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Digital Cameras - Nikon Coolpix 3500 Test Images

(Posted 12/11/02)

I've begun including links in our reviews to a Thumber-generated index page for the test shots. The Thumber data includes a host of information on the images, including shutter speed, ISO setting, compression setting, etc. Rather than clutter the page below with *all* that detail, we're posting the Thumber index so only those interested in the information need wade through it!

 

 

Outdoor Portrait:

Good job overall, with good resolution and color, but high contrast loses highlight detail.

The extreme tonal range of this image makes it a tough shot for many digicams, which is precisely why I set it up this way, and why I shoot it with no fill flash or reflector to lighten the shadows. The object is to hold both highlight and shadow detail without producing a "flat" picture with muddy colors, and the Coolpix 3500 performed well, although it's somewhat high contrast level lost detail in the highlights.

The shot at right was taken with a +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment, which brightened the midtones at the expense of highlight detail. (Although a shot at +0.3EV really didn't show much more highlight detail, and the midtones and shadows were overly dark.)

I chose the Daylight white balance as the most accurate, though the Auto setting produced similar results. Manual white balance produced a very warm, yellow image.

Skin tones are just very slightly magenta but overall very good-looking, and the blue flowers in the bouquet are almost perfect. (This is a very difficult blue for many digicams to get right, and the Coolpix 3500 does produce very faint purplish tints in them. For reference, the flowers are a pretty pure light navy blue.) The strong red flower looks good, though just on the verge of oversaturation, and the green tones are a bit bright. Overall, the color here looks very good and quite accurate.

Resolution is fairly high, with good detail throughout the frame, though shadow detail is only moderate. Details are sharp, and image noise the shadows is moderate. Overall, a good job.

To view the entire exposure series from zero to +1.0 EV, see files CP35OUTDP0.HTM through CP35OUTDP3.HTM on the thumbnail index page.


 

Closer Portrait:

Great resolution and detail, very good color.

Overall results are similar to the wider shot above, and the Coolpix 3500's 3x zoom lens helps prevent distortion of Marti's features. Detail is excellent, with crisp, sharp details in Marti's face and hair. The shot at right was taken at the default exposure setting, which resulted in more or less properly exposed midtones, but the high contrast produced very bright highlights. Shadow detail is stronger here than in the shot above, though again with moderate noise.

To view the entire exposure series from zero to +0.7 EV, see files CP35FACDP0.HTM through CP35FACDP2.HTM on the thumbnail index page.


 

Indoor Portrait, Flash:
Normal Flash, +1.0EV
Night Portrait Mode

Low intensity at the default setting, but very good color.

The Coolpix 3500's built-in flash significantly underexposed this shot at the default exposure setting, with blue tints on Marti's shirt and features. (Such underexposure is rather common among digicams I test, as Marti's white shirt and the light-colored background frequently trick cameras into underexposing.) Boosting the exposure compensation to +1.0 EV results in a much brighter image, just on the verge of losing detail in Marti's shirt, with only faint blue tints there. Overall color looks good, even the difficult blues of the flower bouquet. This shot typically results in an orangish cast on the back wall from the background incandescent lighting. The Coolpix 3500 almost entirely escapes this trap, as there's just the faintest trace of an orange cast on the wall, in Marti's shadow. I also shot with the camera's Night Portrait mode, which produced more even lighting without harsh shadows. The bluish tints on Marti's shirt and face are stronger, however, and the automatic-only exposure in this mode resulted in a rather underexposed image.


 

Indoor Portrait, No Flash:
Auto White Balance
Incandescent White Balance
Manual White Balance

Slight color casts at each setting, but overall excellent handling of this tough light source. Exposure is good as well.

This shot is always a very tough test of a camera's white balance capability, given the strong, yellowish color cast of the household incandescent bulbs used for the lighting. Both the Manual and Auto options produced nearly accurate color, though the Manual setting was slightly greenish and the Auto setting a bit magenta. (Incandescent had more trouble, producing a warmer cast.) Despite the slight magenta tint, I chose the Auto setting for the main image. Marti's skin tone is pretty good here, although slightly pink, and the blue flowers are a bit dark and purplish. (Probably to be expected, considering the light source.)

Overall, the Coolpix 3500's automatic white balance system performed much better than average on this difficult shot.


 

House Shot:
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance

Good resolution, and color, slightly soft details.

The Coolpix 3500's Manual white balance setting produced great results here, with the most accurate white value on the house trim. The Auto setting produced a reddish cast, and Daylight white balance resulted in a cool, greenish cast.

Resolution is moderately high, with good detail in the tree limbs and shrubbery, as well as in the brick details of the house. (Resolution is noticeably less than that of the best three megapixel digicams, but still good for a compact model, and a good bit more than you'd find in a two megapixel model.) Details are uniformly sharp throughout the frame, with only a hint of softness in the top corners.


 

Far-Field Test

Great resolution, color and detail, though high contrast limits the dynamic range somewhat.

This image is shot at infinity to test far-field lens performance. NOTE that this image cannot be directly compared to the other "house" shot, which is a poster, shot in the studio. The rendering of detail in the poster will be very different than in this shot, and color values (and even the presence or absence of leaves on the trees!) will vary in this subject as the seasons progress. In general though, you can evaluate detail in the bricks, shingles and window detail, and in the tree branches against the sky. Compression artifacts are most likely to show in the trim along the edge of the roof, in the bricks, or in the relatively "flat" areas in the windows.

This is my ultimate "resolution shot," given the infinite range of detail in a natural scene like this, and the Coolpix 3500 does a good job overall. The tree limbs over the roof and fine foliage in front of the house show strong detail, with good definition in the leaf patterns. Details are very slightly soft, but are uniformly sharp throughout the frame, with almost no softening in the corners. (Interestingly, the 3500 does much better sharpness-wise in this shot than in the laboratory test of the House poster shown above. It appears that the lens is at its best with more distant subjects.)

The Coolpix 3500 does lose most of the detail in the bright white paint surrounding the bay window, a trouble spot for many digicams. The shadow area above the front door fares about the same, showing minimal detail, evidence of a limited dynamic range resulting from the Coolpix 3500's somewhat contrasty tone curve. Overall color looks very good, however. The table below shows a standard resolution and quality series, followed by a sharpness series.

Resolution Series:

Wide Angle "Fine"
JPEG
"Normal"
JPEG
"Economy"
JPEG
2,048 x 1,536
CP35FAR2048F
CP35FAR2048N
CP35FAR2048E
1,600 x 1,200
CP35FAR1600F
N/A
N/A
1280 x 960
CP35FAR1280F
N/A
N/A
1,024 x 768 CP35FAR1024F N/A N/A
640 x 480
CP35FAR0640F
N/A
N/A


Sharpness Series:

Sharpness Series
No Sharpening
Soft
Normal
Sharp
Auto Sharpening


 

Lens Zoom Range

A typical 3x zoom range.

I routinely shoot this series of images to show the field of view for each camera, with the lens at full wide angle, at maximum telephoto (3x, in this case), and at full telephoto with the digital zoom enabled. The Coolpix 3500's lens is equivalent to a 37-111mm zoom on a 35mm camera. This is very slightly shifted toward the telephoto relative to most compact digicams, corresponding to a moderate wide angle to a moderate telephoto. Following are the results at each zoom setting.

Wide Angle
3x Telephoto
4x Digital Telephoto


 

Musicians Poster
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Daylight White Balance

Doesn't quite nail the color here, but good detail and resolution.

This shot is often a tough test for digicams, as the abundance of blue in the composition frequently tricks white balance systems into producing a warm color balance. The Coolpix 3500's white balance system had some trouble with this tricky subject, producing slight color casts at each setting. Auto resulted in a very warm image, while the Daylight setting produced a cool image. The Manual setting was a little better, but with a reddish tint. The reddish tint of the Manual setting gives the blue background purplish tints that aren't in the original image. Likewise, the blue robe has purplish tints in the deep shadow areas. Resolution is high, with strong detail in the embroidery of the blue robe.


 

Macro Shot
Standard Macro Shot
Macro with Flash

Very tiny macro area with great detail and good flash performance.

Like the rest of the Coolpix line, the 3500 performs very well in the macro category, capturing a tiny minimum area of only 1.36 x 1.02 inches (34 x 26 millimeters). Resolution is excellent, with strong detail in the dollar bill. The coins and brooch are soft due to the very short shooting distance (1.6 inches). Though it slightly overexposes the shot, the Coolpix 3500's flash actually does a good job here, considering the close range.

Overall, this would be an excellent camera for photographing tiny objects at close range!


 

"Davebox" Test Target
Auto White Balance
Daylight White Balance
Manual White Balance

Slight underexposure, but good color and saturation. (Bright red and blue primaries are a little "hot" though.)

The Auto white balance produced the best color here, with the most accurate white value in the mini-resolution target and large, white color block. Manual white balance looked good as well, though slightly yellow, and the Daylight setting produced a greenish image. The images are a bit dark though, so the Coolpix 3500 has no trouble distinguishing the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target. The large color blocks are nearly accurate, but seem to vary from slightly undersaturated to a bit oversaturated in the case of the red and blue swatches. The shadow area of the charcoal briquettes has moderate detail, with low noise.

Overall, the Coolpix 3500 had very pleasing color in most situations, and did a better than average job with the color blocks in this test.


 

Low-Light Tests

Good low-light performance, considering the camera's limited exposure flexibility, but the autofocus system has trouble in the dim light.

The Coolpix 3500's longest shutter time is two seconds, and exposure remains under automatic control at all times. Its normal ISO equivalency is 100, with an automatic increase to a limit of ISO 400.

Given the modest specs, I didn't expect a stellar performance here, but the 3500 actually performed fairly well, capturing bright, usable images down to the 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lux) light level. Even at 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux), the image looks usable. Color looks good with the Auto white balance, and noise is moderate.

The biggest problem here is the camera's autofocus system, which had trouble even at the one foot-candle setting. The table below shows the best exposure I was able to obtain for each of a range of illumination levels. Images in this table (like all of our sample photos) are untouched, exactly as they came from the camera.

 

  1fc
11lux
1/2fc
5.5lux
1/4fc
2.7lux
1/8fc
1.3lux
1/16fc
0.67lx
Auto ISO Click to see CP35LL03.JPG
1 sec
F/2.9
ISO: 400
Click to see CP35LL04.JPG
1.7 sec
F/2.9
ISO: 400
Click to see CP35LL05.JPG
2 sec
F/2.9
ISO: 400
Click to see CP35LL06.JPG
2 sec
F/2.9
ISO: 400
Click to see CP35LL07.JPG
2 sec
F/2.9
ISO: 400


 

Flash Range Test

A slightly weak flash, that also relies upon boosted ISO for its range.

Nikon rates the Coolpix 3500's flash as effective to about 9.8 feet. In my testing, the flash seemed dim at all distances, but definitely fell off in brightness beyond 10 feet. Also, the Coolpix 3500 apparently boosts its ISO to 400 when the flash is used in very dark conditions, resulting in somewhat "noisy" images. Below is the flash range series, with distances from eight to 14 feet from the target.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see CP35FL08.JPG
1/60
F/4.8
ISO: 325
Click to see CP35FL09.JPG
1/60
F/4.8
ISO: 393
Click to see CP35FL10.JPG
1/60
F/4.8
ISO: 400
Click to see CP35FL11.JPG
1/60
F/4.8
ISO: 400
Click to see CP35FL12.JPG
1/60
F/4.8
ISO: 400
Click to see CP35FL13.JPG
1/60
F/4.8
ISO: 400
Click to see CP35FL14.JPG
1/60
F/4.8
ISO: 400


 

ISO-12233 (WG-18) Resolution Test

High resolution, 1,000 lines of "strong detail." Higher than average barrel distortion, but very low pincushion.

The Coolpix 3500 performed well on our "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600 lines per picture height vertically, and 500 lines per picture height horizontally. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,000 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,300 lines. As I observed in some of my other test shots, the resolution of the Coolpix 3500 comes in a bit behind that of the best three-megapixel cameras I've tested, but isn't bad for a compact model, and is considerably ahead of most two-megapixel cameras. It also holds sharpness out into the corners of its images better than most cameras I test do. Bottom line, there's plenty of detail here for good-looking 8x10 prints.

Optical distortion on the Coolpix 3500 is higher than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured an approximate 1.03 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as I found only a 0.1 percent pincushion distortion (about three pixels). Chromatic aberration is moderate, showing only about four or five pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

Resolution Series, Wide Angle
Wide Angle "Fine"
JPEG
"Normal"
JPEG
"Economy"
JPEG
2,048 x 1,536
CP35RESWGF
CP35RESWGN
CP35RESWGE
1,600 x 1,200
CP35RESWLF
N/A
N/A
1280 x 960
CP35RESWMF
N/A
N/A
1,024 x 768 CP35RESWSF N/A N/A
640 x 480
CP35RESWTF
N/A
N/A

 

Resolution Test, Telephoto
2,048 x 1,536
(Fine, Tele)
CP35RESTLF



 

Viewfinder Accuracy/Flash Uniformity

Excellent accuracy from the LCD monitor, but no optical viewfinder at all.

The Coolpix 3500's LCD monitor is very accurate, showing approximately 99 percent of the final frame at wide angle, and nearly 100 percent at telephoto (the top measurement lines were just barely out of frame). Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the Coolpix 3500's LCD monitor is essentially perfect in this regard. Given the tiny dimensions of the rotating lens/sensor body, there's no room for an optical viewfinder, which some users may consider a disadvantage. (Optical viewfinders are much better for shooting under very bright conditions, such as under direct sunlight.)

Flash distribution is fairly even at wide angle, with just a little falloff at the corners and edges of the frame, and a slight amount of falloff in the center of the frame. At telephoto, flash distribution is even more uniform.

 


Wide Angle, LCD

Telephoto, LCD


CP3500 Review
CP3500 Test Images
CP3500 Specifications
CP3500 "Picky Details"
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