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Nikon Coolpix 5000 - Second Opinion (contd.)

The Camera

Size

The first thing people say when seeing the Coolpix 5000: "so small !" Despite its size, the camera never felt hot anywhere even when using intensively. The small size has the benefit that you can carry it around all the time in your briefcase and have macro and a multipurpose zoom available. The drawback is the camera with all the lenses and adapters needed to cover the full range of 19mm to 255mm is bigger than other cameras with integrated (but smaller range) zoom.

Controls

Are a natural extension and improvement over the previous Coolpix series and as a Coolpix user you will get used to them in no time. I was disappointed that Nikon used "soft" labels for QUICK, MENU, and MONITOR, even in the MONITOR mode (where you would expect only to see the picture). These soft labels remain present, wasting precious LCD estate and making proper framing more difficult. Nikon should have printed these labels on the buttons. In addition, when the LCD is flipped to the side (most frequently used mode), the buttons are ON TOP of the LCD, so when using them, you fingers will block your view on the LCD. Only in the less frequently used position at the back of the camera are the buttons below the LCD. Nikon should have provided two sets of buttons instead, one set on top of the LCD and one set at the bottom.

User memories

Is a feature I liked very much as you can program one for normal mode, one for wide angle or Tele mode, and one for video clip mode. Warning: if you switch to video mode, the sensitivity switches to ISO200. When you switch back to one of the other memories, the camera stays at ISO200 !!! An undesirable setting, even more so given the rather poor performance at ISO200. Hopefully this obvious bug is taken care of in the next firmware update.

LCD

Is a major improvement over the swivel, it is actually like having two swivels, because you can now use the "swivel" effect both for horizontal (landscape orientation) and vertical (portrait orientation) shots. It needs some getting used to it to frame correctly, because sometimes it looks as if you have to hold the camera in a non-straight position in order to align the horizon properly. The LCD could be brighter. One way around this issue is to put the camera in +2 EV, this makes the LCD very bright and allows to frame correctly, then, while holding the camera in a fixed position, wind down to the correct EV, typically -0.3 EV, and shoot. I also notice the LCD colors are colder and less natural than the 990/995 LCD, even after adjusting it via the settings. When I wanted the LCD at the back of the camera in stead of next to the camera, I sometimes had to squeeze the LCD hard against the back of the camera in order to activate the pin button which flips the image. If the pin button is not activated, the image will pan to the left when you pan the camera to the right and vice versa, causing quite a bit confusion in the process !

FLASH

Redeye is now, finally, non-existent. Widely reported problem is that you can sometimes cover the sensor with your finger causing underexposed pictures. Especially if you ask somebody else to make a shot, they will almost certainly cover the sensor because they are not aware of the issue. I used the SB-50DX external flash. Both the built in flash and SB-50DX are very powerful so it is important to reduce the power to avoid blown out pictures when the subject is close. The speed light options are unnaturally located in the setup menu. Often I found myself shooting with power settings between -1.0 to -2.0. Using the SB-50DX as a bounce flash removes flash shadows of the built in flash which can be used as a fill in flash as well. Unfortunately you have to adjust the zoom range on the SB-50DX manually. Also note that the SB-50DX can only twist up and down and not left and right, so when shooting vertical shots, the SB-50DX will not be able to bounce off the ceiling but off the walls or... your friends :)

Speed

A tad slow during startup, the Coolpix5000 was very fast in all other aspects and it was easy to take several consecutive shots, a major improvement over the 990 and 995. There was virtually no speed difference between my Lexar Media 10X 128MB and Transcend 256MB cards.

Batteries

I always have been a strong believer in AA's but I must admit that the Lithium batteries had an excellent performance, even when reviewing after shooting and checking the histogram I managed to shoot 200 to 250 shots per charge. Also, the batteries recharge in less than 2 hours. The Lithium batteries discharge rather quickly over time, even if the camera is not used, so make sure to start off with freshly recharged batteries.

I never had to resort to my Lithium CR5 backup batteries or my AA emergency backup. You can make use of your existing AA rechargeable by buying a battery holder which can contain eight AA batteries and soldering a wire to it with the proper connector which fits into the DC-input. When connecting the battery pack, the residual power of your "empty" Lithium battery in the camera will keep the power of the pack longer above the minimum level required for the camera to operate.

It works perfectly for me, but keep in mind that trying this out is entirely at your own risk and any damage caused to the camera may not be covered by the Nikon warranty. I recommend this procedure only for people who have some DIY electrical experience. Among other things, you want to make sure that:
- the battery holder adds up the voltages (series connection) which will give an unloaded voltage
  of about 11 Volts
- the polarity is correct, I resisted the temptation to test the effects of reverse polarity :)
- the batteries are freshly recharged (NiMH lose a few % a day even if you don't use them, so if it has been a while, you may not have enough power as the DC-input is designed for the more powerful AC/DC adapter)

Image Quality

In a nutshell we are getting Coolpix 995 image quality with more resolution.

Highlights

Just like all its predecessors, the Coolpix easily blows out highlights. In most cases you have to shoot with -0.3 EV or -0.7 EV or even more. I notice however that doing so on the Coolpix5000 created sometimes slightly more noise in the shadows than with the 990 and 995. On my trip in Cambodia, facing extreme contrasty lightning conditions with bright highlights and dark shadows, I did bracketing from -1.0 to +1.0 or even -2.0 to +2.0 to increase the dynamic range as explained in my Dynamic Range Tutorial posted on my website. The example below speaks for itself. Four shots taken at -2.0 EV, -1.0 EV, 0 EV, and 1.0 EV without a tripod generate a magnificent picture ! Even the -1.0 EV alone can be pushed up reasonably well.

Note that we are not just dealing with a Coolpix 5000 limitation here. Indeed, given the extreme lightning conditions, the resulting picture would be hard to achieve with a any camera, whether digital or conventional.

ISO100, F7.1, 1/306 sec, -2.0 EV ISO100, F5.6, 1/224 sec, -1.0 EV ISO100, F4.0, 1/160 sec, 0 EV
ISO100, F3.1, 1/71 sec, +1.0 EV -1.0 EV picture "pushed up" Combination of -2,-1, 0, +1 EV

Noise

Pretty much like the 995 but unacceptable above ISO200. As mentioned above, exposure compensation makes the problem worse.

Night shots and Noise Reduction Mode

Just like the 995, night shots are an overall an improvement over the 990 and the Noise Reduction Mode does a good job.

ISO100, F3.6, 4.0 sec, NR On

Jpeg Compression

Jpeg compression is too aggressive to my liking. I wish Nikon made that user configurable as I had plenty of storage space available, but not enough to shoot all in TIFF (which is also too slow).

Extra resolution

The 25% extra horizontal and vertical resolution is welcome, especially at and above 8 x 10 printouts, it will give you that extra "snap". Also when resampling to smaller pictures, noise and chromatic aberrations will become less visible.
The Coolpix 5000 and Coolpix 995 images below were taken only minutes apart, with Low Sharpening setting. The Coolpix 990 pictures were shot one year earlier in very similar circumstance with Normal sharpening setting. The crops of the Coolpix 995 and 990 images have been resized with Photoshop (Biqubic) to the same size as the Coolpix 5000 crops. Note that due to lens differences and differences in zoom position between the images, the resizing was sometimes more or less than the 25% one would expect due to the difference in resolution between the cameras. So the comparisons of the crops are only approximations, but they clearly show the benefit of the extra resolution. No additional sharpening or digital darkroom has been performed.

Coolpix 5000
Coolpix 995
 
Coolpix 5000
Coolpix 990

 

Overall Conclusion on the Camera

The positive side

  • It is a very light and small camera that does not overheat
  • A natural extension of Coolpix controls and functionality
  • Twisting LCD is major improvement over swivel, especially for vertical shots.
  • Flash hot shoe is a welcome improvement and redeye is virtually non-existent
  • Three user memories
  • Allows fast consecutive shooting
  • Excellent battery performance and quick recharge time
  • Great wide angle 28-85mm zoom covers most situations
  • Great 19mm accessory lens with very little distortion
  • Makes use of existing Coolpix lenses (except for WC-63)
  • More detail due to extra resolution which is useful when printing 8 x 10 or larger sizes
  • 1/4,000s shutter speed seconds is impressive
  • Makes use of your prior Coolpix experience
  • Histogram is useful to monitor overexposure (unfortunately you need to !)
  • Many photographic controls
  • Noise reduction mode


The negative side

  • Slow lens (F2.8 - F4.8) with limited aperture range
  • Adapter rings add inconvenience and bulk
  • Red/purple and green fringing remain present, albeit some improvement
  • EV bracketing required to capture blown out highlights
  • Still too much noise, especially above ISO200
  • FINE mode uses acceptable but rather aggressive Jpeg compression
  • Unless adjustments in the settings are made, flash has tendency to blow out the pictures
  • Weak Tele performance:
Lens Range Note
Normal 28 to 85 mm  
2X Tele 139 to 170mm  
3X Tele 255 mm 5 Megapixel (if no vignetting) to
3.4 Megapixel (worst case of vignetting)
3X Tele at 3.1 Megapixel resolution:
  266 mm worst case of vignetting
319 mm if no vignetting
  • Occasional focusing problems with 2X and especially 3X Tele
  • 995 owners:
    - if you are mainly using the 2X and 3X Tele, stay with the 995
    - if you can afford it, keep both as the zoom ranges of both cameras are complementary
  • A tad slow in startup
  • Still some bugs:
    - user memory remembers ISO when switching functions
    - camera does not remember previous zoom position when switched on
    - contrast setting sometimes flips to Auto mode
  • LCD issues:
    - colors less natural than 990 and 990 LCD,
    - could be brighter
    - 'soft buttons' cannot be switched off and make framing difficult
    - 'hard buttons' on top of LCD block your view when using them
    - sometimes need to push LCD against back of camera


Overall conclusion

We are looking at a greatly improved Coolpix in terms of resolution, twist LCD, wide angle, flash, ease of use, size, and speed, which maintains most of the previous Coolpix advantages. The "price" you pay is a weaker Tele performance than the 995 and the competition, more accessories to carry around, and many old issues which remain unresolved since the first Coolpix generation.

Vincent Bockaert

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