Monday, May 30, 2011

Why She's Getting Rid Of Her Nikon Coolpix P5000 Digital Camera . . .

The Good: Easy to use, Good picture quality, Some decent options, Durability
The Bad: Lack of genuine telephoto options (cannot switch lenses), Energy hog
The Basics: A strong recommend, the Nikon Coolpix P5000 is a wonderful camera to get started on, but has some limitations which prevent it from being an ideal professional camera.

We all have our issues and sometimes, they cloud our reasoning with perfectly good products. In the case of my wife, her issues have taken the physical form of a camera. Her camera is a Nikon Coolpix P5000 that she has had for a few years now and that has some emotional baggage attached to it. Since she told me the story of her Coolpix P5000, I have been looking to replace her camera for her, as she is a serious photographer and she is advancing quickly on the website we met on through the quality of her photography. My search led me to check out the Nikon Coolpix S60 digital camera to keep within the brand, but I quickly jumped ship and wrangled a Canon EOS 10D camera for her. This will allow her to have a quality camera and will give me back my Fuji Finepix camera. I only take photos casually when we are on vacation, so the Finepix is fine for me. But excising the Coolpix P5000 from the house has been a big issue for my wife and it was definitely the right move for us.

But before she got rid of it, I had a few weeks to tinker with and experiment with the Coolpix P5000. Even as an amateur, my use of this camera led me to the conclusion that is an excellent beginner's camera for those who want to take serious, quality pictures. The Coolpix P5000 is a great, highly-automated digital camera which allows budding photographers to get a strong basis in the fundamentals before moving onto a higher end model which affords them the ability to have a wider array of options. For most people, the P5000 will be more than adequate and that made it easy to recommend, even if it has some shortcomings.

The Coolpix P5000 is a digital camera and it serves only the function of being a camera/video camera. This is designed to take quality pictures, so those looking for something simple to take cameraphone quality pictures will find this has far too many options for them. The black base fits easily into one's hand as it is four inches wide, 3 1/8" tall, and a hefty 2 1/2" thick. I actually found I liked the depth as it generally helped protect the lens when I had the cap off; the plastic ring of the lens is the same depth as the hand support on the right side and whenever I carelessly let the camera flop over, the outer ring protected the ring from scratches because of its depth. The Coolpix P5000 comes with a simple strap for around one's neck, which attaches to two brackets on opposite sides of the camera. This model also comes with a lens cap, which is worth mentioning because one needs to remember to remove it to take pictures (this might seem like a "well, duh" thing, but we live in a nation where one of the highest reasons peoples computers aren't working when they call Technical Support is that they have not plugged it in!).

The front of the camera has the lens, which cannot be removed or exchanged with a telephoto lens. It also has the flashbulb and viewfinder, the latter of which seems pointless to me given the bells and whistles this camera possesses. The right side has a forward grip which allows one to wrap their fingers around the front of the camera to hold the camera very stable while taking pictures. The back of the camera contains controls as well as a rotating viewfinder and control panel.

The screen on the back of the camera is an LCD screen, but it does not have touchscreen technology, so manipulating controls is still done with the dials and menu controls to the right of the screen. The viewscreen is only 1 3/4" (diagonal measurements) so it is mostly used to frame shots and a thumbnail view of the pictures one takes. The full flip-out panel is 2 1/2" that the camera details (viewed by clicking the "View Details" button at the top of the review listing) claims to be, but the usable screen area is defined by a LCD screen that is 1 1/2" wide by 1 1/8" tall. The useful thing about the LCD screen is that it flips out, so when the camera is off and in storage, it is protected because the screen is flipped facing the body of the camera. When one is using the Coolpix P5000, they pull the screen to the left on its hinge and the screen may be rotated in the z-axis then to allow one to use it as a viewfinder when one is standing above, in front of or behind the camera! This function is nice when taking shots like family portraits that the photographer wants to be in themselves. They can set the controls, then after the timer function is set, they may leap into frame - confirming their presence by checking out the viewfinder screen while it is facing them.

The Coolpix P5000 succeeds at embodying a camera that is functional, durable and programmable. This camera comes with a rechargeable 7.4V lithium-ion battery and my biggest gripe with the camera is that after two years on the same battery, this recharges to only give the photographer about fifty shots from the Coolpix P5000. The specifications claim that it is good for two hundred-fifty pictures, but in natural lighting, the best I pulled off was seventy-five and with the flash, forty-five before it needed to be recharged again. My partner has a separate battery which allows the user to continue shooting with the camera, but it is not included.

Fortunately, most of what anyone who uses the Coolpix P5000 will need does come in the box. This includes the software to upload and manipulate the images one takes on this camera. There are cd-roms for PC and Mac users which allows one to remove pictures from the card - the standard chip that comes with this camera is a 128 MB chip. The camera also comes with a USB cable to connect the camera to one's computer (there is a USB port on the camera's right side, when holding the camera and looking at the back of it, right next to the alternate power source input), the strap, the lithium-ion battery, and the battery charger. This is nice because Nikon includes everything needed to actually use this camera right in the box.

Using the camera is fairly easy. There is an on/off dial atop the camera that boots up the camera within five seconds of being turned to the "on" position. This causes the lens to extend out from the body of the camera (a valuable thing to know before one does it while pressing the camera to, for example, an aquariums glass side!) and the viewfinder screen to activate. That the camera becomes ready within five seconds makes for a great ability to take photographs that are candid or make use of sudden opportunities when they present themselves. When the camera is turned back to the "off" position, the lens retreats tot he main body of the camera.

In the center of the on/off dial is the shutter control (the button one hits to actually take the photograph). One cannot mix the two up as turning the power on requires a rotating motion and taking a picture is done simply by depressing the button in the center. Taking pictures is often that easy. When the camera is on, the viewscreen lights up and the pictures may be taken by simply looking at the back of the camera and pressing the button on the top of the camera. Physically pressing the button on top is the only way to take pictures I found. It is remarkably easy to take pictures this way because of the automatic controls.

The pictures the camera takes are impressive, though their visibility is minimal on the viewfinder screen after they are taken. The LCD screen keeps the image up for approximately three seconds before it reverts to its viewfinder function and that may be sped up by simply attempting to take another picture by depressing the shudder control. The back of the camera has a simple slide button which allows users to go between picturetaking and reviewing functions.

The Coolpix P5000 comes with the camera set so everything is automatic. As a result, the camera has decent autofocus capacity when one whips around and stops abruptly. In normal daylight circumstances, it provided sharp, beautiful photographs within 1.5 seconds of my movement stopping, sometimes even when I did not think it would. The autofocus is impressive on this model. Similarly, the automatic light adjustment is decent. There was a slightly greater lag time when it came to the light adjustment (though it was never more than three seconds). The camera automatically adjusts to different lighting scenarios, most notably the change between indoor (artificial fluorescent) and outdoor (sun) light. The light adjustment tries to prevent washout and keep colors looking as close to how they do in reality.

One of the most serious problems with the Coolpix P5000 comes in the level of automation. The camera is over-automated for serious photographers. Attempting to take a photograph in lower light became a serious hassle for us - my wife got in on the action and after years of using this camera expressively illustrated why she wanted an upgrade other than her personal issues - because of the camera's lack of manual focus abilities. No amount of troubleshooting or changing of options allowed us to take a photograph where all of the elements were clear in low lighting. The autofocus continued to interfere and picked the wrong depth of field for our intent and this was very frustrating because there was no override. Similarly, if the Coolpix P5000 thinks (based on its light meter) that the image is too dark, it will activate the flash whether one wants it or not. For that, there is a manual override, but because there is no override on the focus, ours continually shot the wrong depth of field. This is seriously problematic for the serious photographer and an annoyance for the casual one.

The controls on the Coolpix P5000 are generally intuitive. Without my wife's help, I was able to figure out how to use the menus within half an hour. As a result, manually altering settings like red-eye reduction, using the autotimer function and turning off the flash are simple using the on-screen controls when the camera is in "review" mode. Similarly, deleting images from the camera's chip was simple enough by manipulating the menu arrows and hitting the "trash" button on the back of the camera. Rather conveniently, this function does not engage when the camera is in picturetaking mode, so there is no real risk of deleting images when one does not wish for them to be deleted. Even in the "review" mode, the camera asks for confirmation before deleting images. This is a very easy camera to learn the basics on!

As well, on the camera, one may zoom in - the zoom is only three and a half times closer, so this is not like a telephoto lens and there is no way to attach a better lens to this camera - and manually adjust the type of flash used. The easy menus allow for easy adjustment on the camera of such things as red eye adjustment, a manual use of flash (overriding the camera's sense of proper lighting) or flash off for situations where one does not wish to draw attention to themselves and their photography with easy to decipher graphics. The controls, however, must be adjusted within a minute of constant use. The Coolpix P5000 has an automatic switch-off function for powersaving, which means that after a minute of non-use (not pushing any buttons, including taking pictures or making setting adjustments) the camera shuts off (though the lens does not retract). This is seriously annoying when one is making significant setting adjustments and figuring out the camera via trial and error because when the camera shuts off, it reverts to the factory defaults and there is no way to disengage the powersave mode or save the adjusted settings!

When deleting photographs from the Coolpix P5000, I did not find a way to wipe the entire memory at once, at least not on camera. Through the hookup to our computer, the chip could be wiped clean, but otherwise, one has to go through image by image and delete them. This is time consuming and annoying.

As for the durability, this is an exceptionally durable camera. My wife was toting this around for years and it looks no worse for wear and she has never had any problems with it. The camera does have a two-year warranty and despite her extensive use, the camera continues to take wonderful photographs and no part of it broke down and required execution of the warranty.

As for programmability, this camera has an autotimer that is easily programmed. Outside that, the programmability is limited to the speed and experience of the photographer and the powersave mode seriously limits the programming options of this camera. Moreover, the lack of a manual focus nullifies some of the benefits of the zoom function.

The Coolpix P5000 takes .avi movies up to thirty seconds long and those were fair, though neither my partner nor I use that function extensively.

Ultimately, the P5000 is an impressive beginner's camera, but serious photographers who need to make adjustments will find too many of the camera's limitations to be a liability. Still, this is an excellent camera to begin on and offers a solid foundation for photographers to learn the basics. Were it not for my partner's baggage with this unit, I'd keep it and upgrade to this from the FinePix! As it is, she's found something better and is much happier with a camera that allows her significantly more control over lighting and telephoto options.

For other camera reviews, please check out my takes on:
Nikon L16 Digital Camera
Fuji FinePix A200 Digital Camera


For other electronics, please check out my index page on the subject for an organized listing!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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