Operation and controls

Nikon continues to refine its user interface and control system with each Coolpix generation, though I still feel there's some room for improvement; the reliance on menus means there's little you can control directly and there are aspects that are downright clunky. That said there are some serious improvements; the control dial makes changing exposure settings much more fluid and the customizable FUNC button does at least mean that one setting (ISO or WB for most people) can be accessed without going into the menu system.

If you tend to use your compact camera in a 'point and shoot' manner you'll have no complaints about the control system, but if you're an obsessive control-tweaker who likes to tailor the settings to every shot you may find the reliance on multi-page menus frustrating. Such is the compromise of using such a compact camera.

Rear of camera

The rear of the camera is where you'll find most of the external controls. The control layout has changed significantly - and very much for the better - since the last 'P' series models and the Coolpix 7900 (which is much closer in design to the P5000 than any other P camera). The buttons have all been moved into a neat vertical line to the left of the LCD, leaving only the four-way controller on the right (the zoom control has moved to the top of the camera). The new layout is not only a lot neater, it's a lot easier to use. Note the new 'Fn' button top left; this is customizable and offers a neat way to avoid using the menu system to change ISO.

Top of camera

Looking at the P5000 from the top you can see the new grip and command dial, and the much-improved shutter release position. The zoom is now a rocker switch just in front of the shutter release. Also found on the top plate are the main mode dial, power button and flash hot shoe.

Display and menus

I've not been a big fan of Nikon's compact digital camera interface, but it is getting better, and it's a lot less frustrating for the more advanced user than it used to be. The P5000 inevitably relies on menus a lot for changing more advanced settings, but the new command dial and clear, simple menus make it a lot easier to take control of this camera than many earlier Coolpixes. There's also an awful lot of stuff to play with here, in both record and playback modes, so even the most enthusiastic setting-tweaker won't be disappointed by the features on offer.

This is a typical auto mode live view with basic information displayed around the edge of the screen. You can turn most of this off if you wish by pressing the display button. Note that the exposure (aperture / shutter speed) display is live (it updates continually). Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used, and warning if there is a possibility of camera shake (exposure information is not shown).
Switching away from the full auto mode brings many more options and - as shown here - a slightly more complex on-screen display. You can also now turn the display off altogether (to use the viewfinder) or switch to a 'rule of thirds' grid display (click). Another key difference in P mode is that it offers a program shift option; turn the control dial to change the balance of aperture and shutter speed (without changing the exposure level).
AE compensation and program shift in action. Surprisingly the P5000 has no live histogram option (an inexplicable omission since other, lesser Coolpix models have it). The P5000 still uses Nikon's rather convoluted mini menus for changing flash, macro and self-timer modes. Though you can now use the control dial for moving through the options it still feels clunky.
One welcome addition - still rare on compact cameras - is a command dial (as found on most SLR cameras). As well as being used to change exposures and navigate menus, the dial is used with the customizable function button (Fn). This gives fast access to ISO, image size/quality, white balance or VR setting (you choose which using the setup menu). The extensive shooting menu is split into four pages of options covering everything from image size/quality to flash control, image parameters, noise reduction and bracketing. Note that in Auto mode you get a much simpler set of options (basically file size & quality). Note that you can move up and down menus with the new command dial as well as the four-way controller.
As well as presets (from softer to 'more vivid') there are extensive custom image parameter settings. Here you can choose from several contrast, saturation and sharpening settings (including, unusually, a 'sharpening off' option). There is also a surprisingly versatile black and white mode, which includes a wide selection of color filter simulations. Neat.
As with most recent Coolpix models you can optionally view the menus as icons, rather than text. This takes a little getting used to but is a lot faster (you get everything on one screen). Turning the mode dial to SCENE and pressing the menu button allows you to select one of 16 scene modes, including panorama assist mode, which shows a ghosted portion of the last picture taken overlaid on the preview image. The only other thing you can change in scene mode is the image quality and size. Pressing the help button brings up a brief description of the mode, and when to use it.
Here's a typical screen from playback mode - much like every other Coolpix camera for the last few years. You can turn this information off using the setup menu. You can also view full shooting information and a histogram.
Pressing the right zoom key lets you enlarge images up to 6x for a closer look. The left zoom key brings up thumbnails - 2x2, 3x3 or 4x4. The P5000 features Nikon's excellent 'D-Lighting' feature - a sort of digital 'fill-flash' that lightens shadows without affecting highlight detail. All you need do is press the OK button when an image is displayed. If you accept the change a new file is saved (i.e. the original isn't deleted).
Pressing the menu button in the playback mode brings up two pages of options covering printing, viewing slideshows, deleting/protecting, resizing and copying from the internal memory to the SD card. The setup menu (which gets its own position on the mode dial) consists of three pages of basic camera options, including the usual date/time/audio settings, language, card formatting and the aforementioned FUNC button options.