Nikon recently joined Olympus, Sony, and Minolta in the 5-megapixel digital camera market with the introduction of the Coolpix 5000, a $1,099 camera with a feature set and interface based on Nikon’s popular Coolpix 900 series, but an entirely new body design. Like Nikon’s previous Coolpix devices, the 5000 offers more thorough control than any other camera in its class.
Body Design and Controls
While the Coolpix 995–Nikon’s previous top-of-the-line consumer camera–offered a unique split-body design, the Coolpix 5000 adopts a traditional upright design very similar to that of Olympus’s Camedia Zoom series. A molded right-side handgrip makes the camera easy to hold, and the camera’s 7.1mm-to-21.4mm zoom lens (28mm-to-85mm in 35mm equivalency) extends and retracts when you turn the camera on and off. The lens is very slow, however, offering only f-4.8 in full telephoto mode and a somewhat faster f-2.8 with the full wide angle.
Nikon has also implemented a flip-out LCD on the back of the 5000, similar to the one Canon uses in its PowerShot G1 and G2 cameras. This provides a much more flexible method for taking pictures in different situations.
As with other Coolpix cameras, Nikon has done an excellent job of locating all essential features on the outside of the camera. Buttons on its body control shooting modes, exposure, image resolution, exposure compensation, ISO speed, and many more options.
The body of the camera itself is surprisingly small–not quite as small as that of the Canon PowerShot S40 or the Olympus D-40Z (see “Four 4-Megapixel Cameras,” Reviews, elsewhere in this issue.), but it is still a light and very portable camera. If you have big hands, you may feel a little cramped holding it, and all those great external controls can seem crowded.
One big annoyance is that Nikon has placed the flash’s exposure meter right next to the handgrip, making it nearly impossible not to cover up the meter with your finger. This results in poor flash performance if you’re not paying close attention. We were also surprised to see that the Coolpix 5000 lacks an autofocus-assist lamp, which would help with focusing in low-light situations.
Despite these complaints, the camera is solidly built, and it’s loaded with important options: Type I and II CompactFlash support (including support for IBM MicroDrives), a large built-in flash and a hot shoe for adding an external flash (a first in a Coolpix camera), USB and AV ports, and a high-quality metal tripod mount. It also comes with a robust 32MB CompactFlash card, a nice touch given the camera’s high resolution.
Nikon offers extremely thorough shooting controls, such as multiple metering modes (including a spot meter); white-balance fine-tuning; multiple focus spots; auto-bracketing; full manual controls (including focus); and adjustable settings for sharpening, contrast, and color saturation.
To these, Nikon has added two other niceties. The first is a white-balance bracketing mode that lets you quickly shoot a series of images with different white-balance settings. The other new feature is the capability to tie the camera’s spot meter to a specific focus spot, making it easy to get the correct exposure at the point of focus.
You can save as many as three custom user settings inside the camera for easy recall when you need them. For example, you might define one set for indoor use, with a higher ISO setting, a different metering mode, red-eye reduction on the flash, and other specific settings. At the flick of a switch you can automatically change sets to reconfigure the camera.
Shooting performance is just what you’d expect from a camera in this class. The camera starts up reasonably quickly and exhibits no shutter lag. The large internal image buffer means the camera is usually ready when you’re ready to shoot.
The Coolpix 5000 delivers very good image quality with fine detail and excellent color fidelity. Like other Coolpix cameras, the 5000 can turn up chromatic aberrations, and we found that the lens often produced soft-edged images. These aberrations are not necessarily a concern in most printed images, and it’s often easier to do careful sharpening of photos in an image-editing program than to deal with an oversharpened image that are produced by the camera.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
A few issues with the Coolpix 5000 give us pause, such as the slowness of the lens at the far end of the zoom, the lack of an autofocus assist, and the flash meter’s clumsy placement. But if you want to print an image at 11 by 14 inches, or print a cropped photo at 8 by 10 inches, 5 megapixels is luxuriously large, and you can count on the Coolpix 5000 to deliver a high-quality image.