Aperture Priority Mode

Compared to (say) Olympus's E-20 the Coolpix 5000 has a limited range of apertures for use in aperture priority mode. With a slow lens the 5000 is already down to F4.8 at full telephoto (85 mm equiv.), the E-20 would be down to just F2.4 at its full telephoto (140 mm equiv.). At the other end of the scale the minimum aperture available is F8.0.

Overall this is a disappointing selection which we expect from a slow lens.

  •  Wide: F2.8, F3.1, F3.5, F4.0, F4.4, F5.0, F5.6, F6.3, F7.1, F8.0
  •  Tele: F4.8, F5.4, F6.0, F6.8, F7.6

Aperture Priority is an exposure mode is accessed by holding the MODE button and turning command dial. You can change aperture by rolling the command dial. A basic example of aperture priority is shown below for more read my digital photography glossary:

F3.3, 1/16 sec
(Narrowest depth of field)
F7.4, 1/4 sec
(Maximum depth of field)

Macro Focus

The Coolpix 9xx series near legendary macro ability hasn't been lost on the 5000. This camera offers some of the closest (native) macro ability of any digital camera on the market (and at five megapixels to boot!). Just like the 990/995 the camera will turn the macro icon yellow when you're in the macro zoom 'sweet spot' which provides the maximum magnification at the minimum focus distance. We measured the minimum horizontal frame coverage as 25 mm (1.0 in) at about half zoom, that works out at 2560 dpi!

Sharp in the middle, soft at the edges: Just like the 990/995 the 5000 does suffer from soft edges and corners at this maximum magnification. Thanks to the five megapixel sensor it does appear to be even more noticeable on the 5000, download any of the samples below and view at 100% to see what I'm talking about.

Low Light Focus

This test measures the minimum amount of light under which the camera can still focus. The focus target is our lens distortion test chart (shown here on the right), camera is positioned exactly 2 m (6.6 ft) away.

Light levels are gradually dropped until the camera can no longer focus. This is carried out at both wide angle and telephoto zoom positions (as more light reaches the focusing systems with a larger aperture).

This test target is the optimum type of subject for most "contrast detect" AF systems (as it has a vertical line at its center), you should consider the results below the best you could expect to achieve.

Lens position Aperture Lowest light focus
Wide angle (35 mm) F2.8 4.0 EV (40.0 Lux / 3.7 foot-candle)
Telephoto (105 mm) F4.8 5.0 EV (80 Lux / 7.4 foot-candle)

Light intensity (Lux) = 2.5 x 2^EV (@ ISO 100), 10.76391 Lux = 1 foot-candle (fc)

The Coolpix 5000's low light focusing abilities really should be a major embarrassment to Nikon. This is their flagship five megapixel digital camera and it can't even focus (on our test chart) at wide angle in medium room light. Worst still is the fact that the camera has no AF assist lamp and has a very slow maximum aperture at full telephoto (thus hindering AF performance even more at telephoto). You only need to look at our results for other similar four or five megapixel digital cameras to see the difference.

Flash Performance

The specifications say that the Coolpix 5000's internal flash has a range of 3 m (9.8 ft). All of our tests seem to back this up, it's fairly powerful and thanks to the power output adjustment you can always boost up the flash if it looks as though an image is a little underexposed. One thing we did notice on the 2m wide-angle 'white wall' test was that there's a little drop off of in coverage at the bottom corners (shot at 28mm equiv.)

One gotcha with the 5000 (and this is even documented in an addendum to the manual) is the flash photocell which is tucked near the top edge of the hand grip. Be careful not to obstruct it during flash exposures otherwise all your shots will come out badly underexposed.

Skin tone test: Good exposure, well metered and good colour, no cast. As noted above, a good exposure with some drop off in the bottom corners. Color patch test: Good exposure, well metered with good colour.

External Flash

Nikon were good enough to provide their latest Speedlight (flash unit) the SB-50DX for testing with the Coolpix 5000. However, it's left me with a kind of lukewarm feeling to the entire setup. First of all the 5000 doesn't make use of the zoom feature of the flash nor does it consistently fire or use the AF assist lamp. I did on a couple of occasions manage to make the AF assist lamp fire (totally random) but it didn't stay on long enough to actually assist the camera focus. Overall a pretty poor setup from Nikon's "top of the line" digital camera and external flash combination. (I've also read on our forums that things are no better with older Nikon Speedlight's).

Having said all that the combination still takes good photographs and the 50DX provides plenty of power for doing either straight on or ceiling bounced flash shots. (Although the size and weight differential does lead to a very top heavy setup).

5000 & SB-50DX (straight on) 5000 & SB-50DX (ceiling bounced)

Another problem that's been reported is using the Coolpix 5000 in combination with the SB-24 and SC-17 connected to studio lights (a combination of connectors I didn't have for review). In this combination the camera doesn't appear to realize it is connected to an external flash system and the internal flash still goes off (why there's no menu option to disable the internal flash is beyond me). Users have had to resort to taping over the internal flash (a bad idea as it can damage the flash bulb).

Night exposures / Noise reduction

The Coolpix 5000's manual exposure mode allows for a limited range of camera timed long exposures (up to 8 seconds) plus a Bulb mode which you can use to shoot up to 1 or 5 minutes (available via the menu). This came as somewhat of a surprise considering that Sony (on the DSC-F707) offered up to 30 second camera timed long exposures and in our tests the 5000 was more than capable of shooting for such lengths of time.

The Coolpix 5000 has a noise reduction mode which, when enabled, will automatically perform a dark frame subtraction noise reduction on exposures slower than 1/4 sec. This requires the camera to take a second frame immediately after the main scene which it uses to sense 'hot pixels' and remove them from the scene image. This appeared to work well, although the only visible bright pixel in the non-noise-reduced image below was actually a stuck pixel which appeared in all exposures at any shutter speed.

F3.6, 8 sec NR OFF F3.6, 8 sec NR ON
F5.1, Bulb (36 sec) NR ON F7.1, Bulb (60 sec) NR ON