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Nikon Coolpix 5400

A solid update to Nikon's upper-midrange Coolpix. 5 megapixels, 4x zoom, tons of features!

Review First Posted: 07/12/2003




MSRP $699 US

 

  • 5.1 (effective) megapixel CCD delivers images up to 2,592 x 1,944 pixels
  • New Nikkor lens provides 4x, 28-116 mm equivalent zoom range
  • "Articulated" LCD tilts/swivels 270 degrees
  • White balance bracketing and noise reduction modes extend capability
  • Hot shoe for direct flash connection

 

Manufacturer Overview

Nikon is one of the few companies that you can say truly needs no introduction in the world of photography. Their name has been identified with professional and high-end amateur photography for a good five decades now, and they've been very successful at translating that long history of expertise into the digital arena. Their Coolpix product line has led the popularity charts at the high end of the "prosumer" market segment since its introduction, and recent line extensions have broadened its appeal to include more casual "point and shoot" photographers as well. The key to Coolpix popularity has been the combination of excellent picture quality with an amazing range of features, all calculated to give the photographer maximum control over the picture-taking process, with minimal effort.

The introduction of the 5.1-megapixel Coolpix 5400, updates the Coolpix line (specifically the Coolpix 5000 model) with a slightly larger CCD, longer zoom ratio (4x), and a handful of added exposure options. No less than 16 preset Scene shooting modes (the same offering found on the Coolpix 4500) extend the camera's shooting flexibility, and the inclusion of a full Auto mode is helpful for novices. The Coolpix 5400 also has a few other exposure differences, such as a maximum 10-minute (!)exposure time under the bulb setting option, and a new audio caption recording function. Read on for all the details!

High Points

 

Executive Overview

Updating the already stellar Nikon Coolpix line of digicams, the Coolpix 5400 offers a 5.1-megapixel CCD for capturing high quality, sharp images with great color, and a true, 4x optical zoom lens. At roughly the same size as its predecessor, the Coolpix 5000 model, the Coolpix 5400 is fairly compact at just 4.3 x 2.9 x 2.7 inches (108 x 73 x 69 millimeters). While it won't fit into a standard shirt pocket, the Coolpix 5400 should easily fit into a medium-sized purse, though a soft camera bag is the best method of transportation. The Coolpix 5400 has a good heft to it, at 13.4 ounces (380 grams), no doubt a result of the slightly large hand grip and lens. In addition to the substantial hand grip, the Coolpix 5400 comes with a neck strap, for increased portability.

A 4x, Nikkor 5.8-24mm lens is built into the camera, providing a zoom range equivalent to a 28-116mm lens on a 35mm camera (The wide-angle end of this range is quite a bit wider than that of most prosumer digicams, good for Real Estate and other applications requiring wider-than-normal coverage.) What's more, the 5400 accepts a variety of Nikon accessory lenses, which can extend its focal length range quite a bit in both directions. Focus can be automatically or manually controlled, with an adjustable autofocus area. In addition to the 4x optical zoom, the Coolpix 5400 also provides up to 4x digital zoom, depending on the image size selected. (Keep in mind that digital zoom often compromises image quality because only the central portion of the CCD's image is enlarged, decreasing resolution.) Both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch LCD monitor are included for composing shots. The LCD monitor has a rotating design, allowing it to pop up from the back panel and swivel around approximately 270 degrees. The LCD can also flip around and fold flat against the back panel, giving it the familiar rear-panel position common to most digicams. Finally, it can be closed when not in use, protecting the monitor from dirt and scratches.

Following the standard of prior high-end Nikon Coolpix digicams, the Coolpix 5400 features extensive exposure control. Full Auto, Program AE, Flexible Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes are available, each with a wide range of features. There's also a Scene mode, offering 16 preset "scenes" to choose from. Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to eight seconds, with a Bulb setting for exposures as long as 10 minutes. (!) In Ultra High Speed Continuous mode, the maximum shutter speed extends to an amazing 1/8,000 second. A Noise Reduction option decreases the image noise that would normally be present in long exposures, using a dark-frame subtraction approach. The maximum aperture is f/2.8 - f/4.6, depending on the zoom setting, and is adjustable in 1/3 EV steps. Four metering options are available, including 256-Segment Matrix, Center-Weighted, Spot, and AF Spot (which ties the metering spot to the selected AF area). ISO can be set to a range of values, including Auto, 50, 100, 200, and 400. The camera's adjustable White Balance setting offers Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Speedlight, Shade, or Preset (which lets you set the white value by using a white card or object as a reference point). Additionally, all white balance settings can be adjusted from -3 to +3 units on an arbitrary scale to correct for minor color casts. A White Balance Bracketing mode optionally captures three images with slightly different white balance adjustments, letting you pick the best image when you view the photos on your computer.

Exposure compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments, and is controllable in all exposure modes except Manual. The Auto Bracketing feature takes three or five shots of the same subject with varying exposure values determined either by the photographer in Manual mode or by the camera in all other modes, with variable exposure steps between shots. Best Shot Select snaps multiple images and then automatically picks the sharpest, making it feasible to handhold the camera for surprisingly long exposures. The "Quick Review" button lets you quickly check the last shot taken without leaving Record mode, going so far as to make most of the Playback mode options available, while permitting a very quick return to shooting. Through the camera's settings menu, you can adjust the image sharpness and color saturation, and an Image Adjustment menu offers contrast adjustments as well. Additionally, the Coolpix 5400 lets you save two sets of user settings for focus, exposure, and other camera options, for rapid recall via the setup menu. A Self-Timer mode offers a three or 10-second countdown before firing the shutter. The camera's built-in flash operates in Auto, Flash Cancel, Anytime Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Sync, and Rear Curtain Sync modes. An external flash hot shoe accommodates a more powerful external flash unit, including Nikon's own dedicated Speedlights, as well as studio flash systems. (But Nikon still provides only very limited integration with their excellent dedicated Speedlights.)

The Coolpix 5400 offers a wide range of "motor drive" rapid-exposure modes for capturing quick sequences of images. Continuous L, Continuous H, Ultra High Speed Continuous, Multi-Shot 16, and 5-Shot Buffer modes are available through the settings menu, and offer a range of sequence shooting speeds. (Multi-Shot 16 mode subdivides the image area into 16 sections and captures a "mini-movie" of small images at 648 x 486-pixel resolution.) Finally, Movie mode records moving images (with sound) for as long as 180 seconds (depending on the amount of available memory space) at the 320 x 240-pixel resolution setting (as long as 70 seconds at 640 x 480 pixels). A Time Lapse Movie mode lets you capture images at specified intervals, much like traditional time-lapse photography. Finally, an audio recording feature lets you record 20-second sound clips to accompany captured images in Playback mode.

The Coolpix 5400 stores its images on CompactFlash cards (Type I or II), and a 16MB card is packaged with the camera.(Nikon rightly labels this a "starter" memory card, as its capacity is absurdly small for a five-megapixel digicam. Plan on buying at least a 64 MB card immediately, and I'd highly recommend 128MB as a practical minimum.) The camera is compatible with the IBM MicroDrive as well. File formats include several levels of compressed JPEG files as well as an uncompressed TIFF mode (Hi quality setting). Available image sizes are 2,592 x 1,944; a 3:2 Ratio version of the same width but reduced height; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels. A Video Out jack allows the camera to be connected to a television set, for large-screen image review.

A rechargeable EN-EL1 lithium-ion battery pack powers the camera, providing generally good battery life, and an AC adapter is available as a separate accessory. (The battery and charger are included in the box with the Coolpix 5400.) The camera connects to a computer via a USB cable (included), and the accompanying Nikon View software provides image downloading and organizing capabilities for both Windows and Macintosh computers.

With its full exposure control, customizable user interface, and loads of features, the Coolpix 5400 is a worthy update to the Coolpix line. The 5.1-megapixel CCD and 4x Nikkor lens capture sharp, clear images with great quality and color, and the rotating LCD monitor makes shooting at odd angles a lot more comfortable. Like the previous Coolpix digicams that went before it, the new Coolpix 5400 offers exceptional flexibility and image quality, for both novice and prosumer-level users.

 

Design

Updating the popular Coolpix 5000 model, which was itself a significant departure from the swivel-case designs of earlier high-end Coolpix models, the Coolpix 5400 offers similar rangefinder styling with a slightly enhanced feature set. Like the Coolpix 5000, the Coolpix 5400 uses a "Vari-angle" LCD design that retains (and some would say improves) the viewing flexibility formerly provided by the swivel body. The Coolpix 5400 measures 4.3 x 2.9 x 2.7 inches (108 x 73 x 69 millimeters), which is just a bit bulky, but still compact enough for a medium-sized purse or a backpack. It has a pleasant heft at 13.4 ounces (380 grams), with the battery and memory card installed. A neck/shoulder strap comes with the camera, to make toting it a little more convenient, but I'd recommend a good camera case for any extended travel.

Visible on the Coolpix 5400's front panel are the large flash tube, a small flash exposure sensor, the window for the optical viewfinder, and the lens. The telescoping lens extends another half-inch from the camera body when in its fully extended position, and retracts just inside the larger lens barrel when the camera is powered off. The larger lens barrel is threaded to accept Nikon accessory lenses. A plastic lens cap protects the lens when not in use, and tethers to the camera body via a small strap. The large handgrip slopes downward at the top, providing a view of the Shutter button, and is covered with a rubbery material that ensures a firm grip.

The camera's right side (as viewed from the back) houses the memory card compartment (a Type I/II Compact Flash slot), an eyelet for the neck strap, and a flap that hides the external power connector. The memory card compartment features a spring action that firmly snaps the door shut, and opens from the rear panel. The DC-In terminal is covered by a flexible flap that remains attached to the camera when opened.

The left side of the camera features the other neckstrap eyelet, speaker grille, and flaps covering the jacks for the audio/video and USB cables. The USB cable plugs into a jack in the top right corner of the panel, while the A/V cable plugs into the lower left corner. From this view, you can also see the large hinge of the swiveling LCD monitor.

The top of the camera has a handful of controls, in addition to the external flash hot shoe and microphone. Controls on the top panel are the Shutter button and surrounding power switch, the Flash and +/- buttons, the Function button, Mode dial, and a Command wheel at the back rear corner. The command wheel is used in conjunction with various buttons on the body of the camera to change camera settings.

The remaining camera controls are on the Coolpix 5400's rear panel, along with the optical viewfinder and LCD monitor. The optical viewfinder eyepiece has two status LEDs on its left, showing current focus and flash status. A small adjustment dial on the right side of the eyepiece adjusts the viewfinder diopter value for eyeglass wearers. To the right of the viewfinder eyepiece are the AE/AF Lock and Zoom buttons. The Menu, AF/Erase, Quick Review/Resize, and Display buttons line the right side of the LCD monitor. To the right of these is a Four-Way Multicontroller button, which navigates menu settings, with an OK button at its center. The swiveling LCD monitor lifts up off of the back panel, and can flip around to face the front of the camera. From this position, the LCD monitor itself rotates around 270 degrees to face a variety of viewing angles. (I really like tilt/swivel LCD designs like this, as they're really handy for shooting over the heads of people in a crowd, or for getting ground-level macro shots that would be nearly impossible otherwise.)

The bottom of the Coolpix 5400 is nice and flat, with some raised rubber inserts that help the camera grip tripod mounting plates. The plastic (I wish it was metal), threaded tripod socket is slightly off-center, but provides a stable mount. Also on the bottom panel is the camera's battery compartment, with a latch in the center of the door to prevent it from accidentally opening. The battery compartment and tripod socket are unfortunately too close together to allow quick battery changes while the camera is mounted. (I'm always acutely aware of this, given how much in-studio shooting I do with the cameras I test.) However, the DC-In jack is accessible from the side, making it easy to provide alternate power while mounted on a tripod.

 

Viewfinder

The Coolpix 5400 offers a real-image optical viewfinder, as well as a color LCD monitor for composing images. In my tests, the optical viewfinder's accuracy ranged from a bit better to a bit worse than average, 92 percent frame coverage at wide angle, down to 83 percent coverage at telephoto. While 92 percent is pretty accurate, I wish that the accuracy at telephoto was a bit better, and also that it didn't vary so much as a function of focal length. (This makes it hard to know just how much to compensate for the viewfinder's coverage on critical shots.) The optical viewfinder zooms along with the lens, but naturally does not reflect any digital zoom (which requires the LCD monitor to be active). A diopter adjustment dial adjusts the view to accommodate eyeglass wearers. The viewfinder optics have a really high eyepoint, meaning that most eyeglass wearers should have no trouble using the optical viewfinder for framing. Another nice touch is that the viewfinder eyepiece is close enough to the left edge of the camera that right-eyed users can use it comfortably without mashing their noses against the back of the camera. (Very good viewfinder ergonomics overall, kudos to Nikon's designers on this front.) A set of focus brackets in the center of the frame indicates the main AF area, and crop marks at the top of the frame show more accurate framing guidelines for closeup shooting.

The 1.5-inch, 134,000-dot, advanced TFT LCD monitor features a swivel design and a white LED backlight. The LCD monitor actually lifts up off of the back panel, flipping out toward the left side of the camera. Once opened, the LCD monitor can swivel around to face upwards or downwards with a radius of 270 degrees. You can also turn the LCD monitor around to face the camera and then close it to protect the monitor from any accidental scratches. I've always liked swiveling LCD designs, as they greatly increase a camera's shooting flexibility, allowing you to hold the camera at a variety of angles and still clearly see the LCD display.

A nice touch in the Coolpix 5400's LCD viewfinder implementation is that you can adjust not only the viewfinder brightness, but its color (hue) as well. A menu option lets you adjust the viewfinder color either towards the blue or towards the red, to help match the viewfinder display to the actual color balance of the captured images. While I still wouldn't recommend relying on the LCD for critical color or exposure determination, the level of adjustment provided is definitely a welcome addition, and should at least get you in the ballpark most of the time.

The 5400's LCD deserves special mention for two reasons. First, it's almost 100% accurate when used as a viewfinder (I measured it at 97%), making it a useful tool for critical framing. The second feature is almost more important though: You can actually see this LCD in direct sunlight! This looks like the same excellent LCD that we first saw on Nikon's Coolpix SQ consumer model. - At the time of that review, I commented that I hoped we'd see the same LCD on other, higher-end Nikon cameras in the future, and it looks like Nikon was listening. Overall, the 5400's LCD is arguably the best and most easily visible unit I've seen to date! Big kudos to Nikon for this one!

The Display button adjacent to the lower right corner of the LCD monitor controls the image and information displays.When first powered on, the LCD shows a viewfinder display with an information overlay reporting camera mode, flash setting, user mode, file size and quality settings, aperture and shutter speed, and the exposure mode. Other camera settings will come and go as set (such as macro mode, self-timer, etc.). Pressing the Display button once cancels the information display, and a third press disables the LCD altogether.

A particularly nice feature is the "quick review" function, which lets you quickly check the last exposure while still in record mode, simply by pressing the Quick Review button. This isn't an uncommon feature on digicams, but what's unique on the Coolpix cameras is the"picture in picture" review mode (shown here), which opens a playback window in the upper left-hand corner of the display screen, keeping the viewfinder image live on the remaining LCD area. The review isn't restricted to just the most recently captured photo, either -- you can scroll through all of the images on the memory card by pressing the rocker button arrows. The first press of the Quick Review button activates the picture in picture review mode, a second press enables full-screen playback, and a third press returns you to full capture mode. At any point, pressing the Shutter button returns you to capture mode and snaps a picture.

 

In Playback mode, the LCD offers a wealth of information via several display pages. In total, no fewer than six information screens are available, accessed by turning the Command wheel. The first display is the standard Playback information readout, which reports the date and time of the shot, file name, quality setting, and the image number on the card. The next three screens report a long listing of camera and exposure settings, including the firmware version, focal length, shutter speed, ISO, etc. A fifth information page shows a histogram view of the image, displaying a graph of brightness values in the image, with the left edge corresponding to pure black, and the right edge to pure white. Once you learn how to read it, a histogram is very useful in determining whether you've managed to capture a good exposure or not. Ideally, a well-exposed image would produce a histogram curve that just filled the graph from left to right, indicating that it contained a full range of tonal values. The same screen that holds the histogram display also shows a small thumbnail of the image in question, where any blown-out highlights will blink black and white. - This is very handy, as lost highlights will often occupy too few pixels in the image to show up as a spike on the right side of the histogram, but they're often of great importance to the picture. (Nikon was one of the first digicam companies to employ this "blinking highlight" display, but several other manufacturers now use it as well.) The final information screen shows lens, shutter, and focus settings, and indicates (by the red brackets) what the autofocus system had locked onto when the picture was taken.

Also in Playback mode, the LCD offers a thumbnail index display, showing nine images to a page. A playback zoom feature enlarges captured images up to 6x, letting you get a reasonably good idea of how well-focused the image is, check the framing, and examine details to see if you got the shot you wanted.

 

 

Optics

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The Coolpix 5400 has a 4x Nikkor 5.8-24mm lens, the equivalent to a 28-116mm lens on a 35mm camera. This extends to a significantly wider-angle coverage than the zoom lenses typically found on prosumer digicams, a welcome feature for many photographers needing true wide-angle shooting capability. The all-glass lens is made up of nine elements in eight groups, and uses ED glass for improved optical characteristics. (The 5400's lens has unusually low barrel distortion at its wide-angle setting, and much lower than average chromatic aberration.) The maximum aperture varies from f/2.8 to f/4.6, depending on the focal length setting of the lens, with the largest aperture available when the lens is at its maximum wide angle position. The aperture is adjustable in 10 steps with 1/3 EV increments, and is created by a six-blade iris diaphragm, avoiding the distracting diffraction patterns from specular highlights that sometimes result from irises with fewer blades in them.

Focus on the Coolpix 5400 operates under either automatic or manual control, and ranges from 0.4 inches (1.0 centimeters) to infinity, including the macro range. The Coolpix 5400's autofocus system employs a contrast-detection method, and the focus can be determined from a five-area multi-pattern or spot AF area, in the same way as on the 5000 and a handful of previous high-end Coolpix models. There are five possible focus zones (center, top, bottom, left, right), which can be very useful for achieving accurate focus on off-center subjects. The Focus option under the settings menu allows you to select modes in which the camera chooses the most appropriate focus zone automatically, or in which you can explicitly set the location of the focus area (a nice feature that works well when combined with the spot metering mode, which can likewise be directed to determine exposure based on the same five zones). In the "Auto" option for focus area selection, the camera chooses the focus area corresponding to the object closest to the camera. When the area focus option is set to Off, the camera bases focus on the central area alone. (One Playback mode information screen displays a focus area overlay, and shows which focus area was employed for each image, by highlighting the appropriate set of marks in red.) Two autofocus modes are also available: Continuous AF and Single AF. Continuous AF mode means that the camera constantly adjusts the focus. In Single AF mode, focus is only determined when the Shutter button is halfway pressed. (Continuous AF might be helpful in tracking moving subjects, but in my testing, I found that shutter delay for a stationary subject was actually a little longer with Continuous AF mode enabled than with it not.)

The manual focus option is accessed through the rear-panel AF button, used in conjunction with the Command wheel. The Coolpix 5400 offers 71 focus steps from 0.4 inches (1.0 centimeters) to infinity, but doesn't tell you the actual focus distance. Instead, a status bar appears on the LCD and shows a range from macro to infinity, with the focus step number reported below it. (I personally found this rather frustrating to deal with, as I had a hard time telling when I was even approximately in the right distance range. Also, the thermometer-bar display seemed to react somewhat sluggishly to the operation of the command dial.) However, the Coolpix 5400 does offer a clever Focus Confirmation option, available as a menu selection in record mode. When activated, this feature seems to apply a strong image-sharpening operator to the LCD display. The result is that the LCD image very clearly "snaps" into focus when proper focus is achieved, making the LCD display much more useful than it ordinarily would be for manual focusing. Focus Confirmation can be set to be on all the time, off all the time, or only on when the camera is being manually focused. The AF button on the back panel also activates an Infinity focus mode, as well as Macro and Self-Timer modes.

The lens itself has a set of body threads around its base, allowing it to be used with many of the broad range of Nikkor accessory lenses developed for previous Coolpix models. These include accessory lenses for wide-angle, telephoto, macro, and fisheye focal lengths, as well as a slide copying adapter. (Nikon has one of the broadest range of high-quality add-on lenses for their Coolpix cameras, of any manufacturer in the industry.)

The Coolpix 5400's digital telephoto feature is enabled through the Zoom option under the Setup menu, and enlarges images up to 4x. An indicator on the LCD monitor displays the range of digital zoom at each step (from 1.1x to 4.0x). Keep in mind that digital telephoto only enlarges the center of the image, resulting in reduced resolution and more artifacts as more digital zoom is used. The Zoom menu option also offers a Fixed Aperture setting, which keeps the aperture fixed as the lens zooms. This is very handy when working with studio strobes or other strobes with fixed output levels. (Note though, that the maximum aperture of the lens is larger at wide-angle than at telephoto, so the aperture will change if you start your zoom at the wide-angle end of the range, regardless of whether the Fixed Aperture option is set or not. Also, there does appear to be an 0.2 f-stop change as the lens zooms from telephoto to wide-angle, at least as shown by the aperture value reported in the LCD monitor.)

 

Exposure

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Like most of Nikon's digital cameras, the Coolpix 5400 provides a lot of exposure control, with choices of Full Auto, Program AE, Flexible Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes, in addition to an extensive Scene mode. A wide range of shutter speeds are available, from 1/4,000 to eight seconds, and a Bulb mode for longer exposures up to 10 minutes. Through the Record menu, you can replace the Bulb mode with a Timed Release option, offering timed exposures of 30 seconds and 1, 3, 5, and 10 minute duration. In Ultra High Speed Continuous mode, the maximum shutter speed increases to 1/8,000 second. One of my favorite exposure-control features is Flexible Program AE, which lets you select from a range of equivalent exposure settings by turning the Command wheel while in Program exposure mode. - Simply turn the Command wheel on its own while in Program mode, and an asterisk appears next to the "P" in the LCD display. Further rotation of the Command wheel will cycle through the available combinations of shutter speed and aperture. This lets you choose between a faster shutter speed or a smaller lens aperture than the camera's automatic program would otherwise select. Personally, I find this more useful than the more common aperture- or shutter-priority metering options, as it gives the camera more latitude to get the shot you want, while letting you express a preference for larger or smaller aperture settings. The camera's full Auto mode also controls both aperture and shutter speed settings, but does not offer an exposure menu or many other exposure options.

The camera's Scene mode offers a selection of 16 preset "scenes," useful for shooting in less than optimum exposure conditions. The available scenes are Portrait, Party/Indoor, Night Portrait, Beach/Snow, Landscape, Sunset, Night Landscape, Museum, Fireworks Show, Close Up, Copy, Back Light, Sports, Panorama Assist, and Dusk/Dawn. The Scene menu appears in place of the Record menu when the Menu button is pressed in Scene mode.

Four metering options are available on the Coolpix 5400: 256-Segment Matrix, Center-Weighted, Spot, and AF Spot. The 256-Segment Matrix setting determines the exposure by examining 256 separate areas across the frame, evaluating their brightness and the range of contrast between them to determine the best overall exposure. Center-Weighted metering measures light from the entire frame but places the greatest emphasis on a circular area in the center. Spot metering is pretty self-explanatory, taking a reading from the dead center of the image (particularly useful in conjunction with the AE Lock function). With AF Spot the spot metering centers on the specific focus area selected rather than the center of the image, giving you the option for off-center spot metering. (See the previous Optics section of this review for a discussion of the 5400's AF Area focusing mode.) Exposure compensation on the Coolpix 5400 is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments, and is controllable in all exposure modes except Manual. The Auto Bracketing feature takes three or five shots of the same subject with varying exposure values determined either by the photographer in Manual mode or by the camera in all other modes. Exposure settings for bracketing can vary from -2 to +2 EV (values are added to the already chosen exposure compensation value), with step sizes of one-third, one-half, or one EV unit.

ISO can be set to a range of values, including Auto, 50, 100, 200, and 400. White balance can be set to Auto, Fine (daylight), Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Speedlight, Shade, or Preset (which allows you to manually adjust the white value by using a white card or object as a reference point). All white balance settings can be adjusted from -3 to +3 units on an arbitrary scale. (This is a feature Nikon pioneered, but which is now beginning to appear on cameras from a few other manufacturers. In my experience, I very frequently find that I'd like to "tweak" the preset white balance settings of a camera, so I find white balance adjustments of this sort particularly welcome.) There's also a White Balance Bracketing mode, which captures several images at different white balance adjustments, allowing you to pick the best image later, when you're able to view the images on a computer screen.

Another signature Nikon feature is the Image Adjustment menu, which lets you increase or decrease contrast. Additionally, the 5400 provides a range of color saturation options, as well as a sharpness control. I really like this sort of camera adjustment, but encourage Nikon to offer both finer gradations and a wider range for control for both contrast and saturation. - Finer grained adjustments would support shifting the default behavior of the camera to suit one's individual preferences.

One of the more unique Nikon digicam features, the Best Shot Selector (BSS) causes the camera to snap several images (up to five, as long as you hold down the shutter button), automatically selecting only the sharpest (least blurred) to be saved to the memory card. Best Shot Select makes it feasible to handhold the camera for surprisingly long exposures. - I've routinely used BSS to get sharp handheld photos with half-second shutter speeds. You can also check your own work immediately as the camera gives you a quick preview of the captured image (when shooting with the LCD monitor) and gives you an option to delete or save the image.

The Coolpix 5400 allows you to save two sets of user settings for focus, exposure, and other camera options, for rapid recall via the setup menu. This can be a real time saver in rapidly switching between widely different sets of shooting conditions. The 5400's Self-Timer offers a three or 10-second countdown before firing the shutter, allowing you compose images and then jump into the exposure.

Long Exposures & Noise
I mentioned earlier that the Coolpix 5400 has a Bulb exposure mode that allows exposures as long as 10 minutes. This is an exceptionally long exposure time, but would normally be almost useless due to the amount of CCD noise that can accumulate during that interval. Like other recent Coolpix models, the 5400 uses a noise reduction technology that appears to use a form of "dark frame subtraction," whereby a second exposure is snapped immediately after the first, but with the shutter closed. The pattern of noise in this "dark frame" is then subtracted from the image itself, resulting in a significant reduction in apparent noise levels. Noise Reduction is enabled via a menu option, and applied to any exposure longer than 1/4 second when active. The net result is that even multi-minute exposures are surprisingly free of noise and quite usable. (I suspect the 5400 would make a great choice for astrophotography.)

In my own tests of very long exposures, I found that the 5400's noise reduction system was quite good at reducing image noise, and that there was relatively little hot-pixel noise in long time-exposure images to begin with. It does appear though, that the 5400's noise-reduction system involves only a basic dark-frame subtraction, as described above. This works well for the most part, but has the limitation that hot pixels which have saturated at their maximum value are converted to black pixels in the final image. To understand this, consider a pixel that's saturated at its maximum value of 255. Since it's saturated, there'll be no difference in value between that pixel in the image and that pixel in the reference black frame. 255-255=0, so the resulting pixel in the final image will be black. (A pixel value of 0.) Spurious black pixels are generally less glaringly evident than white ones, but will still be objectionable in light-colored areas. The solution to this is to cleverly substitute adjacent pixel data wherever a hot pixel has saturated. The resulting image therefore isn't an accurate representation of reality (in other words, don't use this approach for scientific imaging), but the image will look great to the casual observer. This more sophisticated approach to hot-pixel elimination can be found in some software programs, including Mike Chaney's excellent Qimage program.

In addition to the Bulb mode (in which the shutter remains open only as long as you hold down the shutter button), the 5400 also provides a timed exposure mode, with exposure durations of 30 seconds, and 1, 2, 5, and 10 minutes. This is nice, as it lets you get very long exposure times without having to worry about camera movement caused by the pressure of your finger on the shutter button. (The optional wired remote cable release accessory provides the best of both worlds, letting you open the shutter for as long as you want, but avoiding problems of camera shake caused by keeping your hand on it during the exposure.

 

Flash

The Coolpix 5400 features a built-in flash with six flash modes available, including Auto, Flash Cancel, Anytime Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Sync, and Rear Curtain Sync. The Slow-Sync option is useful when shooting subjects with dark backgrounds (such as night scenes) because the camera actually leaves the shutter open longer and then fires the flash before the shutter closes. This allows more ambient light into the image and can provide a nice motion blur effect. Rear Curtain Sync times the flash with closing of the shutter rather than the opening, for a slightly different method of capturing movement (light trails from behind a car for example). Red-Eye Reduction mode fires a pre-flash before the main exposure, to reduce the reflection from the subject's pupils.

The Coolpix 5400 also features an external flash hot shoe for connecting a more powerful external flash unit, either a Nikon dedicated unit, or a generic third-party one. Nikon advises that the 5400 can be used with Nikon Speedlight models SB-50 DX, 80DX, 30, 27, and 23. In fact, it will work with a broader range of speedlights, but possibly with less functional integration. Through the settings menu, you can set the built-in flash and external unit to fire together, or disable the internal flash whenever an external unit is connected.

Continuous Shooting Modes

The Coolpix 5400 offers a number of "motor drive" rapid-exposure modes for capturing quick sequences of images. Five modes (Continuous L, Continuous H, Ultra High Speed Continuous, Multi-Shot 16, and 5-Shot Buffer) are selectable under the Continuous option of the settings menu. Continuous H mode captures as many as seven frames, at three frames per second. (The LCD turns off in Continuous H mode, so you'll have to use the optical viewfinder to frame your shots.) Continuous L mode captures images at a rate of about 1.5 frames per second. In Continuous L mode, you can capture as many shots in succession as your memory card has room for, but the capture rate will slow after the first 10-15 or so. (The number of images the camera can capture before slowing depends on the speed of the memory card used. - Faster cards will let the camera capture more images before it's forced to wait for the card.) In Ultra High Speed Continuous mode, the Coolpix 5400 captures as many as 100 frames at 30 frames per second, at QVGA (320 x 240) resolution. Multi-Shot 16 mode subdivides the image area into 16 sections and captured a "mini-movie" of small images (648 x 486 resolution), which are stored as a 4x4 array within a single high-resolution image. The frame rate in Multi-Shot 16 is about two frames per second. In 5-Shot Buffer mode the camera continuously captures frames at a rate of 1.5 frames/second, as long as the shutter button is held down, but saves only the last five frames the sequence. - This is handy for times when you want to capture a transient event, but the combination of shutter lag and your own reaction time might cause you to miss the key moment. To use 5-shot buffer mode, simply press and hold down the shutter button, then release it just after the event you're interested in has happened. (This is nice, but I'd like to see a faster frame rate for this mode.- It would be great if you could use Continuous H mode this way.)

Movies and Sound Recording

The Coolpix 5400 also records moving images with sound. In Movie mode, the camera captures movies as long as 180 seconds (depending on the amount of available memory space and the resolution selected). Movies are recorded either at 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels. The movie frame rate is 15 frames/second, regardless of the resolution chosen. Maximum recording time is 70 seconds at the 640 x 480 resolution, and 180 seconds at the 320 x 240 size.

The 5400 handles zoom with movies in an interesting way. Like most digicams that record sound with their movies, the 5400 doesn't let you use the optical zoom lens during recording, although you can set any desired zoom level before you begin recording. Once recording has begun, you can zoom in about another 2x digitally. Zooming during movie recording is thus somewhat limited (you can't choose to zoom out after starting recording, but it's still handy, compared to cameras that offer no zoom at all once movie recording has begun.

A Time Lapse Movie mode, available under the Movie menu options, lets you record images at specified intervals for a time-lapse effect. Available frame intervals range from 30 seconds to 1, 5, 10, 30 or 60 minutes, and you can set the AE lock to hold from the first image taken, or let the camera determine exposure anew with each shot. Once the series of images has been captured, they can be played back like a movie file to watch action unfold.

Finally, the +/- / Audio button on top of the camera lets you record up to 20 seconds of audio to accompany a captured image. Pressing and holding the button lets you record the clip, and a timer appears on the LCD display. After the clip is recorded, pressing the button once plays it back.

 

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I routinely measure it with a special timing setup I constructed for the purpose. (Crystal-controlled, with a resolution of 0.001 second).

NOTE: My qualitative characterizations of camera performance below (that is, "reasonably fast," "about average," etc.) are meant to be relative to other cameras of similar price and general capabilities. Thus, the same shutter lag that's "very fast" for a low-end consumer camera might be characterized as "quite slow" if I encountered it on a professional model. The comments are also intended as only a quick reference: If performance specs are critical for you, rely on the absolute numbers to compare cameras, rather than my purely qualitative comments.

Nikon Coolpix 5400 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
4.6
About average for a camera with a telescoping lens.
Shutdown
4.3/1.8
It takes only 1.8 seconds for the lens to retract if the camera is otherwise unoccupied, but could take a hundred seconds or more if you've just filled the buffer memory with a large continuous sequence. - The lens doesn't retract until the camera has finished saving data to the memory card. - The 4.3 second time shown above is how long it takes to shut down immediately after snapping a single high-quality JPEG image.
Play to Record, first shot
2.21
About average for a high-end prosumer camera.
Record to play
2.88/5.73
First time is how long it takes the camera to display an image if it wasn't processing anything when switched to playback mode. Second number is time required if you've just snapped a photo in large/fine JPEG mode. A little slow, although the "Quick Review" function is faster..
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.89 - 0.61
On the fast side of average for a high-end prosumer digicam. Interestingly, the camera focuses more quickly at telephoto than wide-angle zoom settings.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.665
A little leisurely - the typical delay in manual focus mode for high-end consumer models is about 0.5 seconds. (Still too slow, IMHO.)
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.273/0.109
This is a odd, to say the least. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.273 seconds when the shutter sound is turned on, but only 0.109 seconds with shutter sound off. Turn off the shutter sound for best shutter response! (This doesn't seem to apply to manual focus or autofocus operation though.)
Cycle time, large/fine files
2.0/2.0-8.7
Pretty fast. Shorter time is for first 5 or 6 shots, then times become highly variable as files are written from buffer to memory card. Post-buffer-fill cycle times range from 2.0 to 8.7 seconds, but the average is still quite fast, at 3.08 seconds. Buffer takes about 25 seconds to clear, depending on memory card speed.
Cycle time, small/basic files
2.07
Pretty quick. About 100 shots before buffer filled, but highly variable times, ranging from 1.77 to 3.33 seconds.
Cycle time, TIFF files
25-28
TIFF mode files are huge, take a loong time to write. Not a huge amount of variation in write times among name brands: Lexar, SimpleTech, and Sandisk cards all came in at about the same speed. (The 5400 doesn't yet reflect the fruits of Nikon's partnership with Lexar to take advantage of Lexar's "WA" technology, as a WA card actually took about 3 seconds longer between shots than its non-WA equivalent.) The one exception was that an old "Mr. Flash" memory card (which in the past hasn't worked at all in most Nikon digicams) took fully 49 seconds to dump each shot.
Continuous mode (High Speed), large files
0.50/22.0
2.5 frames per second for 7 frames, then must wait about 25 seconds before it will snap the next set of 3 frames. (Nikon's spec is 3 fps, I'm not sure why my test showed slower. This camera comes closer to the official specs than did the earlier Coolpix 5000 though, which I clocked at 2 fps.)
Continuous mode (Low Speed), large files
0.77/67.5
Snaps up to 29(!) frames at the 1.37 frame/second rate. Buffer takes 243 seconds to clear with a fast memory card.
Multi-Shot 16
0.5/2.0
Divides full-sized frame into a 4x4 matrix of sub-pictures. 0.5 seconds between shots (2.0 frames/second) for 16 low-res images,then 2.0 second delay before next shot is ready.
Ultra High Speed
0.0333/81
WOW, this is fast! Great for time/motion studies (golf/tennis swings?). Captures up to 100 images at 320x240 resolution, "normal" JPEG quality. Shot to shot interval is only 0.035 seconds, or 28.8 frames/second. - This is actually faster than the 5000's movie mode, but you can only capture about 3 seconds of action, and the action is in individual files. When done shooting, it took the camera 91.3 seconds to empty the buffer memory to the card.
5-Shot Buffer
0.73
4-13 sec for buffer clear
An interesting option that captures frames continuously at about 1.4 frames/second while the shutter button is held down, then saves only the last five. (Handy for capturing a critical moment, compensating for slow reflexes on the part of the photographer.) The buffer clears in 13 seconds for large/fine files, 4 seconds for small/basic ones.
Movie Mode
15 frames/second, with sound.
Movie mode will record up to 70 seconds of 640x480 "VGA" resolution, or 180 seconds of 320x240 "QVGA" resolution action with sound. It took 36 seconds for the camera to finish writing to a fast memory card after a 70 second clip was shot.

 

The Coolpix 5400 is a fairly fast camera, both in terms of shutter lag and shot to shot cycle times. It has a buffer capacity of 5-7 full-res frames, but seems to take good advantage of fast memory cards, emptying the buffer to the card as it goes, giving fast recovery times, and not forcing you to wait for the entire buffer to empty completely before acquiring the next set of images. The one real oddity is that shutter lag in prefocus mode (shutter button half-pressed and held before the shot is actually taken) is strongly affected by whether the shutter sound is enabled or not. (Shutter response is much better with the shutter sound turned off.) This effect seems to only apply to prefocused operation, and not to manual or autofocus modes. (A tip of the hat to Phil Askey of DPReview.com for discovering this, in an email interchange between us before we posted our respective reviews.) Like other high-end Coolpix models in the past, the 5400 sports an unusually rich array of continuous-mode options, with frame rates ranging from 1.5 frames/second to 30 frames/second. (!) Overall, an excellent performer.

 

Operation and User Interface

The Coolpix 5400 features a similar, straightforward user interface to other Nikon Coolpix models, although the wealth of options and depth of the LCD menu system can be intimidating for new users. (Novices needn't fear though, the 5400 in full auto mode is as easy to use as the most basic point & shoot, and the 15 different scene modes make even tricky shooting conditions easy to master. Only when you venture into its more advanced features do things get complicated.) Usability is enhanced by a user interface employing external buttons for many commonly-accessed camera functions, and a command wheel for rapidly adjusting settings. As a result, you'll only need to enter the menu system infrequently for typical shooting. The inclusion of a programmable Function key adds flexibility, allowing you to customize the camera to your specific shooting needs by assigning frequently-used settings to the top-panel button. Exposure compensation, exposure mode, ISO value, white balance, image quality and size, as well as focus controls can all be adjusted externally, and the large Mode dial provides access to a variety of exposure modes as well as the White Balance, ISO, and Image Quality/Size settings. (I missed the small, black and white LCD status panel used on earlier high-end Coolpix models for making faster changes without the LCD monitor activated, though.) The LCD menu system is easy to navigate via the Arrow-pad rocker control, but the plethora of available options means that some choices are buried 2 or 3 levels deep in the menus. This is probably unavoidable though, as the alternative would have been a menu system with a dozen screens to it.

In its still-image record modes, the 5400 presents an abbreviated "My Menu" whenever you press the menu button. You can set any of the handful of options shown there, or select the "Full Menus" option to see the complete set of menu choices. The My Menu display is almost 100% configurable, as you can move any of the record-mode menu options onto it via the setup menu. In practice, I found the My Menu display to be a decidedly mixed blessing. On the one hand, it was great whenever the function I needed was located on it, and it was quite easy to change which options were displayed there. On the other hand, I frequently found myself annoyed when I need to access a menu option that was buried on one of the main menu screens. This may have been more of an issue for me than for the typical user, given the extent to which I need to dig into all the options offered by each digicam I test. - Normal users will quite possibly find that the few options available on the My Menu are all they need. Still, I'd like to suggest two possible changes to Nikon: 1) Include an option on the Setup menu to disable the My Menu display, letting users drop directly into the main menu system if they so prefer. 2) Make the "more menus" option the first entry on the My Menu screen, to permit a quicker exit to the full system when necessary.

As noted above, the 5400 offers an incredible range of features and functions. While novices will be able to just pick it up and shoot with it in full auto mode, really learning its capabilities will take the average user at least a couple of hours with the manual and camera in hand.

Control Enumeration


Shutter Button
: Located on top of the camera (on the sloping front) and encircled by the Power switch, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed and fires the shutter when fully pressed.

Power Switch: Surrounding the Shutter button on the camera's top panel, this rotating lever turns the camera on or off.


+/- / Audio Button
: Behind the Shutter button on the top panel, this button lets you adjust the exposure compensation from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments, when pressed and held down while turning the Command wheel.

In Playback mode, pressing and holding this button lets you record a short sound clip to accompany a captured image. Once the clip has been recorded, pressing this button again plays it back.


Flash Button
: Directly to the left of the +/- button, this button cycles through the available flash modes. Choices are Auto, Flash Cancel, Anytime Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Sync, and Rear Curtain Sync.


Func. Button
: To the left of the Flash button, this button can be programmed to control one of several functions. Through the Setup menu, you can set the Function button to control User setting, White balance, Quality/Size, Sensitivity, or Continuous modes.


Command Wheel
: Located in the top rear, right hand corner of the camera, this rotary control is used in conjunction with many of the other buttons on the camera to change camera settings. Pressing and holding the appropriate button while rotating this wheel one way or the other steps through the options available for the option in question. In programmed exposure mode, rotating this wheel at any time (e.g., with no button pressed) varies the exposure program, biasing it toward larger or smaller aperture settings. (A very handy way to control depth of field in your photos, without having to bother with the aperture priority exposure mode.)

In Playback mode, turning this dial cycles through six different pages of information about the currently-displayed image.


Mode Dial
: Directly to the left of the Command wheel, this dial selects the camera's main operating mode, and accesses a few exposure options as well. Choices are:


Diopter Adjustment Dial
: Tucked away on the right side of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this small, black dial adjusts the viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers. (The 5400 is unusually eyeglass-friendly, with a very high eyepoint and plenty of diopter adjustment.)


AE/AF Lock Button
: Located on the rear panel, to the right of the viewfinder eyepiece, this button locks focus and/or exposure (depending how it's programmed through the Setup menu) whenever pressed. The setting is then saved until the Shutter button is pressed or the AE/AF Lock button is pressed a second time.


Zoom Rocker Button
: Directly to the right of the AE/AF Lock button, this two-way rocker button controls the optical and digital zoom in any record mode.

In Playback mode, this button enables the nine-image index display when pressed on the "W" side. Pressing the "T" side enlarges the captured image to a maximum of 6x.


Menu Button
: The top button in a series lining the right side of the LCD monitor, this button brings up the settings menu in all capture modes as well as in Playback mode. Pressing it a second time exits the menu system.


AF/MF/Self-Timer/Erase Button
: Directly below the Menu button, this button controls a variety of settings. In record mode, pressing this button steps you through the various programmed focus modes (normal autofocus, infinity focus, macro mode, and self-timer). Pressing and holding this button while rotating the Command wheel switches you to manual focus mode and sets the focus distance.

In playback mode, this is the "trash" button, which calls up a confirmation dialog, asking if you really want to delete the current image.


Quick Review/Resize Button
: Directly beneath the AF button, the Quick Review button calls up a thumbnail sized display of the most recently captured image while in either record mode, appearing in the upper left-hand corner. The left and right arrow keys scroll through the rest of the captured images on the memory card. Pressed a second time, it expands the thumbnail view to a full-screen display of the captured images on the card, complete with an image information overlay. The Quick Review mode is canceled by pressing the button a third time, or by pressing or half-pressing the Shutter button.

In Playback mode, this button makes a lower-resolution copy of the currently displayed image. (The original image is left undisturbed.)


Display Button
: The final button in the series lining the LCD monitor, this button recalls or cancels the color LCD screen information display and viewfinder display. Pressing the button multiple times steps you through a normal LCD display (with information overlay), a display of the image alone, with no overlay, or no display, with the LCD display turned off.

In Playback mode, pressing this button merely turns the information overlay on or off.


Four-Way Multicontroller and OK Button
: Situated on the far right of the rear panel, this control features four arrows that allow the user to navigate through the LCD menu system and make selections in Record, Playback, and Setup modes. Different menu items are selected via the up/down arrows. Pressing the right arrow selects the item, generally taking you into a sub-menu. Pressing the left arrow takes you back out again. In the center of the multicontroller is an OK button, which confirms menu selections.

In Playback mode, the left and right arrows navigate through captured images on the memory card. (The up and down arrows also move forward and backward through captured files.) The OK button triggers a movie file to begin playing, as well as pauses audio caption playback.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Auto Exposure: Puts the camera in charge of the exposure, with only limited options available to the user (such as image size and quality, flash mode, zoom, etc.).

Program AE Mode: The camera still controls aperture and shutter speed, but the user now can adjust any of the available exposure settings. Turning the Command wheel in this mode accesses Flexible Program AE mode, which lets you select from a range of equivalent exposure settings, biasing the exposure toward larger or smaller apertures, higher or lower shutter speeds.

Shutter Priority Mode: This mode lets you select the shutter speed, while the camera chooses the best corresponding aperture setting. All other exposure options are available.

Aperture Priority Mode: The opposite of Shutter Priority mode, this mode lets you adjust the camera's aperture setting while the camera selects the shutter speed.

Manual Mode: This mode offers total user control over the exposure, and increases the shutter speed range to include a bulb/time-exposure setting for exposure times as long as 10 minutes.

Scene: This mode offers a total of 16 preset "scenes" for shooting under common, but sometimes challenging, exposure conditions. Available scenes are Portrait, Party/Indoor, Night Portrait, Beach/Snow, Landscape, Sunset, Night Landscape, Museum, Fireworks Show, Close Up, Copy, Back Light, Sports, Panorama Assist, and Dusk/Dawn.

Movie Mode: Records moving images with sound, for as long as the memory card has available space.

Setup Mode: Automatically displays a settings menu (detailed further on), for making adjustments to main camera settings.

Playback Mode: Allows you to view and manage captured images on the memory card. Images can be resized, erased, set up for printing, or enlarged for better viewing. You can also record a short sound clip to accompany an image as a voice caption.

My Menu: When you enter the menu system in one of the programmed-exposure record modes (P, S, A, or M on the mode dial), the first menu you see is titled "My Menu." This is a fully programmable shortcut menu, the options on which you can select from among any that the camera offers in its full record-mode menu system. This can be quite handy, for keeping frequently-used menu options close at hand. I occasionally found it annoying though, as there were times when I really wanted to just go directly to the main menu system, but instead was forced to always pass through My Menu first. I admit though, that my usage of a camera during the testing process is quite different from that of the average user, so it may be that "normal" people will see this as an unalloyed benefit.

Record Menu: Pressing the Menu button in Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual exposure modes initially brings up the My Menu display shown above. Selecting the "Show All Menus" option takes you to a much more involved menu system. The screenshot at right shows the three main screens of this menu system, while the individual screens below show the available options in detail.

  • White Balance: Sets the overall color balance of the image. An Auto setting is available, as well as Preset (manual), Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Speedlight, and Shade settings.
  • Metering: Sets the metering mode to 256-Segment Matrix, Center Weighted, Spot, or AF Spot modes.
  • Continuous: Sets the drive mode to Continuous L, Continuous H, Ultra High Speed Continuous, Multi-Shot 16, or 5-Shot Buffer.
  • Best Shot Selector: Turns the Best Shot Selector function on or off.
  • Image Adjustment: Controls image contrast, with options for Auto, Normal, More Contrast, or Less Contrast.
  • Saturation Control: Adjusts the color saturation from -2 to +2 in arbitrary units, with a Black and White (monochrome) setting as well.
  • User Setting: Recalls one of two preset user settings. (A way to quickly change all the camera settings at once.)
  • Image Quality / Size: Sets the image resolution to 5M (2,592 x 1,944 pixels), 2M (1,600 x 1,200 pixels), 1M (1,280 x 960 pixels), PC (1,024 x 768 pixels), TV (640 x 480 pixels) or 3:2 (2,592 x 1,728 pixels). Quality choices include Hi (TIFF), and Fine, Normal, and Basic JPEG compression levels.
  • Sensitivity: Controls the camera's light sensitivity (ISO) setting. Options are Auto, or 50, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents.
  • Image Sharpening: Adjusts the in-camera sharpening to Auto, High, Normal, Low, or Off.
  • Lens: Configures the camera to work with various Nikon accessory lenses. Adapter options include Wide Adapter, Telephoto, Fisheye, and Slide Copy Adapter.
  • Exposure Options: Accesses the following options:
    • AE Lock: Turns AE Lock on or off, without having to press the AE Lock button. You can also reset the exposure.
    • Bulb/Time: Enables Bulb Mode, or lets you set the exposure time for Timed Release exposures. Available times are 30 seconds, and 1, 3, 5, or 10 minutes.
  • Focus Options: Selects the following focus options:
    • AF Area Mode: Controls the multi-area autofocus option. In Manual mode, you can choose which of the five AF areas to base focus on. The Auto setting makes all five areas active, with the camera choosing the one closest to the subject for the overall focus.When this option is turned off, focus is set using only the central AF area.
    • Auto-focus Mode: Selects either Single or Continuous autofocus mode.
    • Focus Confirmation: Activates the Focus Confirmation feature, which makes it easier to judge focus based on the LCD monitor's display. Choices are Manual Focus, On, or Off.
  • Zoom Options: Turns the digital zoom option on or off, sets or clears the Fixed Aperture mode.
  • Speedlight Options: Offers the following flash features:
    • Flash Exposure Compensation: Adjusts the overall flash intensity from -2 to +2 EV units.
    • Speedlight Control: Controls whether the internal and external flash units work independently or together. Choices are Auto, Int. & Ext. Active, and Internal Off.
    • Repeating Flash: Turns the Repeating Flash function on or off.
  • Auto Bracketing: Activates the Auto Exposure Bracketing feature (choices for a series of three or five images with a maximum exposure variable of +/-1.0 EV. Also enables the White Balance bracketing option.
  • Noise Reduction: Turns Noise Reduction On or off.
  • Reset: Resets the Record menu settings to their defaults.
  • My Menu: Selects which menu items appear in the abbreviated menu screen, choosing from among all normal record-mode menu options.
  • CF Card Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all files (even protected ones).

 

Movie Menu:

Scene Menu:
The menu in scene mode lets you select between fifteen different "scene" types, each corresponding to a typical shooting condition. Each scene mode sets up the camera for shooting that type of subject, including adjusting shutter speed, lens aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, white balance, focus settings and more. The options available in scene mode include Portrait, part/indoor, night portrait, beach/snow, landscape, sunset, night landscape, museum, fireworks show, close up, copy, back light, panorama assist, sports, and dusk/dawn.


Playback Menu
:
The playback menu choices aren't nearly as "deep" as those in record mode, so I'll just show a single animated screenshot here to display the two screens options, and describe their functions below:


Setup Menu
:
This menu automatically appears whenever you enter the Setup mode.

 

Image Storage and Interface

The Coolpix 5400 uses standard CompactFlash Type I or II memory cards, and a "starter" 16MB card is included with the camera. Given the size of the images though (not to mention the current low prices on memory cards), a larger card should really be considered mandatory. - Plan on getting at least a 128 MB card, so you won't be disappointed on extended outings. The camera is also compatible with the IBM MicroDrive. Captured images can be individually write-protected through the Playback menu, but write protected files are only immune to accidental deletion, not card reformatting. File formats include several levels of compressed JPEG files as well as an uncompressed TIFF mode (Hi quality setting). Available image sizes are 2,592 x 1,944; 3:2 Ratio (2,592 x 1,728); 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels. The table below details the Coolpix 5400's approximate file sizes and compression ratios in all its various image size/quality combinations.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
16MB Memory Card
Hi
Fine
Normal
Basic
Full
Resolution
2,592 x 1,944
Images
(Avg size)
1
15.1 MB
6
2.5 MB
12
1.3 MB
24
0.7 MB
Approx.
Compression
1:1 6:1
12:1
23:1

1,600 x 1,200
Images
(Avg size)
- 16
1.00 MB
31
0.52 MB
59
0.27 MB
Approx.
Compression
- 6:1
11:1
21:1

1,280 x 960
Images
(Avg size)
-
25
0.65 MB
47
0.34 MB
85
0.19 MB
Approx.
Compression
-
6:1
11:1
20:1

1,024 x 768
Images
(Avg size)
-
37
0.43 MB
70
0.23 MB
122
0.13 MB
Approx.
Compression
-
6:1
10:1
18:1

640 x 480
Images
(Avg size)
-
85
0.15 MB
140
0.11 MB
218
0.07 MB
Approx.
Compression
-
6:1
8:1
13:1

 

Video Out

The Coolpix 5400 comes with an A/V cable for connecting the camera to a television set and reviewing images. All images that would normally appear on the LCD are routed to the external video display so that the television screen becomes an enlarged version of the LCD monitor and can be used both for image playback and composition.

 

Power

The Coolpix 5400 runs on a rechargeable EN-EL1 lithium-ion battery pack, housed inside the hand grip, or an external AC adapter which plugs into the right side of the camera (available as a separate accessory). Nikon estimates that a fully charged battery pack should provide about 110 minutes of recording time, with the LCD monitor enabled. (Note that this year's EN-EL1 battery packs have a capacity of 680 mAh. I don't have an older pack here to compare against, but my notes from previous Coolpix reviews indicate that these packs previously had a capacity of 650 mAh. - A bit under a 5% improvement.) Working with the LCD monitor disabled will greatly increase battery life, and the ability to switch the autofocus mode from Continuous AF to Single AF saves some battery power as well.

Operating Mode
Power Drain
(@ 8.4 v)
Estimated Minutes Run Time
(680mAh, 7.4v
EN-EL1)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
326 mA
110
Capture Mode, no LCD
249 mA
145
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
333 mA
108
Half-pressed w/o LCD
258 mA
139
Memory Write (transient)
327 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
354 mA
n/a
Image Playback
203 mA
177

Overall, the Coolpix 5400 shows good battery life, better than much of the competition, but not as good as some. As always, I still strongly recommend purchasing a second battery along with your camera, and keeping it charged and on hand. Murphy's law clearly applies to digicam batteries, as they always pick the worst possible times to run out of juice.

Included Software

The Coolpix 5400 ships with Nikon View software for downloading, reviewing, and editing images. The application is compatible with both Windows and Macintosh platforms, and provides minor image editing and management capabilities. The application is loaded on a single CD-ROM, and a separate CD holds the software instruction manual.

In the Box

Included with the Coolpix 5400 are the following items:

Recommended Accessories


Lost Images? - Download this image-recovery program so you'll have it when you need it...
Since we're talking about memory and image storage, this would be a good time to mention the following: I get a ton of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. It's tragic when it happens, there are few things more precious than photo memories. Corrupted memory cards can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. "Stuff happens," as they say. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Coolpix 5400's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how Coolpix 5400's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Conclusion

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The original Coolpix 5000 model was an excellent digicam that I found well-suited to the prosumer as well as the amateur, and the Coolpix 5400 seems to fill its shoes quite well. The 5.1-megapixel CCD and 4x optical zoom lens are benefits in themselves, but the Coolpix 5400 also offers increased exposure options as well. The 15-setting Scene mode is perfect for common, yet challenging, shooting situations, and the full Auto exposure mode is a great starting point for novices. I have a few quibbles over its image characteristics, feeling that the 5400's images are a bit on the contrasty side (although honestly, no more so than many competing models), and also that they show the affects of somewhat over-aggressive noise reduction. - For whatever reason (a noisier CCD chip?), Nikon seems to have cranked up the noise reduction algorithm used in all the camera's images (as opposed to just the long-exposure ones) to the point that some detail is lost in shadows. On a positive note though, the camera's lens appears to be of higher than average quality, with unusually low geometric distortion at its wide-angle setting. The 5400 also snaps very clean images under low light conditions, even with very long exposures. It also carries forward the Coolpix tradition of exceptional macro capability. Like all of Nikon's high-end Coolpix models, the 5400 also offers an amazing range of creative and exposure controls, easily at the top of the market in that respect. I've thus made it a "Dave's Pick," despite my concerns about contrast and noise-reduction processing - This is an exceptionally capable camera that's equipped to delight any enthusiast, but that also works very well for novice users when working in pure point & shoot mode, or one of its many scene modes.

<<C5400 Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

Reader Comments!
Questions, comments or controversy on this product? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about the Nikon Coolpix 5400, or add comments of your own!



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