Camera Test: Nikon Coolpix P5000

With this powerful little compact, Nikon puts a monster in your pocket -- and it's easy to control.

Camera-Test-Nikon-Coolpix-P5000

Camera-Test-Nikon-Coolpix-P5000

Advanced compacts are pocket monsters, with nearly all of a DSLR's abilities and none of its bulk. But can they make noise!

Nikon bred a live one in its new Coolpix P5000 ($350, street). It has many of the external and some of the imaging controls of its D80 and D40x DSLRs. Can it match the image quality of its DSLR kin? Yes and no.

At ISO 64 and 100, we rank Image Quality as Excellent, thanks to resolution averaging more than 2000 lines, Excellent color accuracy, and noise levels of Low and Moderately Low. Rising noise levels drop overall IQ to Extremely High at ISO 200. And as the noise at ISO 400 crosses into Unacceptable, we still found its pictures quite acceptable.

But noise gets worse through ISO 2000, the highest sensitivity for 10MP capture. At ISO 3200, overly aggressive noise reduction cuts resolution to only a paltry 700 lines.

Still, the P5000 has a lot to love. The 36-126mm equivalent f/2.7-5.3 zoom has Vibration Reduction for both stills and video. Allowing shutter speeds 2 to 3 EV below normal, it can cut noise by letting you shoot at a lower ISO. It offers nice flash options, too, with a hot-shoe that supports Nikon's i-TTL external units such as the SB-400, SB-600, and SB-800 Speedlights.

It even takes auxiliary lenses: The TC-3ED Teleconverter ($250, street) is an equivalent 378mm; the WC-E67 Wide-angle Converter ($110, street), a 24mm equivalent. You'll need the UR-E20 adapter ($30, street). We tried both and found virtually no loss of resolution, though they're cumbersome to mount, and you must compose on the LCD instead of the viewfinder.

The P5000's control interface is way ahead of the typical menu-mad compact. Buttons on the back provide quick access, and an actual command dial allows speedy input of settings. The function button can be programmed for quick access to a single control of your choice.

The P5000 does have menus -- nicely organized and easy to read, with help screens for every option. The Optimize Image menu, a scaled-down version of the D80's, has five preset (and one custom) image profiles, plus four monochrome filter effects. After-shot adjustments include D-Lighting to boost shadow detail. Oddly, there's no redeye fix.

Modes include Face Recognition, which locks AF onto faces in the frame. The best: Panorama Stitch, with its easy, accurate guide for framing shots to combine in the included Picture Project software.

In use, the P5000 proved far less frustrating than the typical compact. It's nice in the hand, and the shutter button is well positioned. While the AF sometimes take a moment to hunt, once it locks on, the camera fires with no delay. You can move the focusing point to a nutty 99 different positions, and couple the spotmeter to any one of them.

Missing? Adobe RGB color space and RAW capture. And the viewfinder is one of those low-magnification squintfinders.

But keep the ISOs down, and you can pack nearly the picture-taking power of a D40x in a shirt pocket.

Imaging: 10.4MP (effective) CCD captures 10.1MP images (3648x2736).
Storage: 21MB internal memory plus SD/SDHC card slot. Stores JPEGs.
Burst rate: Up to 6 Fine-quality JPEGs at 1 fps (tested).
Video: 640x480 at 30 fps with mono sound.
AF system: TTL phase detection system with 9 (autoselect) or 99 (user-selected) AF zones; selected zone is highlighted on LCD monitor. Single-shot and continuous AF. Cancelable AF-assist lamp.
Shutter speeds: 1/2000 to 8 sec.
Metering: 256-segment TTL with Matrix evaluative, centerweighted, and spotmetering. Spot zone can be coupled to any AF area. EV -1 to 17.5 (at ISO 100).
ISO range: 100 to 1600 in 1-EV increments, plus ISO 64 and 2000. ISO 3200 available at 5MP.
Flash: Built-in with i-TTL autoflash, GN 25 (ISO 100, feet). Dedicated hot-shoe compatible with Nikon Speedlights SB-400, SB-600, SB-800.
Viewfinder: Optical zoom viewfinder.
LCD: 2.5-in. TFT with 230,000-pixel resolution.
Output: Hi-Speed USB 2.0 and video.
Battery: EN-EL5 Li-ion rechargeable; 250 shots per charge (CIPA rating, 50% with flash).
Size/weight: 3.9x2.5x1.6 in.; 8.1 oz with card and battery.
Street price: $350.
For info: www.nikonusa.com.

COMPETITIVE SET

•****Canon PowerShot G7 ($467, street): Bigger, sturdier, pricier, but a toss-up in image quality -- slightly better noise control at ISO 400, but worse noise than the Nikon above that. The P5000 has better resolution at high ISOs. The G7 has Image Stabilization, plus a longer-range (6X) zoom.

• Fujifilm FinePix E900 ($240, street): Has no image stabilization, a more point-and-shooty feel, and a smaller (2-in.) LCD monitor. But the 9MP Fuji has Excellent resolution, with little resolution loss at high ISOs, and much better noise control than the Canon and Nikon, plus RAW capture.

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Nikon Coolpix P5000 Image Quality Gallery.
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