Coolpix Digital Cameras
IntroductionSometimes, products need hours of testing with stopwatches and an armoury of test files. Other times you know as soon as you pick it up that it’s a quality product. The Nikon Coolpix 5700 falls into the second category.
The feel of a digital camera is difficult to quantify, but it’s important. Of course, you need the other specifications to be in place; a good lens, ease of use; and a high-quality CCD (Charge Couple Device). But equally, how it feels in your hand can affect the way you regard it. With the 5700, the magnesium-alloy body is reassuringly solid, yet light. Digital cameras with plastic bodies, even high-quality models, can feel cheap. The magnesium body, though, feels great.
The lens is top notch, as you might expect from Nikon. It has an 8x zoom and a focal range of 35-280mm (in 35mm  equivalent). This big lens helps combat distortion, and allows plenty of light into the camera. The more light you have to play with, the less prone to noise a digital camera will be. If the 8x zoom isn’t enough for you, there is a further 4x available as a digital zoom.
Fancy lenses are nothing without a decent CCD, and the 2/3-inch CCD in the 5700 is more than up to the job. It can record up to 2,560-x-1,920pixels – that’s 4,915,200 pixels, or 4.9 megapixels. This is more than enough for most uses, and it gives luscious A3 prints from an inkjet printer.
One niggle I have always had with digital cameras is the shutter lag – the time it takes between clicking the button, and the picture being taken.
Early digital cameras were like box brownies, and you had to hold perfectly still for a few seconds. Modern versions are much better, though I still have pictures of the rear half of motorcycles that were racing at Brands Hatch. The 5700 has dropped the delay to a mere 70 milliseconds, which is almost undetectable.
A common feature with most Nikon models is the excellent automatic camera settings, although most camera enthusiasts want to be able to get down and dirty with the controls. The 5700 allows the user to control all aspects of the camera, such as white balance, saturation, and exposure controls – with a shutter speed of up to 1/4000 sec at maximum aperture. The autofocus is flexible, allowing manual selection of one of five areas to focus on, or for even more accuracy, a 64-step manual focus is available.
There are two choices for viewfinders: the traditional (yet digital) eyepiece; and a flip-out LCD viewfinder. At just 1.5 inches, the flip-out viewfinder is small, but it’s good enough for occasional use and playback. Most people should opt to use the eyepiece when actually taking pictures.
If the 5700 is a little bulky for you, there’s a new compact model – the Coolpix 4500. The now familiar twist-in-the-middle case is made of a magnesium alloy that feels solid without being too heavy. The CCD can capture images at up to 2,272-x-1,704 pixels, which, despite claims that this is a 4-megapixel image, comes out at 3.87 megapixels. It shares some of the features of the 5700, such as the five-area autofocus and matrix metering. It also includes a number of consumer-oriented features, such as movies with audio. It even includes a speaker for playing-back movies with sound.
The flash automatically pops up when needed, but the camera lacks the hot shoe featured on the 5700. Despite being obviously more consumer-oriented than the 5700, it does distinguish itself from run of the mill cameras thanks to its compatibility with Nikon lenses and accessories. It’s also compatible with CompactFlash cards, both type one and two. This means you can use the IBM MicroDrive for up to 1GB of storage.
The lens is a 4x Zoom-Nikkor with 7.85-32mm (equivalent to 38-155mm in 35mm  camera format). This gives excellent results, but, if you need to resort to it, there’s an additional 4x digital zoom available.