When Canon decided to update its top-of-the-range compact with the PowerShot G7, the company's arch rival must have started to worry.
You see, despite Nikon's phenomenal success with its range of digital SLRs, a decent choice of high-end compacts for serious photographers has been distinctly lacking from the company's camera line-up.
It's a tribute to Nikon's engineers that the P5000 made it to market so quickly. The tiny 10MP compact is aimed at those of us who don't want to drag around an SLR on a day out or short holiday. And yet, despite its diminutive dimensions, the P5000 offers full PASM control as well as Nikon's impressive VR anti-shake technology.
The P5000 feels extremely well made, even though it's unbelievably small. There's even a hotshoe included for use with Nikon's new SB400 flashgun (which, incidentally, has a shooting distance of 40cm to 20 metres). In addition to the PASM controls, there's a green button for fully auto shots and 16 scene modes that cover just about every photographic situation you might encounter.
Along with all this choice comes Nikon's standard D-Lighting feature for boosting dark photos and a red-eye removal tool for those who find it tedious to post-process demonic eyes. So, it all adds up to a tasty little package that slips nicely into a jacket pocket.
Not so CoolPix
Unfortunately, there are several drawbacks. Firstly, the zoom range is just 35-126mm in 35mm equivalent - serious photographers will want 28mm as a starting point. Our second disappointment is the Continuous Shooting mode of just 0.8 frames per second. When coupled with a serious amount of shutter lag, this is a camera that's unlikely to be seen at the smarter sporting events this summer.
Our final, major disappointment is the lack of a RAW record mode. It's JPEG all the way with the P5000, which is a shame when you consider that there's a 1/1.8-inch sensor and a very sharp lens in this camera. However, if the Continuous Shooting mode is anything to go by, the P5000's buffer may simply have been too slow or too small to support RAW.
The P5000 starts up fairly quickly and it's pleasant to use. Menu choices are made using the knurled mode wheel set behind the shutter button, while other adjustments are made via a four-way navipad. Next to this is a rather good 2.5-inch LCD screen.
To the left of the screen, five more controls include a Function button that can be programmed easily to provide quick access to features like white balance, image size and shake reduction. Actually, turning off the VR anti-shake technology is something you might like to do in bright weather conditons because it gobbles up battery juice and makes an annoying whirring sound.
In use, the P5000 tends to be on the sluggish side. The combination of smart autofocus, image stabilisation and all the other calculations a modern camera has to make, simply clog up the system. Image quality is pretty good, but there's quite a bit of noise in flat areas, such as sky.
For the most part, the P5000's image quality is acceptable, but colours tend towards a slight yellow cast and the white balance needs to be watched when it's set to auto.
The P5000 gives the Canon Powershot G7 a run for its money - except when it comes to higher ISO settings. We set our model at ISO 100 for most of the test, which was fine, but the results above ISO 400 were poor, despite a quoted maximum of ISO 3200.
Although the Nikon CoolPix P5000 is a pretty-looking camera with loads of features, we don't think Canon needs to lose too much sleep over it. Yes, it does make the Canon PowerShot G7 look like a Pavarotti after a slap-up meal but, in this case, the best things don't always come in small packages...