Nikon Coolpix 5000 Review

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Nikon Coolpix 5000.  Photo (c) 2001 Steve's Digicams

Steve's Conclusion

The Coolpix 5000 is Nikon's first 5-megapixel Coolpix, it's also the first time that Nikon has broken away from the swiveling body design for its "flagship" model since the introduction of the Coolpix 900. The new body design is more like a conventional camera except for the 1.8" color LCD monitor that flips out from the back and rotates 270°. Also new is a Nikon-dedicated flash hot shoe that allows the use of a variety of Nikon Speedlight models including the compact SB-50DX. The optics used on the Coolpix 5000 will please those wanting better wideangle coverage from a digital camera. The 3X optical zoom lens has a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 28mm - 85mm. Nikon will also be producing a new, super-wide 19mm auxilliary lens. And new for any Coolpix is the ability to capture sound during the recording of motion video sequences.

Just this past week Nikon USA sent us a letter confirming that the Coolpix 5000 had been officially approved to use the 512MB and 1GB IBM Microdrives. Along with the approval came the usual disclaimers about reduced battery runtime (Microdrives are miniature hard drives and as such they do use more power than a solid state flash card) and the possibility of damage if the drive was subjected to enough G-shock. The battery power issue is a fairly serious one as the Coolpix 5000 is powered by a rather anemic (650mAh) EN-EL1 lithium rechargeable pack. Other power alternatives include one-use 2CR5 type lithium batteries or an external battery pack. There are quite a few of us that wish Nikon would go back to using four AA type batteries as with the 990 and earlier models. The camera comes with one EN-EL1 battery and the AC charger unit, it is highly recommended to buy a second rechargeable battery. Or make sure you have a 2CR5 battery in your camera bag in case your main battery goes dead.

The Coolpix 5000 has all the features you'd expect in a top of the line digital camera. The default recording mode is Program AE which includes Program Shift, rotate the Command Dial to pick other combinations of shutter speed and aperture quickly. For those that like to take more control you go into the menu and select one of the three User Settings. After enabling the User Setting you can now choose Aperture priority, Shutter speed priority or Manual exposure mode by holding down the Mode button and rotating the Command Dial. You can also choose any number of other settings from the menu system such as White Balance, Drive Mode, Saturation, Sharpness, Image Adjustment, Focus Mode, Metering Mode and more. These options will be "memorized" and can be quickly recalled by selecting the #1, #2, or #3 User Setting. This is the way many modern 35mm SLR cameras operate but it's different from previous Coolpix 9xx series as it no longer uses an A-Rec and M-Rec position on the Mode Dial, in fact, it has no Mode Dial. You jump back and forth between Record and Play modes with a small switch on the back. And the QuickReview feature lets you view the last picture captured without leaving Record mode.

Exposure options abound with AE Bracketing of 3 or 5 frames for either the exposure or white balance. Nikon's exclusive Best Shot Selector (BSS) takes a series of sequential exposures and then uses "fuzzy logic" to select the best one to be saved. The camera's white balance is excellent in Automatic and has presets for Fine, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy and Speedlight as well as a custom manual preset. You can even "fine tune" the white balance presets by simply rotating the Command Wheel. The Coolpix 5000 has variable ISO sensitivity of 100, 200, 400 or 800 as well as an Auto ISO setting. Shutter speeds range from 1/4000 to 8 seconds and the Bulb setting goes all the way out to 5 minutes. To insure that you get the best possible long exposures there is a Noise Reduction mode that doubles the image processing time but works like a dark frame subtraction routine to eliminate hot pixels. The lens features a real 7-bladed iris diaphram and in Aperture priority mode you can chose from F2.8 to F10.3 with 10 intermediate steps. Exposure metering options include 256-segment Matrix, Center-weighted or Spot. The image saturation, sharpness and contrast is all user-configurable from the menu.

The user has quite an assortment of available finished image sizes to chose from; FULL (2560 x 1920), 3:2 aspect (2560 x 1700), UXGA (1600 x 1200), SXGA (1280 x 960), XGA (1024 x 768) or VGA (640 x 480). Most will probably use the Fine, Normal or Basic JPEG compressed image settings but for the ultimate in quality for printing enlargements there is an uncompressed TIFF setting. Each TIFF image occupies 15MB of space and you must wait about 16 seconds for the camera to process them. During this processing time you can only watch the LED light blink, the camera is unable to do anything else. When using the default compressed JPEG mode the Coolpix 500 is able to process and store a Full/Fine mode image in three seconds or less, it is quite speedy. You don't have to wait between shots either, a generous sized buffer lets you shoot one shot after another in Single drive mode about as fast as you can push the shutter release. The Continuous High Speed mode is good for three frames at full size and Fine quality, the capture speed is about 3 frames per second. The Continuous Low Speed mode captures at about one frame per second and is good for 9 to 10 frames. The Ultra High Speed mode captures QVGA (320x240) frames at an incredible 30fps up to a depth of 70 frames and there's also the VGA Sequence mode for 640x480 frame capture. Last but not least is the QuickTime movie mode, capturing 320x240 motion video with sound at 15fps for up to 60 seconds per clip.

The 3X optical Zoom-Nikkor lens has a focal length equivalent of 28-85mm with a maxmimum aperture of F2.8 (W) - 4.8 (T) and is constructed of 9 elements in 7 groups. It is an all-glass optic with glass-molded aspherical lens elements and has Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) applied. This lens also features a true 7-bladed iris diaphram for true depth of field control. There's also a 4X stepless digital zoom but as we have stated over and over, digital zoom is best turned off. Digital zooms simply enlarge the center of the image to fill the entire frame. It may look good on the LCD but it often yields a pixelly and soft image, don't use it, just move closer to your subject. Nikon has billed the Coolpix 5000 as having "enhanced wide angle" because the wide angle position of the zoom is equivalent to a 28mm lens. It is noticeably "wider" than other cameras with the usual 35-105mm range but it also means that it will leave you wanting for more on the telephoto end because it tops out at 85mm. This may be a problem for those that like or need longer telephoto focal lengths so be sure to factor this into your purchase decision formula. There are 2X and 3X telephoto conversion lenses that fit this camera but they are somewhat large and bulky, expensive and require the use of the LCD as the viewfinder. The Coolpix 5000 can use many of the existing Nikkor-Coolpix auxilliary lenses via some new adapter rings and there will be a Coolpix 5000-specific 19mm ultra-wide angle conversion lens soon.

Precise but not what I would call robust, the Contrast-detect TTL auto focus system has 7,123 individual steps including the macro range of 0.8 inches to infinity. The 5-area Multi AF system can operate in automatic mode or the user can manually select the desired focusing area. Spot AF is selectable and can be combined with Spot metering for precise focus and exposure control. The default AF mode is Continuous when the color LCD is on and Single-AF when turned off and using the optical viewfinder. The auto focus time is the largest percentage of the shutter lag which totals about 1.3 seconds. I was disappointed (again!) to see Nikon build yet another "flagship" digicam without an onboard focus illuminator. Even the economy-priced Sony P30 has one for Pete's sake! This is not a big deal and it adds great value as well as versatility to your camera. Without some sort of focusing aid you have to manually select a focus distance to take pictures in dim to dark lighting conditions. I'm sorry but this is unacceptable in a prosumer-priced camera like the Coolpix 5000, the Canon G2 and Sony F707 have them.

The builtin flash does a good job of covering the subject area even when the lens is at the 28mm wide angle mark. As with previous Coolpix 9xx models, the new Coolpix 5000's internal speedlight has modes for automatic, red-eye reduction, fill, slow sync or disabled. This is the first Coolpix camera to employ a flash hot shoe, no more expensive and hard to find adapter sync cords required, simply slip a Nikon-dedicated flash on the camera and go. The default flash mode is Auto which means if no external speedlight is mounted the camera uses the internal flash, if there is an external flash then the internal is disabled. There are Setup options to allow using both the internal and external flash units, this is great for bounce+fill lighting. The Nikon literature shows the Coolpix 5000 paired up with the new SB-50DX compact speedlight. This is the combination that I have and it works very well, giving you the ability to use bounce flash as well as having a much more powerful flash unit. In the past Coolpix owners had to buy the expensive SB-28DX flash which also required the bracket and sync cord. Now all you need is the SB-50DX which can be found for about $200 at most camera stores. The Nikon folks forgot to let the Coolpix 5000 control the flash's auto zoom head, you have to manually change the flash when you change the camera's focal length. This is something even the budget-priced Nikon 35mm SLR's do. And the Coolpix 5000 does not use the external speedlight's focus illuminator either. Nikon definitely needs to work on these issues!

Image quality is always the bottom line and I'm sure there will be people saying the Nikon 5000's images are soft or unsharp. This is a prosumer digicam and as such most users are going to want their images on the "soft" side rather than over sharpened. Sharpening is something that is better done in software like Photoshop after the capture process, where it can be carefully controlled. An over sharpened image is like an over exposed image, detail is lost that can never be recovered. You can easily choose the amount of in-camera sharpening desired, options are: auto, high, normal, low or off. Another factor that leads people to think that 4 and 5 megapixel images are soft is that they are critiquing a small portion of a really large image. Most of us have our screen resolution set to 800x600 or 1024x768 and when you view a 2560x1920 size image at 1:1 you are only seeing a fraction of the entire image. Any imperfections will be magnified. These images contain a lot of data and when they're printed, produce marvelous 8x10" and larger prints.

OK, having said that... I was quite surprised by the average file size of the Full / Fine 2560x1920 images, I expected them to be larger. Looking at my sample shots I see the file size ranges on average from 1.5 to 1.7 megabytes, similar samples from the 5-megapixel Sony F707 were 1.9 to 2.3 megabytes and the Dimage 7's were 2.0 to 2.4 megabytes. The uncompressed file size from all of them is 14.4 megabytes. So why are the Nikon 5000 images considerably smaller? I don't know the answer to that question but will try to get it resolved. I have seen considerable red channel noise in the blue sky areas of my sample Fine mode JPEGs. The white balance works very well and I only used settings other than Auto when I was dealing with mixed lighting sources indoors. Auto white balance also worked just fine when using both the internal flash and a SB-50DX bounced off of a non-white ceiling and wall. For the purist there is no substitute for manually setting the white balance and it is quick and easy using a white sheet of paper or a grey card. Overall color saturation and dynamic range is very good, the user has a variety of settings for both saturation and contrast to suit most any shooting environment. I was very impressed with the 4 and 8 second shots at ISO 100, using the Noise Reduction option these were "as good as it gets" from a digital camera.

Before you ask whether or not I would recommend upgrading from a Coolpix 995 to the Coolpix 5000, I can't (and won't) answer those kind of questions. Only you can determine whether or not to purchase anything for yourself, I have just as tough of a job making those decisions for myself. Download some of the sample photos, print them out on your own printer or view and manipulate them in your graphics editor. I've tried to be as fair and honest as possible with my conclusion comments to point out the high, low and inbetween points of this camera. Is it perfect? No, it isn't, but then neither is the D1X, EOS-1D or any other digital camera. At $1095 it certainly can't be called inexpensive, there are other 5- and 4-megapixel cameras out there for going for less. Please don't buy a camera based only on my review, read the other reviews (listed below), get as much information as possible and then make an informed purchase decision.

Read an independant comparison of the Coolpix 5000 vs Canon G2.

Coolpix 5000 Book and eBook

Dennis Curtin has just finished his Nikon Coolpix 5000 book and e-book. For several years now digicam users have been able to buy Dennis' excellent "better than the manual" books to learn more about how to get the most out of their cameras. He now has a book and an e-book (a book on a CD disc in Adobe .pdf format with hi-res color illustrations.)

Nikon Posts Coolpix 5000 Firmware v1.7

30-Sept-2002: Nikon has just posted the Coolpix 5000 firmware v1.7 update for Windows and Mac users. The following improvements and additions have been made with firmware version 1.7:

  • Support for RAW (NEF) Image Quality - A RAW image-quality function has been added to the COOLPIX5000 firmware. When an image-quality setting of RAW is selected, "HI" blinks in the camera's control panel. Additionally, RAW images can be converted to TIFF using the camera menu.

  • Control options for Shutter Release Speed - The Monitor Options item in the setup menu now contains a Shutter Release Speed setting that controls the speed of shutter response as follows.
    • Option "Normal": Priority given to quality of preview displayed in monitor.
    • Option "Quick Response": Reduces the time lag between pressing the shutter-release button all the way down and shutter being released to take a picture.

  • Internal Flash Off option - The Speedlight Control menu now contains an Internal Flash Off option that allows you to turn the built-in Speedlight off entirely. The built in Speedlight will still fire if red-eye reduction is "on" only to reduce red-eye; it will not fire during the actual exposure. Additionally, the internal flash will fire a monitor pre-flash (but not an actual exposure flash) if a Nikon Speedlight is connected.

  • Support for Picture Transfer Protocol - PTP (Picture Transfer Protocol) option is now available in the USB menu in the Interface setting for the setup menu in User Sets 1, 2 and 3.

  • Support for Exif 2.2 - The COOLPIX5000 firmware version 1.7 now supports Exif (Exchangeable Image File Format for Digital Still Cameras) version 2.2, a standard that allows information stored with photographs to be used for optimal color reproduction when images are output on Exif-compliant printers. PRINT Image Matching (PIM) is no longer supported by COOLPIX5000 firmware version 1.7. Users who require PIM should not apply this update.

  • Improvements in LCD monitor display - The LCD monitor has been improved to allow better display of images when viewing in dark surroundings. Monitor brightness has also been improved.

  • Shutter speed information corrected when using BULB exposure - Previously when shooting an image with a BULB exposure time of more than 100 seconds, the shutter speed information recorded in the shooting information was incorrect. This has now been fixed.

  • Improvements in autofocus performance - Autofocus performance has been improved.

Nikon Coolpix 5000 ISOR5000

Fred Miranda has a set of Photoshop action files that will dramatically improve your Nikon 5000 pictures. There are several ways to reduce chroma and luma noise from ISO 100, ISO 200, ISO400 and 800 Coolpix 5000 images. The trick is to reduce as much noise as possible while keeping most of detail and sharpness intact.

These Photoshop actions work exclusively with Nikon Coolpix 5000 files. They were developed to minimize or in some cases completely erase noise from normal/high ISO images, while maintaining most detail and sharpness intact. In addition, they run faster than any other noise reduction currently available.

ISOR5000 is compatible with Photoshop 5.0, 5.5, 6.0 or higher (PC and MAC) - All Photoshop languages. Currently not compatible with PhotoshopLE and Elements.

Fred's Nikon 5000 ISOR5000 page

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Sample Photos

Other Nikon Coolpix 5000 Reviews:

Imaging-Resource's Nikon 5000 review

DC Resource's Coolpix 5000 review

Digital Secret's Coolpix 5000 review

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