The most important control is the 10-position mode dial on the top plate, which carries the five main exposure modes; manual, shutter and aperture priority, program and full auto. The program exposure mode is flexible, and automatically selected settings can be altered via the command dial. As well as these there is an anti-shake auto mode which combines the VR optical image stabilisation ISO 1600 to reduce movement blur, a high-ISO mode which also sets ISO 1600, a scene mode with 17 scene programs including face detection in portrait mode, and a movie mode with VGA 30fps performance. The mode dial also has a Setup mode, something which is more usually found on the menu system. By placing it on the main dial, the P5000’s menu is reserved entirely for shooting options. There are quite a few to choose from, including four metering options, single or continuous AF with selectable areas, auto bracketing, an interval timer and flash exposure compensation. Speaking of the built-in flash, it is exceptionally powerful, with a range of a big eight metres in wide-angle mode, or four metres when zoomed in. Modes include slow sync and second-curtain sync.
The P5000 has a useful selection of features, but there are several options which are notable by their absence, such as manual focusing, manually adjustable white balance, or any manual adjustment for saturation, contrast, sharpness or colour balance, other than a few standard preset colour options. It also lacks a RAW mode, but then so does the Canon G7. I’ve seen a couple of other reviews of the P5000 that talk about its “SLR-like level of control”, but that’s simply ridiculous. It has exactly the level of control you’ll find on most other high-end compact cameras. Its range of available shutter speeds in manual mode is 8 – 1/2000th seconds, and the aperture range is f/2.7 –f/7.6. These are good for a compact, but nothing like the range of control you’d get on an SLR.
For a camera that wants to be taken seriously, the P5000’s overall performance is rather disappointing. It starts up in around 2.5 seconds, which doesn’t sound too slow until you compare it to the 1-second start-up of the Canon G7. However it is the AF system that really lets the side down, as it has with many other Nikon compacts that I’ve tested recently. Even in good light it takes at least a second to lock on; at telephoto zoom settings or in lower light it can take two or three seconds, which is woefully slow for a camera with serious photographic pretensions, and positively embarrassing when compared to the fast compact camera AF systems used by Canon, Casio, Ricoh and many other manufacturers.