Nikon P5000 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Nikon Coolpix P5000
Resolution: 10.00 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/1.8"
Lens: 3.50x zoom
(36-126mm eq.)
Viewfinder: Optical / LCD
ISO: 64-3200
Shutter: 8-1/2000
Max Aperture: 2.7
Dimensions: 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.6 in.
(98 x 65 x 41 mm)
Weight: 7.1 oz (200 g)
MSRP: $400
Availability: 03/2007
Manufacturer: Nikon
10.00
Megapixels
3.50x zoom
1/1.8"
size sensor
image of Nikon Coolpix P5000
Front side of Nikon Coolpix P5000 digital camera Back side of Nikon Coolpix P5000 digital camera Top side of Nikon Coolpix P5000 digital camera Left side of Nikon Coolpix P5000 digital camera Right side of Nikon Coolpix P5000 digital camera

Nikon Coolpix P5000 Overview

by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 7/16/07

Aimed at photographers who want more control than is offered by many digital cameras, the Nikon P5000 offers a sensor resolution of 10 megapixels coupled to a Nikkor-branded 3.5x optical zoom lens with optical vibration reduction -- a useful addition that helps avoid blurring caused by camera shake in low light situations. There's also a sizeable 2.5 inches LCD display with anti-reflective coating on the Nikon P5000, and both Shutter- and Aperture-priority modes plus a true Manual mode to help unleash your creative side. If you prefer ease of use (or you might share the camera with a less experienced photographer), you'll be happy to know that the Nikon Coolpix P5000 can do all the work -- just put it in full Auto mode, or one of 16 different Scene modes.

Nikon is also known for a few special features that are included in the Coolpix P5000, including D-Lighting (which enhances darker images to improve shadow detail), Best Shot Selector mode (which takes a series of shots, letting the camera automatically pick the sharpest one, and discard the others), Red-Eye Fix (which automatically finds red-eye in your images, and eliminates it), and finally Face-Priority AF. This last feature can be pretty entertaining at first contact.; it'll keep you, and your friends dancing around in front of the camera to watch it put a "focus box" around your faces. Once you get used to face recognition though, you'll find it very reassuring to know that your loved one's faces will indeed be in focus before you take the shot.

Other features of the Nikon P5000 include a built-in flash as well as a hot-shoe compatible with Nikon's excellent iTTL Speedlight flash units, and ISO sensitivity values ranging from 64 to 2,000 (3,200 ISO is available at a reduced resolution of five megapixels). Images are stored in 21MB of internal memory, or on SD/MMC cards including newer SDHC types. The P5000 derives its power from a proprietary Lithium Ion battery.

The Nikon Coolpix P5000 ships from March 2007, priced at U.S. $400.

 

Nikon Coolpix P5000 User Report

by Mike Pasini

Intro. The first time we saw the Nikon Coolpix P5000 it was just a dream, but the Nikon team at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas could barely contain their excitement. They knew they had a Coolpix photographers would love. Full manual control. A hotshoe. An adapter for the Coolpix lens converters. Vibration Reduction. High ISO. All in an attractive, retro-styled box with a big LCD and a big sensor to match.

Front Views. Closed and extended.

And when I finally got my hands on one six months later, I fell in love too. I spent a month with it, trying the converters, shooting in Santa Barbara and San Francisco, with flash and without. I loved the grip, I loved the big type on the attractive gray and yellow menu system. I didn't even need the manual to figure out the buttons. I was most thrilled to see all the PASM options on the Mode dial: Programmed Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual mode. I thought this might be the one.

But -- well there has to be a 'but' -- the Nikon P5000 isn't without it's quirks. I was able to find a workaround for almost all of them. Whether that makes it your kind of camera or not depends on what kind of images you shoot. Let's take a closer look at this special digital camera.

Design. Everyone who saw the Coolpix P5000 (and we took it everywhere) loved it: It looks both serious and approachable. And it is both serious and approachable, too.

Grip. A natural fit.

It's also pocketable, much smaller than it appears in pictures of it; a bit like those first compact silver Coolpixes of years ago that were smaller than they looked. Yet it packs the same photographic punch as the hefty 8400/8800 Coolpix cameras of yore, which it resembles in no small part.

The magnesium shell is wrapped in a textured rubber grip. A thumb pad on the back panel compliments the front grip, which has a nicely sloped surface for the Shutter button and Zoom lever with a control dial perfectly placed for your thumb just behind them.

The large 2.5 inch LCD is bright and beautiful, too, with just the right right number of buttons running down its left side and a nice one-piece Multi-Selector to its right. Everything about this little wonder's hardware is nicely balanced, clearly laid out, easy to find and use.

Hot Shoe. Note the number of contacts.

A particularly nice touch is the Command Dial, a legacy of the 8400/8800. Command dials are common on dSLRs, where you press or hold in a button and use the dial to select one of the available settings for that option. But on digicams, the Multi-Selector often does dial duty instead. Press the Up arrow, for example, to activate the EV option and use the Left or Right arrows to select a setting. But on the P5000, you press the Right arrow to activate EV and use the Command Dial to select a setting.

You also use the Command Dial and not the Multi-Selector to scroll through the options for commands not on the LCD menu system. Hold in the Function button and use the Command Dial to scroll through the ISO settings. Set Manual mode on the Mode dial and use the Command Dial to change aperture or shutter, switching between them with the EV button on the Multi-Selector. In Program mode, the Command Dial scrolls through the aperture/shutter speed combinations.

Back. Simple controls with a generous thumb grip.

It's right above your thumb, always goes just right or left, and works with everything outside the Menu system. Very easy to get attached to. And it has a prominence on the top panel that won't let you forget it. But you won't forget it: You'll miss it on other cameras.

There's only one unfortunately placed item: the AF-assist lamp. It's right off the lens, which is normally not an issue. But if you mount an auxiliary lens, the broad lens converter attachment blocks the lamp. The wide angle converter just clips the beam, so it gets by and apparently functions normally, but the telephoto converter completely blocks it. Unavoidable perhaps, but it certainly explains the focusing problems we had with the telephoto converter in low light situations.

Top View. The Command Dial is a welcome addition.

So workaround number one is CameraBright (http://www.camerabright.com), a compact camera light composed of four LEDs that screws into the camera's tripod socket. That provides enough light for the contrast-detection autofocus to function.

You might also complain that the battery/card compartment hinge on the bottom is too close to the tripod mount. You'll have to remove anything screwed into the mount to get to the compartment. An AC adapter and a large SD card are the workarounds there.

But those two issues aside, this is an exceptionally well designed compact camera with top of the line fit and finish.

You would expect a prosumer digicam like the P5000 to weigh a bit more than those thin little subcompacts everyone loves -- and it does. But it's on the low end of average and feels very comfortable in the hand. It doesn't feel either heavy or light -- it's just right.

Battery/Card Compartment. With the hinge right next to the tripod socket, unfortunately.

At least until you attach a flash to the hot shoe. A strobe loaded with AAs weighs more than the camera itself, although Nikon has just introduced the SB-400, a trim little lightweight flash perfect for this model.

And I think you'll want to attach a flash to the P5000. The internal flash is good enough and even better than most but the P5000 integrates with an external flash so well, why deny yourself the pleasure of shooting with bounced flash?

Speedlight. Not as awkward as it looks.

That's just one more example of how this Coolpix was designed to be extended.

Display/Viewfinder. The P5000 has both an LCD and optical viewfinder. The optical viewfinder isn't any help when you use a converter, however. Both the wide angle and telephoto converter options block its view, which itself reflects only the built-in lens's range.

Converter lenses.

Those of us who are upset by the marginalization of the swivel-LCD design found on many classic Coolpix designs and not entirely mollified by the articulated LCDs found on some cameras today may be quick to dismiss the P5000's immovable LCD. But I had a little debate about that with O'Reilly Publications author Mikkel Aaland at Macworld Expo.

He'd just finished making fun of the antique Coolpix 990 around my neck. But, I pointed out, with its swivel I could get shots other digicams with fixed LCDs could not. Not to be outdone, Mikkel showed me he could frame an overhead crowd shot in his Leica digicam's LCD. The Leica LCD didn't turn into an unviewable blob at a very sharp angle. Not that I admitted it.

Original WA Adapter

Well, it's actually the same with the P5000. Held high overhead or below the belt, you can still see the LCD well enough at that sharp angle to compose the image. If you can't have a swivel or articulated LCD, a sharp viewing angle is not a bad substitute, and the viewing angle on the P5000's LCD is easily among the widest I've ever seen.

It held up pretty well (if not great) in direct sunlight, too. It was hard to distinguish detail in the shadows on the LCD (which has a glossy surface that easily picks up fingerprints), but the brighter parts of the scene were detectable. I did have trouble at the beach seeing my composition with the wide angle converter in place. It makes the subjects smaller, of course, and in the bright sun, it was pretty hard to see them. Without a converter, of course, you can just peek through the optical viewfinder.

New WA Adapter.

And with 230,000 pixels, the Nikon P5000's resolution is excellent for examining your shots or just reading the large-type menu system. This is a higher resolution screen than you'll find on most digital cameras these days, and the result is noticeably crisp images -- Great if you like to share your photos by passing the camera around to your friends, to ogle the LCD. Just remember to bring along a microfiber cleaning cloth to polish that glossy surface.

Performance. Our lab performance figures for the P5000 were a mixed bag, and my experience with the P5000 uncovered several other issues worth exploring. Let's look at the numbers first.

Tele Adapter

Startup was on the slow side of average, not just for a prosumer digicam but even for an entry-level camera at just 1.8 second. Be sure to turn on the Quick Start option in the Setup menu to get the best performance, turning off the Welcome Screen and startup sound. Shutdown took a good deal longer at 2.5 seconds, but that's still average among cameras we've tested.

Where the P5000 really sounds an alarm, though is in autofocus performance. Wide-angle and telephoto shutter lag were both almost a full second, well below average for everything but a long zoom camera these days -- which the P5000 at 3.5x zoom is not. Prefocus delay is fortunately much better though: This is where you half-press and hold down the shutter button before taking the shot itself, to let the camera get all its autofocus and exposure determination out of the way first. Then, when you finally press the shutter button the rest of the way, the camera can snap the shot very quickly. On the Nikon P5000, the prefocus lag was only about 0.06 second, fast enough that you really won't notice the delay.

I tried both the Auto and Center autofocus options without any discernible difference in the shutter delay, so I asked Nikon about it. My contact identified the respondent only as a senior technical manager, but here's what he said:

"Auto is a Closest Subject Priority type autofocus system and needs to look for the subject closest to the AF sensor before it can acquire. I find this works well under 'normal' shooting conditions and will slow down when the light level drops.

"Center Area is where I use my camera and it works well for me. Since I am usually focusing on a particular area within the frame, I usually focus lock before I shoot, and when I do I find that P5000 responds rather quickly. There is no firmware at this time that will change this feature -- typical of Coolpix models."

Focus speed is the problem with shutter lag on the P5000. But I did find a reliable workaround to the focus issue, using the Macro mode control on the Multi-Selector to enable the focus limit option in one of the PASM modes. In this mode, the lens restricts its focus search to anything from six feet to infinity, perceptibly reducing the shutter lag. (Interestingly, the guys back at the IR test lab found no measurable difference in their shutter-response tests when switching between normal and focus-limited AF, but in my real-world shooting, I felt the difference was noticeable and worthwhile.)

Zoom performance was also a mixed bag. Optical zoom was smooth and a pleasure to use but digital zoom -- something I don't hesitate to use on a 10-Mp camera (particularly with the P5000's Crop mode) -- stepped through its settings very sluggishly: Seamless it is not.

Crop mode is one of two digital zoom options. The advantage of 'Crop' is that it does not upscale the image, so a digital zoom shot has the same quality (number of pixels) as a wide angle shot. The disadvantage is that it's only available when the camera is set to less than its full resolution; and the higher the resolution, the less zoom is available.

Shot-to-shot times were also rather slow for a camera of its class, with a wait of 2.9 seconds between full-resolution shots. If you switch to Continuous mode, you only get up to eight shots at 0.8 fps (1.3 seconds/shot). That's the price you pay for moving 10 megapixels around, I guess, but competing cameras from other manufacturers are nearly twice as fast. Turning Vibration Reduction off in the Setup menu seems to help reduce cycle times slightly, but the effect isn't dramatic, only a tenth of a second or so.

High ISO Detail. Top shows ISO 1600 with no Noise Reduction, middle shows it with Noise Reduction enabled, bottom shows the no-NR shot processed with Noiseware's default settings. Note that these are tiny 250x250 crops of the full image size of 3648x2736.

High ISO performance is also worth discussing. I'm the last guy to complain about noise in high ISO images because it lets you get a picture you otherwise would not. It certainly isn't the same kind of image you can capture at ISO 100, but if you can tolerate that you'll get some interesting shots. And I can tolerate interesting shots.

But the P5000's high ISO performance really surprised me. At first, I didn't find anything over 800 usable. The noise was pretty dominant, even when seen on the camera's LCD screen. Enabling noise reduction didn't seem to help much, either (although at ISO 3,200, which downsamples the 10-Mp sensor data to just 5-Mp, noise reduction was much more aggressive).

The workaround for this is no surprise: I used Noiseware's default settings to reduce the noise and discovered that the images held up pretty well. The Nikon P5000's noise behavior demonstrates a preference for retaining as much detail as possible, at the cost of letting more noise come through in the images. If you prefer, you can throttle that back later in software. But Nikon knows you can't add detail after the fact. An unusual but valuable approach.

Shutter speed goes only to eight seconds, not the usual 15 or 30 seconds of similar cameras, as lead test tech Luke Smith (who spent a lot of time with the camera taking our lab test shots) pointed out. On the other hand, the meter and Aperture Priority mode function well at very slow shutter speeds, unlike those competitors. This means you can get accurate exposures the first time, even under very dark conditions, but you'll need to use Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority, or Manual exposure mode at the very lowest light levels, as the maximum exposure time in Programmed exposure mode is only 2 seconds.

My telephoto shots were generally a little soft, confirming what the lab tests showed -- So my soft images aren't likely the result of an issue with finding focus.

I also found that in brightly lit scenes, the highlights had a soft halo around them, suggesting that the lens elements were not sufficiently coated to avoid flare. No cure for that, unfortunately.

The Good News. Those are the gripes and they may hit you where it hurts. The good news, if they don't, is from here on out, and it's all very good news.

That starts with Nikon's image quality. The color is natural, not oversaturated, and highlights are nicely contained (except for the aforementioned flare in brightly lit scenes) with shadow detail there, too. It's really some of the best JPEG file quality I've seen.

Of course, if you prefer saturated, high contrast images, there's a menu option (Optimize Image) to get them. Two options, actually: Vivid and More Vivid. And if you still aren't happy, there's a Custom option to tweak saturation, contrast and sharpness to your own standards.

The built-in 3.5x zoom has unusually high barrel distortion at wide angle but no distortion at telephoto. With a wide-angle converter that could make for some extremely high barrel distortion, but the P5000 also has a Distortion Control option to correct barrel distortion when a converter is attached. Compare our shot of a brick patio with and without that correction in the Nikon P5000's photo gallery. What I found very interesting about the distortion control option is that it's done quickly enough to correct even the live LCD viewfinder image.

Hot shoe. Another welcome feature is the hot shoe. The Nikon P5000's hot shoe sports several contacts, not just the firing pin. So the Coolpix P5000 can talk to Nikon's SB-400, SB-600 and SB-800 speedlights.

Camera Control. ISO, power, zoom camera settings all automatically set in the SB-800.

I mounted an SB-800 on the P5000 and watched as Nikon's iTTL mode took over, reading the ISO setting from the camera, power zooming along with the lens, and indicating the usable working range as I changed the camera's settings.

The strobe power was controlled by the camera, too, shutting down when the camera powered down. Nikon says that exposure with external flash units is controlled by a 'sensor flash system', which seems to function like a through-the-lens sensor. I took a wide angle shot of a black box against a white wall and a telephoto shot of just the box and the sensor properly adjusted the flash exposure for each shot, so it's reading the actual subject area as captured by the CCD, not just an overall area exposure. (Many digicams have a flash sensor that just looks at the total amount of light being reflected back toward the camera. Such systems aren't able to adjust for changing subject content as you zoom in on a scene. In the case above, the black box would have been underexposed in the second, zoomed-in shot.)

You can't use the built-in flash to command the external flash wirelessly and there's neither a PC sync connector nor one of Nikon's proprietary Coolpix flash cable connectors to move the flash off camera. You can, however, whether or not to disable the internal flash when an external flash is connected.

Of course, you can always mask the built-in flash so it doesn't shine on the subject, and use the (indirect) light from it to fire an external flash as a slave. (Note that you'll need a "smart" slave trigger though, or the remote flash would fire on the P5000's metering flash, rather than the exposure itself.)

Diffused Flash. Almost natural light despite highly reflective subjects.

The SB-800 manual coyly explains that when connected to a Coolpix hot shoe, the flash output level is controlled "by detecting signals from the camera to determine when to start and stop firing." In my tests, it worked very well, my only regret was I couldn't easily fire the SB-800 off the camera. (Nikon does make an iTTL-compatible hot-shoe extension cable for use with their flashes, but I didn't have access to one.) But using the SB-800 with the included diffuser, I got some of the best flash shots I've ever seen from a digital camera.

You can see one of them in the gallery -- a radio controlled Mini Cooper. You might not even realize it's a flash shot without the Exif tags confessing it, the light is so even.

Shooting Modes. I was so excited to have PASM on the Mode dial, I almost forgot to check out the other settings. You don't really need them, after all, since PASM and the Menu button let you tweak the camera settings to your heart's content. (For neophytes, PASM stands for Programmed, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes. If you don't know what those mean, don't worry, the Nikon P5000 works just dandy in full-auto mode. Experienced shooters will be pleased to find PASM modes offered though, as they're becoming increasingly hard to find on compact digital cameras.)

As noted, PASM modes are nice for advanced users, but there's also a dead-simple Auto mode (the green camera icon on the mode dial) that should allow anyone to feel comfortable using the P5000. Then there's an Anti-Shake mode that taps into Vibration Reduction and Best Shot Selector (which selects the largest, most detailed -- and therefore sharpest -- JPEG file among a set of similar images captured in a single burst). Hi ISO mode reduces blur in dimly lit scenes but adds considerably more noise (favoring detail) than most high ISO images I've seen. Scene mode taps into so many options it takes four screens to display them all.

Museum Mode. Sharp at 1/8 second.

They include Face-Priority Autofocus, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Back Light and Panorama Assist. The same Mode dial option gives you access to Voice Recording, Image Quality and Image Size options, too.

Our gallery shot of a piece of sculpture was taken with Museum mode (as the SceneMode tag in the MakerNotes section of the Exif display indicates). It's a little warm but the interesting thing about the shot is how sharp it is at 1/8 second. That's Vibration Reduction at work.

Nikon is justly proud of its image processing options and helpful shooting features. Those include D-Lighting to save underexposed backlit images, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix to zap red eye created by the built-in flash, and Face Priority Autofocus, that finds faces to focus on. Add to those Best Shot Selector and Vibration Reduction (which works with the converter lenses, too) and you have everything you need to shoot in a wide range of situations.

And it's as simple as selecting the Mode dial option, pressing the Menu button and using the Multi-Selector to select the Scene or option you want.

Click to view movie. Apple QuickTime or other AVI player required.

Pirate. Too bad the music's ghostly.
(Click to download 10.8MB AVI file.)

Movies. While I didn't have any issues Movie mode itself, I was surprised by what the camera's microphone picked up. It's behind a single hole a little below and to the left of the lens where, like the focus assist lamp, it can be obscured by your grip. In the shot below, it failed to record the music I heard loudly and distinctly accompanying a dancing pirate. In other situations, dominant ambient noise likewise never seemed to get picked up.

This unfortunately isn't atypical. If there's one failing of digicam movie making, it's audio capture. Yet, using the Voice Recording Scene mode, I was able to record my voice memo and the siren of a fire truck a block away.

Battery performance of the compact lithium-ion cell was strong. I never lost power during my photo expeditions or testing around the bunker and I didn't bother to top off the battery every day, either.

Shooting. Even without a camera to review, I'm always taking pictures. I feel a little undressed walking around without a camera. But when I have a choice of cameras, one always seems to be the more attractive option. It's not unlike the feeling you get shopping for a camera.

Sometimes my preference has to do with the camera design. But that quickly pales if the camera can't capture the color I see in the diffused light here. Sometimes a big LCD promises to be a lot of fun -- for my subjects to see themselves, if nothing else. Other times a long zoom teases me with the close-ups it can grab.

The Nikon P5000 would not seem to score very high according to those criteria, but I felt a strong attraction to it anyway. No single feature really won me over as much as the complete experience of shooting with this camera. I seemed to see more possible photos on my jaunts around town than I normally do. Which is high praise.

Wide Angle. I did have the advantage of having both wide angle and telephoto conversion lenses to use with the adapter, as well as Nikon's flagship speedlight. But mostly, I shot with the wide angle converter, getting a perspective wider than most digicams can see.

Personally, I prefer seeing the distortion a wide angle view presents (as in the keyboard shot in the gallery, taken with Nikon's original wide-angle converter). But the Nikon Coolpix P5000 can correct that -- something worth thinking about if you shoot interiors a lot, where distortion can be disturbing. To see the effect of the correction for yourself, take a look at the two gallery shots of a brick patio. The second shot enables the correction and it does an excellent job straightening out the lines.

Wide Angle. Difficult to compose in the LCD.

With the teleconverter, distortion isn't an issue. Finding focus was troublesome, though. And the hardware itself is something less than unobtrusive. Especially when you consider you're getting no more than roughly a 10x zoom. But at least you're getting a 10x zoom with true optical image stabilization.

Flash. I almost never use a digital camera's flash, unhappy with the short range, long recharge time and inevitable red-eye. Nikon Coolpixes deal with that last problem admirably with Nikon's In-Camera Red-Eye Fix. And recharge time seemed relatively quick, particularly given that the flash itself seemed to throw a lot of light (Nikon says it can reach 26 feet at wide angle, which is stretching it just a bit in my view).

But even better on the Nikon Coolpix P5000 is the hot shoe that lets you mount a very smart speedlight. Cap the flash head with a bounce attachment of some kind, angle it up and you've got a very nice portable light, something quite unusual in a digicam of this size. Nikon warns against using your old flash because the trigger voltage can damage the P5000, but add a Wein Safe-Sync between the flash and your camera and it will be protected. (But note that older third-party flashes likely won't offer the seamless exposure or zoom-head integration of Nikon's own Speedlights.)

Macro. The Coolpix line is famed for its Macro modes, and the P5000 handles this delightful task as well as ever. Toss in the wide angle converters and you can have some real fun in Macro mode with this thing.

Macro. You can almost smell it.

This isn't indicated in the Exif data, unfortunately, but my Macro mode shots in the gallery include the fly in the flower, the flowering maple, the keyboard, the NuLOOQ, those gorgeous roses, the glass clown, the stick shift knob, and the anniversary favor.

Several of them were taken with one or another wide angle converter attached (indicated by the AuxiliaryLens tag in MakerNotes). Unlike many cameras, the P5000 gives you a zoom range in Macro mode, making it a little easier to compose your image, although the very closest focusing is only available over a relatively narrow range of zoom settings.

High ISO. I didn't shoot anything but test shots with the various flash options, though, because I prefer to shoot in natural light at high ISO settings. As I mentioned above, my first impression of the P5000's high ISO performance was disappointing. The unusually grainy images were the one unhappy experience I had with the P5000's image quality, even with noise reduction enabled.

What's the deal with that, I wondered. Surely Nikon could have smoothed out the noise, at least with Noise Reduction on. Then, back at the computer, I noticed the detail in my high ISO shots was unusually well preserved. From ISO 800 to ISO 2,000, but mainly shooting at ISO 1,600, I was able to read text on boxes and see other small details that just don't survive in high ISO shooting with most digital cameras I test.

So I went back to the camera and tried a few black-and-white shots at high ISO. This has the virtue of eliminating any chrominance noise, leaving just the luminance noise. At ISO 2,000 I was shooting full resolution images wide open at various focal lengths as slow as 1/18 second with Vibration Reduction on. Illumination was entirely from one 60-watt equivalent compact fluorescent at about five feet.

I found the graininess of the luminance noise in black and white mode not as objectionable as full chrominance noise when shooting in color. And there certainly is that detail. You can read the titles on the spine of the books and see the grain of the leather lighter. You can also make out the illuminated icons on the Logitech NuLOOQ.

High ISO B&W. No chrominance noise.

The real trade-off Nikon is making here is strongly in favor of detail over noise suppression, the two ends of that particular see-saw. I had a hunch that, while it's certainly not the choice I'm used to seeing, it might be a better place to start from with Noiseware or other noise-filtering software. And, in fact, while Noiseware did seem to be working a lot harder to minimize the noise, my ISO 1,600 test shot cleaned up very nicely. Much more so than the in-camera noise reduction (which showed little difference). So despite my initial disappointment, I grew to appreciate the approach, although I still do wish the in-camera Noise Reduction offered a more aggressive mode as an option.

Saturation, Contrast, Sharpness. The same ethos is at work in Nikon's default saturation, contrast and sharpness settings. They aren't the typical digicam wowser settings of super saturated color, high contrast (with blown highlights) and oversharpened detail. My eyes always seem to feel bathed in soothing natural color when I look at a Nikon capture. No need for the Ray-Bans.

Nice Range. See the full resolution image for the flare problem in the grass at the bottom of the hydrant.

The best demonstration of that is the shot of the white fire hydrant at right. I usually include this scene in my gallery shots to give some idea of what happens to high key subjects against a dark background (a high contrast shot). Inevitably, the white hydrant loses most of its detail as the camera tries to salvage the background.

But not with the Nikon P5000. There's more detail in the hydrant than I almost ever see without losing much of the background either. It's a remarkable conversion, marred only by the flare on the highlights mentioned above.

I don't think I saw a blown highlight in any of the gallery shots, in fact, although a lot of them were not taken in bright daylight. Even the red fire alarm, where the background in bright sunlight normally would be sacrificed for the lower key subject of the fire alarm. There the crosswalk and far sidewalk are indeed clipped but still distinguishable from the surrounding detail. That's pretty impressive.

Other Pleasures. Once I learned to limit the Nikon Coolpix P5000's autofocus, I really didn't have much trouble getting the shots I wanted. The Command Dial coupled with the large type on the LCD made shooting in the more manual modes a real pleasure, nearly a dSLR experience.

And the five buttons along the left side of the LCD seemed to be just the right five, never requiring my right hand to leave that comfortable, secure grip. Handling the lightweight magnesium-bodied P5000 was simply a pleasure.

Senior Tech Luke noticed another neat feature of the Nikon Coolpix P5000. "The first step in playback zoom is 3x. Scrolling the picture at this step jumps instantly to the corners or center, so you can quickly check the sharpness in the corners or precise framing. A small map shows which octant you are currently looking at."

Nikon seems to have a knack for building cameras that just feel right to a photographer. The Coolpix P5000 is another such wonder in our book.

Appraisal. The attractive and capable P5000 may rub you the wrong way when it comes to shutter lag, shot to shot speed and high ISO noise. But because it's a camera you can control, it provides ways to improve autofocus and reduce shutter lag and smooth out high ISO images. That takes a little more engagement with the camera than many digicams require, but that's not always a bad thing.

 

Basic Features

  • 10 megapixel sensor
  • 2.5 inch LCD (High resolution, 230,000 pixels)
  • Optical viewfinder
  • Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes
  • 3.5x optical zoom Nikkor glass lens
  • 4x digital zoom with Crop restriction to maintain image quality
  • 21MB internal memory
  • SD memory card storage

 

Special Features

  • Nikon's Vibration Reduction optical image stabilization
  • Converter lens adapter for wide angle and telephoto converters
  • ISO sensitivity to 3200 (at reduced resolution, and only usable for ~4x6 inch prints)
  • Hot shoe works with iTTL-compatible Nikon speedlights
  • D-Lighting, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, Face Priority AF
  • Text or Icon interface options with context-sensitive Help
  • Interval timing
  • Voice memo recording
  • Magnesium body

 

In the Box

The Coolpix P5000 ships with the following items in the box:

  • Coolpix P5000
  • Accessory shoe cover
  • EN-EL5 rechargeable Lithium-ion battery
  • MH-61 battery charger with power cable
  • Camera strap
  • Wrist strap
  • UC-E6 USB cable
  • EG-CP14 audio/video cable
  • User's Manual, Quick Start Guide, registration card, warranty
  • PictureProject installer and reference manual CDs

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Compact, attractive, sturdy magnesium body design
  • Well laid-out buttons, well-designed menu system
  • Excellent, natural color with good contrast
  • Very fast shutter response when prefocused
  • iTTL hot shoe
  • Adapter ring for Nikon Coolpix converter lenses
  • Nikon's D-Lighting, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, and Face Priority Autofocus
  • Best Shot Selector
  • Vibration Reduction
  • Both a high resolution LCD and an optical viewfinder
  • Distortion control for wide angle converter
  • Noticeable shutter lag when using default autofocusing (The lab found no difference in lag between AF modes, the reviewer felt limited-focus and Sports scene mode helped somewhat.)
  • Slow shot to shot speeds
  • Noisy but detailed high ISO images
  • No live histogram
  • No RAW file format
  • Some consumers may find the P5000's natural color less appealing than the more typical over-saturated color of most digicams.

 

While my experience with the Nikon Coolpix P5000 varied from the sublime to the annoying, I was able to resolve almost all of the problems I encountered. The one exception was the flare I saw in the highlight detail of brightly lit scenes. Issues with higher-than-average noise at high ISO settings and only average autofocus performance could be addressed through judicious choice of settings. Still though, the P5000 took a bit more effort and thought to achieve optimum performance and results than do most compact digicams. (And the things I found helped in the field didn't seem to make a difference in the lab measurements.)

Some photographers don't mind more work -- and I'm among them. I particularly appreciate having full manual control of the camera. And I applaud Nikon's choice of detail over noise in high ISO images. I don't much mind working around the autofocus issue by selecting the focus limit setting, either.

To its credit, the design of the Nikon P5000 facilitates that sort of use, keeping the buttons simple and efficient with a prominent Command Dial and programmable Function button. The large-type menu system is very attractive on the 2.5 inch LCD. And the return of a hot shoe to the Coolpix lineup is just one more reason to like this little camera.

Size is one of the Nikon Coolpix P5000's strongest arguments. Packing this much photographic control and quality into such a light and compact form is an unusual achievement, and its images were beautiful. Time will tell if the Nikon P5000 is a classic Coolpix, but meanwhile, let's call it a "Dave's Pick" by a nose. (If its autofocus were just a bit faster, it'd be a hands-down winner.)

 

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