DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 5000
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Thursday, December 13, 2001
Last Updated: Sunday, June 2, 2002

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The Nikon Coolpix 5000 ($1099) is probably the most anticipated digital camera of the year, up there with the Sony DSC-F707 and Minolta DiMAGE 7. After all, it's Nikon's first consumer-level 5 Megapixel Coolpix. The Coolpix line has long been known as the benchmark for digital photo quality. For the CP5000, Nikon has abandoned the traditional swiveling lens design that many of us grew to love on the 900-series. Instead, the 5000 looks like a cross between the Coolpix 885 and a PowerShot G2. The lens is back to a 3X optical zoom compared to the 4X zoom on the CP995, though here it's a bit wider.

Was the Coolpix 5000 worth the wait? Read on and find out.

What's in the Box?

The Coolpix 5000 has an excellent bundle, with everything you need right in the box. It includes:

  • The 5.0 (effective) Mpixel Nikon Coolpix 5000 camera
  • 32MB CompactFlash card
  • EN-EL1 rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • CD-ROM featuring NikonView 4 and other software
  • 209 page manual (printed)

Nikon gives you everything you need to get started. The 32MB CompactFlash card is pretty small for a 5MP camera though, so consider picking up something larger (maybe even a Microdrive).

The now familiar EN-EL1 rechargeable battery returns on the CP5000. Nikon estimates that the battery will last for about 100 minutes in "average use". With the IBM Microdrive installed, I found the battery life to be well below that number.

I'm a bit critic of most proprietary batteries for two reasons: 1) they're expensive and 2) if you're in a bind you can't just buy another at Walgreens. The Coolpix 5000 is somewhat spared, since you can also use a non-rechargeable 2CR5 battery if you are desperate. I know I'm not the only one who would like to see AA batteries return to the Coolpix line.

Some optional power sources for the camera include an AC adapter, as well as the MB-E5000 power pack ($140), which holds 6 AA batteries.

Nikon includes an external charger for the EN-EL1. They also give you a lens cap and strap to protect the lens.

Just like on other Coolpix models, there are tons of optional accessories available. That includes lenses, flashes, filters, and hoods. You can get wide-angle (19 mm!), fisheye, and telephoto lenses (all require a step-down ring). There are lens and LCD hoods, and a wired remote control is available too. I should note that the Canon PowerShot G2 and many Olympus cameras include wireless remotes in the box.

The CP5000 includes version 4.3.0 of NikonView, which is what you'll probably use to transfer photos. While it runs in Mac OS X, it is not native. This version is faster than v. 4.1.0, but it's still really slow, and I've got a fast computer too. But it does the job.

Updated 12/17/01: If you directly plug the camera into a Mac running Mac OS X 10.1 or above, the Image Capture application will start up, and you can transfer photos that way.

The Coolpix's manual is fairly confusing, but everything you need is inside, if you can find it. It's also nice to see that Nikon is including printed manuals again, instead of making you view a PDF version.

Look and Feel

The Coolpix 5000's body is a totally new design, reminiscent of the Coolpix 885. The body is made of a magnesium alloy and it feels very solid. It's a small camera that is easy to hold with one hand, thanks to a large right-hand grip. The camera is a bit too large to fit in most pockets, however.

The official dimensions of the CP5000 are 4.0 x 3.2 x 2.6 inches (W x H x D) and it weighs 360 grams empty.

Let's start our tour of the Coolpix 5000 now.

As always, we start with the front of the camera. The lens has changed since the Coolpix 995, and depending on your point-of-view, this is good or bad. On the CP995, it was an F2.6, 38 - 152 mm lens (4X). On the CP5000, it's an F2.8, 28 - 85 mm lens. So you get a slower but wider lens, with a shorter focal range on the CP5000. If I'm not mistaken, you won't find a more wide-angle lens on a consumer digicam than right here on the CP5000.

The CP5000's lens barrel is threaded, but I do not know the measurements as of this writing. As I mentioned before, there are a number of lens accessories available. You can boost the zoom with a 4X digital zoom feature, but doing this will reduce the image quality.

Towards the top of the photo is the flash, though I don't know its working range. If you need more "juice", then pick up an external flash for the CP5000. As you'll see in a moment, there's a hot shoe on the top of the camera. Most of Nikon's Speedlights are fully supported.

Directly below the flash is the microphone -- yes, this Coolpix records sound (finally!).

Just below that is the AE/AF lock button. Holding this down will lock the exposure values.

In case you are wondering what that circle is just below the shutter release button (top left), that's the self-timer light.

One rather glaring omission on the Coolpix 5000 is any sort of low-light focusing aid. In most cases, this is an "AF illuminator" -- a little light that helps the camera focus. The Sony DSC-F707 actually uses a laser grid to accomplish the task.

The CP5000 takes a page from the Canon PowerShot G1/G2 by having a flip out, swiveling LCD display. You can have it like you see above, or flip it the other way so it's facing the subject. You can also put it in the more traditional position. If you don't want it, you can close it altogether.

One annoying thing with the swiveling LCD (that I wasn't bothered by on the G2) is that the optical viewfinder is difficult to use when the LCD isn't flipped out of the way. This is especially annoying if you use your right eye.


Quick Review feature

That said, the 1.8" LCD is typical of the high end Coolpix cameras: bright and fluid. The three buttons below the LCD are "live" and change depending on the situation. In record mode, they are Monitor, Menu, and Quick Review. In playback mode, they are Monitor and Menu. The Quick Review feature lets you see a tiny thumbnail of the photo you just took in the top left corner of the LCD. Pressing it again puts you into full playback mode.

Just above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which shows 82% of the frame. There is diopter correction for those with glasses.

To the right of that is the LCD info display. I think this is the first time I've seen this on the back of the camera rather than on the top. Here it shows battery life (not much left), mode (manual), quality (fine), metering (matrix), shots remaining (346, no thanks to the Microdrive), flash (off), and shutter speed (1/4 sec). The only way this could be nicer is if it were backlit.

Dare I say it -- the controls on the back of the camera are a cluttered mess. If you aren't confused just by looking at them, wait until you see the table in the manual that tries to explain what they all do.

There are two ways in which the buttons function: you push them and it changes on thing, or hold it down and turn the command dial (top of camera) to change something else. So the button with the flash symbol will change flash setting when you press it, or ISO when you hold it down. The three buttons directly to the right of the LCD are (press button / hold button, top to bottom):

  • Flash (Auto, Off, Auto with redeye reduction, fill flash, slow sync) / ISO (100, 200, 400, 800, Auto)

  • Auto Focus Mode Selection (Auto Focus, Infinity, Macro, Macro + Self-timer) / Manual Focus (fifty preset distances from 0.02 m to infinity) - this button also deletes photos in playback mode

  • Image quality (Hi, Fine, Normal, Basic) / Image Size (Full, UXGA, XGA, VGA, 3:2) - more on these later

Some additional information on some of these: When you put the camera into ISO Auto, it will usually stay at 100, but if it needs to, it will boost the sensitivity. See the gallery for an example of what higher ISO settings look like. The self-timer can be 3 seconds or 10 seconds -- you just double-press the shutter release button to get the 3 second timer. One annoying thing about self-timer is that it's a one-shot deal. You've got to press-press-press the button again to get back to it for the the next shot.

To the right of those three buttons is the usual four-way switch, used for menu navigation mostly.

Above all that is the switch for record and playback mode. Above that is the zoom control, which smoothy and accurately controls the lens.

Now, here's the top of the CP5000. The big thing here is the hot shoe. This will work with most Nikon Speedlights, including the new SB-50DX model and the SB-28DX that I had on the D1X (see our review). For those interested in using an external flash, here's an important quote from the manual: "The CP5000 does not support power zoom, AF-assist illumination, or redeye reduction using the redeye reduction lamp on the external Speedlight."

To the right of the hot shoe is the Func(tion) button. By default, this holding this down while rotating the command dial (seen here, lower right) will change the user set (you can have three different groups of settings). You can redefine the button to allow you to easily change things like white balance or metering without a trip to the menus.

To the right of those are buttons for mode and exposure compensation.

The mode button switches between:

  • Program Mode - camera picks best exposure settings

  • Shutter Priority Mode - you choose shutter speed, camera picks appropriate aperture. Shutter speed range is 8 sec - 1/2000 sec.

  • Aperture Priority Mode - you choose aperture, camera picks shutter speed. Aperture range of F2.8 - F8.0 in 1/3 step increments

  • Manual Mode - you choose aperture and shutter speed. This enables bulb mode, which will keep the shutter open for as long as the shutter release button is pressed, for up to 5 minutes (!). This pretty much requires the remote shutter release cable.

Exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments.

Just above those buttons is the shutter release button, with the power switch wrapped around it. I found both to be too small for my fingers. Again, that clear thing just above the button is the self-timer lamp.

Here is one side of the camera. Under a rubber cover is the port for A/V output. Right below the screw on the right side is the speaker.

On the other side of the camera you'll find two more I/O ports and the CompactFlash slot. The two ports are for "Digital" (USB) and DC in.

The CompactFlash slot is Type II, and the IBM Microdrives (512MB and 1gb only) work fine. The Microdrive really burns through the battery a lot quicker than the regular flash memory cards. The included 32MB card is shown at right.

Let me also add that the plastic door that covers this slot is quite flimsy, and I can see it breaking off if forced.

Lastly, here is the bottom of the camera, where you'll find the metal tripod mount and the battery compartment. The EN-EL1 battery is shown at right.

Using the Nikon Coolpix 5000

Record Mode

The CP5000 starts up in about five seconds. It will take even longer if you're using the Microdrive. When you press the shutter release button halfway, the camera locks focus in about a second, which seems a little slow. Pressing the button fully results in a picture after a short, but noticeable lag. The shot-to-shot speed is pretty good -- you'll wait under three seconds before you can take another shot. The exception is, of course, TIFF shots. These will take upwards of 30 seconds to write to the memory card, and the camera will be locked up during this process. On all shots, you have the ability to delete photos as they are being recorded to the card. One dumb thing is that you use the Flash and AF buttons to pause and delete photos like this, rather than the buttons that are right on the LCD!

Here's a chart of the various image size and quality choices available on the Coolpix:

  # of images on included 32MB card
Image Size HI quality Fine quality Normal quality Basic quality
Full
2560 x 1920
2 13 26 51
3:2
2560 x 1710
2 14 28 55
UXGA
1600 x 1200
N/A 32 62 118
SXGA
1280 x 960
N/A 50 95 173
XGA
1024 x 768
N/A 75 139 243
VGA
640 x 480
N/A 173 289 459

What are those N/A's doing there? You can't record TIFFs in any mode but the full and 3:2 sizes. This is a good spot to point you to some analysis of file sizes over on Steves Digicams. Steve notes that the CP5000 file sizes are a lot smaller than other 5 Megapixel cameras.

Now let's talk Coolpix menus. You can have up to three separate sets of settings. Maybe a set for outdoors, and another for the studio. While the menus are hierarchical and easy to navigate, the little icons can be confusing. Here's what you'll find in the CP5000 menus:

  • User Setting (1, 2, 3) - holds 3 different sets of camera settings

  • White balance (Auto, preset, fine, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, speedlight) - more info below

  • Metering (Matrix, spot, center-weighted, spot AF area) - in spot AF area metering, the camera samples the light only in the current focus area

  • Continuous Menu
    • Single shot
    • Continuous High - 3 frames/sec, up to 3 frames
    • Continuous Low - 1.5 frames/sec; can go for quite a while (14 shots in my testing)
    • Multi-shot 16 - puts 16 consecutive shots into one full size image - like a collage
    • HS sequence - 3 frames/sec, 1280 x 960
    • Ultra HS - 30 frames/sec, 320 x 240
    • Movie - more later on this

  • Best Shot Selector (on/off) - takes up to 10 consecutive shots, then chooses the sharpest image

  • Image Adjustment (Auto, normal, more contrast, less contrast, lighten image, darken image)

  • Saturation Control (Maximum, normal, moderate, minimum, black & white) - why B&W is here, I have no idea

  • Lens (Normal, wide adapter, telephoto 1 and 2, fisheye 1 and 2, slide copy adapter) - use this if you bought a conversion lens

  • Exposure Options
    • AE Lock (on/off/reset) - turning this on will lock the exposure settings after the next shot taken
    • Maximum Bulb Duration (1 min / 5 min)

  • Focus Options
    • AF Area Mode (Auto, manual, off) - in manual mode, you can use the four-way switch to pick the area to focus on
    • Auto-Focus Mode (Continuous AF, Single AF) - how the camera focuses (always or when the button is pressed halfway)
    • Focus Confirmation (MF, on, off) - shows what areas in the image are in focus
    • Distance units (m, ft)

  • Image Sharpening (Auto, high, normal, low, off)

  • Auto Bracketing
    • Exposure Bracketing - 3 or 5 shots in a row with varying EV values
    • WB Bracketing - 3 shots with varying white balance. One normal image, one "bluish" image, one "reddish" image

  • Noise Reduction (on, off, clear image mode) - Noise reduction will reduce the appearance of noise or grain in your images. It is only used at shutter speeds slower than 1/15 sec. Clear Image Mode is for images 1280 x 960 or smaller - it takes two shots with the shutter open, and one with it closed, and reduces the noise. Note that a tripod or very steady hands is recommended for these features.

There is also a setup menu, which allows you to do basic things like set the date and time, power saver settings, and LCD brightness. You can also assign functions to the Func and AE/AF-lock buttons, and decide which settings are saved when the camera is turned off. Strangely, flash exposure compensation is also found in the setup menu (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments).

I also wanted to comment on the white balance features. The preset mode allows you to shoot a white or gray card/paper to get the perfect WB setting. On all of the WB modes except Auto and Preset, you can fine tune the setting ±3. You can also use the WB bracketing feature that I mentioned before. In other words, it's hard to have bad white balance on this camera.

Now, more about photo quality!

As you'd expect on a high end camera, the Coolpix did a very good job with the night shot test. Noise reduction was used in the above shot. My only real complaint is that the lights on the bridge kind of look like one big line, instead of multiple lanes. Who knows what another camera would've done at that moment, though. I should add that it was cloudy and about to rain, hence the sky.

A few days earlier, I took an alternative low light shot -- this candle. Not only is the lighting low, but it's a macro shot to boot.

A friend asked me about redeye tests, so I took a portrait and cropped it down to the eyes. It was taken with the redeye reduction feature turned on. As you can see, the CP5000 doesn't have any major redeye issues like some of its predecessors.

Note to readers: Is this kind of test something you'd like to see in all reviews? It's obviously not very scientific, but does it add value? Let me know.


Download TIFF file of this image - 6MB

The Coolpix cameras have always been the very best at macro shots, and the 5000 continues the tradition. The shot above is very detailed, sharp, and the colors are right on. I've included a TIFF version for the TIFF connoisseurs out there. You can get as close as an incredible 2 cm in macro mode, at full wide-angle.

While by and large, the photo quality was excellent on the camera, it frustrated me on many occasions. The biggest problem in my eyes was its tendency to blow out the sky in certain situations, especially with spot metering. If it happened just once I could forgive the CP5000, but it happened several times on different days. The other issue was chromatic aberrations, or purple fringing. By no means is the CA terrible on the CP5000, but it's noticeable in many shots. In most situations (especially with matrix metering) the shots are very good. As usual, I'm going to point you to the photo gallery, where you can see some real-world photos and judge the quality for yourself.

New 12/17/01: I have added a Coolpix 5000 shootout page, where I have side-by-side photos of some difficult subjects taken with the CP5000 and my Olympus E-10.

Movie Mode

The movie mode has finally been updated on the Coolpix 5000. Gone are the days of short, silent movies! You can record up to 60 seconds of video at 320 x 240, with sound. The optical zoom is disabled during filming, and you can use the digital zoom (groan) up to 2X.

Videos are saved in Quicktime format.

Here's a quick sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (3MB, Quicktime format)

Playback Mode

The Coolpix 5000 has a complete playback mode that has all the basics plus a few other nice features.

The basic features include 4 or 9 thumbnail mode, slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, and "zoom and scroll".

The zoom and scroll feature allows you to zoom in as much as 6X into your photo, and then scroll around in it.

How about those cool extra features? One of my favorites is the ability to delete a group of photos at once. You just mark the thumbnails you want to delete, hit a button, and they're gone.

Another interesting feature is the Auto Transfer function. You can mark photos as "Auto Transfer" and NikonView will automatically copy them to your Mac or PC when you connect the camera.

One nice feature that is missing is the ability to rotate images in-camera.

By rotating the command dial, you can find out a lot more information about your photos, as you can see above. A histogram is also available. While that is being shown, the camera will show which areas of the image are overexposed by making them blink.

Moving between photos takes about a second. At first, a lower resolution picture is shown, and about two seconds later, the high resolution version appears.

How Does it Compare?

Overall, I recommend the Nikon Coolpix 5000, though I have some serious issues with it. On the plus side, the photo quality is usually excellent, the feature-set is top notch, and the hot shoe and Microdrive support are welcomed. My problems with the camera are in three areas: 1) the tendency to blow out the sky; 2) the cluttered rear controls; 3) the lackluster battery life, especially with a Microdrive installed, combined with the costly proprietary battery. I must admit that I also miss the old Coolpix 900-series design. This is one of those cameras where you really need to weigh what is important to you, based on what I've brought up in this review, and what you'll read in others. And like I always say, try it out in the store first before deciding. Definitely consider the CP5000, but look closely at the competition.

What I liked:

  • All the manual controls you'll ever need
  • Usually excellent photo quality
  • CompactFlash Type II slot - Microdrive works fine
  • Handy swiveling LCD
  • Lens is very "wide" for a consumer digicam
  • Hot shoe for external flash
  • Lots of external lens options

What I didn't care for:

  • Blew out the sky in too many pictures, especially with spot metering
  • Some chromatic aberrations
  • Rear controls cluttered
  • Optical viewfinder hard to use when LCD is not flipped out
  • Proprietary battery costs a lot and doesn't last long, especially with Microdrive
  • Expensive

Some other high-end cameras I would consider include the Canon PowerShot G2 and S40, Casio QV-4000, Fuji FinePix 6900Z, Minolta DiMAGE 5 and 7, Olympus C-4040Z, E-10, and E-20, Sony DSC-F707 and DSC-S85, and the Toshiba PDR-M81.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the CP5000 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Also, check out the Coolpix 5000 shootout, for more photos.

Want a few more opinions?

Required reading: Steves Digicams and Imaging Resource reviews of the Coolpix 5000.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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