While D-SLRs get the headlines, compact point-and-shoot digicams outsell them by almost 15 to one. Price is a big reason and many people simply don’t want the hassle of interchangeable lenses or carrying a bulky camera around. For these folks, the Coolpix P5000 is the proverbial top of Nikon’s aim-and-forget series. With a street price of around $350 USD, this camera has 10-megapixel resolution, a 3.5x zoom, optical image stabilization, 3200 ISO and lots of other goodies. They’re all packaged in very retro, rangefinder-like body. How does this new 2007 edition hold up? Let’s power it up and see…
Features and Design
The Nikon Coolpix P5000 looks like a thinner version of the zillions of 35mm point-and-shoot cameras lying in drawers around the world. Film as we all know is deader than the popularity of Congress and GWB. Overall the body has a nice textured finish, a comfortable pistol grip and even a non-skid pad to rest your right thumb when you’re framing your shots. Very nicely done. The black-bodied camera measures 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.6 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 8.4 ounces including battery, card and strap. It feels a lot lighter than it looks, which is good since this is camera for carrying around all the time in your pocket or purse.
The front is dominated by a 3.5x Zoom Nikkor optical zoom that translates to 36-126mm, a decent range although I prefer cameras with a wider opening angle (28mm) and even more power on the long end. Unlike many other models, the lens has a removable ring that lets you attach optional conversion lenses. This lets you get a wider range—for a price, of course. There’s not much else on the front other than the flash, the viewfinder, tiny microphone and AF Assist lamp, one of the most important features on any digital camera. This lamp is supposed to ensure sharp focus in poorly lit situations; more on this in a bit.
The top has some of that rangefinder vibe with two dials. Rather than their analog counterparts, these handle the main modes and the Command Dial is more like a scroll wheel to move you through the menus or make manual adjustments. The main mode dial hit alls the important bases including manual, aperture- and shutter-priority, Hi ISO (3200 max), movie mode and access to 16 Scene modes including Face Priority AF as well as the usual suspects (portrait, landscape, sports and so on). Near the Command Dial is the wide/tele zoom switch and power button. You’ll also find the cover for the hot accessory shoe for an optional flash.
The rear is dominated by a 2.5-inch LCD screen (rated 230K pixels) with five brightness adjustment levels. In case one of them doesn’t work, there’s a peep sight for the viewfinder which doesn’t have a diopter adjustment. There are indicator lights for the AF and flash right next to it. On the far left of the screen are five silver buttons: Fn (Function), Display, Playback, Menu and Delete. On the far right is the four-way controller with center OK/set button. The controller gives access to macro, self-timer, flash and exposure compensation adjustments. It’s fairly standard but the silver keys really standout so there’s little fumbling. On the right side is an AV out jack, there’s a speaker on left-hand side and on the bottom is the compartment for the lithium ion battery and SD card.
The camera comes with all you need to get started including battery, charger, strap, cables and so on. There’s also a 114-page printed owner’s manual that’s easy to follow. The camera is also supplied with Nikon’s PictureProject ver. 1.7 software that’s a very good free editing program. In fact, it’s one of the better ones from any of the camera companies. It definitely isn’t Photoshop CS3 or Lightroom but you can’t beat the price!
Once the battery was charged, a 4GB card loaded, it was time to hit the road.
Image Courtesy of Nikon
Testing and Use
The P5000 is ready to go in less than two seconds, slightly quicker than many competitors—as a matter of fact it’s the rare 2007 digicam or camcorder that takes more than two shakes to fire up. This Nikon takes 10-megapixel stills (3648 x 2736 pixels) and you have a choice of three compression settings—Fine, Normal and Basic. I started shooting in Auto at the 10MP Fine setting, and then moved to the many manual options. One thing I noticed right off the bat—this camera is slower than many of the new cameras I’ve handled recently. By that I mean it takes time to save the files to the card (an hour-glass appears, shades of Windows 98!). In fact, in Continuous mode, it takes less than a frame per second; compare this to cheaper 8MP Sony DSC-W90 that cranks out over 2 frames per second at full resolution. I know the resolution is less but this simply shows Nikon needs to crank up the processing power—or most likely they’d be happier if you a bought a D40 D-SLR for around $550 USD. Bottom line? If you plan to take lots of shots of the kids playing ball or running pets, this might not be the camera for you.
That on the table, I continued taking loads of images indoors and out, playing with the Scene mode dial as the subject required. One I really appreciated was the Back Light setting for shooting objects bathed in strong light. It did a fine job ensuring the subject (window blinds) weren’t totally dark.
Since it was July 4th, I had a chance to use the Fireworks Show setting. Here, the camera focus moves to infinity, the aperture goes to f/7.6 and shutter speed is four seconds. Other than the screen blacking out for the full time so you’re not sure what you’re shooting, the photos were fun—the typical cascade of color. The VR did a nice job dealing with camera shake as did my elbow resting on a table. Overall, the camera was very easy to operate, with no-brainer menus.
As noted earlier, there’s a good set of manual options once you decide to move beyond the Auto and Scene modes to spread your photographic wings. Since this is 2007, the camera has Face Priority AF as do so many other models. A box (or boxes) appears on screen that track faces in the viewfinder ensuring proper exposure and focus for human countenances. It too worked well.
Image Courtesy of Nikon
Once finished, the Picture Project software easily transferred the files and then it was time to make some 8.5 x 11 full-bleed prints with no tweaking whatsoever. Note: this camera has several Nikon software enhancements built in including red-eye removal and D-Lighting that enhances contrast and brightness in dark areas. It works well. Better yet this feature is part of Picture Project so you can make these adjustments on your monitor rather than a 2.5-inch LCD screen. The LCD responded fairly well but it did wipe out in direct sunlight; the viewfinder is on hand for those situations.
In most instances, the prints were very good with accurate colors and nice detail. The camera had issues shooting low-contrast subjects, even with the AF Assist lamp. Snapping into sharp focus was not a strong suit. Close-ups of my cat’s face weren’t as crisp as I’d like and colors were a tad flat indoors. The P5000 has a Vivid setting to juice things up but I prefer avoiding that extra step. Most people will be happy with the prints, especially those shot in daylight. The flash is also more potent than the usual, an added plus for the camera. As for the highly touted Hi ISO setting of 3200, it was horrible as expected since only D-SLRs and select Fujifilm digicams handle those nose-bleed settings. High ISOs should be avoided just to eliminate as much digital noise as possible (stay at 400 or less).
The Nikon Coolpix P5000 is a good camera and would’ve gotten a higher grade if there weren’t issues with responsiveness—saving files as well as focusing. It has a nice feel and is light enough to take anywhere. Overall photo quality was good, not dazzling. Is it a replacement for a D-SLR? Of course not. Still, at under $350 USD, it’s definitely worth considering.
• Good image quality
• Many manual adjustments
• Solid free imaging software
• Slow response, hard capturing running children for example
• Focus also slower than competitors