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Firmware Update 1.7 just released September 30

In addition to this CoolPix 5000 review, which is appearing in the June 2002 issue of Shutterbug Magazine, my wife and I spent eleven days shooting the national parks in the Southwest exclusively with the CoolPix 5000.

CoolPix 5000

CoolPix 5000 Portfolio



Nikon CoolPix 5000
In December 2001, Nikon released their first prosumer 5 megapixel digital camera, the CoolPix 5000. Long awaited for, since the original press release was first issued in September, it was the successor to the immensely popular CoolPix line that included the CoolPix 950, 990 and 995. Nikon has always had a loyal following of users because early in the company’s history they had made the decision to not alienate their users by making their camera bodies backward compatible and useable with the extremely large number of lenses still in use out there. 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. Last year, we wrote about the extensive amount of accessories and resources for the CoolPix 990 that solved problems and made that camera more of a working photographer’s tool. This year we’ve been creating resources for the CoolPix 5000 that will make it a welcome addition to any professional’s camera bag.
First impressions
Taking the camera out of the box immediately made us think this has to be a toy. With its slightly smaller feel in our hands than the CoolPix 990 had, it almost comes across as a shirt pocket camera. The camera takes the same EN-EL1 (or 2CR5 lithium) battery that the CoolPix 995 does and charging takes about two hours. That was the longest two hours we’ve spent with <out> the camera, eager to get out and start shooting. During that time, we familiarized ourselves with the important features by skimming through the manual. The LCD finder swivels, and is viewable from any position, even in sunlight, where it’s 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 32-megabyte CompactFlash card that is much too limiting. Lexar was kind enough to lend us a 512 megabyte 12x card to use in working with the camera, which made it easier to spend the day shooting without having to change cards. Due to the small size of the camera, some of the controls came across as being too close together. A few examples: The photocell that controls the flash is easily blocked and can cause underexposure. When holding the camera properly, your right thumb naturally falls on the zoom rocker affecting composition. The picture quality button labeled “Size”, which enables you to cycle through the three Jpeg and Tif settings, is located right next to the macro button and easily pushed without realizing it, that is until you have to wait up to 30 seconds before taking the next picture. 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 originally had set the camera on.
Nikon Lenses
What has probably given Nikon the most criticism has also turned out to be its best and most used feature, the lens. At a short zoom ratio of 3:1, the 28mm to 85mm (35mm equivalent, which I’ll be referring to it for the remainder of the article) zoom has a relatively slow F-2.8 to F-4.8 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 ands shoot and digital cameras. This is where the CoolPix 5000 shines. And in addition to its 28mm built in lens, Nikon has given us a 19mm accessory lens, the WC-E68. Possibly even sharper with the 19mm than the built in 28mm lens alone, I’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. Therefore 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.
Nikon Accessories and Adapters
The accessories that we consider the most important are the UR-E5 which is necessary to use the 19mm lens (WC-E68) and adapt the threads on the body that surround the built in lens to a standard size of 46mm. It’s also necessary for any filters to be used on the camera. You also might consider purchasing a 46mm to 52mm step up adapter to use all your old 52mm Nikon filters. The other is the UR-E6, which adapts the threads on the body to 28mm for the two telephotos and fisheye to be used. Both of these adapters are barrel like in shape and 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. The other accessory we recommend wasn’t available at the time of the review submission. The MB-E5000, the 6 AA battery pack that attaches to the camera as a grip. Nikon has heeded the complaints of the users that preferred the (rechargeable) AA’s which are less expensive and easier to obtain when traveling.
Our first few flash pictures with the CoolPix 5000 were inconsistent, with some severely underexposed. It seems that in striving to produce a small but full-featured camera, there are some illogically placed controls and sensors. The photocell that controls the flash has been placed next to the grip so that if you’re poised with your finger on the release, there’s a good chance of blocking 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”. Since we’re not big on internal flash, we tended to ignore it until the problem presented itself. Once we realized what was happening, the flash worked perfectly and we got some well-exposed family pictures. The position of the photocell also takes into consideration that you might be using the 19mm WC-E68 wide-angle lens on the camera and as such, doesn’t block the sensor. This is where you really want to use the new SB-50 flash, a perfect match in size for the CoolPix 5000. Among some 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. An example of this is the photo of the editor, George Schaub, on the "Editors Notes" page. This picture was taken in his office with the SB-50 and wide-angle diffuser on the CoolPix 5000 and bounced the flash into the ceiling.
Off Camera Flash
Listed separately because it brings the CoolPix 5000 into the studio and gives it potential as a real professional tool. 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. We regularly use two SB-24’s bounced into umbrellas for our CoolPix studio. Since there is no synch 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 synch 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. The way that the camera is designed, the internal flash is supposed to be disabled by attaching a flash to the hot shoe. We had found that to work perfectly when using the SB-50 on camera. But using the SB-24 through the SC-17 cord, the internal flash would still go off, affecting the exposure. Currently this is under discussion at Nikon and they are bound to come up with a fix. Our recommendation is a firmware update to separate the hot shoe and the internal flash in the menu, just like the synch socket and the internal flash are separated in the menu of my CoolPix 990.
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 it’s 2x magnifier. Though the LCD is far better than previous CoolPix models, using the Xtend-a-View enables you to hold and shoot with the CoolPix 5000 like a 35mm single lens reflex. 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 almost exclusively. It’s because it’s the only way to view the scene through the lens 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, 995, and now they have one for the CoolPix 5000. These plates only add about ¼ inch of height to the cameras but make it much more conducive to use the camera on a tripod, especially if you’re like us and have Arca Swiss type camera mounts on all your tripods. 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 $12.00. Therefore we were very pleased to find that the Maha PowerBank from Thomas Distributing now has a 7.2-Volt model DPB-140LI for cameras like the CoolPix 5000.

You might have noticed in reading our review that we haven’t gone into those excruciating details about the camera that involve setting up lens test charts or requiring a full compliment of tools. That’s not where we feel a real evaluation of a camera can come from. Besides, isn’t it the photographer that takes the picture, not the camera? For us, this was about whether or not the camera could 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 made my wife and I say “wow!” To that end we say YES. 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 will be 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, and don’t expect to get great pictures out of the box. What it does for you is enable you to learn about photography, about 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, the Light? We would compare 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.

Links to CoolPix 5000 images and reviews

The Imaging Resource - Review and Full Size Pictures
Steves Digicams - Review and Full Size Pictures
The Digital Camera Resource - Review and Full Size Pictures
Peter iNova - Review and Pictures
DP Review - Review and Comparison Images to the competitors Cameras

Nikon's web page about the CoolPix 5000

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