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After the shiny pebble styling of the previous P series generation the P5000 is a welcome return to the slim shape of cameras such as the Coolpix 7900, complete with a decent grip and anti-slip rubber body panels. It's surprisingly compact yet has a good selection of external controls including - and this is a big plus for Nikon - a thumb operated control wheel behind the shutter release. The design is pleasantly functional, and the construction and finish are excellent.

In your hand

As mentioned above the Coolpix P5000 is surprisingly compact - certainly when compared to other 'serious' models such as Canon's G7 and A640. That said it's not so small that handling in affected; in fact it sits very nicely in the hand with the textured grip making single-handed operation safe and secure. The controls are also well positioned.

Side by Side: Nikon P5000 and Canon PowerShot G7

As the shot above shows, the P5000 is dwarfed by the PowerShot G7; this isn't because the G7 is particularly large, but because the P5000 really is quite petite.

Body elements

A rather flimsy click 'n' slide door covers the battery compartment. The Coolpix P5000 uses an EL-EL5 rechargeable lithium ion battery pack ( charger included, of course). Nikon claims approximately 250 shots per charge using the CIPA standard test, which isn't bad for a camera this compact. You can obviously extend the battery life significantly by turning off the screen and shooting using the optical viewfinder.
In the same compartment you'll find the SD slot, which is of the usual 'click in, click out' sprung latch type. There is around 21MB of internal memory to get you started (Nikon does not supply an SD card with the Coolpix P5000), and images can be copied between the internal memory and SD card.
A single combined mini USB and AV (audio video) output port sits under a small flexible plastic cover on the left side of the body (looking from the front).
The optical viewfinder, complete with flash and AF ready lights is pretty standard stuff. It's tiny, the field of view is nowhere near the full frame (around 80%) and it's so far from the lens that you'll get parallax errors if you shoot subjects nearer than about 2M. But it's no worse than any other similar camera, and comes in useful in very low or very bright light, or when you need to preserve battery power.
The 2.5-inch screen is very sharp (230,000 pixels helps) - the refresh rate seems very high (no lag at all), it's pretty bright and it shows 100% of the frame. It also gains up fairly quickly in low light. We found it very difficult to see in strong direct sunlight - even with the brightness turned up all the way (thanks to glare), our only complaint.
The built-in flash is fairly powerful for such a small camera, which is reflected in the healthy 0.3 to 8.0m operating range (0.3 to 4.0m at the tele end of the zoom, auto ISO). The standard on/off/red-eye/slow synch options are available - if you turn on the red-eye mode (which uses a pre-flash) the In-Camera Red-Eye Fix is also activated.
The P5000 is the first Coolpix since 2004 to sport a hot shoe since - and the first time Nikon has included this useful feature on a truly compact camera. According to the manual the P5000 is compatible (with full iTTL support) with the SB-400, SB-600 and SB-800, though the latter looks almost ridiculously top-heavy when attached to the P5000.
The 3.5x Zoom Nikkor lens covers a range equivalent to approximately 36-126mm on a 35mm camera. The maximum aperture starts well (F2.7) but drops to a much less useful F5.3 at the long end of the zoom. The lens retracts completely into the body when the camera is powerered down.
The chrome ring around the base of the lens can be unscrewed to allow the attachment of a wide or tele converter, significantly expanding the versatility of the P5000. Unlike some competing systems the accessory lenses are not so big as to negate the advantage of such a small camera.
The main mode dial sits atop the camera right next to the shutter release and main power switch. From here you can choose between the various automatic and manual modes. There are positions on the dial for Anti Shake and high ISO modes, plus a separate 'Setup' mode (for changing basic camera settings).
The P5000 also sees the return of the command dial (as seen on models such as the Coolpix 5400 and other 'prosumer' models from a few years ago). The dial is used to change exposure settings, scroll through menus and in association with the 'Fn' button for the custom function.
The shutter release is perfectly positioned at the front of the grip and the zoom control has moved from the back of the camera to a ring around the shutter. This is a huge improvement.
As usual the four-way controller is used to navigate menus. Each of the four 'directions' also has a single dedicated function in record mode, giving direct access to flash, self-timer, AE-Comp, and macro mode.
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