The 10-megapixel Nikon P5000 is an enthusiasts' compact that offers manual control, a 3.5x zoom and Vibration Reduction.
It’s been a while since Nikon’s flagship Coolpix 8400 slipped from the company’s product line-up and in the intervening years the ‘P’ (Performance) range hasn’t really offered a comparable model.
However, if you’re after a high-end compact, the wait is over, with the P5000 combining the portability of a compact with a DSLR feature-set. Could this be the perfect ‘back-up’ camera?
One of the P5000’s key audiences is the digital SLR-owner looking for a pocketable ‘DSLR alternative’, so Nikon has duly supplied a fully rounded set of features. The 10MP resolution matches that of the Nikon D40x/D80, with shooting modes ranging from Automatic to Manual, with Aperture and Shutter Priority, Program and 16 scene modes in between. These are backed up by an expansive ISO 64-3200 sensitivity range and matrix, centreweighted and spot metering patterns to cover the full gamut of lighting situations.
At the ‘business end’ there’s a 3.5x optical zoom, but it’s a shame this only covers 36-126mm equivalent focal lengths – it’s neither wide enough nor long enough to stand out, although optional adaptors are available. It does, however, have Nikon’s lens-based VR (Vibration Reduction) built-in to help counter the effects of camera shake.
Other useful inclusions to the camera are the Speedlight-compatible hotshoe and 21MB of internal memory that can act as a life-saver if you fill your card. However, we’re a little disappointed that Nikon hasn’t given the option to shoot Raw files with the P5000. It’s certainly possible, and would not only have made it more appealing as a DSLR alternative, but would have elevated it above its rivals, such as Canon’s PowerShot G7.
With its black body and silver trim, the P5000 is nice to look at and sits comfortably in the hand thanks to its DSLR-style rubberised right hand finger grip and thick rubber thumb pad. It’s a shame Nikon decided to make the back out of plastic while the front of the camera is magnesium though, as we would really expect an all-metal shell for a compact commanding this section of the market.
The control layout, however, is good, with a top-mounted shooting mode dial and a thumb-operated control wheel on the right for adjusting your parameters. The menus are clearly laid out, but the ‘func’ (function) button is a bit of an oddity in as much as it only brings up a single option, be it ISO, white balance, or image quality, for instance. You can choose which you would prefer to see, but it’s slightly unusual that it’s restricted in this way – all the key options should be there, not one.
In terms of composing and reviewing images though, we have few concerns. The rear 2.5in LCD gives high-resolution images and is bright in most conditions, though on bright days an anti-reflection coating would be beneficial. When the screen does suffer from glare, at least you can use the optical viewfinder.
It takes a couple of seconds for the P5000 to ready itself for shooting, and while the focusing speed is brisk in good light there’s a noticeable hesitation when the light levels dip. Manually selecting the focus area or restricting the AF to the central point doesn’t help speed things up, but the P5000’s AF system rarely fails to get a lock. The shooting speed of the P5000 is similarly predictable, and in single-shot mode it takes around two seconds for a 10MP JPEG file to be recorded to the SD card.
Of course, if you need to shoot continuously there’s always the option to select the continuous shooting mode where you can take up to half a dozen frames at approximately one per second before the camera needs a rest to clear the files to your media card.
With its 10MP sensor, the likelihood is that the Nikon P5000 owner will be looking to make large prints – perhaps up to A3 in size on occasions. For images captured up to ISO 400 this won’t be a problem, with noise at ISO 400 restricted to slight luminosity noise that doesn’t translate to the final print. Even ISO 800 will yield a reasonable A3-sized print, although you will notice both luminosity and chroma noise in the images. If you were to use an ISO setting above this (ISO 1600-2000), you might want to keep your prints to a more modest size because images become quite obviously textured, and both contrast and saturation are also reduced.
Regardless of the ISO setting, images are generally sharp-edged, with the automatic white balance matching most lighting conditions and the matrix metering, for the most part, rising to the occasion.
Value for Money
At around £300 on the dealer’s shelf, the Coolpix P5000 gives you a lot of camera for your money and makes it a great back-up camera for those occasions when you simply don’t want to lug around your DSLR.
As a compact that can ‘fill in’ for your DSLR, the P5000 largely does the job it sets out to, although noise is an issue and we’re disappointed that there’s no Raw mode. The focal length range of the lens also disappoints: it lacks true wideangle and telephoto capabilities unless you want to invest in (and carry) lens converters. While the P5000’s a good camera it ultimately falls slightly short of being a great one.