High ISO modes compared

As is increasingly the case with compact cameras the P5000 offers high ISO modes that inevitably work a lot better as marketing tools than they do in practice. The P5000 allows you to select up to ISO 3200 manually, though if you plump for ISO 3200 the file size is halved (to 5MP). This is because the P5000's ISO 3200 mode uses pixel binning, which - as you can see from the crops below - has a serious effect on the resolution of the output.

Below you will find a studio scene comparison between the ISO 2000 and ISO 3200 modes.

Studio scene comparison ( @ ISO 2000 and ISO 3200)

  • Nikon Coolpix P5000 : Aperture Priority mode, ISO 2000, Default Image Parameters,
    Manual white balance, +0.6 EV compensation
  • Nikon Coolpix P5000 : Aperture Priority mode, ISO 3200, Default Image Parameters,
    Manual white balance, +0.6 EV compensation
  • Lighting: Daylight simulation, >98% CRI

Note: Both shots taken with an ND4 (2 stop) filter in front of the lens.

Nikon Coolpix P5000
Nikon Coolpix P5000
ISO 2000, 1/335 sec, F4.8 ND4 filter
ISO 3200, 1/506 sec, F4.8 ND4 filter
3,315 KB JPEG
1,396 KB JPEG

The ISO 2000 output is like the ISO 1600 output, only more so; the integrity of the image is really beginning to break down and the noise levels in the shadow areas are so high that detail is being swamped. ISO 3200 is like every pixel-binned output we've ever seen; essentially noise-free but also essentially detail-free.

You have to wonder who at Nikon - a company with a half century legacy of photographic excellence - decided that it no longer mattered what the output looked like as long as the advertising could say 'ISO 3200'. No one expects high ISO output from a 10MP sensor this small to be anything more than merely 'acceptable', but surely the ISO 3200 output shown here is stretching the definition of acceptable to breaking point. I don't buy Nikon's flagship compact camera for picture quality that barely matches most camera phones, and I consider that cameras offering output like this are deliberately misleading customers about what they are capable of.

Now, rant over, I should note that many buyers of compact cameras have very different expectations, and may well think the shots above represent a perfectly acceptable compromise in return for which they get the ability to snap their friends and family in low light without flash.