The Coolpix 5000 is Nikon’s new top ‘prosumer’ digital camera, displacing the Coolpix 995, which remains in production. Apart from the headline feature of a five-megapixel sensor (2,560-x-1,920 pixels, for 14.1MB files), the new single-piece body is notable for its hinged LCD monitor. It’s identical to the worthy system used on some Canon PowerShot models, where the 1.8-inch monitor is on a swing-out swivel mount that you rotate to view from nearly any angle – up, down, side, front – and then stow face-in for protection.
Nikon seems to be gunning for the high quality 4mp Canon G2 with Coolpix 5000. It takes the same approach of a solid build and features aimed at experienced photographers who want control, not gimmicks. The compact body is black-painted textured magnesium, measuring 101.5-x-81.5-x-67.5mm and weighing 414g. The 5000’s aesthetics are a matter of taste, but I like it.
The lens has a range equivalent to 28-85mm on a 35mm camera. Maximum aperture is a reasonable f/2.8 at the wide-angle end (f/4.5 telephoto), but the minimum of f/8 (f/7.6 telephoto) is disappointing. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000th to 8 seconds.
The wide angle is welcome but the telephoto end is rather modest (the Dimage 7 goes to 200mm). Nikon’s choice of an extending lens means that its existing Coolpix accessory lenses need an adaptor tube, with some worries about edge fringing. It has announced
a dedicated super-wide lens, equivalent to 19mm.
Nikon’s autofocus is good, including a 2cm macro close-up. There are five user-selectable on-screen focus zones. Nikon’s exposure system has four selectable modes including full-area matrix and a spot function that can use the same zones as the focus control. Shutter or aperture priority, manual and program modes are included. There’s an exposure/focus lock button so you can point the camera at part of a scene then use this setting for the whole image.
The hot shoe accepts standard flashguns and interfaces directly to Nikon’s own Speedlites. Previous Nikon digitals required a unique and pricey bracket and adaptor lead.
The camera takes about six seconds to power-up. The shutter button has far less delay than most consumer cameras as long as you half-press the button first to focus. Burst modes let you take three, full-res shots at 3fps or eight at 1.5fps, and more at lower resolutions. A movie mode has sound recording and built-in playback.
A noise reduction setting reduces graininess on exposures of 1/15 second or longer, but there’s also a rather odd ‘clear image mode’ that works at any speed by taking two images in rapid succession and merging them to cancel CCD noise. You need a tripod, and the resolution is reduced to 1.2mp – so it’s not of much use.
Nikon shipped the 5000 in the US at the end of last year, then hastily updated the firmware as early users found a tendency to crash with the lens extended. Some Web postings complained about the lack of a low-light illuminator for the autofocus, or a backlight for the status LCD. A status backlight isn’t necessary (all settings can be shown on the backlit main monitor) and I found no low-light focusing problems.
A 32MB Compact Flash memory card is supplied and IBM Microdrives can be used. Output options include JPEG or uncompressed TIFF at several resolutions.
Our Coolpix 5000 wasn’t as power-hungry as the 5mp Minolta Dimage 7 (battery life is about double), and Nikon also offers a extra-cost (and big) screw-on base with six AA-size batteries instead of the standard 7.4 lithium-ion rechargeable.
Downloading is handled by the supplied USB cable and NikonView 4 software. Adobe Photoshop Elements and the FotoStation Easy image database are bundled, plus a plug-in to download to a Canto Cumulus database.
The overall image quality is good but not stunning. The lens/image processing combination was a little soft, bright highlights tended to burn out, there was chromatic aberration (colour misregister) on fine lines, and a tendency to slight underexposure (I haven’t seen the latter reported elsewhere so it could be a one-off). Nevertheless the Coolpix 5000’s imaging is superior to any 3.3mp camera.