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Nikon Coolpix 5200 Digital Camera

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Review Date
07/29/04
User Level
Novice - Amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Great, 5.1-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
To 11x14+,
8x10 with cropping
Availability
July 2004
Suggested Retail Price
$499.95



Introduction

Review Links
Overview
Specifications
Design
Recommended Accessories
Operation
Sample Pictures
Conclusion

The Nikon Coolpix 5200 is the latest in a long line of Coolpix digital cameras whose popularity stretches back to the original Coolpix 900, Nikon's original "breakthrough" digicam. While Nikon is best known for exceptional high-end cameras and optics, in recent years, they've turned increasing attention to the needs of ordinary people, rather than exclusively those of the enthusiast crowd. The Coolpix 5200 is the latest in a line of user-friendly models that stretches back to the Coolpix 775 and 885, incorporating a wide range of Scene modes that set the camera up for specific picture-taking situations (such as "party," "beach," "fireworks," etc.). Special modes like these make it easy for novices to get usable photos in tricky situations, without having to take an advanced course in photography first. Based on the popularity of these models (the Coolpix 4300 has been particularly popular over the last year), it looks like Nikon is on the right track to meet the needs of the masses.

From a feature standpoint, the Coolpix 5200 is most similar to the Coolpix 3200, with all automatic controls and an extremely small form factor. Where the 5200 exceeds the 3200 is in its higher resolution imager (5.1 instead of 4.0 megapixels). While still silver in color, the 5200 has a gorgeous metal skin instead of the plastic body of the 3200. Nikon included the 3200's framing assist modes, clearly aimed at consumers. These modes overlay framing guides in the shape of people, mountains or an alignment grid on the LCD monitor, making it easy to frame your subjects to best align with the camera's exposure and focusing systems. Consumers thus have a nearly foolproof way to capture great pictures in just about any situation--so long as they take the time to learn about these modes.

 

Camera Overview

Built to be portable and compact, the Nikon Coolpix 5200 ranks among the smallest digicams currently on the market. The camera is very nearly square from the front, and its grip is less bold than that of its predecessor, giving the camera a more delicate feel, yet evoking a sense of Nikon precision to both the eye and the hands. Slightly taller than a credit card and about as wide, and a little under an inch and a half thick, the Coolpix 5200 is designed to fit nicely into shirt pockets and small purses, perfect for travelers. It's so tiny (weighing just 6.4 oz. or 182 grams with the battery and memory card loaded, up a smidge from the 3200, likely due to the metal body), I'd highly recommend keeping the included wrist strap securely around your wrist when shooting. The automatic lens cover makes it quick on the draw, and eliminates any worry about keeping track of a lens cap. The camera's duotoned silver body is attractive and modern, with a small, chrome highlight on the front handgrip. Built into the Coolpix 5200 is a 3x optical zoom lens with ED glass (which stands for Extra-low Dispersion glass, used in Nikon's finer lens elements to improve optical performance) and a 5.1-megapixel CCD for capturing high quality images, a macro mode capable of focusing as close 1.6 inches, and no fewer than 15 preset shooting modes. Since the camera operates mainly under automatic control, its control layout and menu display are very user friendly.

The Coolpix 5200 features both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor. Though the LCD monitor provides more accurate framing, it also decreases battery life. You can turn it on or off via the Monitor option on the Setup menu. The camera's 3x, 7.8-23.4mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera, a moderate wide angle to medium telephoto) offers maximum apertures from f/2.8 to f/4.9, depending on the zoom setting, and is made up of seven elements in six groups. The camera uses contrast-detection autofocus in normal mode, which ranges from 1.0 foot (30 centimeters) to infinity. Multi-point AF chooses among five autofocus points to find the nearest object. The chosen AF point is illuminated. Users can also choose position the AF point manually, anywhere within the center 60% of the frame. In Macro mode, the camera focuses as close as 1.6 inches (4.0 centimeters), and automatically switches to continuous AF mode, focusing constantly when the Shutter button is not half-pressed. (Note that closest focusing is possible only when the lens is set to a fairly narrow range of focal lengths towards the wide-angle end of its range. The zoom indicator that appears at the top of the LCD when zooming and the "tulip" macro icon both turn green when the zoom is set within the optimal range in Macro mode.) Turning on the camera triggers the shutter-like lens cover to open, and the lens to extend forward a bit over three-quarters of an inch. In addition to its 3x optical zoom, the Coolpix 5200 offers a maximum 4x digital zoom, which lets you "zoom" in even closer (equivalent to a 456mm lens on 35mm camera). As always though, keep in mind that the digital zoom simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD, resulting in lower image quality. The 5.1-megapixel CCD produces high-resolution images, good enough for printing to 11x14 inches with good detail, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or printing as 4x6-inch snapshots.

In keeping with the tradition of the entry-level Coolpix line, the Coolpix 5200's exposure control is very straightforward. Operating mainly under automatic control, the Coolpix 5200's user interface is easy to learn. Most of the exposure options are controlled through the multi-page LCD menu system, although a handful of external controls access basic features. A Mode dial on top of the camera controls the operating mode, with four preset modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Portrait), and a Scene mode for selecting from among a range of 11 other specific shooting situations, Auto setting, and Movie and Setup modes. The Framing Assist modes are optional in Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Portrait modes, each offering a range of framing scenarios. For example, under Portrait mode, you can set up the framing for a centered single subject, a single subject off to the right or left, a close-up portrait, two subjects positioned side-by-side, and a figure shot with the camera held in portrait (tall) rather than landscape (wide) orientation. Once a specific setup is chosen, faint yellow subject outlines (these used to be quite bold on earlier models) appear in the LCD monitor to help you line up the shot for the best focus and exposure. (See the animated screenshot above right, showing the framing options for portrait mode.) Sports mode offers enhanced options for capturing fast-paced action, such as a rapid fire mode that captures 16 tiny images in two seconds that form a single 4 x 4 image mosaic. The Scene position of the Mode dial provides access to 11 preset "scenes," which optimize the camera for what would normally be more difficult shooting situations. Available Scenes are Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, and Back Light. In the 3200, Nikon added a Panorama Assist mode which has carried over to the 5200. This includes a slight overlay of the last image so you can more easily line them up for better off-camera stitching. Each scene mode sets multiple camera options to configure it for the specific type of subject and shooting condition chosen. These tools make the Coolpix 5200 extremely flexible in a variety of conditions, providing almost worry-free operation.

Depending on the exposure mode, the Coolpix 5200 offers a wide range of exposure options. Though no mode allows the user to control the aperture or shutter speed directly, the exposure compensation adjustment can be set in any mode to deal with high contrast, dark or light subjects. (This is a nice touch. Exposure compensation is a pretty essential control, but it's disabled in the Scene modes of many digicams.) The Exposure Compensation adjustment optionally increases or decreases overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. It is not reported on the LCD display, but the Coolpix 5200's shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to four seconds. A White Balance adjustment offers five preset modes, an Auto setting, and a Custom setting for manually determining the color balance. The Coolpix 5200 uses a 256-Segment Matrix metering system to determine exposure, evaluating the contrast and brightness across the frame to determine the best exposure. In any of the Framing Assist modes, the emphasis of the exposure reading is placed on the AF area indicated by the framing guidelines. ISO light sensitivity is rated at 64 during normal shooting, but the Coolpix 5200 automatically raises it as high as 400 when conditions require it, and the user can also manually select the ISO from the four available options. (Note though, that the camera doesn't report its automatically chosen ISO value to the user while shooting.) You can also access Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode, which automatically chooses the least blurry image in a series shot while the shutter remains pressed. (The Best Shot Selector feature is one of my all-time favorite digicam features, as it makes it possible to hand hold even very long exposures by playing the odds that during one of those moments you're going to be still enough to get a sharp image.) The Coolpix 5200's built-in flash is rated as effective to approximately 1 - 14.9 feet (0.3 - 4.5 meters) depending on the lens zoom setting, and my own testing showed that there indeed was relatively little decrease in image brightness all the way out to the 14 foot limit of my test. The 5200's flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Anytime (Fill) Flash, Flash Cancel, and Slow Sync (night) modes. An option many modes, Slow Sync combines the flash with slower shutter speeds, letting more of the ambient light into the exposure, making for brighter, more natural-looking night shots. In some Assist and Scene modes though, the flash mode is automatically set for you. Portrait Assist, for example, defaults to Red-Eye Reduction mode but can be overridden, while in Night Portrait Assist the default Red-Eye Reduction can not be overridden. Night Portrait Assist and the Scene modes Night Landscape and Dusk/Dawn also enable an automatic Noise Reduction feature to eliminate excess image noise resulting from the higher ISO sensitivity and longer exposure. Flash is also not available in Sports or Landscape modes. While this panoply of default flash modes and constrained options may sound complicated, the net result is that the camera's scene modes let average users bring back good-looking photos from tricky shooting conditions, while enjoying point & shoot simplicity.

Other camera features include a Self-Timer mode, which provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and when the image is actually captured. A Continuous Shooting mode captures a rapid series of images while the Shutter button is held down, with the actual number of images dependent on the size and quality settings, as well as the amount of memory card space. (The sequence length varies from 7-11 images at the 5200's highest resolution and image quality setting, to over 50 images at the smallest image size and lowest quality.) The special 5-Shot buffer mode is designed to help you catch the action, even if the action is happening a little faster than your reflexes can catch up with. Just hold down the shutter as the action approaches, and release just after the action has occurred; the camera then saves the last five images in the buffer, recorded at 2.5 frames per second. There's also a Multi-Shot 16 mode, which captures 16 thumbnail images in sequence, arranged in rows of four within a full-sized image. The Coolpix 5200's Movie mode offers three options: TV Movie 640, (640 x 480, 30fps, 175 seconds max on 256MB card) Small size (320x240 pixels, 30fps, 397 seconds max on 256MB card), and Smaller size (160 x 120, 30fps, 1524 seconds max on 256MB card). The actual length of recording time depends only on the amount of available SD card space (there is no arbitrary limit set by buffer capacity), and appears in the LCD monitor.

The Coolpix 5200 stores images on SD memory cards, but the standard retail package in the US includes no memory card. There is enough onboard memory, however, to hold up to four "full resolution pictures" according to the box. In my own tests, the camera typically held about six five megapixel images with minimal compression. Files saved to internal memory can be easily copied to an SD card, and vice versa. Given the camera's beefy 2,592 x 1,944-pixel maximum image size, I'd recommend picking up at least a 128 - 256MB memory card so you don't miss any important shots. Images are saved in JPEG format, with three compression levels available for. A CD-ROM loaded with Picture Project software accompanies the camera, compatible with both Windows and Macintosh platforms (including Windows XP and Mac OS X). Nikon Picture Project provides organization and image editing tools for enhancing images. There's also an excellent tutorial video that walks users through all the information needed to get started with the 5200, very nice for beginning users. The camera comes with a slim EN-EL5 lithium-ion battery and a charger. While the Coolpix 5200 has excellent battery life, I as always recommend picking up a spare battery and keeping it freshly charged at all times, to avoid the dreaded dead battery syndrome. (Murphy's law applies in spades to digicam batteries - They invariably go dead when you can least afford it.) The optional AC adapter uses a "dummy battery" that slides into the battery compartment. This could be useful for offloading pictures after a long day of shooting, but really isn't necessary for the vast majority of users. Also included with the Coolpix 5200 is a video cable for connecting to a television set for slide shows, and a USB cable for downloading images to a computer.


Basic Features

  • 5.1-megapixel (effective) CCD delivering image resolutions as high as 2,592 x 1,944 pixels.
  • 1.5-inch color LCD display.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 3x, 7.8-23.4mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • Maximum aperture f/2.8-f/4.9, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to four seconds.
  • 4x Digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Built-in flash with five modes.
  • Built-in mic and speaker for including sound in videos and playback from the camera.
  • SD memory card storage.
  • Power supplied by lithium ion rechargeable battery, or optional AC adapter.
  • Nikon Picture Project software for both Mac and Windows.
  • Tutorial video.

Special Features

  • ED Glass lens.
  • 5 Multi-point AF, or user selectable AF point.
  • QuickTime movies (with sound).
  • Continuous Shooting, Multi-Shot, and Multi-Shot 16 mode.
  • Ten preset Scene modes, plus four Scene Assist modes.
  • Red-Eye Fix automatic red-eye correction.
  • Internal memory stores 4 - 8 full-res images.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Best Shot Selector mode.
  • Camera shake warning.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes, including a manual setting.
  • 256-Segment Matrix metering.
  • ISO equivalent sensitivity range of 64 to 400.
  • PictBridge compatibility.
  • USB cable for quick connection to a computer.
  • Video cable for connection to a television set.


Recommendation
As one of the smallest Coolpix models in the line (and one of the smaller digicams on the market), the 5200 is a combination of a fine Nikkor 3x ED glass optical zoom lens, a 5.1-megapixel CCD, and a range of automatic, preset shooting modes in a very consumer-friendly digicam. Automatic exposure control lets the camera take charge of all the picky details, although a handful of exposure options provides creative tools when you need them. With its diminutive dimensions, the Coolpix 5200 is great for travel, and the range of preset shooting and framing modes anticipates most common shooting conditions. The 2,592 x 1,944-pixel maximum resolution is high enough for making sharp 11x14-inch photographic prints (or sharp 8x10 prints with considerable cropping), while the 640x480-pixel resolution setting is perfect for sending email attachments over the Internet. The uncomplicated user interface means you won't spend much time learning the camera. Perfect for novice users or anyone looking for a point-and-shoot camera with a slick look, a few extra features, great ease of use, and sharp, colorful photos, the Coolpix 5200 could also serve as a great take-anywhere snapshot camera for more advanced shooters.

 

Design

With its tiny dimensions, the Coolpix 5200 could almost hide behind a credit card (it's about a half inch taller). Though the camera body has a few protrusions, they're slight enough to avoid catching on pockets, especially when combined with the smooth contours that define the camera. Despite its small size, the Coolpix 5200 fit my rather large hands surprisingly well, though I highly recommend making use of the included wrist strap. The Coolpix 5200's duotone silvery metal body is modern and chic. High quality Nikkor optics and a 5.1-megapixel CCD give the Coolpix 5200 great image quality, and a broad selection of Scene Assist modes makes operation a breeze, even for novice users. The Coolpix 5200 measures 3.46 x 2.4 x 1.44 inches (88 x 60 x 36.5 millimeters), and weighs 5.5 ounces (155 grams) without battery and memory card. The photo inset above right shows the 5200 posed with an SD memory card, to give you a sense of the camera's overall size.

The camera's front panel contains the 3x zoom lens, built-in flash, optical viewfinder window, seven holes for the microphone, and the self-timer lamp. The self-timer lamp also serves as a relatively bright AF (autofocus) assist illuminator. A shutter-like lens cover protects the lens when not in use, and automatically slides out of the way when the camera is powered on (eliminating the hassle of keeping track of a lens cap). When powered on, the lens telescopes out nearly 5/8 inch into its operating position. A curved, sculpted ridge beneath the Shutter button acts as a finger grip, and comfortably aligns your fingers as they wrap around the camera.

On the right side of the camera is the Secure Digital (SD) memory card compartment and an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap. The SD card compartment door opens with a pull toward the back of the camera, and hinges forward toward the front to reveal the SD card, leaving plenty of room to grasp the card. The card releases with a downward press. Also visible from this side is the rubber door that hinges outward to make room for the cord when using the optional AC adapter pack.

On the opposite side of the camera is the connector compartment, protected by a rubbery cover that remains attached to the camera. Inside is the Video Out / USB jack.

The Shutter button, power button, microphone, Mode dial, and power LED are on the top panel.

The remaining external controls are all located on the camera's rear panel, along with the 1.5-inch, TFT color LCD monitor and optical viewfinder. Two LEDs next to the optical viewfinder light or flash to indicate camera status, such as when focus is set, the flash is charging, or the camera is accessing the memory card. A two-way zoom rocker button in the top right corner controls optical and digital zoom, as well as some Playback viewing options. In the center of the back panel is a five-way nav disk, which accesses Flash, Macro, and Self-Timer, and exposure compensation options, in addition to navigating menu screens. The nav disk has a separate button in the middle for accepting selections, a solution that is easier than trying to press in the entire disk as we've seen in other cameras. This button can also be pressed to initiate picture transfer when the camera is connected to a computer that has the Nikon software loaded onto it. Just below the LCD panel are the Delete, Menu, and Playback buttons. An array of speaker holes are just below the five-way nav disk for playback of recordings and movies with sound.

The Coolpix 5200 has a flat bottom panel, with slightly rounded edges that curve up toward the rest of the camera. The battery compartment door and plastic tripod mount line up side-by-side, making quick battery changes while mounted to a tripod impossible. This won't likely be a problem for most Coolpix 5200 users, though, given the point-and-shoot orientation of the camera. A hinged, plastic door covers the battery compartment, releasing with a slide to the rear. A battery retention latch inside the compartment keeps the battery from falling free when the door is opened, a welcome feature.

 

Camera Operation

Despite the Coolpix 5200's limited exposure control, the camera offers a nice selection of external control buttons, making for an easy-to-navigate user interface. Flash mode, Self-Timer mode, Macro mode, zoom, record mode, and an Erase function are all accessible via external controls. The Mode dial on the top of the camera selects the main operating mode, and a multi-directional Arrow pad on the back panel navigates through on-screen menus, in addition to accessing camera features directly. The LCD menu system is fairly short, with user-friendly icons in the Scene Assist modes. Operating this camera is so straightforward I doubt you'll need the manual for much more than reference. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes to get into the swing of things.

Record Mode LCD Display: In Record mode, the Coolpix 5200's LCD reports limited status information, including camera modes, the resolution/quality setting, number of available images, etc. Half-pressing the Shutter button displays a green circle when focus is achieved, as well as green brackets indicating which focus point has been selected (if focus is not achieved, both the dot and brackets show red). In Manual AF Area Mode, you can use the five-way navigator to move the focus point around in the center 60% of the screen. The camera doesn't show aperture or shutter speed information as some do. It does tell you when it thinks the image might become blurred by camera shake when it's forced to use a slow shutter speed. The 3200 had a blur warning when the camera detected a lack of sharpness in a captured image, but that has been omitted in the 5200. The display mode can be changed from the Setup Menu, letting you choose between a viewfinder display of the subject by itself, with overlaid status information, or with an overlaid grid as an aid to orienting the camera to your subject.


Playback Mode LCD Display: In Playback mode, the LCD reports the image series number, resolution/quality setting, file name and folder it's stored in on the memory card, and the date and time of image capture. It also displays an icon if the image is one that's been selected for quick download with Nikon's host software, as well as an icon indicating that you can record an audio note to accompany the image. There's no option for disabling the information overlay, but a slide show option lets you see the images sequentially, with no overlay on top of them, and if you just wait a few moments after selecting an image to view, the overlay display goes away. Pressing the center button of the multi-directional controller on the camera's back toggles between normal playback-mode display and a display showing detailed exposure information and a brightness histogram, helpful in determining whether you've gotten a good exposure or not. Pressing the zoom lever toward the wide-angle end zooms out to a 4-image thumbnail view of photos stored on the card. Pressing it in the wide-angle direction a second time shows a 9-image thumbnail display. Pressing the zoom control in the telephoto direction zooms in as much as 6x on the subject, handy for checking image details and focus. The animated image above right shows the various playback-mode displays.



External Controls


Shutter Button: Just to the left of the power switch, the Shutter button sits next to the mode dial in excellent position for the finger to come over the right panel and rest just perfectly. This button sets the camera's exposure when halfway pressed, and releases the shutter when fully pressed.


Power Switch: Nestled in a small recess to the right of the power LED, the power switch turns the camera on and off with a push.


Mode Dial: Readily activated with a thumb on the top panel (although much more easily operated with two fingers), this ribbed dial selects the camera's main operating mode. Choices are Setup, Movie, Auto, Scene, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Portrait.


Zoom (W and T) Rocker Button: Located in the top right corner of the camera's back panel, this two-way rocker button controls the optical and digital zoom (when enabled) in any record mode. In Playback mode, the "W" button activates the index image display mode, while the "T" button controls digital enlargement of the captured image.


Multi-Directional 5-way navigator (Flash, Self-Timer, Exposure Compensation, and Macro Buttons): Just right of the LCD, this button features four arrows, one pointing in each direction. In any Settings menu, the arrow keys navigate through menu selections, and the center button selects.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images, while the central button toggles between the normal playback screen and one showing more detailed information, including a histogram display.

In Record mode, the arrow keys control specific exposure features. The up arrow controls the camera's flash mode, producing a popup menu of options (Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Anytime Flash, and Flash Cancel). The left arrow activates the camera's Self-Timer mode, and the right arrow activates exposure compensation control, while the bottom arrow activates the Macro focus mode. All of these settings are confirmed by pressing the central button once the selection has been made.

When connected to a computer with Nikon's software loaded, pressing the center button triggers a "one touch" upload of selected images to the computer.


Playback Button: Below the LCD, this button accesses the camera's Playback mode.


Menu Button: Left of the Playback button, this button displays the settings menu in any camera mode. It also dismisses the menu display.


Erase Button: Left of the Menu button, this button pulls up the Erase menu while in Playback or Record mode.

Battery retention slider: Beneath the battery compartment door is a small orange slider that holds the battery in place until it is slid toward the back.

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Auto Record Mode: Activated by turning the Mode dial to the Auto position (green camera icon), this mode places the camera in control of both aperture and shutter speed, as well as most other exposure features. Pressing the Menu button displays a limited Shooting menu.

  • Image Size and Quality: Sets the image resolution and compression level. Choices are 3M High (2,048 x 1,536 pixels), 3M Normal (2,048 x 1,536 pixels), 2M Normal (1,600 x 1,200 pixels), PC (1,024 x 768 pixels), and TV (640 x 480 pixels). (Secondary Screens)
  • White Balance: Chooses from Auto White Balance, PRE for custom presetting of white balance, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Speedlight. (Secondary Screens)
  • Metering: Allows user to set metering to Matrix, Center-weighted, or Spot modes.
  • Continuous: Chooses from Single, Continuous, 5-shot Buffer (when button is held down, saves last five shots in buffer to better catch action), and Multi-Shot 16 capture modes. (Secondary Screens)
  • BSS: Best Shot Selector shoots up to 10 shots and picks the one with the best focus. Flash is automatically turned off in this mode, since it is intended for capture of natural light photos in low light. (Secondary Screen)
  • Image Adjustment: Sets contrast to Auto, Normal, More, or Less values. (Secondary Screens)
  • Image Sharpening: Sets sharpening to Auto, High, Normal, Low, or Off. (Secondary Screens)
  • ISO: Selects Auto ISO or sets the camera to 64, 100, 200, or 400. (Secondary Screen)
  • Auto Bracketing: By default set to Off, this chooses between Auto Bracketing (BKT) or White Balance Bracketing (WB). Each press of the shutter produces three different images with varying exposure or white balance values. (Secondary Screen)
  • Saturation Control: Chooses between Enhanced, Normal, or Moderate color saturation. (Secondary Screen)
  • AF Area Mode: Sets Auto (5-point AF), Manual (user controls focus point), or Off (defaults to center AF point). (Secondary Screen)
  • Auto Focus Mode: Selects Continuous AF (camera is always focusing--this setting uses more battery and makes some moderate repetitive sound) or Single AF (focuses only when shutter button is pressed). (Secondary Screen)
  • Noise Reduction: Turns Noise reduction on or off. (Secondary Screen)


Movie Mode: This mode is denoted by a movie camera icon on the Mode dial. Movie mode captures moving images at 30 frames per second for as long as the memory card has available space. Pressing the Menu button pulls up a resolution menu, with options for TV movie (640 x 480 pixels), Small size (320 x 240 pixels), and Smaller size (160 x 120).



Scene Exposure Mode: The word "Scene" indicates this mode on the Mode dial. Eleven preset scene modes are available, by pressing the Menu button:

  • Party/Indoor: Use to capture background details in situations that require flash. Also good for preserving the look of candlelight or other indoor lighting.
  • Beach/Snow: Boosts the exposure to compensate for subjects that are very bright overall.
  • 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.)
  • Dusk/Dawn: Preserves the colors seen in weak natural light seen before dawn or after sunset. The flash is disabled, noise reduction is automatically enabled at slow shutter speeds, and the autofocus-assist illuminator is disabled, even in dim lighting.
  • Night Landscape: Combines longer exposures with the "Landscape" mode. Focus is fixed at infinity, and the flash is disabled in this mode. Noise reduction is enabled for long exposures, and the autofocus-assist illuminator is disabled, even in dim lighting.
  • Close Up: Adjusts the lens for close-focusing on small objects, apparently also increases color saturation slightly. Autofocus operates continuously until you half-press the shutter button, helpful in focusing on very close subjects. AF-area mode is set to "manual", so you can select what part of the frame you want to focus on by pressing the center button of the multi-controller and moving the focus cursor around the image with the arrow keys. Press the center button again to save the new AF area selection.
  • Museum: Enables longer exposure times and higher sensitivity, for indoor situations where you can't use flash. Automatically turns on the Best Shot Selector to help get a sharp image. The autofocus-assist illuminator is disabled, even in dim lighting.
  • Fireworks Show: Sets a long exposure and small aperture so you can catch the colored trails of fireworks. Exposure compensation is disabled, and the autofocus-assist illuminator is disabled, even in dim lighting.
  • Copy: Sets the color mode to black and white, 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. The flash is set to fire even in bright conditions, to throw light onto the shadowed subject.
  • Panorama Assist: Lets you capture a series of images to be stitched together later on a computer as one panoramic image. Flash, macro, and zoom setting are all fixed at their values for the first shot in the series. Likewise, exposure and white balance values are determined by the first shot in the series, to help avoid visible boundaries between the component images in the final panorama, after they've been stitched together.


Portrait Assist Mode: Labeled on the Mode dial with a woman in a hat, this mode is best for portraits, and is the first of the camera's Framing Assist modes. In Portrait mode, the camera uses a larger aperture setting to decrease the depth of field, producing a sharply focused subject in front of a slightly blurred background. Pressing the Menu button calls up the Scene Assistance menu, which lets you choose from a range of portrait setups, including basic Portrait, Portrait Left, Portrait Right, Portrait Close-up, Portrait Couple, and Portrait Figure. In each of these modes (except basic Portrait), an outline appears on the LCD display to help you align the subject.



Landscape Assist Mode
: A mountain scene distinguishes Landscape mode on the Mode dial. Here, the camera employs a smaller aperture setting to produce sharp detail in both foreground and background objects. As with Portrait mode, the Scene Assistance menu offers a handful of options (accessed as in Portrait mode). Framing options are Landscape (no guidelines), Scenic View (mountain outline), Architecture (grid), Group Right (outlines of people with lines for buildings in the background), and Group Left (also outlines of people with building and horizon lines).


Sports Assist Mode: A figure in action is the icon for Sports mode, which uses faster shutter speeds to freeze action. The Menu button accesses the Scene Assistance menu, with options for Sports, Sport Spectator, and Sport Composite modes. Sport Spectator enables the user to instantly press down on the Shutter button without pausing halfway to focus, and works best with unpredictable subjects within a range of 9.8 feet (3.0 meters). Sport Composite mode takes 16 images in two seconds, each time the Shutter button is pressed, and arranges them in a four-by-four array, much like Multi-Shot 16 mode.



Night Portrait Assist Mode: Indicated by an icon of a person in front of a star, this mode is for twilight and dusk portraits. The flash is automatically set to Auto Red-Eye Reduction mode, and syncs to the slower shutter speed, which allows more ambient light in to balance color and shadows. The camera's ISO setting automatically adjusts as high as ISO 200, depending on the light level (not reported on the LCD screen). And Noise Reduction is turned on. The Scene Assistance menu offers the same framing outlines as in Portrait mode.


Playback Mode: Pressing the Playback button on the camera's back panel instantly enters Playback mode. Here, you can review captured images and movies, erase, enlarge, copy, and protect images, and also set them up for printing. Pressing the Menu button offers the following options:

  • Print Set: Sets the DPOF settings for captured images. The "Print Selected" option pulls up an index display, letting you mark individual images for printing. Once images are marked, you can establish whether any text is overlaid on the image (such as image information or the date and time). You can also cancel print settings here with the "Delete Print Set" button. (Secondary Screen)
  • Slide Show: Automates a slide show of all still images on the memory card with three seconds between shots. You can also enable a looped playback that will play for 30 minutes before the camera goes into standby mode. (Secondary Screen)
  • Delete: Erases selected images from the memory card, or all images (except for write-protected ones). (Secondary Screens)
  • Protect: Write-protects individual images from accidental erasure or manipulation. An special display of the images on the card appears, with a three image filmstrip across the top and a larger image preview on the bottom, which you scroll through and select images to be "locked." Protected images are only deleted through card formatting. (Secondary Screen)
  • Auto Transfer: Marks all images or allows user to select specific images for auto transfer instantly when connected to a computer. (Secondary Screen)
  • Small Picture: Create a lower resolution version of an image with this tool, choosing from 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120. Great for pictures you know you'll want to email. (Secondary Screen)
  • Copy: Quickly copy images from internal to external memory or vise versa. Great for images you want to bring along or keep in memory for the startup screen. (Secondary Screens)


Setup Mode: The following Setup menu automatically appears whenever the Mode dial is turned to the "Setup" position:

  • Welcome Screen: Chooses the welcome screen that appears at startup, either none, static, or animated, or lets you designate a previously-shot image as the welcome screen. (Secondary Screens)
  • Date: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar. (Secondary Screens)
  • Monitor Settings: Sets the monitor to Show info, Auto Info (displays info for 5 seconds), Hide info, Framing grid, or Off. (Secondary Screens)
  • Date imprint: Includes the date, or date and time as part of the image. (Secondary Screen)
  • Brightness: Adjusts the brightness of the LCD display.
  • Sound settings: Can turn on or off the button sound, shutter sound, and startup sound, as well as control the volume. (Secondary Screens)
  • Auto Off: Enables the Auto Off feature, which automatically shuts down the camera after a period of inactivity, to save battery life. Times are 30 seconds, or 1, 5, or 30 minutes. Sleep mode will put the camera in standby mode after 30 seconds regardless of auto off setting if no change in scene brightness occurs; a press on the power button returns to full readiness. (Secondary Screen)
  • Format card: Formats the SD card, erasing all files (even protected ones). (Secondary Screen)
  • Language: Changes the menu language to German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Japanese, Chinese, or Korean. (Secondary Screen)
  • USB: Sets the USB protocol to Mass Storage or PTP. The PTP option is best for Windows XP and Mac OS X systems (unless you want to mount the camera on the desktop), while Mass Storage is best for older operating systems. Mass storage essentially makes the camera appear as a hard drive to the operating system when plugged in via the USB cable. (Secondary Screen)
  • Video Mode: Sets the video output to NTSC or PAL timing. (Secondary Screen)
  • Reset All: Resets all camera settings to their defaults. (Secondary Screen)
  • Firmware version: Reports version number of firmware (the operating software) running on device. (Secondary Screen)

 

Specifications

See camera specifications here.

 

Picky Details

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

 

In the Box

The Coolpix 5200 ships with the following items in the box:

  • Coolpix 5200 digital camera.
  • Wrist strap.
  • Video cable.
  • USB cable.
  • Li-ion rechargeable battery EN-EL5.
  • Battery charger MH-61.
  • CD-ROM loaded with Nikon Picture Project software and drivers.
  • Quick start video CD
  • Instruction manual and registration kit.

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. 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...

 

Sample Pictures

See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Outdoor
Indoor
Indoor Flash

House
Musicians
Macro

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 

"Gallery" Photos

For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the Coolpix 5200, we've assembled a "gallery" of more pictorial images shot with the Coolpix 5200.

 

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 5200'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 5200's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Coolpix 5200 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

  • Color: Very good to excellent color, appropriate saturation. The Coolpix 5200 produced good color in the majority of my tests. The Auto white balance setting tended toward a warmer cast in the studio, with slightly magenta results in the Outdoor Portrait. I typically chose it as the most accurate white balance setting, though the Manual option produced the best results under lighting with strong color casts, as in the Indoor Portrait (without flash) test. Skin tones were typically a little pink, but the always-difficult blue flowers in the bouquet came out very well. Color accuracy and saturation were good on the Davebox target, with only slight oversaturation in the additive primary (red, blue, and green) color blocks.

  • Exposure: Accurate exposure, but high default contrast. The contrast adjustment helps some. The Coolpix 5200 generally showed good exposure accuracy, requiring roughly average amounts of exposure compensation in my standardized test shots. Its default contrast was rather high though, causing it to lose details in strong highlights and deep shadows. Its contrast adjustment option did a pretty good job of pulling in the ends of the tone curve though, affecting highlights and shadows more or less equally. Even with the contrast adjustment though, the camera had a little trouble with the deliberately awful lighting of my Outdoor Portrait test. Overall, I'd like to see the cameras default contrast a notch or so lower.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Very high resolution, 1,300 lines of "strong detail." Slightly soft images, but excellent detail. The Coolpix 5200 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,300 lines vertically, and slightly more horizontally. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until 1,600 - 1,700 lines. (Some reviewers will doubtless assign higher resolution numbers to the Coolpix 5200, but I hold to a more conservative approach in judging resolution, feeling that one shouldn't claim "resolution" beyond the point at which the artifacts swamp the subject details. Hence my judgement of 1,300 lines for the 5200's resolution, even though at least some vestige of the target lines can be seen at 1,400 lines or higher.) In all of my shots, the camera's images had a "soft" look to them, but that seems to be a matter of very conservative in-camera sharpening, rather than any problem with the lens. The images took unsharp masking in Photoshop(tm) very well, revealing loads of fine detail. A careful approach to anti-noise processing also preserved detail in regions of subtle contrast unusually well.

  • Image Noise: Noticeable image noise, but more restrained anti-noise processing. As we've moved to higher pixel counts on small CCD chips, image noise has increased. Most current 5-megapixel cameras thus show noticeably higher image noise than earlier-generation 3-megapixel models. The Coolpix 5200 seems to be a bit of a mixed bag. There's definitely noise visible in its shots, even at low ISO values, but I personally didn't find it too visually objectionable, especially at low ISOs. A big plus though, is that its anti-noise processing seems to be very restrained, helping the camera preserve detail in areas of subtle contrast, such as hair and soft foliage.

  • Closeups: Typically excellent "Nikon macro" performance. Flash is blocked by the lens, however. As I've come to expect from Nikon digicams, the Coolpix 5200 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.21 x 0.91 inches (31 x 23 millimeters). Resolution was high, with a lot of fine detail in the dollar bill. However, the coins and brooch were soft due to the very short shooting distance. (An optical fact of life, not the camera's fault.) As with many digicam ultra-macro modes though, there was a lot of softness in the corners of the image. The 5200's flash is partially blocked by the lens, resulting in a dark lower right corner and an overexposed upper left corner. - Plan on using external illumination for your closest macro shots with the 5200.

  • Night Shots: Slightly limited low-light shooting capabilities, but very usable for average city street lighting at night. Excellent low-light focusing capability. The Coolpix 5200 produced clear, bright, usable images only down to the one foot-candle (11 lux) light level at the 64 and 100 ISO settings. Performance improved with the 200 and 400 ISO settings, with bright images as low as the 1/2 and 1/4 foot-candle light levels (5.5 and 2.7 lux) respectively. The Night Landscape mode adjusts the ISO automatically up to a maximum 200, but allows exposure times as long as 2 seconds, delivering usable exposures at light levels as low as 1/8 foot-candle. The camera tended to underexpose slightly under very dim lighting, even when the light levels were within a range matching its available exposure times. Exposure compensation seemed to have only a slight effect, particularly in Night Landscape mode. This may be deliberate, an attempt to keep the camera from blowing out bright parts of night scenes too badly. Autofocus performance was very good under low-light conditions, as the camera focused well in my tests down to 1/16 foot-candle, even without its autofocus-assist illuminator, and can focus on nearby subjects in total darkness when the assist illuminator is turned on. Given that average city street lighting at night equates to a light level of roughly 1 foot-candle though, the Coolpix 5200 should do fine for most night shots in "civilized" areas. Color balance was slightly warm, with increased warmth at the lower exposures. Noise was low, and only moderate even at ISO 400. The 5200's Noise Reduction setting did a good job of controlling it however, as noise was much stronger without it.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: An accurate LCD monitor, but very tight optical viewfinder. The Coolpix 5200's optical viewfinder is very tight, showing only about 72 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 76 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor proved much more accurate, showing about 97 percent accuracy at wide angle, and about 99 percent at telephoto. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the 5200's LCD monitor does a good job here, but the optical viewfinder's performance is very poor indeed.

  • Optical Distortion: High barrel distortion at the wide angle lens setting, very low pincushion at telephoto. Very low chromatic aberration. Geometric distortion on the Coolpix 5200 is quite a bit higher than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.2 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as I found only 0.03 percent barrel distortion (about one pixel) there. Chromatic aberration was very low, showing only very faint 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.) There was some softness in the corners and along the right edge of the frame, particularly in the telephoto res target shot. On the whole, a pretty good lens, but I'd like to see less barrel distortion at wide angle settings.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Shutter lag on the slow side of average, average cycle times, good continuous mode options. The Coolpix 5200's shutter response is a bit slower than average, with lag times ranging from 0.87 to 1.17 seconds. (Average is 0.8-1.0 seconds, still too slow in my opinion.) Prefocus lag time is much better, at 0.124 second. Cycle times are average, at right around 2 seconds per frame. Continuous-mode operation is fairly good, with frame rates of 1.9 - 2.5 frames/second, 4-8 shots of buffer capacity with large/fine files, and a useful "last 5" mode for grabbing photos before you release the shutter button. Overall, not a first choice for fast-paced action, but the good prefocus performance and good buffer depth in continuous mode are some help.

  • Battery Life: Somewhat short battery life. Because it uses a custom power connector, I couldn't conduct my usual detailed power consumption measurements on the Coolpix 5200. A simple run-down test with the camera in its worst-case power drain mode (capture mode, with the LCD turned on) gave run times of a bit over an hour, decidedly on the short side of average. Definitely plan on purchasing a second battery along with the 5200, and keep it fully charged as a spare.



Conclusion

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Nikon's Coolpix line of consumer digicams has always been well-received, appreciated for their image quality and ease of use. Lately, they've been finding success in bringing their technology into the consumer market, most notably with the very successful Coolpix 4300 and Coolpix 3200 models. The Coolpix 5200 continues that trend, bringing forward many of the user-interface innovations of the 3200 model, but upgrading the design with a 5-megapixel CCD and a trim, sleek all-metal case. For the most part, I found the Coolpix 5200 to be a good point & shoot camera. While other reviewers have faulted it for high image noise, I didn't find it too objectionable, and I like the fact that Nikon has gone easy with their anti-noise processing. (Overaggressive anti-noise algorithms lose subtle detail in photos from many digicams.) In a similar vein, the 5200's images have a soft look about them, the result of very conservative in-camera sharpening. They take sharpening in the computer very well though, revealing loads of fine detail. If you're printing 4x6 snapshots, you won't notice the softness, but if you make 8x10 or bigger enlargements, a moment spent sharpening the images will bring rich rewards. My biggest issues with the camera were the poor accuracy of its optical viewfinder and relatively short battery life. If you mostly use the LCD and purchase a second battery along with the camera though, these may not be factors in your own use of it. I'd also like to see more exposure information available in playback mode, at least shutter speed and aperture should be displayed. Here again though, this is likely to be a non-issue for most purchasers of the camera, given its strong point & shoot orientation.

Bottom line, the Coolpix 5200 is a nice, compact point & shoot digicam, a good choice for anyone who wants an easy to use camera that delivers good-looking pictures with pleasing color and plenty of resolution. For those willing to delve just slightly deeper than "just push the button" its extensive scene modes and unique framing-assist options greatly extend the camera's capabilities, making it easy to bring back good-looking shots of what might otherwise be difficult subjects. All in all, a good choice for the point & shoot user looking for an easy to use, compact digicam with a surprising range of capabilities.In my testing, the Coolpix 5200's images showed accurate exposure and good color, but were quite a bit more contrasty than I personally prefer. Under average lighting, the high contrast makes the sort of bright, snappy-looking images that appeal to many consumers. Under strong daylight lighting though, the high contrast results in lost highlight detail and a harsher look to the images. I hasten to point out though, that my tastes in photos aren't everyone's. (The basic reason for showing the standardized test photos on this site.) If you like sharp, contrasty images, the Coolpix 3200 would be a great choice in a digicam, as it does most everything else right, with great-looking color, an excellent white balance system, exceptional macro capability, and great ease of use.

 

Related Links

More Information on this camera from Megapixel.net:
Nikon Coolpix 5200, Nikon Digital Cameras, Digital Cameras


 

 

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