Nikon CoolPix 5000
A Worthy Addition To The CoolPix Family

Example of the CoolPix 5000 with the 19mm auxiliary lens. The picture is an excellent example of its sharpness and flare control of the auxiliary WC-E68 lens. Two of the most difficult subjects to photograph, a snow scene and a setting sun.
Photos © 2001, Larry Berman, All Rights Reserved

In December 2001, Nikon released their first prosumer 5 megapixel digital camera, the CoolPix 5000. Originally announced in September, this camera is a worthy successor to the immensely popular CoolPix line that includes Nikon's CoolPix 950, 990, and 995.

Nikon has always had a loyal following of users, in part because early in the company's history the decision was made that backward compatibility of lenses and accessories was important. In keeping with that policy, most of the accessories from the previous CoolPix line (with a few exceptions) can be used with the new CoolPix 5000. The result is a large number of third party accessories and supplemental lenses that make it a fine working photographer's tool. (For a detailed review of accessories and lenses that work with the CoolPix series, check out our web site.)

Out Of The Box
Taking the camera out of the box our first thought was that it felt like a toy. With its slightly smaller feel in our hands than the CoolPix 990, it almost comes across as a shirt pocket camera. The camera takes the same EN-EL1 (or 2CR5 lithium) battery as the CoolPix 995 and charging takes about two hours. It's amazing how long that can seem when you are eager to get out and start shooting. However, we put our time to good use, skimming through the manual and familiarizing ourselves with the important features.

The LCD finder swivels, and is viewable from any position, even in sunlight, which makes it much more useable than the viewfinders on the previous CoolPix models. There is a hot shoe on the camera, a first in the CoolPix line. The camera ships with a 32MB CompactFlash card, which is an improvement over the 16MB and 8MB cards that are shipped with some digital cameras. Still, for a 5 megapixel camera 32MB is far too small a card. Lexar was kind enough to lend us a 512MB 12x card to use in working with the camera, which made it possible to spend the day shooting without having to change cards.

Close-up of the corner of a dome ceiling in a restaurant. The pink area is lit from under the rim by fluorescent lights. It was selected in Photoshop and the eye dropper was used to choose a color that was then filled into the selected area. The use of Photoshop is part of the creation of the image.

Control Placement
We found that some of the controls were placed in less than ideal locations. A few examples: The photocell that controls the flash is easily obstructed by your hand causing underexposure. When holding the camera properly, your right thumb naturally falls on the zoom rocker which can throw you off when composing. The picture quality button labeled "Size," which enables you to cycle through the three JPEG and TIFF settings, is located right next to the macro button and is easily pushed without realizing it. This causes the camera to shoot lower or higher resolution images than you intend.

Often the first sign that it was accidentally pushed was the long delay while the camera wrote TIFF files to the card. We'd like to see a firmware update to use two presses of the button within a certain time limit or maybe a rotation of the command wheel as a safety lock. The last thing you want to happen when shooting is to find out that those important pictures were saved at a much lower resolution than you intended.

Artistic use of the 28mm wide angle built-in lens. Frosted glass separating booths in a restaurant. The picture was leveled and cropped to complete the concept that was envisioned.

Nikon Lenses
The built-in lens has a relatively short zoom ratio of 3:1. What sets it apart from other cameras is the short end of the zoom, which is the 35mm equivalent of a 28mm wide angle. The telephoto end is equivalent to an 85mm and has a relatively slow f/2.8-f/10.3 aperture range. But the benefit of the 28mm lens immediately becomes apparent when shooting. For years photographers have been asking for wider lenses on high-end point-and-shoot and digital cameras. Because of the extremely short actual focal lengths involved, wide lenses for digital cameras are very hard to design well. This is where the CoolPix 5000 shines.

In addition to its 28mm built-in lens, Nikon had given us a 19mm accessory lens, the WC-E68. We've been able to take some extraordinarily detailed pictures that show excellent sharpness, contrast, and flare control even when shooting into a sunset lit snow scene. This lens has been referred to as the interior photographer's dream lens.

In addition to the new 19mm lens, Nikon designed an adapter so that the two telephotos (the TC-E2 and the TC-E3ED) and the fisheye (FC-E8) from the previous CoolPix models could be used. For both the telephotos, the lenses have almost no leeway in zooming and should be considered fixed focal length lenses. In fact, according to the manual, if you set the menu for the TC-E3ED, the camera will automatically be set to 1.2x digital zoom because there is a very slight vignetting when first placed on the camera. That would make the TC-E2 into a 170mm lens and the TC-E3ED into a 255mm lens or 306mm, taking into account the 1.2x factor.

Example of the wide angle (28mm) capabilities of the built-in lens. This was the front of Harrah's Hotel in Las Vegas.

Nikon Accessories And Adapters
The accessories that we consider the most important are the UR-E5, which is necessary for use of the 19mm lens (WC-E68) and to adapt the threads on the body that surround the built-in lens to a standard size of 46mm. It's also necessary if you want to use filters on the camera. You also might consider purchasing a 46-52mm step-up adapter to use all your old 52mm Nikon filters.

The other accessory we recommend is the UR-E6, which adapts the threads on the body to 28mm for use of the two telephotos and fisheye. Both of these adapters are essentially tubes that surround the internal lens as it zooms. Additionally there is the lens hood HN-E5000 that is similarly shaped but slightly flared at the end so it doesn't vignette at the widest zoom setting.

Another accessory that should prove to be quite useful wasn't available at the time of the review submission. The MB-E500 will be 6 AA battery pack that attaches to the camera as a grip. Nikon has apparently heeded the complaints of the users who preferred the (rechargeable) AAs, which are less expensive and easier to obtain when traveling.

Photograph of bank safety deposit boxes showing the creative capabilities of the CoolPix 5000 and its excellent depth of field at the wide setting.

After-Market Accessories
As with the CoolPix 950/990/995, there are a few accessories that we feel are necessary to make better pictures with the CoolPix 5000. We recommend the Xtend-a-View LCD viewfinder with its 2x magnifier. Though the LCD is far better than previous CoolPix models, using the Xtend-a-View enables you to hold and shoot as if you're working with a 35mm single lens reflex camera. We always use the LCD when composing our pictures. It swivels, reverses, and locks back into position beneath the viewfinder. But since it's difficult to hold your eye up against the viewfinder (you have to balance the camera on your nose) when holding the camera, the LCD becomes more practical. That's not the main reason we use the LCD. It's because it's the only way to view the scene through the auxiliary lenses and see what the camera is seeing. Here's where a magnified LCD finder like the Xtend-a-View really comes in handy. You can rest your eye on the Xtend-a-View, just like looking through an SLR.

Like most professional photographers, we prefer to use an Arca Swiss quick release system and have custom plates on all our camera bodies and long lenses. We were really impressed when Kirk Photo came out with quick release plates for the CoolPix 990 and 995, and now they have one for the CoolPix 5000. These plates only add about 1/4" of height to the cameras but make it much more conducive to use the camera on a tripod. They also sell adapters for all kinds of tripod heads if you're just starting out and don't want to purchase a large ball head. We should also mention that all their camera plates also have 1/4x20 female threads for a standard tripod head, so you're not limited to using the quick release feature.

The EN-EL1 rechargeable battery is not known to have a long life and the alternative lithium battery can cost about $12. Therefore we were very pleased to find that the Maha PowerBank from Thomas Distributing now has a 7.2v model DPB-140LI for cameras like the CoolPix 5000.

Our first few flash pictures with the CoolPix 5000 were inconsistent, with some severely underexposed. As we mentioned earlier, the photocell that controls the flash is placed next to the grip so that if you're poised with your finger on the release, there's a good chance of fooling the sensor, which then closes down the flash prematurely. To Nikon's credit, they include an explanation sheet inside the box that is titled in large bold letters "Please Read Before Taking Your First Photograph." Once we realized what was happening, the flash worked perfectly and we got some well-exposed family pictures.

Built-in flashes are quite limited in any event, so what you really want to use is the new Nikon SB-50 flash, a perfect match in size for the CoolPix 5000. One of its features is a wide angle diffuser that gives even coverage with the 19mm lens. In using the SB-50, the internal flash should be set for Auto and the SB-50 should be set for TTL so the on-camera photocell will control the output of the SB-50 for perfect exposure.

We've been shooting with a CoolPix 990 in a studio situation for the past year and have looked forward to using the CoolPix 5000 in the same type of situation. The fact that the CoolPix 5000 will sync with external strobes gives it a chance to function as a real professional tool. We regularly use two SB-24s bounced into umbrellas for a portable studio. Since there is no sync socket on the CoolPix 5000 you have to use either the SC-17 to connect a Nikon flash or the AS-15 to connect a standard sync cord. We set up the two strobes, connecting one to the CoolPix 5000 through the SC-17 cord into the hot shoe and connecting the other with the SC-19 cord.

Not all is perfect, however. The internal flash is supposed to be disabled when a flash is attached to the hot shoe. That does happen when using the SB-50 flash on-camera. But using the SB-24 through the SC-17 cord, the internal flash would still go off, affecting the exposure. The folks at Nikon are aware of this problem and are working on a fix. Our recommendation is a firmware update to separate the hot shoe and the internal flash in the menu, just like the sync socket and the internal flash are separated in the menu of our CoolPix 990.

We shot extensively with the CoolPix 5000 in real world tests. We also compared it side by side with a Nikon D1X. Our conclusions are very favorable.

In our comparisons with the Nikon D1X, we were very impressed with how well it did. The D1X did have higher image quality, but not by as much as you might expect, considering the price difference. The CoolPix 5000's dynamic range was a bit less, and the D1X seemed to have a fuller tonal scale. Surprisingly, the LCD on the back of the CoolPix 5000 was noticeably better than the one on the D1X.

In the end it is the photographer who makes the picture, not the camera. For us, evaluation of the CoolPix 5000 was about how the camera could or could not become an extension of our vision. Were we able to take the camera out into an unknown lighting situation and come back with pictures that have made people say "wow"? We've been able to come up with some outstanding, artistic images. We had set up a portfolio of CoolPix 990 images on our web site and have now added a portfolio of CoolPix 5000 images, some of which are published with this article. We welcome you to come back to the web site and judge for yourself.

The CoolPix 5000 isn't a point-and-shoot camera, although it does fine in Program mode. Where it really shines is when you treat it as a creative tool. What it does for you is enable you to learn about photography and light. You can get great pictures with it if you think about how the camera is seeing the light. Isn't that what photography is all about, using light to define a time and place?

We would compare the experience of working with the CoolPix 5000 to picking up a Leica for the first time after using an SLR for years. It brings you back to the basics of photography and teaches you to think all over again. And the resulting pictures can be very rewarding.


Digital Photography Resources:
Kirk Photo:
Lexar Media:
Thomas Distributing:
Xtend-a-View LCD Viewfinder: