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Nikon Coolpix 2500 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
Review Date 02/21/2002
User Level Novice - Amateur
Product Uses Family / Travel / Special Events
Digicam Design Point and Shoot
Picture Quality Good, 2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes Up to 8x10
Availability April, 2002
Suggested Retail Price $399

 

Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Sample Pictures
Specifications
Conclusion
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 5 decades now, and they've been very successful at translating that long history of expertise into the digital arena. Their 2.1 megapixel Coolpix 950 and 3.3 megapixel Coolpix 990 and 995 digicams have led the popularity charts at the high end of the "prosumer" market segment since their respective introductions. The key has been the combination of excellent picture quality with an amazing range of features, all calculated to give the photographer the maximum control over the picture-taking process.

In the last year or so, Nikon has been moving to address the digital picture-taking needs of "ordinary people," rather than just focusing on the "enthusiast" crowd. Cameras like the Coolpix 885 and 775 have incorporated "Scene" modes that set up the camera for specific picture-taking situations (such as "party," "beach," "fireworks," etc.). These special modes make it easy for novice users to get usable photos in tricky situations, without having to take an advanced course in photography first. Based on the popularity of these models, it looks like Nikon is on the right track in meeting the needs of the masses.

The latest extension of this philosophy is the new Coolpix 2500, the subject of this review. Here, Nikon has not only addressed the features novices need, with one of the most extensive sets of scene modes in the industry, but they've now addressed the aesthetics of the camera design as well. The Coolpix 2500 is the camera for everyone who doesn't want to carry an ugly black box everywhere. Its lines are sleek, svelte, and visually appealing.

Camera Overview

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With its smooth, flowing body shape and trim, compact size, Nikon's new Coolpix 2500 has a unique look that will attract many inquisitive eyes. Metallic blue accents highlight the futuristic design, making the 2500 a refreshing change from the usual boxy, black/silver digicam design aesthetics. The 2500's small size and lack of protrusions make it travel worthy, as the camera should conveniently fit into shirt pockets, small purses, hip packs, etc. The most interesting design feature is the rotating lens, which swivels approximately 230 degrees inside the camera's frame, to a range of shooting angles. Because you can "close" the lens by rotating it to a vertical position, there's no need for a lens cap (though the actual lens surface is protected by a clear, plastic shield as well). The 2500's two-megapixel CCD produces high resolution, print quality images, as well as lower resolution images suited for e-mail attachments. The camera's compact size and attractive looks alone should draw many consumers, but the range of versatile shooting modes and exposure options make it more than "just another pretty face."

The 2500 is equipped with a 3x, 5.6-16.8mm lens (equivalent to a 37-111mm lens on a 35mm camera), with a maximum aperture of f/2.7 to f/4.8 (depending on the lens zoom position). A Close Up shooting mode (available through the Scene menu) captures macro subjects, and focus remains under automatic control at all times. In addition to the optical zoom, the 2500 also offers an approximate 2x digital zoom, though I always remind readers that digital zoom always decreases the overall image quality because it simply enlarges the central pixels of the CCD image. Most likely the result of an effort to keep the camera size to an absolute minimum, the 2500 left off an optical viewfinder in favor of a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor for composing images. The LCD monitor includes a detailed information display, but does not report aperture or shutter speed settings.

Exposure is automatically controlled on the 2500, making it great for snapshots, family events, and vacation photos. Shutter speed ranges from 2 to 1/3000 seconds, although the camera doesn't directly report shutter speed while shooting. An elongated, sliding switch on top of the camera turns it on or off, and accesses Record and Playback operating modes. Within Record mode, you can opt for Auto, Manual, or Movie exposure modes. (Manual in this case refers to the availability of exposure features such as White Balance, Sharpness, etc.) Though the camera controls aperture and shutter speed, the Record menu offers White Balance, Exposure Compensation, Sharpness, Image Size, and Image Quality settings. The 2500 also features no fewer than 12 preset "Scene" shooting modes, which program the camera for specific shooting conditions, such as "Fireworks," "Beach/Snow," etc. The 2500's flash operates in Forced, Suppressed, Auto, and Red-Eye Reduction Forced modes.

In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures moving images without sound at 320 x 240 pixels, for as long as the memory card's storage space permits. A Self-Timer mode provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the camera actually takes the picture, great for self-portraits. Through the Record menu, shooting options include Continuous and Multi-Shot 16, the latter of which captures 16 thumbnail-sized images in a rapid series, which are then displayed as one 1,600 x 1,200-pixel image (appearance is similar to an index display). There's also Nikon's signature "Best Shot Selector" (BSS) feature, which captures a series of images and then automatically saves only the sharpest one to the memory card. (BSS is one of my favorite digicam features, it's amazingly helpful for capturing sharp handheld shots in dim lighting.)

The 2500 stores images on CompactFlash memory cards, available separately in capacities as large as 128MB. The camera ships with a 16 MB CF card in the box with it, although Nikon has chosen to label it as a "starter" memory card, underscoring that most users will want to immediately purchase a larger card to use with the camera. The camera utilizes a single EN-EL2 lithium-ion battery pack for power, and the camera ships with Nikon's MH-60 external battery charger for it. The optional AC adapter is useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, and utilizes a "dummy" battery that inserts into the battery compartment and has a power cord extension for plugging into an outlet. The 2500 features a USB jack for downloading images to a computer, and an "Auto Transfer" option sets the camera to automatically begin downloading images as soon as it is connected. The camera ships with a CD containing Nikon View 5 software, as well as USB drivers for a variety of operating systems. The 2500 is DPOF compatible, with Print Setup options available through the Playback settings menu.

Basic Features

  • Two-megapixel CCD.
  • 1.5-inch color LCD monitor.
  • Glass, 3x 5.6-16.8mm lens.
  • 2x digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Maximum aperture of f/2.7 to f/4.8, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Built-in flash with four operating modes.
  • CompactFlash memory storage.
  • Power supplied by one EN-EL2 lithium-ion battery pack or optional AC adapter.

Special Features

  • Movie mode (without sound).
  • Continuous Shooting and Multi-Shot 16 shooting modes.
  • Scene mode with 12 preset "scenes."
  • 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with eight modes, including a manual setting.
  • Sharpness adjustment.
  • Best Shot Selector shooting mode.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).

Recommendation

The Coolpix 2500 is an excellent digicam at the two megapixel level, easy to learn with its handful of exposure options. The 2500's small, compact design makes it a good candidate for travel, as the camera fits easily into a shirt pocket or small purse. What's more, the unique "internal swivel" lens design protects the lens surface when closed, while keeping the camera body smooth and low-profile (perfect for pockets!). With the convenience of automatic exposure control and extensive preset shooting modes, the 2500 is perfect for novices and amateurs looking for great pictures and hassle-free camera operation. (While I'm sure lots will be purchased by style-conscious men, I have to say that I think this camera will be exceptionally appealing to women, with its sleek, uncluttered lines and attractive design. - This is truly a camera that looks more like a fashion accessory than a high-tech gadget.)

 

Design
What makes the Coolpix 2500 exciting is its unique body design, a complete departure from previous Coolpix designs. Similar in size and shape to an average cell phone, the 2500 looks nothing like its Coolpix cousins. One unique Coolpix feature does stand out, the rotating lens design. The revolving lens can rotate to practically any angle, though its position within the outer camera body framework makes it slightly awkward to turn at times. I noticed that I had to first push the lens from the top, then grab the bottom panel of the lens piece to continue rotating it around. I also found it easy to put a finger over the lens itself, and wound up wiping off finger smudges quite a bit. That said, the longer I worked with the camera, the more intuitive this operation became.

The silver-toned camera body and metallic blue accents give the 2500 a modern look, enhanced by the curvy body style. No major protrusions extend from the camera body when the lens is stowed, making the 2500 welcome in most shirt pockets and purses. The 2500's compact dimensions and light weight make it suitable for practically any excursion. The low-profile external controls maintain the camera's smooth surface, and make effective use of the camera's available space on the back panel.

 

 

When the lens is stowed, the 2500's front panel is very smooth and almost flat. Once the lens is rotated forward into its operating position, it only extends about a half-inch from the camera's front (also about a half-inch from the camera's back). The lens surface is protected by a clear plastic shield, which remains in place at all times. There is the potential that the shield could get scratched, but returning the lens to its stowed position before putting it away should prevent any significant damage. At the most, I think you'll have to clean finger smudges. (Probably fairly often.) Sharing the front of the lens assembly is the camera's built-in flash. A Self-Timer lamp centered within the silver medallion on the non-rotating part of the front panel lights red whenever the Self-Timer is counting down. Though the 2500 doesn't offer a bulky handgrip, the front of the camera does feature a small indentation that offers some purchase for your fingertips as they grasp the camera.

 

 

On the right side of the camera (as viewed from the back) is the memory card / battery compartment. An inset latch locks the compartment door. Once unlocked, the door opens outward, pulling away from the camera body before flipping back to reveal the card slot and battery compartment. A flexible, plastic flap at the bottom of the compartment door makes room for the AC power cord when using the optional "dummy" battery AC adapter. Adjacent to the compartment is the USB slot, beneath a flexible plastic flap that tethers to the camera body.

 

 

The opposite side of the camera is devoid of detail, apart from the wrist strap attachment eyelet.

 

 

The 2500's smooth top panel features the sliding power switch and Shutter button. The power switch features a very sleek design, and also serves as a mode switch. The first position (from the right) is the Off position, followed by Record and Playback settings. The shot above of a prototype camera shows this switch as unmarked, but production models have raised icons indicating "off," "record," and "play" options. You can also see the pad (with raised bumps for better gripping) that opens the battery compartment door.

 

 

All of the remaining camera controls share the back panel with the LCD monitor. The wide/telephoto zoom buttons in the top right corner control both optical and digital zoom, as well as image enlargement and index display in playback mode. A Four Way Arrow pad navigates through menu options, accesses several Record mode features, and controls the optional information overlay display. Lining the bottom of the back panel are the Erase/Flash, Transfer/Scene, Menu, and Quick Review/Small Pic buttons.

As noted above, the Coolpix 2500 has no optical viewfinder, but rather relies on its LCD screen for framing pictures. The screenshot at right shows the LCD viewfinder display with the optional information overlay.


 

 

The bottom panel of the 2500 reveals the plastic, threaded tripod mount, centered on the camera body. From this view, the plastic AC adapter cord flap is also visible, on the battery compartment door.


Camera Operation
The Coolpix 2500's user interface seems slightly cryptic at first contact, but it doesn't take long to figure out the controls and LCD menu system. Most of the external controls have multiple functions, reducing the reliance on the LCD menu system and making the user interface faster to operate. Flash, zoom, record mode, the self-timer, Scene mode, and the information display mode all have external controls, while the remaining exposure options are changed through the menu system. The LCD menu itself is very uncomplicated and easy to navigate, as it only offers two pages of settings in Record mode, and one page in Playback mode. An onscreen display reports which keys control specific menu operations, making things even simpler. The evaluation model at first arrived without an instruction manual or any technical specifications, but it still took only about half an hour for me to get comfortable using the camera. (A manual arrived just before I posted this review, so I've managed to get most of the relevant specs entered here for the camera.)

External Controls


Shutter Button
: Practically flush with the camera's top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Power/Mode Switch
: Adjacent to the Shutter button on the top panel, this sliding switch has three positions. The first is the "Off" position, followed by the Record and Playback mode settings. (Production models have raised icons on this switch, indicating what the different positions do.)


Zoom Buttons
: Located in the top right corner of the back panel, these buttons control the optical and digital zoom while in Record mode.

In Playback mode, the "W" button displays an index display of all images on the memory card, four or nine image at a time. Alternatively, the "T" position enlarges the currently displayed image, so you can check on fine details.


Four Way Arrow Pad
: Directly to the right of the LCD monitor, this rocker button features four arrows, one in each cardinal direction. In any settings menu, these arrows scroll through the available menu options and menu screens.

In Record mode, the up arrow (timer icon) calls up the Self-Timer sub-menu, which lets you turn the 10-second self-timer on or off. The left arrow button controls the LCD information display, turning it on or off. The down arrow (movie camera icon) displays the exposure mode sub-menu, which offers Automatic, Manual, and Movie exposure modes.

In Playback mode, the up and down arrows scroll through captured images and movie files. The left arrow again controls the LCD information display, turning it on or off.


Quick Review/Small Picture Button
: Just below the Four Way Arrow pad, this button activates a quick review of the most recently captured image while in Record mode. The image is displayed in a small window in the top left corner of the LCD display. A second press of the button brings the image full screen (and enables the Delete key).

In Playback mode, this button creates a smaller, thumbnail-sized copy of the currently displayed image, handy for emailing copies of your pictures.


Menu Button
: Situated beneath the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button calls up the settings menu in Record and Playback modes. Pressing it a second time dismisses the menu screen.


Transfer/Scene Button
: To the left of the Menu button, this button activates the camera's image transfer mode when the camera is connected to a computer via the USB cable. In Record mode, this button displays the Scene menu, with these options: Back Light, Museum, Beach/Snow, Night Portrait, Night Landscape, Copy (Text), Close Up, Sunset, Party / Indoor, Portrait, Landscape, and Fireworks Show.


Erase/Flash Button
: Adjacent to the Transfer/Scene button, this button controls the flash operating mode while in Record mode. Flash options are Automatic, Forced with Red-Eye Reduction, Off, and Forced.

In Playback mode, this button activates the Erase menu, which lets you delete the currently displayed image.


Card/
Batt. Latch: Nestled in the center of the battery and memory card compartment door, this button locks and unlocks the door.

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: In this mode, the camera captures still images or movie files. Exposure mode options include Scene, Auto, Manual, and Movie. In all four modes, the camera maintains control over aperture and shutter speed. Menu options vary depending on the shooting mode selected. (A user-interface design suggestion for Nikon: Leaving disabled menu options visible on the menu in modes they're not applicable to is likely to confuse non-expert users. I'd much rather see them removed, rather than simply disabled. - Examples are image quality and image size in movie mode.) Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:

Shooting Menu

  • Image Quality: Sets the JPEG compression level to Fine, Normal, or Basic (not active in Movie mode).
  • Image size: Sets image resolution to 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; or 640 x 480 (still image modes only).
  • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the image to match specific light sources. Choices include Auto, Custom (based on a white card), Fine (Daylight), Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, and Speedlight (Movie and Manual exposure modes only).
  • Exposure Compensation: Lightens or darkens the exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments.
  • Continuous: Selects Single, Continuous Shooting, or Multi-Shot 16 shooting modes.
  • Best Shot Selector: Turns the BSS mode on or off. BSS takes a series of images in rapid succession, and then selects only the sharpest one for recording to the memory card.
  • Image Sharpening: Controls the amount of in-camera sharpening applied to the image. Choices are Auto, High, Normal, Low, or Off (Manual and Movie modes only).

Scene Menu (Capture mode only,) This is the heart of the Coolpix 2500 for "average" users. The scene mode options set up the camera for a wide variety of common shooting situations that would otherwise require multiple setting adjustments, tweaking lens aperture, shutter speed, white balance, ISO (light sensitivity), etc. The bottom line for this mode is that you can come back with very nice shots from tricky shooting situations, without having to understand the first thing about f-stops and shutter speeds. The options in this mode are as follows:

  • Portrait: No surprises, this option sets up the camera for portrait shots. (Forces a larger lens opening, to help blur the background details, emphasizing your subject.)
  • Party/Indoor: Use to capture background details in situations that require flash. Also good for preserving the look of candlelight or other indoor lighting.
  • Night Portrait: Combines longer exposure with flash, to avoid flash photos with blown-out faces and black backgrounds.
  • Beach/Snow: Boosts the exposure to compensate for subjects that are very bright overall.
  • Landscape: I'm not sure exactly what this does photographically, perhaps forces the camera to use a smaller aperture, to enhance depth of field..
  • Sunset: Preserves the deep colors of sunsets and sunrises. (Likely sets white balance to "daylight" rather than auto, and dials in some negative exposure compensation to get a good exposure on the sky.
  • Night Landscape: Combines longer exposures with the "Landscape" mode.
  • Museum: For indoor situations where you can't use flash.
  • Fireworks Show: Sets a long exposure and small aperture so you can catch the colored trails of fireworks.
  • Close Up: Adjusts the lens for close-focusing on small objects.
  • Copy: Boosts contrast and adjusts exposure to produce sharp images of black text (or line drawings) on white backgrounds..
  • Backlight: For difficult lighting conditions, when the main light is behind your subject, casting their features into shadow.

Setup Menu (All exposure modes)

  • Brightness: Adjusts the overall brightness of the LCD display.
  • CF Card Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
  • Date: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock.
  • Auto Off: Specifies the period of inactivity after which the camera will turn itself off. Options are 30 seconds, or 1, 5, or 30 minutes.
  • Language: Sets the camera's menu language to German, English, French, Japanese, or Spanish.
  • Reset All: Resets all menu settings to their defaults.


Playback Mode
: This mode lets you review captured images and movies on the memory card, as well as erase them, protect them, and set them up for printing. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:

  • Delete: Lets you erase selected images or all images from the CompactFlash card. If "Selected" is chosen, an index display appears, allowing you to designate which images you want to delete.
  • Print Set: Sets which images will be marked for printing on a "DPOF" compatible printer, or resets all print settings (removing any print instructions). If an image is selected to be printed, you can also opt to overlay image information and/or the date over the image.
  • Protect: Activates the index display, so that individual images can be marked for protection. "Protected" images won't be deleted with a "Delete All" operation, but will disappear if the card is formatted.
  • Auto Transfer: Activates the Auto Transfer function, which automatically begins the image transfer process when the camera is connected to a computer that has Nikon's Nikon View software installed on it. Options are All On or All Off.
  • CF Card Format: Formats the CompactFlash card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
  • Brightness: Adjusts the brightness of the LCD monitor.


Sample Pictures
The test photos below are a subset of the standardized shots I take with each camera I test. For detailed analysis of these shots and more, visit the CoolPix 2500's Picture Index Page. If you just want to see samples of these images as they camera from the camera though, just click on a thumbnail below to see the full-size photo. If you want to see the whole range of sample pictures taken, click here.

Outdoor
Indoor
Indoor Flash
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy


Specifications
See camera specifications here.


Picky Details
Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.


Test Results

  • Color: Color was bright, pleasing, and generally accurate when shooting outdoors and under studio lighting, though I noticed slight reddish color casts with the Auto and Manual white balance settings fairly often. The Manual white balance setting produced better than average color under standard room lighting, though the Auto and Incandescent settings couldn't handle the strong color cast of this light source. The Coolpix 2500 produced good color on the test targets under the studio lighting, and flash exposure resulted in pretty accurate color as well.

  • Exposure: The Coolpix 2500 did a great job with exposure, producing great midtone values in the studio and in our outdoor test shots. It does appear to have trouble holding highlight detail, under strong/contrasty lighting conditions though. To its credit though, the Coolpix 2500 picked up the subtle tonal variations in portions of the Davebox nicely, a difficult area for many digicams.

  • Sharpness: Image sharpness was good for a two-megapixel camera, with reasonably sharp details throughout the frame, but sharpness overall was just a shade off the best I've seen from leading two megapixel cameras. (Quite good for such a compact lens design though.) At its wide-angle setting, some softness was evident in the corners of photos, but the effect wasn't too strong and didn't extend very far into the frame. Optical distortion was high with the lens at its wide angle setting, but chromatic aberration in the corners of the image was quite low.

  • Closeups: The Coolpix 2500 performed exceptionally well in the macro category, and captured a minimum area of just 1.45 x 1.08 inches (37 x 28 millimeters). Color, detail, and resolution were all great, and macro flash performance was very good as well.

  • Night Shots: The Coolpix 2500 had some trouble focusing at low light levels, but managed to capture usable images as low as one foot-candle (11 lux) with good color and focus. The camera captured bright images as low as one-half foot-candle (5.5 lux) in its "Night Landscape" mode, but that mode fixes the lens focus at infinity, reducing its usefulness. Since average city street lighting is equivalent to about one foot-candle, the Coolpix 2500 should do pretty well in typical nighttime shooting conditions.

  • Battery Life: Battery life on the Coolpix 2500 seems very good, although I haven't managed to measure it yet, as I'm still waiting for an AC adapter cable from Nikon. Stay tuned for the final update on this one.

In the Box
The Coolpix 2500 ships with the following items included in the box:

  • Camera
  • "Starter" memory card (16 MB CF card)
  • USB Cable
  • EN-EL2 rechargeable LiIon battery
  • Battery Charger MH-60
  • Nikon View 5 CD-ROM
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Instruction Manual
  • Wrist strap


Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity CompactFlash card.
  • Additional lithium-ion battery pack.


Conclusion
Overall, the Coolpix 2500 is an unusually appealing camera, thanks to its unusual design and super-stylish form. I've long maintained that cameras that sit in drawers don't take many pictures, and the Coolpix 2500 is a perfect example of a camera design that's made to take along anywhere. It also breaks the "boxy, black and silver gadget" mold, with what has to be one of the most appealing physical designs of any camera I've seen to date. In American society, it's long been the women in families who are the picture takers/memory preservers, but few digicams thus far have really addressed feminine sensibilities. - Most seem aimed at the guy-culture "big and black with chrome trim" aesthetic that dominates so much of high-tech gadgetry. The Coolpix 2500 is a long step in a very different direction, with a physical design that's exceptionally pleasing to the eye, and a feature set constructed with the casual picture taker in mind, rather than the photo enthusiast. (The LCD menu structure is still a bit on the "enthusiast" side though - I think Nikon would do well to adopt a different menu design to match the more purely consumer users this camera seems aimed at.) Quibbles over menu design aside, the style and feature set of the Coolpix 2500 appear to be perfectly matched to the picture-taking Mom, cool teen, or anyone with enough style sense to reject the "black box" metaphor that's the current vogue in camera design.

Of course the ultimate purpose of any camera is to take beautiful pictures, not merely to look beautiful, and the Coolpix 2500 honors its Nikon heritage in this respect as well: Color is clean, bright, and very pleasing, although you'll have to resort to the manual white balance mode to get good color under household incandescent lighting. It does show some tendency to lose detail in strong highlights, and the compact lens design introduces more barrel distortion and corner softness at its wide angle setting than I'd like to see.

Minor quibbles aside, the Coolpix 2500 produces excellent photos with great color, and presents a friendly, approachable user interface, all at a very affordable price relative to its capabilities. My personal take on it is that this is going to be a very popular camera over the next year or so that it's likely to be on the market. For the average point & shoot user, it's a nearly ideal design, yet there's enough sophistication to keep the "enthusiast" crowd happy. Very slick!

 

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