If you're a digital-photo enthusiast, you've probably had your eye on Nikon's 5.24-megapixel Coolpix 5000 since long before it hit the shelves. But if you're a casual snapshooter, you'd do best to look elsewhere. This is a sophisticated camera made for shutterbugs who want as many features as they can get in one device and who are willing to put up with some quirks to have them. If you're a digital-photo enthusiast, you've probably had your eye on Nikon's 5.24-megapixel Coolpix 5000 since long before it hit the shelves. But if you're a casual snapshooter, you'd do best to look elsewhere. This is a sophisticated camera made for shutterbugs who want as many features as they can get in one device and who are willing to put up with some quirks to have them.
Compact and comfortable Coolpix
Nikon has succeeded in combining the shooting flexibility of its older Coolpix 900-series cameras with the smooth ergonomics of the more recent Coolpix 775 and 885 by putting a 1.8-inch, fold-out-and-swivel LCD on a compact body with a comfortable rubberized grip. Weighing just a little more than 15 ounces with the battery and CompactFlash memory card installed, the Coolpix 5000 has the kind of design that will appeal to dedicated shutterbugs who want a camera that they can carry easily at all times. However, while a compact design is one of this camera's strengths, its limited surface space leads to some shortcomings. The flash sensor is so close to the shutter-release button that it's easy to block it with your fingers if you're not careful. Nikon has added a small ridge to the right-hand grip to indicate where your fingers should rest in order not to block the sensor, but we'd prefer a design that didn't lend itself to this problem in the first place.
Our greatest complaint about the design is the lack of space for more physical controls. Nikon does a good job of using the space available--you can change most basic camera controls by pushing a button and turning the command dial. There's also a convenient Shooting/Playback mode switch, as well as a Quick Review button. Still, some important controls are absent. We especially missed having quick access to continuous-shooting modes, automatic bracketing, white-balance settings, and Nikon's useful Best Shot Selection mode, which takes a series of shots in tricky lighting situations and records the one with the most image detail. Nikon gives you the option of programming the Coolpix 5000's Func. button to access focus, flash, white balance, metering, and custom camera program settings. But wait--there are already flash and focus setting buttons on the camera. Do we really need two buttons for these functions? On a camera that's so well designed for spontaneous shooting, we'd rather have the controls that we need most for capturing action at our fingertips.
The bottom line when it comes to operating the Coolpix 5000 is that it's a menu-driven camera. The first thing you'll need to do when you take it out of the box is go into the Shooting-mode menu and select either User Set A (for auto) or one of three numbered User Sets. When the camera is on User Set A, only the fully automatic mode is available, and advanced camera settings are inaccessible. Switch to a numbered User Set, and you'll be able to use the Mode button and control dial to select Programmed Automatic, Manual, Aperture-priority, and Shutter-priority modes.
To use advanced camera settings, you must go into one of the numbered User Set menus and make selections. Each numbered User Set is saved separately so that it functions as a custom camera program. This is a system of debatable merit, which is sure to appeal to some photographers and seem needlessly complicated to others. If you want to be able to quickly activate a whole range of settings that you've programmed in advance, you'll love the Coolpix 5000. However, if you're the kind of photographer who prefers to have easy access to each camera function without it being tied to other controls, you should think hard about whether this is the right camera for you.
Whatever your shooting preferences, you should prepare to lay your camera-guru pride aside and spend some time with the manual--not only because the Coolpix 5000 has a relatively unintuitive user interface but also because it is well worth reading up on the camera's extensive set of features. Among the highlights are shutter speeds of up to 1/4,000 second (although under most conditions, the limit is 1/2,000 second), a five-minute Bulb mode, and noise reduction. Nikon also makes a good selection of accessories for the camera, from lens converters to battery packs to external flash units. However, there are some limits to its seemingly interminable feature list.
In keeping with the Coolpix 5000's compact body design, Nikon put a 3X Nikkor zoom lens on it, giving the camera a more limited zoom range than its 5-megapixel peers. The lens is also relatively slow--with a maximum aperture of f -2.8 at wide angle and f -4.8 at telephoto--and there's no continuous manual focus. We were impressed with the five continuous shooting modes, but we wish that one would automatically refocus for each frame.
On a more positive note, the included rechargeable lithium-ion battery had a long life, and the camera turned in a respectably fast performance. Without prefocusing and with the flash activated, the shutter delay was about 1.7 seconds, and the shot-to-shot time for high-quality JPEGs came to a little more than 5 seconds. Of course, you'll need to multiply that figure by about five if you're shooting TIFFs. Image playback is quick, though, and you can scroll through several screens of camera parameter information for each frame.
We were very happy but not overjoyed with the test images we shot. Our pictures were well exposed and showed ample detail. The color balance tended to be warm, and JPEG images shot under indoor lighting of various types often had a strong yellow cast. Reducing the color saturation or using the manual white balance helped us get a more natural look, but what really solved the problem was switching to uncompressed TIFFs. Much of the yellow cast was due to JPEG compression artifacts, so we strongly recommend using the TIFF mode for portraits. In general, we saw a leap in quality when we recorded our pictures uncompressed, which made us wish the Coolpix 5000 could save RAW files in addition to TIFFs--they're faster to record and take up much less memory. We were disappointed to see as much chromatic aberration as we did. Having enough resolution to output large prints is great, but you'll think twice about making one if your backlit subject has a purple fringe 6 pixels deep. We also noticed more clipping than we'd like in the highlights, which caused detail in bright areas to be lost. On the other hand, we loved the camera's excellent macro mode, which can bring you as close as 2 centimeters from your subject.