Nikon Coolpix 5000 - Second Opinion

By Vincent Bockaert

This second opinion is written from the perspective of a Nikon Coolpix range user who decided to buy the 5000 after evaluating all the pros and cons of various alternatives in its price category as of December 2001. This second opinion is written from how the camera fits my particular needs which may of course be different from your personal needs.

Before using the Coolpix 5000, I have been extensively using the Coolpix 950, 990, and 995. This second opinion is based on my experience with using the Coolpix 5000 in Cambodia in extreme conditions of heat, humidity, and dust, combined with one of the most critical and contrasting lightning conditions: ancient temples in the shadows of a dense tropical jungle vegetation partially illuminated by a bright tropical sun. I made two photographic trips to Cambodia for my upcoming book "Impressions of Cambodia". In January 2001, I used the Coolpix 990, while in January 2002, I used the Coolpix 995 and mainly the Coolpix 5000.

The Lenses

All focal lengths in this second opinion are expressed as 35mm (field of view) equivalents.

The standard zoom

Like everybody, I wish the lens was faster and had a wider range of apertures. But the 28 to 85 mm proved to be a wonderful zoom range for my shooting style. You can visit my personal web site to see what I mean: I mainly shoot sceneries, architecture, animals, plants, and insects. I needed the accessory lenses less frequently than with the 990 and 995, especially the wide angle adapter. I noticed that the camera does not remember the previous zoom position when switched Off and On again. This is no longer a user configurable option as was the case with the 990 and 995. Only when the camera goes into sleep mode, the zoom setting is remembered.

Chromatic Aberrations

Red/purple and green fringing has improved but remains present and has unfortunately become a "trademark" of the Nikon Coolpix series and one wonders why a company which can make such a great 19mm lens did not make a better main lens in this regards. These aberrations are relatively easy to remove in Photoshop and they do not occur that frequently, but wish I'd rather not have to deal with them.

Lens hood HN-E5000

Because the zoom lens, unlike those on its predecessors, comes out of the body and is now more directly exposed to sunlight, I expected the lens hood to have more impact than I noticed. Of course much depends on where the light is coming from but it was hard for me to notice consistent difference between using and not using the lens hood. The lens hood gives you the ability to hold camera firmer with both hands and, if that is important to you, gives the camera a more professional look. Note that the lens hood should not be used with the flash.

Adapter rings UR-E5, UR-E6

The Coolpix 5000 needs two adapters:
UR-E5: to provide thread for the WC-E68 adapter
UR-E6: to provide thread for the TC-E2 and TC-E3ED, and the Fisheye FC-E8 lenses.

Initially I was a bit concerned with all these rings and lenses, but if you keep the UR-E5 on the WC-E68 and the UR-E6 on the TC-E2, then the amount of screwing and unscrewing is reduced to the minimum.

Wide angle WC-E63

Has no use on the Coolpix 5000.

Wide angle WC-E68

The 19mm is the most amazing lens made for the Coolpix series, it offers surprisingly little distortion for the angle it offers. You can get really close to the subject and still get an amazing angle. Wonderful for architecture and real estate. The full zoom range can be used with this adapter, leading to a range of 19mm to 58mm. The WC-E68 can also be used on the CP995 and CP990 when using the UR-E7 adapter ring.

Tele TC-E2

Unlike with the 990 and 995, the 2X Tele does not provide a continuous zoom range on the CP 5000. So screwing on the 2X Tele will only give you a 139mm to 170mm range, and the 85mm to 139mm range is unfortunately not covered. In most cases it has not been a problem because once I use the 2X Tele, I tend to use the maximum zoom anyway. Because the Coolpix 5000 has 25% more resolution horizontally and vertically, cropping an 170mm image to 3.1 megapixel would generate about the same information as a 213mm image taken with a Coolpix 995. Beyond 213mm, the Coolpix 995 will offer more resolution wit the 2X Tele.

Tele TC-E3ED

The 3X Tele offers no zoom but serves as a prime lens. For the advanced users, I recommend to use the NORMAL lens setting and not the Telephoto 2 setting for reasons explained below.
Firstly, I had less focusing problems in this setting. If it occurs, it is resolved most of the time by using macro setting. Secondly, once you choose Telephoto 2 in the setup, digital zoom is activated to increase the optical focal length of 255mm to a digital focal length of 306mm. This is because the 3X Tele creates vignetting in certain circumstances as is shown on this extreme example below (which was shot 1 feet away from a wall):

The "clean" area indicated in red is 2,133 x 1,600 = 3,414,333 pixels. This area is digitally enlarged in the camera to 2,560 x 1,920 = 4,915,200 pixels so it has the same number of pixels as all other Coolpix 5000 images. So basically, you only have 3,414,333 pixels captured by the 255mm optical focal length when using the 3X Tele, which is equivalent to 266mm on a 3.1 megapixel camera.

Nikon has actually done a bit of an "overkill" by applying this worst case scenario solution to all situations. Indeed, in most cases you can do much better than that by using the NORMAL lens setting instead of the Telephoto 2 setting. I found out that if you shoot at far away subjects (more likely with a 255mm lens anyway), the vignetting is often not noticeable at all, as you can see from picture "C" below:

A. Coolpix 995 (456mm)
(optical zoom,
Normal lens setting)
B. Coolpix 5000 (306mm)
(1.2X digital zoom,
Telephoto 2 setting)
C. Coolpix 5000 (255mm)
(optical zoom,
Normal lens setting)
ISO100, F6.5, 1/536 sec ISO100, F6.8, 1/300 sec ISO100, F6.8, 1/312 sec

Minor vignetting on a blue sky is easy to remove in the digital darkroom and if you need to crop, it will most likely be less than 20%. In the worst case scenario, you have to crop the image 20% to 2,133 x 1,600 = 3,414,333 pixels which is no different from using the 1.2X digital zoom explained above. Indeed, the general consensus is that digital zoom does not differ much from enlarging in Photoshop (bicubiq interpolation), as you can see from images D and E.

D. Crop of Image B.
E. Crop of Image C. F. Coolpix 5000 (19mm)
  (after enlarging 20% in Photoshop (Bicubiq)

ISO100, F7.1, 1/462 sec
So you get the global picture :)

Picture A was taken with 3X Tele on the Coolpix 995 (456mm optical focal length). The image size is 2048 x 1536 = 3,145,728 pixels.
icture C was taken with 3X Tele and normal lens setting (255mm optical focal length) on the Coolpix 5000. Please note that this picture was taken on a different day, so it can only serve to compare resolution. The image size is 2560 x 1920 =4,915,200 pixels, or 1,769,472 pixels more than a Coolpix 995 image. No cropping was necessary because there was no vignetting.

The green area on Picture C is 2048 x 1536 pixels or the resolution of the Coolpix 995 and contains the equivalent information a Coolpix 995 would have taken at a focal length of 319mm with the 2X Tele. So 319mm is the "breakeven" focal length at which the Coolpix 995 and Coolpix 5000 reach the same resolution. Beyond 319mm, the Coolpix 995 will offer more resolution. For example, the red area is 1,360 x 1030 = 1.4 megapixel and contains the information contained in picture A, which was captured with the Coolpix 995 at 3.1 megapixel and 456mm focal length. The picture below shows how "close" you can get to the moon with the 3x Tele with the lens in Normal position. Unfortunately, this is not a resized image but a a 480 x 360 crop out of the full size image.

Conclusion on the Lenses

The Coolpix performs well in the wide angle territory and is likely to suit your needs for
- architecture, real estate, and sceneries (wide angle and moderate Tele)
- people and animals (portrait to Tele)
- flowers, insects (Macro)
The Tele range on the other hand is rather weak beyond 170mm. The 2X Tele gives a 139 to 170mm range, while the 3X Tele serves as a fixed 255mm lens. However, eliminating potential vignetting when focusing on close subjects with the 3X Tele, may reduce the resolution from 5 megapixel to as low as 3.4 megapixel. So if your focus is on birds and wildlife (typically above 300 mm), moon shots, or sports photography you may want to consider cameras which are stronger in the Tele territory, and have a faster lens as well.