Image stabilization

The optical image stabilization system used on the Coolpix P5000 is based on the VR (Vibration Reduction) lens-shift technology first seen on Nikon's professional SLR lenses, and seen on previous models such as the P3 and P4. There is now only one mode, which appears to equate to the 'active' mode on previous models (it automatically detects panning) - a good thing since the 'active' mode was the more effective. Being a lens-based system the preview image is stabilized when the VR is turned on, which helps with framing; it also means you get the benefit of stabilization when shooting movies.

With short zooms like this (max focal length 126mm equiv.) image stabilization is considerably less essential than with a 10x or 12x 'super zoom'. At anything over about 1/125th sec you're not going to suffer from camera shake a great deal. At the short end of the zoom camera shake becomes a problem at around 1/15th sec (depending on how steady-handed you are). Speeds slower than this are difficult to stabilize reliably irrespective of the system you are using.

If you take a few 'safety' shots when pushing the system hard (1/8th at 126mm for example), you'll usually get at least one 'keeper'. This is where Nikon's excellent 'Best Shot Selector' (which takes a series of up to 10 shots and only saves the sharpest) proves its worth.

The example below shows how - with a bit of luck - you can get a sharp shot a good four stops slower than you would expect from a non stabilized camera (though as the tests below show, you'll be lucky to get any more than 1 in 4 sharp results when pushing the system this hard).

Real world example: 126mm (equiv), 1/8th Second, hand-held.
Stabilization off Stabilization on

The stabilization test

In this simplified version of our SLR IS test, four hand-held shots were taken of a static scene with the stabilization off and on. The shutter speed was decreased and repeated (from 1/1000 sec to 1/4 sec). The zoom was set to its maximum position (126mm equiv.), the test target was 3.0m away from the camera. The test was repeated three times and an average taken.

The resulting images were then inspected and given a blur score -

  • Sharp (no visible blurring at 100%)
  • Mild Blur (the kind of camera shake that is tolerable at normal 'postcard' print sizes)
  • Heavy Blur (blur visible even at small print sizes)
  • Very Heavy Blur (totally unusable due to camera shake - little if any detail visible).

As the charts below show the VR system offers around a 2 stop advantage, at best (though how much you get from it will depend on how steady your hand is in the first place). As mentioned above the reason it's no greater is simple; the zoom isn't long enough for most users to need VR at anything under 1/250 sec and we've yet to see a system that can stabilize speeds of 1/8th sec or slower, so there's a fairly narrow band of shutter speeds for the VR to work on.

Hand-held, no stabilization (126mm equiv.)

We had no problem getting 100% sharp shots at the long end of the zoom at anything over 1/125 second. Once we dropped below 1/60 sec we couldn't get a totally sharp shot at all. The vast majority of shots below 1/30 sec are totally unusable.

Hand-held, stabilization on (126mm equiv.)

With stabilization on the improvement is obvious, and represents an advantage of around 2 stops. The key difference is that at 1/125 sec you're getting a 100% hit rate, and in the 1/8 to 1/60 sec region your chances of a usable shot are considerably higher - if you take a few safety shots (or make use of Nikon's 'Best Shot Selector' function) you can certainly expect to get something usable at anything at 1/15 sec or higher at the long end of the zoom. The VR doesn't work miracles, and though it makes getting a usable shot at very slow shutter speeds possible, the hit rate is very low. We still don't feel Nikon's VR is as effective as those of Panasonic, Sony or Canon, and these results would appear to bear out that suspicion .

Image Parameters

As mentioned earlier the P5000 has a wide range of image parameter options, including presets, custom control of sharpness/contrast/saturation and a range of black and white mode options. This is all very welcome indeed, given the lack of a raw shooting option. By turning everything down and turning the sharpening off altogether it's possible to produce a file that is very clean, and well suited to post-processing. Conversely the 'Vivid' settings make it easy to add some 'pop' to dull, overcast days.

Normal setting 100% crop
'Softer' preset 100% crop
'Vivid' preset 100% crop
'More vivid' preset 100% crop
'Portrait' preset 100% crop
Custom setting: all settings to lowest, Sharpening Off. 100% crop
Custom setting: all settings to highest. 100% crop

Real word comparison

If you'd like to see how the presets affect the appearance of a more realistic everyday scene here's a typical landscape shot with normal, softer, vivid and more vivid settings; as you can see the differences are fairly subtle until you get to 'More Vivid'. Apologies for the slight framing variations; I didn't have a tripod with me.

Normal Softer Vivid More Vivid