Back in the bad old days when DLSRs cost over £2000 the prosumer bridge camera was pretty much what the average snapper could aspire to. Designed as a bridge between the world of compacts and SLRs these cameras were feature rich, in small bodies. The Nikon P5000 is almost back into that category with its modes and resolution, but is resolutely still a compact with the small lens and zoom rocker. For the snapper looking for a step up from automated compacts, this is the next stage, without having to go all technical with an SLR.
- Sensor: 1/1.8in CCD - 10.37Mp
- Image Size: 3648 x 2736 pixels
- Lens: 36-126mm f2.7/5.3 (3.5x zoom)
- Macro: 4cm
- ISO range: ISO64-3200
- Shutter speed: 8-1/2000sec
- Focus: Auto, centre or manual
- Exposure: Auto/15 Scene
- Metering: Matrix, centre-weighted, spot, Spot AF area.
- Flash range: 8m
- Monitor: 2.5" TFT LCD (230k pixels)
- Other Features: Best Shot Selector, Vibration Reduction
- Movie Mode: Yes, also Time Lapse mode.
- Storage: 21Mb of internal storage memory, plus SD Cards
- Batteries: Li-ion rechargeable
- Video Output: Yes
- Size/Weight: 98x65x41mm - 200g
With a street price of around £299 the 10Mp, 3.5x optical zoom P5000 is smack up against the Canon PowerShot G7 which features a 10Mp resolution as well but has a 6x optical zoom and better macro mode. It's also worth comparing to the Fuji FinePix S9600, which has a 9Mp res, 10.7x optical zoom and is a true bridge camera design and costs less at £269.
Modes and features
The top of the camera is where most of the action takes place as here can be found the zoom rocker, the fire button, the selector dial and the mode dial. And the on/off button. All on the right side because over on the left is a hotshoe. The mode dial offers video mode, an auto-ISO mode (up to ISO800), anti-shake mode, auto, scene, movie, setup, and, notably, standard PASM program modes. The scene modes cover face-priority AF (use with a group), portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close up (the macro mode in other words), museum, fireworks, copying stuff and backlighting. The shutter speed can be set from 8secs for long exposures, up to 1/2000sec for bright conditions, whereas the aperture range is f/2.7-f/7.1 on wide angles, with it shifting to f/5.3 at the end of the telephoto zoom. What is of course, the most striking thing is that there is actually a hotshoe on this little camera, that takes anything up to the SB800 Nikon flashgun. Now this looks bizarre, with the great big flashgun dwarfing the camera, but in all fairness, it's the smaller models like the SB-400 that are likely to be used, and fair play to Nikon for including the hotshoe for those that want to use better quality flash.
Around the back of the camera is the 2.5in. LCD with 230k pixels, so plenty of detail, and it's all rather neat and organised. There's a raft of buttons down the left, the joypad on the bottom right and an optical viewfinder in the middle. The optical finder isn't great, as is invariably the case on a compact, but at least it's there when the sunshine makes the LCD unreadable. The buttons cover Function, turn the LCD off, playback, Menu and Delete. The Function button is the one that can be custom configured to provide a menu-free shortcut to functions like the ISO range, image quality, size, white balance and vibration reduction on or off. ISO sensitivity is quite clearly the most useful one to assign.
Down on the joypad, more functions can be activated, like the timer, flash, exposure compensation and macro mode. Activating the exposure compensation just alters the settings, and doesn't bring anything else to the party, like showing a live histogram, which other cameras can do.
Build and handling
While there is the odd chrome panel, the body is a sturdy magnesium alloy that's fairly light. The lens feels solid and there's a screw thread around it which can be removed and Nikon lens peripherals attached. The dials are all sharply edged yet meaty and while the zoom rocker feels a little lightweight, it works perfectly well. The handling is generally good because there's space to put fingers, there's a hand grip on the front and the controls are well positioned for use. The buttons are easy to activate and the menu system is very straightforward making the P5000 very easy to pick up and use.
Well you're spoilt here. You can add a Nikon i-TTL flash gun to the hotshoe or use the built-in flash which has a range of 8m in wide angle mode. That's pretty impressive. Function-wise there is a choice of red eye removal, no flash, auto flash, forced flash, flash with night portraits (front curtain sync) and rear curtain sync.
Startup time and shooting speed are all well down with the P5000, kicking off with 3-4secs for things to wake up and having a burst mode speed of just four images in the 10 second test. That's a bit better than the worst kind of score here which is three images, but behind the average which is five, and a long way off the eight images that sibling S500 can manage. One reason for the shooting lethargy is that these are 10Mp images that the camera is dealing with, but still, for a £300 camera, I would have expected better.
Fortunately, in use, the P5000 is a little more impressive with a good autofocus and a range of metering options, including spot metering that can be used with a single spot, movable focus point. These are nice functions to have, as indeed is the ISO range which spans a handsome ISO64 to 3200. The macro mode at 4cm is pretty good, not quite top drawer where some compacts can use a super-macro at 1cm, but better than plenty of others. It also disables the flash.
The P5000 also has other neat tricks, like the Best Shot Selector and Vibration Reduction functions. The former picks the sharpest shot out of a bunch of captures and the latter optically stabilises the image at lower shutter speeds. The Anti-Shake mode ties both these in with the Auto-ISO (up to 800) feature for use when low-light threaten to ruin the picture.
Interestingly there is a fixed aperture setting that claims to lock the aperture as you go through the zoom range. Potentially, this would be good, as it would offer an f/2.7 aperture at the end of the 3.5x optical zoom at 126mm (equiv.) which would make getting shots easier thanks to all the light coming in. Unfortunately it only works going in one direction. Aperture lock on, zoom in and f/2.7 turns into f/5.3. This means that at the telephoto end, you have a range of f/5.3 to f/7.3 to play with in AP mode. It kind of works going in the other direction, in that an aperture of f/7.3 will only change to f/7.6 rather than the f/3.8 that you get with the feature turned off. For landscape photos it means that the aperture creating the most depth-of-field can be retained while zooming in and out. For that reason it's worth leaving on.
There is another limitation in that while the maximum shutter speed is 1/2000sec, that's only in manual or shutter priority mode. In aperture priority mode the fastest speed is an underwhelming 1/1000sec. This means problems when taking portraits, using the widest aperture, in bright light.
Colour fidelity is pretty much what you'd expect from a compact - the blue colours are brighter but reds are pretty much on the nose as is the primary green. This means that brown and pinks are accurate, but the lively blue makes the cyan colour appear brighter and the bluish green appear blue. The yellow is a bit muted, and this means the very bright orange-yellow combo on the chart is very muted.
One of the headline features of the P5000 is that it sports an ISO range up to 3200, but this come with a couple of provisos. The first is that the resolution drops to 5Mp instead of 10Mp. Now, you could wail and curse at this, but considering 10Mp is largely overkill for many purposes, a 5Mp image is okay. Not great, but okay, to get that ISO3200. However, the other point is that some major processing kicks in for ISO3200, completely changing the image and losing most of the detail.
The colour chart shows typical results with the blue-green being heavily weighted towards blue. The red and green primaries are good, with just blue being brighter.
The skin tone is good and there is plenty of detail in the hair but there are small artefacts in some areas and green noise in the shadows.
The landscape mode shot exposes for the ground, so loses highlights in the sky. The detail is fine though, with colour fringing only slightly evident on the building roof.
The macro mode works well, easily shooting objects at the 4cm range, though it does turn the flash off. The detail here is fine and the effect pleasing.
Shooting just after sunset in AP mode results in neutral and fairly flat colours, but with good depth-of-field and there is plenty of detail in the structure.
There are a range of modes though, including sunset and dusk/dawn which was used here and has coloured the sky for a more pleasing result.
The range starts at ISO64, and it's no real surprise to see that with the massive 10Mp resolution chip in a small compact body, that noise is evident already, and not just in the shadows. At ISO100 it's obvious throughout the grey and black cards, and really, this is what I'd expect from ISO200, not 100. At ISO200 the noise is more distinct, showing the green and purple artefacts in the plain areas of the image. It doesn't ruin pictures, but it isn't great. At ISO400 though, the colour shifts with the yellow becoming muted and the red is a lot duller. This normally happens at ISO800 or 1600 on other cameras, so this is very poor. The noise is also much louder and more defined on the grey card area. At ISO800 it's now very noisy in the plain areas and there's a slight loss of detail. Jump up to ISO1600 and the colour shifts again, leaching out the yellow and making the red very dark. The image has heavy noise throughout and it's hard to see the detail through it. This is unusable for colour images. ISO2000 is much the same, expect that the noise is even sharper making the image very gritty looking. What comes next was a complete surprise. The resolution drops to 5Mp, which is fair enough, though other compacts like the Pentax Optios, that offer ISO3200, retain their resolution. The surprise is that some processing now kicks in big time. The colours are largely restored to bright red and a milky yellow, but detail has been obliterated. The image is soft, with edges around shapes, but all the texture detail inside disappearing. Noise can still be seen, though it looks out of focus. In practice, it gives people a strange plastic look, though people in low light are really the only thing that are worth photographing using this mode. Personally, I wouldn't bother.
There are some nice features on the P5000 and it's comfortable to use and operate. The menus and button layout are a lesson in clarity and the focusing and metering options are great for those wanting to do a bit more with their compact or learn what the advanced functions do. There are scene modes for those wanting an easy introduction to photography, and the program modes for when something a little more creative is required. However, the lens itself only offer 3.5x optical zoom when other cameras at this price point can bandy about 6x, 9x and even 12x zooms. There is optical vibration reduction which is good and this combined with best shot selector will help get a sharp image in lower light levels. However, the performance is also pedestrian as the camera struggles to shunt the 10Mp images about, though there really isn't much excuse for this as they are JPEGs and only 1.8M-3.5Mb in size.
The colour rendition is good, and largely what you'd expect, with those bright blues designed for pleasing results straight out of the box. What is an issue is noise with that 10Mp resolution, and here the results are not that impressive. While the levels that are visible at ISO64 and 100 don't really cause concern, it is alarming to see colour shifts at ISO400 and the ISO3200 mode is more like an artists impression than a photo. If the ISO is kept down, you don't mind average performance, then the high resolution, good image quality, the plethora of metering and focussing options and the powerful flash features are all worth having.
Good build quality
Easy to use
Metering and focus options
Powerful flash for a compact
Anything above ISO200 noisy
Only 3.5x optical zoom
The Nikon CoolPix P5000 costs around £299 and can be purchased from the ePHOTOzine shop here.