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White Balance

In addition to the standard auto white balance, the Coolpix P5000 has five white balance presets (daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, and flash) and a manual setting. To set the white balance manually, simply choose the PRE option and a small preview appears; point the camera at a white or gray object and press enter. The manual white balance setting is remembered even if you switch the camera off. In use the auto WB did a good job when shooting in daylight (very occasionally scenes with an unusual expanse of color fooled the system, but this was thankfully rare). Things are a little less impressive in artificial light, often producing a fairly strong cast. As with most compact cameras it is always better to use a WB preset (or manual WB) in such situations.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 2.8%, Blue -2.3%
Average
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red 4.3%, Blue -5.4%
Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 5.0%, Blue -18.1%
Poor
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red 7.6%, Blue -7.9%
Average

Flash Performance

The P5000's built-in flash does a pretty good job in both exposure and color terms, and it offers a respectable 0.3 to 8M shooting range (at wideangle with auto ISO). We found the flash to be very reliable in typical shooting conditions (social occasions indoors in low light). There is a tendency to slight under exposure, though this can be fixed very easily in post-processing, and there is a slight warm tone, which is no bad thing if you mostly shoot people. We did not see any blown-out flash shots in our testing - overexposure is considerably more difficult to deal with than the slight underexposure seen here.

The In-Camera Red-Eye Fix (seen on many recent Nikon models) works very well indeed - far better than cameras that rely purely on a pre-flash system; the Nikon system actually finds and corrects red-eye using its on-board processor. The only downside to this highly effective red-eye removal system is a rather severe performance hit - with shot-to-shot times stretching to around seven seconds. Of course the big difference between the P5000 and 99% of the other compacts on the market is that you have the option to add a fully dedicated external flash thanks to the inclusion of a hot shoe connector.

Skin tone - no color cast,
very slight underexposure
Color chart - Very slight warm cast,
Good exposure

D-Lighting

The P5000 has Nikon's 'D-Lighting' feature, designed to lighten shadows without affecting the highlights in the image. The effect - basically a form of in-camera contrast masking - is very similar to that used in HP's cameras, but has the advantage of being applied after the image has been taken, and the result saved as a new file. For high contrast images the results are pretty impressive (though inevitably they come at a price - slightly higher shadow noise and some lost highlight detail).

Original image
36 mm equiv., 1/280 sec, F5.4
After D-Lighting has been
applied in-camera.

Macro Focus

As with previous Coolpix models the P5000 has a good macro mode, but one that performs at its best in a small region of the zoom (near the wide end), when you can get down as close as 4cm, capturing an area just over 1.8" across. Distortion at the closest focus point is fairly low and edge-to-edge sharpness very good. Close focus at the long end of the zoom is less impressive in terms of how close you can get (40cm), but the quality is good. We found the P5000 struggled to focus in macro mode at the long end of the zoom, so it's best to zoom out a little and move closer.

Wide macro - 46 x 34mm coverage
78 px/mm (1933 px/in)
Distortion: Mild
Corner softness: Low
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Mid Zoom macro - 123 x 92 mm coverage
29 px/mm (748 px/in)
Distortion: Very Low
Corner softness: Low
Equiv. focal length:126 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Nikon compacts have historically suffered from strong distortion at both ends of the zoom range. The P5000 isn't that bad; 1.5% barrel distortion at the wide end is a touch higher than average but it won't make any difference in normal 'real world' shots. There is no measurable distortion at the telephoto end of the zoom.

Barrel distortion - 1.5% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.0% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 126 mm

Specific Image Quality Issues

There's little to complain about here; at the lowest ISO settings (200 or below) images are as good as you'll get from any 10 megapixel camera, and a lot better than many. There is some smearing of low contrast detail even at ISO 64, but it's a lot less destructive than we've seen with other recent 10MP models. Nikon's usual subtle processing means that the pictures can look a little soft (especially viewed on-screen at 100%), and many users may find they also look a little 'flat' if they stick to the default settings. In my book for a camera aimed at the more advanced user this is exactly the approach Nikon should be taking, though it's a slightly dangerous one, as it can put off the novice user who is drawn to the 'bright n breezy' output of other brands.

Of course it's not all good news; the P5000 suffers from the same problems as its competitors to a greater or lesser degree; highlight clipping, occasional exposure/white balance errors, focus problems in low light and noise at anything over ISO 200. There is some (very) mild purple fringing at the edge of shots taken against the light, but you really can't see it unless you zoom in to 100% or higher, so can't really be considered an issue. There is a little softness towards the corners at the wide end of the zoom (again, you really need to be looking for it at 100%) and we did notice that when using the smallest apertures diffraction effects start to blur away very fine detail.

Highlight clipping (and exposure issues)

Although it's a lot less prone to highlight clipping than many of its competitors, the P5000 still struggles with scenes with a very wide dynamic range. The problem is exacerbated by the occasional case metering errors causing overexposure when confronted with a very bright scene. To put this into perspective we found around 6 examples of serious highlight clipping in a selection of over 500 outdoor shots.

36 mm equiv., F2.7 62 mm equiv., F4.9
126 mm equiv., F5.3 48 mm equiv., F4.3

Purple fringing

As mentioned above there is some purple fringing, but you need to look long and hard to find it in 99% of shots - even those taken against the light. Even then it's so mild as to be insignificant.

100% crop 36 mm equiv., F3.8
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