat-tint image noise), I found the following:

  1. Clear Image Mode does indeed reduce image noise somewhat, although the effect isn't dramatic, and in some situations, noise in specific color channels may actually increase.
  2. Clear Image Mode seems to act more on noise in the chrominance (color) channels than luminance, although some effect is visible in both areas.
  3. Clear Image Mode reduces image sharpness and acuity somewhat.
  4. Clear Image Mode isn't useful for any photos that include moving objects.
  5. Clear Image Mode is only available in resolutions of 1280 x 960 and lower, which leads me to wonder who would actually use it. - I think any photographer who's sufficiently concerned about image noise to invoke a special camera mode to reduce it would also be a photographer concerned about image sharpness, not to mention raw resolution. If Clear Image Mode had a similar impact on the full-res 5 megapixel images (or even 2 megapixel ones), it might be useful to some photographers. Restricted to image sizes of 1280 x 960 and lower though, it seems to me to be little more than a curiosity.

For those interested (I've gotten several emails on this topic), here are some numbers, showing noise (expressed as standard deviation in each of the RGB color channels, plus luminance) for a couple of swatches from the MacBeth chart in the Davebox test target. Note that the biggest reduction in noise was in the yellow swatch, where the camera was dealing with hue controlled primarily by small amounts of a "contaminant color", in this case blue. By contrast, the reduction of noise in the luminance channel of the neutral gray swatch was virtually nonexistent, and noise in some of the individual component-color channels (RGB) actually increased. Overall, it appears to have the greatest effect reducing chroma noise in highly-saturated colors.

Noise level comparison, Clear Image Mode on/off
 
Gray Swatch
CI Off
Gray Swatch
CI On
Yellow Swatch
CI Off
Yellow Swatch
CI On
Luminance
Std. Dev.
(Avg Value)
1.13
(109.47)
1.12
(107.27)
1.31
(176.28)
1.08
(174.88)
Red
Std. Dev.
1.90
2.38
1.80
1.45
Green
Std. Dev.
1.32
1.39
1.68
1.36
Blue
Std. Dev.
1.80
1.51
6.62
5.13

To illustrate my point about reduced resolution in Clear Image Mode, check out the image crops below, showing the same area with and without Clear Image Mode engaged. (Both shots enlarged 200% via simple nearest-neighbor interpolation in Photoshop.) - Note the loss of acuity in the type above the color blocks.

Clear
Image
Off
Clear
Image
On

Flash

The Coolpix 5000 features a built-in flash with five flash modes available, including Auto, Flash Cancel, Anytime Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, and Slow-Sync. The Slow-Sync option is useful when shooting subjects with dark backgrounds (such as night scenes) because the camera actually leaves the shutter open longer and then fires the flash before the shutter closes. This allows more ambient light into the image and can provide a nice motion blur effect. Red-Eye Reduction mode fires a pre-flash before the main exposure, to reduce the reflection from the subject's pupils.

To my mind, one of the biggest features added to the Coolpix 5000 relative to earlier Coolpix models (apart from the obvious boost in resolution) was the top-mounted hot shoe. This means you can connect a more powerful external flash unit, either a Nikon dedicated unit, or a generic third-party one. The shoe connects to Nikon Speedlight models SB-50 DX, 28DX, 28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23, and 22, although I was surprised to learn from another reviewer (Steve of Steve's-Digicams) that the shoe mount didn't make use of the zoom head on an SB-50DX speedlight. - The higher-end Nikon speedlights can focus their flash heads, to match the angular coverage of the lens you're shooting with. Thus, when shooting with a telephoto lens, the illumination from the speedlight is focused into a relative narrow beam, concentrating its power and providing greatly increased flash range. While you can always manually zoom the head, it's obviously much more convenient if the camera does it for you automatically. It's hard to understand why Nikon didn't implement this functionality on the Coolpix 5000.

The other obvious "missing feature" relative to Nikon speedlights was autofocus assist illumination. Several of Nikon's higher-end speedlights incorporate infrared autofocus assist illuminators, which likewise aren't utilized by the Coolpix 5000. Given the nature of these features, there's little or no hope of them being added to the 5000 via a firmware upgrade, but let's hope the Nikon engineers read this review and consider adding them in future models. (Actually, the IR AF assist light may have fundamental issues, given that the 5000's AF is based on the signal coming from the CCD, and the CCD has an IR filter over it to improve color rendition. I really don't see any excuse for leaving out control of the SB-50's zoom head though.)

The other benefit of a hot shoe though, is that it provides an easy interface to studio strobe systems. Previous Coolpix cameras only offered the proprietary Nikon flash sync connector. An adapter to convert the connection to a standard PC sync terminal was available, but exceptionally hard to find in the marketplace. The standard hot shoe is a much more accessible connection for people looking to interface their Coolpix to third-party strobe systems.

The last feature (or lack thereof) that I need to discuss about the Coolpix 5000's flash system is through the lens (TTL) metering. Photographers migrating to the digital world from the conventional, film-based side of things will be accustomed to through-the-lens flash metering on high-end cameras. In fact, in the film world, Nikon's 3D Matrix flash metering is renowned for its accuracy and relatively foolproof exposure determination. In film cameras, TTL flash metering is accomplished by a variety of means, but invariably involves a separate light sensor positioned somewhere in the optical path. (The most sophisticated systems actually measure the light being reflected from the film surface itself.) With digital cameras though, in most cases, there simply isn't room for the additional sensor. Even if there is, light reflection from the CCD surface is apparently pretty problematic, forcing even advanced professional SLRs (like Nikon's own D1x) to resort to tricks such as bouncing light from a metering pre-flash off the shutter curtain itself. All this long-winded explanation is by way of explaining why the flash metering on the Coolpix 5000 isn't TTL, and why in fact this is by far the rule rather than the exception in prosumer digicams. - The actual flash exposure sensor peeks out from a tiny window between the top of the handgrip and the flash tube itself, providing area-averaged exposure feedback. This works pretty well most of the time, but can be tricked by subjects with greatly different reflectance than their backgrounds, especially when the lens is zoomed all the way to telephoto.

Continuous Shooting Modes

The Coolpix 5000 offers a number "motor drive" rapid-exposure modes for capturing quick sequences of images. Five modes (Continuous L, Continuous H, High Speed Continuous, Ultra High Speed Continuous, and Multi-Shot 16) are selectable under the Continuous option of the settings menu. Continuous L mode captures as many as three frames, at three frames per second. Continuous H mode captures as many as four frames, at three frames per second. High Speed Continuous mode captures SXGA, XGA, VGA-size images at approximately five frames per second, with the maximum number of frames depending on the amount of CompactFlash space available. In Ultra High Speed Continuous mode, the Coolpix 5000 captures as many as 100 frames at 30 frames per second, in the QVGA resolution size. Multi-Shot 16 mode subdivides the image area into 16 sections and captured a "mini-movie" of small images (400 x 300 resolution), which fills-in a 4x4 array within a single high-resolution image as the shooting progressed. Frame rates in Multi-Shot 16 are as fast as five frames per second.

Movie Mode

The Coolpix 5000 also records moving images with sound. In Movie mode, the camera captures movies as long as 60 seconds (depending on the amount of available memory space) at approximately 15 frames per second. (Note that these numbers differ from ones published by Nikon prior to the 5000's release - those numbers stated 30 frames/second, and 40 second maximum length.) Movies are recorded at QVGA (320x240) resolution. The prototype 5000 let me zoom the lens while the movie was recording, but this proved to be a really bad idea, as the sound of the lens motor totally swamped any sounds I might have been interested in recording. The production model wisely disables the lens zoom during movie recording, but does give you a fairly small digital zoom range, so you can do at least a little framing while recording movies.

 

 

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I now routinely measure it with a special electronic test setup I constructed for the purpose. Here's the full set of timing numbers I measured for the Coolpix 5000:

Nikon Coolpix 5000 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Normal Card
Notes
Power On -> First shot
 6.97
Rather slow: Takes quite a while for the lens to telescope out and the camera to get ready to shoot.
Shutdown
 3.7/whatever
It takes 3.7 seconds for the lens to retract if the camera is otherwise unoccupied, but could take a hundred seconds or more if you've just filled the buffer memory with a large continuous sequence. - The lens doesn't retract until the camera has finished saving data to the memory card.
Play to Record, first shot
2.09
About average for a high-end prosumer camera.
Record to play
1.40
Pretty quick to display images, using the "quick review" button.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
1.06-1.18
This is a little on the slow side of average for high-end consumer cameras. Nikon had touted very fast shutter delay before the camera came out, but the full-autofocus numbers really don't qualify.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.616
Also somewhat leisurely - the average delay in manual focus mode for high-end consumer models is about 0.5 seconds. (Still too slow, IMHO.)
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.157
Quicker than average, and not bad, but still not the fastest "prosumer" camera in this regard. (Lest any question, I repeated this timing test multiple times, with identical results. I occasionally got slightly faster times, but the absolute shortest in any mode was 0.137 seconds)
Cycle time, large/fine files
2.2/15.8/49.8
Pretty fast. Shorter time is for first 8 shots, then need to wait for the buffer to "drain" before next shot. The buffer doesn't completely empty (ready for another set of 8 shots) until 49.8 seconds has elapsed.
Cycle time, small/basic files
1.94/2.44
Pretty quick. Over 80 shots before buffer filled.
Cycle time, TIFF files
63.3
TIFF mode files are huge, take a looong time to write. Quite a bit of variation in TIFF writing speed between cards - The time at left was with a SimpleTech 320MB card, a Lexar 12x card wrote in about 24 seconds.
Continuous mode (High Speed), large files
0.50/22.0
2 frames per second for 3 frames, then must wait about 22 seconds before it will snap the next set of 3 frames. (Nikon's spec is 3 fps, I'm not sure why my test showed slower. I repeated several times with two different units, with the same results.)
Continuous mode (Low Speed), large files
0.77/67.5
Snaps up to 8 frames at the roughly 1.3 frame/second rate, then drops to between 9 and 10 seconds per frame. (Nikon's spec is 1.5 fps.) Buffer clears completely in about 67 seconds.
Multi-Shot 16
0.29/7.16
Divides full-sized frame into a 4x4 matrix of sub-pictures. 0.29 seconds between shots (3.44 frames/second) for 16 low-res images,then 7.16 second delay before next shot is ready.
High Speed Sequence
0.77/159.5
An interesting mode, saves files at "normal" (medium) JPEG quality, but can snap a very large number of shots without pausing. - Nikon claims up to 100 (likely depending on subject detail), in my test, I got 61 shots, at 0.77 seconds between frames (1.3 frames/second). When done though, it takes a *really* long time to flush the buffer, 159 seconds in my test.
Ultra High Speed
0.035/91.3
WOW, this is fast! Great for time/motion studies (golf/tennis swings?). Captures up to 100 images at 320x240 resolution, "normal" JPEG quality. Shot to shot interval is only 0.035 seconds, or 28.8 frames/second. - This is actually faster than the 5000's movie mode, but you can only capture about 3 seconds of action, and the action is in individual files. When done shooting, it took the camera 91.3 seconds to empty the buffer memory to the card.
Movie Mode
~15 frames/second, with sound.
Movie mode will record up to 60 seconds of 320x240 "QVGA" resolution action with sound. It took 70.4 seconds for the camera to finish writing to the card after a 60 second clip was shot.

In normal operating modes, the Coolpix 5000 is quick between shots, with a very large buffer permitting capture of 8 full-resolution, maximum-quality frames at roughly 2.2 second intervals. It's various "high speed" modes provide a useful range of options, trading off various parameters against speed in different ways. Its Continuous (High Speed) mode captures bursts of up to three frames, at a rate of 2 frames per second, while the Continuous (Low Speed) mode captures up to 8 frames at 1.3 frames per second. (Note that these figures are based on my own measurements: Nikon claims 3 and 1.5 frames per second respectively for these modes.) Finally, the "High Speed Sequence" mode drops image quality at full resolution to the "normal" setting, but permits you to capture a very large number of shots (Nikon claims up to 100, depending on subject matter, I managed 61 shots of my timing display). Being the "measurement nut" that I am, I found the "Ultra High Speed" mode the most interesting. - It lets you capture up to 100 frames at 320x240 resolution, at an incredible 30 frames per second. - This would be great for things like analyzing golf or tennis swings, or possibly monitoring industrial processes, etc.

While its cycle time is really excellent, I didn't find the 5000's shutter lag to be up to Nikon's advance billing. Prior to its release, Nikon promoted the 5000 as having speed on a par with film cameras. The result was a lot of buzz about how fast the 5000 would be when it came out, fueled in part by my own excited burbling about what that might mean. It turns out though, that the claim was actually quite restricted in its scope, only referring to shutter delay when the camera was prefocused. Even at that, many digicams are as fast or faster than the 5000 when they are prefocused before the shot. My own tests showed a prefocus shutter delay of about 157 milliseconds, with occasional instances slightly below that. The fastest time I saw on any trial was 137 milliseconds. Nikon's internal numbers apparently reflect a shutter delay of well under 100 milliseconds, but I never saw a delay that short on either of the two production units I tested. In full autofocus mode, the 5000 is actually a bit slower than average, with times in my tests ranging from 1.06 to 1.18 seconds (wide angle and telephoto, respectively). These times are far from the best, but likewise aren't horrible either, overall being a bit on the high side of average. (They're almost identical to the shutter delay times I measured for the Sony F707, for instance, which came in at 1.06 to 1.11.) Nikon's promotion of the 5000 as a camera with low shutter lag raised expectations in this area though, to the point that some users are bound to be disappointed. With a shutter delay slightly on the long side of average, the 5000 might have passed with little comment in this area. Given the expectations that were raised though, I'm afraid Nikon could be in for a hard time from some quarters. (Personally, I think all consumer and prosumer digicams are far too slow, and would have liked to see the 5000 come in with a much faster shutter-lag performance. I don't want to blast them though, when other manufacturers products don't perform all that differently.)

Shutter Delays
Nikon 5000
Sony F707
Canon G2
Olympus 4040
Minolta D7
Fuji 6900
Full AF
1.06 - 1.18
1.06 - 1.11
0.88 - 1.30
0.83 - 0.89
1.00 - 1.26
0.65 - 1.0
Manual Focus
0.62
0.60
0.55
0.73
0.25
0.28
Prefocus
0.157
0.18
0.095
0.27
0.17
0.21

I'm expecting this area to be controversial, and so prepared the table above based on data extracted from my reviews of a number of high-end "prosumer" cameras currently on the market. As you can see, the 5000's shutter delay performance is pretty close to average overall. Some cameras are faster in full autofocus but slower in manual focus or prefocus modes. (The Olympus 4040, for instance.) No one camera wins decisively overall, and all of them are grossly slow (IMHO) compared to even midrange film cameras. I do wish someone would come up with the definitive answer for slow AF performance on consumer/prosumer digicams, but thus far nobody has. Definitely an area with great room for improvement by all parties, at least in the $1200-and-below price range.

 

 

Operation and User Interface

The user interface on the Coolpix 5000 is very similar to that found in other Nikon Coolpix models, most notably the recent 995. The LCD menu system is available for novices, and for less commonly used controls, but experienced users will find they can make virtually all of the necessary adjustments for routine shooting without resorting to the LCD screen. Once you learn where the functions are, operation is quick and intuitive, thanks to the multiple control buttons and the excellent use Nikon makes of the black/white LCD readout and the Command dial. (Big kudos to Nikon on this point, it'll go a long ways toward conserving battery life.) The inclusion of programmable Function keys adds flexibility, allowing you to customize the camera to your specific shooting needs by moving frequently-used settings up to the two top-panel function buttons. Exposure compensation, exposure mode, ISO value, image quality and size, as well as focus controls (manual focus setting, macro, and infinity focus) and flash mode can all be adjusted without the LCD. The small monochrome LCD status display panel provides clear feedback for all these settings as well. When you do have to delve into the (very extensive!) LCD menu system, navigation via the Arrow rocker control is intuitive and quick. In Record mode, the menu system is split into 3 pages of options, with the nice touch is a tabbed interface, by which you can jump between pages with only a few clicks of the rocker button, rather than scrolling through every option on each screen. In normal operation, most of the camera's functions are controlled by a combination of hitting a button and turning the Command wheel, which makes it very fast and efficient to change settings without eating up battery power for the large LCD or wasting time scrolling through endless menu screens. Control layout is also very logical, allowing one-handed operation for commonly changed functions, requiring a two-handed approach only for manual focus setting, ISO, flash mode, and size/quality adjustment.

Control Enumeration


Shutter Button
: Located on top of the camera (on the sloping front) and encircled by the Power switch, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Power Switch
: Surrounding the shutter button on the camera's top panel, this dial just turns the camera on or off.


Mode/Func.1 Button
: Just behind the Power switch on the top panel, this button selects the exposure system mode (Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual) when held down while turning the Command dial. In Manual exposure mode (meaning manual control over both aperture and shutter speed settings), a quick press of this button selects either the aperture or shutter speed setting, allowing you to change it by turning the Command dial. A second press selects the other exposure parameter. This button can also be programmed through the Setup menu to access various exposure functions with a single button actuation. (Exposure mode, landscape/macro/self timer, flash mode, white balance, exposure compensation, metering pattern.)


+/- / Func.2 Button
: Directly to the right of the Mode button, this button adjusts the amount of exposure compensation (from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments) when held down while turning the Command dial. This button can also be programmed through the Setup menu to access various exposure functions, the same as the Func. 1 button.


Func. Button
: Just to the left of the Mode and +/- buttons, this button let you switch between any of four preprogrammed camera setups. You can set up the camera for three completely different shooting scenarios (or leave it in "auto" mode), and then switch quickly between them by pressing this button and rotating the command wheel. Menu items programmable via the user setups include white balance, metering pattern, continuous-shooting modes, Best Shot Selector, image adjustment (brightness/contrast), color saturation control, and adapter lens setting. Also memorized within each user mode are non-menu items such as exposure mode settings, flash mode settings, and exposure compensation adjustments. NOTE: I was puzzled by this until I read the manual. - None of the advanced features of the 5000 are available to you until you take the camera out of Auto mode via this button (or the menu system). (There! I just saved you reading the manual! ;-) The function controlled by the Func. button can be changed by a LCD menu option, to include user mode, focus setting, flash mode, white balance, or metering pattern. Very handy!


Command Wheel
: Located in the far rear, righthand corner of the top of the camera, this rotary control is used in conjunction with many of the other buttons on the camera to change camera settings. Pressing the appropriate button and rotating this wheel one way or the other steps through the options available for the option in question. In programmed exposure mode, rotating this wheel at any time (e.g., with no button pressed) varies the exposure program, biasing it toward larger or smaller aperture settings. (A very handy way to control depth of field in your photos, without having to bother with the aperture priority exposure mode.)


Diopter Adjustment Slider
: Located directly beneath the optical viewfinder, this small, black slide control adjusts the viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers.


Quick Review Button
: With the LCD screen flipped around to face the user, the three buttons associated with it are arranged across the bottom. The leftmost of these buttons is the Quick Review button. Pressed once, this button calls up a thumbnail sized display of the most recently captured image while in either record mode, appearing in the upper left-hand corner. The left and right arrow keys scroll through the remaining captured images on the memory card. Pressed a second time, it expands the thumbnail view to a full-screen display of the captured images on the card, complete with an image information overlay. The Quick Review mode is canceled by pressing the button a third time, or by pressing the shutter button.

Menu Button: Located directly to the right of the Quick Review button, this button brings up the settings menu in all capture modes as well as in Playback mode. Pressing it a second time either switches to a second menu screen (if one exists for the mode you happen to be in) or cancels the menu.

Monitor Button: The rightmost of the three buttons beneath the LCD screen, this button recalls or cancels the color LCD screen information display and viewfinder display. Pressing the button multiple times steps you through a normal LCD display (with information overlay), a display of the image alone, with no overlay, or no display, with the LCD display turned off.


W/T Rocker Control
: Located at the upper right hand corner to the right of the Menu button, these buttons control the optical zoom in all capture modes. Likewise, when the digital telephoto option is enabled, these buttons control the amount of digital zoom (from 1.1x to 4.0x). In single-image playback mode, pressing the "T" button repeatedly zooms in on the image (you can scroll around in the zoomed image by using the Arrow Rocker control). Pressing the "W" side of the control cancels zoomed playback. Pressing it again switches to 4-image thumbnail view, and another press switches to 9-image thumbnail view. Pressing the "T" side of the control steps back through the sequence in the other direction.


Play/Record Switch
: Just under the W/T zoom control, this control switches between playback and record modes. (You can also enter playback mode by hitting the Quick Review button twice.)


Flash/ISO
: This button is just below and to the left of the Play/Record switch. (Whoops! I need to reshoot this product shot, the labeling changed from the prototype that the photo at left was shot from - This button was apparently intended to control the thumbnail display in Playback mode, but that function is handled by the zoom lever on the production units.) Pressing this button in record mode sequentially steps you through the various flash modes available. (Auto, off, auto red-eye reduction, forced on ("fill"), forced on w/slow shutter). Pressing this button while rotating the command dial selects from among the ISO options. (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800)


AF/MF/Trash Button
: In record mode, pressing this button steps you through the various programmed focus modes (normal autofocus, landscape mode (infinity focus), macro mode, macro with self-timer). Note that the combined Macro/Self Timer isn't a problem, since the camera can focus all the way to infinity when in "macro" mode. - Macro mode simply allows the lens to traverse a greater range when focusing. Pressing this button while rotating the command wheel switches you to manual focus mode and sets the focus distance. In playback mode, this is the "trash" button, which calls up a confirmation dialog, asking if you want to delete the current image.


Quality/Size Button
: Located at the bottom of the rear panel, this button cycles between image quality options (Basic, Normal, Fine, and Hi) in all record modes. (Although Hi (uncompressed) is only available for full-sized images.) In any record mode, holding this button down while rotating the Command Dial cycles through the image size settings [2,560 x 1,920, (UXGA)1,600 x 1,200, (SXGA) 1,280 x 960, (XGA) 1,024 x 768, (VGA) 640 x 480, (3:2) 2,560 x 1,704]. In Playback mode, if the currently selected picture is a movie sequence, this button initiates playback of it.


Arrow Rocker Toggle
: Situated on the far right of the rear panel, this control features four arrows that allow the user to navigate through the LCD menu system and make selections in Record and Playback modes. Different menu items are selected via the up/down arrows. Pressing the right arrow selects the item, generally taking you into a sub-menu. Pressing the left arrow takes you back out again. Once in a sub-menu, the up/down arrows again step between items, while a right-arrow selects. This process continues until you arrive at the final point of selection, upon which another right-arrow actuation makes that selection and returns you to the main menu. (This is a very nice user interface implementation, with no need to switch to another button to make the selection itself: The Arrow Rocker both navigates and selects.) I was also pleased to see that I could left-arrow from the initial screen, to go to a set of tabs that let you quickly jump from menu screen one to two, or to the setup screen very quickly, without scrolling through all the menu entries first.


 

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Shooting Mode: Unlike the Coolpix 995 before it, the 5000 doesn't have separate "auto" and "manual" modes. A rear-panel switch selects between shooting and playback modes, but the common"auto" and "manual" options in shooting mode are selected via "User Setting" option, rather than an external knob setting, as in the 995 and other Nikon cameras. - This is a little less straightforward, and I confess initially left me confused as to how to access all the exposure controls and sophisticated options the 5000 offers. (I had to actually look at the manual. The shame, the shame... ;-) See the notes on Shooting Mode Screen 1 below for more details on this. The shooting menu options are divided into three screens, with functions as described below:


Screen One


Screen Two



Setup Screen



Playback Mode: Accessed by flipping the rear-panel mode switch to the "Play" position, this mode lets you view captured images and movies. The right and left arrow buttons scroll through images while the zoom control magnifies the image, or lets you view an "index" display of 4 or 9 images at a time.The AF button becomes the Delete button for quick image deletion. Pressing the Menu button in this mode calls up the Playback settings menu:

Screen One



Setup Screen


 

 

Image Storage and Interface

The Coolpix 5000 uses standard CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, and a 32MB card is included with the camera. Given the size of the images though (not to mention the current low prices on memory cards), I strongly recommend buying a larger card. Captured images can be individually write-protected through the Playback menu, but write protected files are only immune to accidental deletion, not card reformatting. File formats include several levels of compressed JPEG files as well as an uncompressed TIFF mode (Hi quality setting). Available image sizes are 2,560 x 1,920, 3:2 Ratio (2,560 x 1,700), 1,600 x 1,200 (UXGA), 1,280 x 960 (SXGA), 1,024 x 768 (XGA), and 640 x 480 (VGA) pixels. The table below details the Coolpix 5000's approximate file sizes and compression ratios in all its various image size/quality combinations.


 

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
32MB Memory Card
Hi
Fine
Normal
Basic
Full
Resolution
2560x1920
Images
(Avg size)
1
14.7 MB
12
2.6 MB
25
1.3 MB
51
0.6 MB
Approx.
Compression
1:1 6:1 12:1
24:1
UXGA
Resolution
1600x1200
Images
(Avg size)
- 32
1.00 MB
62
0.52 MB
117
0.27 MB
Approx.
Compression
- 6:1 11:1
21:1
SXGA
Resolution
1280x960
Images
(Avg size)
-
49
0.65 MB
94
0.34 MB
171
0.19 MB
Approx.
Compression
-
6:1
11:1
20:1
XGA
Resolution
1024x768
Images
(Avg size)
-
75
0.43 MB
138
0.23 MB
241
0.13 MB
Approx.
Compression
-
6:1
10:1
18:1
VGA
Resolution
640x480
Images
(Avg size)
-
217
0.15 MB
286
0.11 MB
455
0.07 MB
Approx.
Compression
-
6:1
8:1
13:1
(3:2)
2560x1704
Images
(Avg size)
- 22
1.5 MB
28
1.1 MB
55
0.6 MB
Approx.
Compression
- 9:1 12:1
22:1

 

With its high resolution and large 8-frame buffer, the Coolpix 5000 is a camera that'll fill up a memory card plenty fast. Even though the 32MB memory card included in the box is fairly generous by digicam manufacturer standards, you should really consider it to be just a With its high resolution and large 8-frame buffer, the Coolpix 5000 is a camera that'll fill up a memory card plenty fast. Even though the 32MB memory card included in the box is fairly generous by digicam manufacturer standards, you should really consider it to be just a "starter" card, and plan on buying a larger one immediately. (Here's a tip, get the largest you can reasonably afford - I can vouch from personal experience that even a couple of hundred megabytes can vanish faster than you'd think! A nice thing about memory cards is that they're universal enough that you can pretty well count on using whatever extra card(s) you buy now with your next camera when you upgrade a couple of years down the line.) To help you shop for a good deal on memory cards that fit the Coolpix 5000, we've put together a little memory locater, with links to our price-comparison engine: Just click on the "Memory Wizard" at right to go to the Nikon memory finder, select your camera model (the Coolpix 5000, in this case), and click the shopping cart icon next to the card size you're interested in. You'll see a list of matching entries from the price-comparison database. Pick a vendor &

Nikon has officially certified the IBM MicroDrives for use in the Coolpix 5000, although only the more recent 512MB and 1GB models. (The camera may not start up properly with the original 170/340 megabyte models.) While their formal press release made no mention of it, in earlier communications, they expressed concern over higher power consumption relative to standard CF cards. I don't have a 1GB MicroDrive on hand, but did perform some power tests with the older, supposedly higher-power 340 MB model, with the results reported in the following Nikon has officially certified the IBM MicroDrives for use in the Coolpix 5000, although only the more recent 512MB and 1GB models. (The camera may not start up properly with the original 170/340 megabyte models.) While their formal press release made no mention of it, in earlier communications, they expressed concern over higher power consumption relative to standard CF cards. I don't have a 1GB MicroDrive on hand, but did perform some power tests with the older, supposedly higher-power 340 MB model, with the results reported in the following "Video, Power, Software"

The Coolpix 5000 uses a USB interface to connect to a host computer for image downloading. Like many higher-end cameras these days, it's a "storage class" device, which means that Mac users on OS 8.6 or greater, or Windows Me, 2000, or XP users can just plug the camera into their computers and have it appear as a removable hard drive. Connected to my 500 MHz G4 Macintosh, I clocked the data transfer rate at 632 KBytes/second, among the fastest I've seen.

Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

 

 

 

Video Out

US and Japanese versions of the Coolpix 5000 include an NTSC video cable for connecting to a television set. European models will doubtless support PAL timing and connections, given the Video Mode option in the settings menu. All images that would normally appear on the LCD are routed to the external video display so that the television screen becomes an enlarged version of the LCD monitor and can be used both for image playback and composition.


Power

The Coolpix 5000 runs on a rechargeable EN-EL1 lithium-ion battery pack, housed inside the hand grip, or an external AC adapter which plugs into the front of the camera (available as a separate accessory). The camera can also utilize one 6V 2CR5/DL245 lithium battery, or six AA batteries via an external Power Pack (also available as a separate accessory). Nikon estimates that a fully charged battery pack should provide about 100 minutes of recording time, with the LCD monitor enabled, a figure that agrees almost exactly with my own measurements. Working with the LCD monitor disabled greatly increases battery life with the Coolpix 5000, and the ability to switch the autofocus mode from Continuous AF to Single AF saves some battery power as well.

The table below summarizes my power measurements on the Coolpix 5000. The drain in milliamps was measured at the external power terminal with no battery inserted, at the specified 8.4 volts. I used these numbers to calculate battery life in each operating mode, correcting for the increase in current drain at the lower terminal voltage of the battery. The good news is you can blithely leave the Coolpix 5000 on all day with the LCD off without depleting the battery significantly. The bad news though, is that the rather low energy density of the EN-EL1 pack gives a runtime in the camera's worst-case operating mode (capture mode with the LCD powered up) of only 100 minutes or so. This is fairly short of an "enthusiast" camera, the users of which are more inclined than most to spend an entire day actively shooting. You'll definitely want to purchase a second EN-EL1 battery pack to go along with your camera, and will very likely want to consider an external battery pack for much longer run times. Here's a table with the power-consumption numbers I measured:

 

Operating Mode
Power Drain
(@ 8.4 v)
Estimated Minutes
(650mAh, 7.4v
EN-EL1)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
340 mA
101
Capture Mode, w/LCD, w/MicroDrive
(Drive spinning/not)
460/360 mA
75/95
Capture Mode, no LCD
20 mA
(~28 hours)
Capture Mode, no LCD, w/MicroDrive
(Drive spinning/not)
370/20 mA
93/~28 hours
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
330 mA
104
Half-pressed w/o LCD
250 mA
137
Memory Write (transient)
420 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
560 mA
n/a
Image Playback
190 mA
180
Image Playback, w/MicroDrive
(Drive spinning/not)
210/330 mA
104/163

 

Nikon has now officially certified the use of IBM's MicroDrives in the Coolpix 5000. Although their press release on the topic didn't indicate any adverse consequences, their original communications on the topic expressed concern about higher power consumption and shorter battery life. I don't have one of the newer (supposedly lower-power) MicroDrives here, only one of the original 340 MB units, but nonetheless used that to test power drain in the Coolpix 5000, with the results shown above. Power drain doesn't actually look all that much higher than with a CF card, but note that the drive remains spinning for about 30 seconds at a time, after it needed to be activated to record or display a photo. This would definitely contribute to more power drain than you'd find with a flash memory card, especially if you were running with the LCD display off.

 

I mentioned external power packs above: Another consequence of the LiIon battery technology used in the 5000's power pack is that the camera requires a higher voltage on its external power jack to operate. This isn't an issue for studio use, but it does mean that most of the NiMH-based external power packs out there won't power the 5000 in the field. Fortunately, Maha Energy makes a LiIon external "PowerBank" (shown above, sold under the "PowerEx" brand) that will power the 5000 just fine. For about $60, this (very nicely packaged) unit will power the 5000 for a total of about 5 3/4 hours in capture mode with the LCD operating, when used in conjunction with the internal battery. (!) This is a fantastic run time, just what you'd need for all-day intensive shooting. One note - Maha makes both NiMH and LiIon versions of the PowerBank, make sure you get the LiIon model for the 5000. (Model number MH-DPB140LI.) You can order these online from Here's a link where you can find them online for a good price. Highly recommended! (For more information, read my review of the PowerBank packs.)

Although I didn't get to play with one, and so don't have a product photo of it, Nikon apparently will also offer an accessory power grip for the Coolpix 5000, which will incorporate 6 AA cells into its body. With 1700 mAh cells, this would provide about 2.5x the power of the standard EN-EL1 LiIon pack, a very welcome boost for serious shooters.

 

Included Software

The software they didn't include...
(But that you should)
Few people realize just how *much* you can improve your digicam images through clever processing in Photoshop. Greatly (!) increased sharpness, reduced noise, and even ultra-wide dynamic range (light-to-dark range) by combining multiple exposures. Fred Miranda and uber-Photoshop expert Fred Miranda has packaged some of his Photoshop magic in a collection of powerful and affordably priced "actions." Check out his site, the results are pretty amazing!
Camera manuals are (sometimes) fine for knowing which button does what, but where do you go to learn how and when to use the various features? Dennis Curtin's "Shortcourses" books and CDs are the answer. (Cheap for what you get, too.) Order the Shortcourses manual for the camera reviewed in this article.

Packaged with the Coolpix 5000 is a software CD containing Nikon View Version 4, a complete suite of ArcSoft programs, including PanoramaMaker 2000, PhotoImpression, PhotoPrinter Pro, PhotoStudio 2000, and VideoImpression 1.5 (phew), iView Multimedia MediaPro Demo (Mac only), Canto Cumulus 5.0 Demo, and Altamira's Genuine Fractals 2.0LE. A USB cable also comes with the camera, for quick connection to a PC or Macintosh. The Nikon View software allows you to quickly download and organize images, and works with the camera's Auto Transfer option (in the Playback menu). When Auto Transfer is turned on, Nikon View will automatically download images as soon as the camera is connected, saving you a little time. The functions of the ArcSoft programs are more or less self-explanatory, based on their names. PanoramaMaker stitches multiple overlapping images together into larger panoramas. PhotoImpression lets you edit and retouch your photos, then use them to make cards, calendars, and other projects. PhotoPrinter Pro is a handy utility for printing multiple digital photos on each sheet of paper, saving expensive inkjet supplies. PhotoStudio is a pretty general image editing and retouching application. VideoImpression is an easy to use tool for editing video and still images into multimedia presentations.

Of all the software included, only Nikon View and the ArcSoft packages are other than trial or "demo" versions, offering only a subset of the packages full capabilities, or full capabilities for a limited time. Still, they're good for checking out some interesting software you might not get a look at otherwise. Canto's Cumulus is one of the best image database packages out there, and iView MediaPro is an excellent "media organizer" for Mac users with a multitude of handy functions. (Well worth the $50 registration fee, if you're a Mac user, IMHO.) Genuine Fractals is a tool for "resampling" digital image files to much larger sizes. The LE version is limited to input files of 10 megabytes or smaller, and to creating output files 64 megabytes or smaller. Other than the size limitations, the product is fully functional. (The only problem is that the Coolpix 5000's highest-resolution images are about 14 megabytes in size. - This means you can only use Genuine Fractals on photos shot at the 1600x1200 pixel image size or smaller, which would really be a little pointless - You'd be trading away half the resolution the camera was capable of before you got started.

 

In the Box

Packaged with the Coolpix 5000 are the following:

 

 

Test Results
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In keeping with our standard policy, my comments here are rather condensed, summarizing my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Coolpix 5000's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the Coolpix 5000 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the Coolpix 5000 performed very well, delivering good image quality and excellent color throughout my testing. Colors were very natural and accurate, looking more "film-like" than some competing models with higher color saturation. Under daylight conditions, the auto white balance was quite accurate, although I sometimes chose the Daylight white balance preset to get a slightly warmer tone. Manual white balance seemed a little problematic though, as I frequently got a slightly greenish cast from it. - I'm going to experiment a bit further with it, to see if it might have been the paper I was using as a white reference, but at this point, I'm thinking it's the white balance itself that was just a tad green. Indoors (under household incandescent lighting), the Manual white balance option was the only satisfactory option, as both Auto and Incandescent settings produced shots that were too warm-toned. Overall though, for the vast majority of shots, Auto white balance worked fine.

The default tonal balance of the Coolpix 5000 was just slightly contrasty for my tastes, but overall about in the middle of the range among digicams I've tested. In contrasty scenes, highlights tended to get a little "hot" if the midtones were properly exposed, but as noted, the 5000 was actually about average in this respect. I also found the 5000's image noise levels a bit higher than average, relative to its competition, with the greatest impact in the blue channel. Image noise is an area that people respond very differently to. For some, noise is anathema, cause for much wailing and gnashing of teeth. For others, it's just "digital film grain", and not a cause for particular concern (unless it's *really* bad). The noise levels on the Coolpix 5000 are a bit higher than some competing models, but well within the range most users will find acceptable. - But please don't take my word for it: The whole point of me shooting all the standardized test photos I do is so you can form your own opinions of which camera you like best.

On the noise front, I've just recently become aware of some amazing and very affordable Photoshop "actions" developed by pro photographer Fred Miranda that do an incredible job of reducing image noise without significantly impacting detail. Fred's developed a custom set of actions specifically tuned to the 5000's image characteristics that do a fantastic job of cleaning up the 5000's chroma noise, especially at high ISOs. (The ISOR filter cuts the image noise by almost two stops, making ISO 400 look nearly as good as 100, and 800 look nearly as good as 200, etc. - I checked a chunk of the wall in these sample images, the standard deviation at ISO 400 from the camera was 4.96, but only 2.27 after ISOR. At ISO 100 out of the camera, it was 2.11.)

The photo above (click to see the full-sized version so you can really see the noise) shows how effective Fred's action is on an ISO 400 shot from the Coolpix 5000. If you have Photoshop, I think the $15 for Fred's "ISOR" actions should be a complete no-brainer for any Coolpix 5000 owner. - Click here for more information, or to buy them! (Congrats to Fred on an amazing job with this!)

The Coolpix 5000 did pretty well on my "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 - 1,100 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions, but I found "strong detail" out to about 1,250 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns occurred at about 1,500 lines. These results were somewhat interesting relative to the Sony F707, which uses the same CCD (AFAIK), but a different lens and different image processing. - The 5000 edges the 707 slightly in terms of the maximum frequency it can cleanly resolve (the 707 showed more aliasing at the 1200-1300 line level), but the 707 shows at least some image activity to much higher levels (the "extinction" point). - This supports my earlier conclusion that the 5000 seems to be capturing as much actual detail, but just isn't displaying it as crisply in its files. I spent some time squinting at 8x10 and larger prints from both cameras, and found that the 5000 seemed to do a better job with high-contrast fine detail (eg, tree branches against the sky), while the F707 did better with low-contrast fine detail (eg, hair on people's heads). Both cameras capture a lot of detail, and you can make quite large prints with no pixelization or artifacts from both. Ultimately, it'll come down to personal preference (as it always does anyway) which camera any given user will prefer.

Optical distortion on the Coolpix 5000 was just on the high side of average with the lens set to its widest angle focal length, where I measured an approximate 0.88 percent barrel distortion. (The average is closer to 0.8 percent. I'd really like to see *all* digicam lenses have lower barrel distortion, but the 5000 is only just over average in this respect.) The telephoto end fared better, as I found about 0.19 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is moderate, showing about three or four pixels of red coloration and five or six pixels of green coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) The Chromatic Aberration doesn't seem much worse than average (on this test at least), but IMHO, "average" is too high for a high-end camera like the Coolpix 5000. (For what it's worth, the Canon G2's lens had less, while the F707's lens had the same amount or more.)

The Coolpix 5000 offers full manual exposure control and a maximum timed exposure of 8 seconds (outside of the Bulb setting), with bulb exposures as long as 5 minutes possible. Combined with Nikon's noise reduction system, this gives the camera excellent low-light shooting abilities. The camera captured bright, clear images at light levels down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) light limit of my test at all four ISO settings (100, 200, 400, and 800 equivalents). Color looked good as well, even at the darkest light levels. Noise remained low at the 100 and 200 ISO settings, increasing slightly at ISO 400. Noise was much higher at ISO 800 (as you'd expect), even with the camera's Noise Reduction feature turned on.

The Coolpix 5000's optical viewfinder is a little tight, as I measured approximately 87 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 82 percent at telephoto. (Most digicams seem to aim for about an 85% frame coverage with their optical viewfinders, so the 5000 is average in this respect. Inaccurate optical viewfinders are a pet peeve of mine though - I really don't see why digicams, especially high-end ones like the Coolpix 5000, shouldn't have more accurate optical finders.) The LCD monitor fared much better, showing approximately 98 percent of the frame at wide angle, and about 99 percent at telephoto.

Like the rest of Nikon's Coolpix line, the Coolpix 5000 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a tiny minimum area of just 1.29 x 0.96 inches (32.7 x 24.5 millimeters), among the better macro areas I've seen. Resolution was outstanding in the details of the dollar bill, and the printing details were very sharp. The close shooting range rendered the brooch details out of focus (this is normal, due to the limited depth of field this close), and I noticed some minor corner softness from the lens in the left corners. (Corner softness is also common in extreme macro shots with digicams. - You really need to go to a high-end macro lens on an SLR to avoid the curvature of field that produces this in extreme macro shooting.) Color was good as well. While the Coolpix 5000's flash had trouble throttling down for the ultra-close macro range, it actually did much better than I expected, given the very close proximity of the camera to the subject.t.

Overall, I liked the Nikon 5000 quite a bit. Most of all, I liked its very natural, "filmlike" color rendition. I really think Nikon got the color management on the 5000 just right: Appropriately saturated, hue-accurate, very pleasing. I'd like to see a bit less image noise, and "crisper" in-camera image sharpening, but prints I made from its files were very pleasing to the eye. On the plus side, its macro and low light capabilities are really outstanding. My favorite feature is the (magical) Best Shot Selector feature, which let me capture reasonably sharp handheld exposures at shutter times as long as 1/2 second.(!) Probably the bottom line is that I really enjoyed shooting with the Coolpix 5000 in the time I had with it, and it ended up being my camera of choice for several family events while I had it around. - Impressive, considering the range of cameras that were in the studio at the same time. (Sorry, I won't name names, to protect the innocent.)

Conclusion

In final analysis, the Coolpix 5000 is a great photographic tool. It offers excellent color, 5 megapixels of resolution, and the usual bevy of cool Nikon features. I really liked the articulated LCD screen, actually preferring it to the swivel-body design of earlier high-end Coolpix models. I also found the Nikon accessory lenses (I had a 2x telephoto and wide angle to play with) to be of exceptionally high quality, far beyond the typical add-on optics common in the digicam arena. The hot shoe for connecting an external flash is a very welcome addition, but I'm puzzled as to why Nikon didn't provide support for the zooming flash heads on their high-end speedlights. Still, the standard hot shoe makes interfacing to a host of third-party flash products (including studio strobes) easy. Looking over some of the emails I've gotten lately, and seeing some of the chat in our forums, I think Nikon's having a hard time living up to some of the advance billing of the product. It's a great camera, but not an event on the order of the Second Coming, which many Nikon enthusiasts had been building it up to. Nikon themselves raised expectations by touting it as being "as fast as a film camera", but that claim turned out to only apply to a very restricted shooting condition (when the camera is prefocused by a half-press of the shutter button), and shutter delay otherwise is only average. Had they not made the early speed claims, the 5000's performance in this area would likely have passed without comment. Apart from the speed, the 5000 wins in some areas (color, IMHO), and not in others (image noise, although not badly, again IMHO). Image-quality issues will have to be decided by each individual user, which is why I shoot so many standardized test images: Compare the test shots with other cameras you're interested in and make up your own mind. At the end of the day, I (personally) found the Coolpix 5000 to be a very appealing, functional, powerful photographic tool, comfortable in the hand, and easy to control. - And it took pictures I was happy with, often under challenging conditions, the true bottom line. Overall, I'm pretty confident in predicting that Nikon will have no trouble selling as many 5000's as they can make, and that they're going to make a lot of photographers very happy!

 

 

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