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Nikon Coolpix 8400

By: Shawn Barnett & Dave Etchells


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Page 7:Shutter Lag & Cycle Time Tests

Review First Posted: 09/16/2004, Updated: 12/13/2004

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time or delay before the shutter actually fires. This corresponds to the time required for the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is rarely reported on (and even more rarely reported accurately), and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I routinely measure both shutter delay and shot to shot cycle times for all cameras I test, using a test system I designed and built for the purpose. (Crystal-controlled, with a resolution of 0.001 second.) Here are the numbers I collected for the Nikon Coolpix 8400:

Nikon Coolpix 8400 Timings
Power On -> First shot
LCD turns on and lens extends forward. Fairly fast.
3.2 - 125
First time is time to retract lens, second time is worst-case buffer-clearing time. First time is fairly fast, second time is long, but corresponds to the time required for the camera to clear a buffer of more than 100 small/basic after a long continuous-mode burst.
Play to Record, first shot
Time until first shot is captured. A little slow.
Record to play
First time is that required to display a large/fine file immediately after capture, second time is that needed to display a large/fine file that has already been processed and stored on the memory card. First time is rather slow, second time is reasonable.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
AF Area Mode off, Hybrid AF on, Normal Response monitor mode off.
0.41 / 0.39 First time is at full wide-angle, second is full telephoto. Very fast when using Hybrid Autofocus!
Shutter lag, full autofocus
AF Area Mode off, Hybrid AF On, Quick Response monitor mode on.
0.320 Wide Angle number only. Switching to Quick Response mode in the Monitor Options submenu produces a slight additional boost in shutter response speed, but not anything dramatic.
Shutter lag, full autofocus, AF Area Mode enabled (Camera not writing to memory card.)
0.54 / 0.56
First time is at full wide-angle, second is full telephoto. A good bit faster than average, impressive given that this mode doesn't use the camera's Hybrid IR/contrast-detect AF system.
Shutter lag, full autofocus, AF Area Mode enabled.
(Camera writing to the memory card)
1.15 - 2.3 (!) If the camera is still writing previous images to the memory card, the shutter lag time is much longer. The times at left are for the camera in wide angle mode, with the green "writing to the card" icon still displayed on the LCD screen. The shorter time corresponds to "modern" cards (a Lexar 4x and 80x card, essentially no difference between them), the longer time is for an ancient (~4 years old) non-speed rated Kingston 64MB card.
Shutter lag, Manual Focus 0.369 Average speed, not especially fast.
Shutter lag, prefocus
Time to capture, after half-pressing shutter button. Very fast.
Cycle Time, max/min JPEG resolution

2.7-3.3 /

First two numbers are for large JPEG images, third number is for TV-size (640x480) images. When shooting large images, the interval between the first two shots is 2.6-2.7 second, but subsequent shots slow to 3.1-3.3 second. The camera can capture 5 large/extra fine or 19 large/fine shots before slowing further. Buffer clears in about 16 seconds for large/extra fine, 19 seconds for large/fine shots. In TV mode, maintains this rate for 30+ frames and clears the buffer almost immediately. Not terribly fast, but not horrible either.

Cycle Time, RAW mode 9.56 Shoots 5 RAW images this fast, then slows to about 13.55 seconds apart. Buffer clears in 71 seconds with a Lexar 80x CF card, 97 seconds with a Lexar 4x CF card. Times are averages.
Cycle Time, HI (TIFF) mode 15.63 No buffering of TIFF images, all shots take this long. (Tested with a Lexar 80x CF.)
Cycle Time, Continuous High mode 0.44
(2.27 fps)
Shoots a burst of 5 shots at the same rate for large/fine, TV or RAW mode. Takes 15, 11, or 69 seconds to clear the buffer, respectively, then shoots 5 more. Buffer-clearing times were with a Lexar 80x card. A Lexar 4x card cleared slightly faster (12 seconds) when shooting in Large/Fine mode. (We didn't repeat the other tests with the 4x card.)
Cycle Time, Continuous Low mode, Large Fine/Large Normal 0.89
(1.13 fps)
In Continuous Low mode, the camera snaps a frame every 0.89 seconds, regardless of resolution/quality setting. In large/fine mode, it can capture ~11 shots this fast, before slowing to a rate of one shot every 7.7 seconds. In large/normal mode, it can capture as many as 19 shots before slowing to a rate of one shot every 7.12 seconds. The interval between the first two shots of a series is always longer, about 1.1 seconds.

NOTE: As was the case with the Coolpix 8800, we did encounter a glitch with this mode: When shooting Extra Fine JPEGs at ISO 200 or 400, the first shot of a series of 5 was almost always trashed. (If we shot longer sequences, more of the files were corrupted.) The problem never appeared at ISO 50 or 100, and never with lower-quality JPEGs. (Times are with a Lexar 80x CF card.)
Cycle Time, continuous Multi 16 mode 0.60
(1.67 fps)
Camera captures 816 x 612 pixel images, stores them in 4x4 arrays inside normal 3264x2448 files. Buffer clears in 6 seconds. (Times are with a Lexar 80x CF card.)
Cycle Time, UHS mode 0.03
(30.4 fps)
Shoots a burst of 100 TV size images at 30 fps. Clears buffer in 35 seconds. Very fast.
Cycle Time, continuous 5-shot buffer mode 1.40
(0.71 fps)

Time is for large/extra fine images. Camera shoots continuously while shutter button is pressed, but only stores the last five shots. Buffer clears in 18 seconds with a Lexar 80x CF card. (22 seconds with a 12x card, 23 seconds with a 4x one.)

While its cycle times are merely average, the Coolpix 8400's best-case shutter lag numbers of 0.39 - 0.41 second are quite impressive, no doubt thanks in part to its hybrid IR/Contrast Detection AF system. It's important to note though, that the best shutter response comes when the camera's Hybrid AF system is engaged, an option that's only available when the camera's multi-area AF system is disabled. Shutter response is quite good even in multi-area AF mode though, at 0.54 - 0.56 second. Oddly though, shutter response suffered significantly whenever we shot while the camera was still writing previous images to the memory card. Under that condition, shutter lag was 1.15 second with reasonably fast memory cards (4x or better), but stretched to 2.3 seconds with a very slow card we had on hand. As noted, the Coolpix 8400's shot to shot cycle time of 2.7 - 3.3 seconds is a little slow by current standards, but its performance in its various Continuous modes is quite good. In Continuous High mode, the camera captures up to 5 shots at a rate of 2.3 frames/second. In Continuous Low mode, the camera captures a variable number of images depending on the image size/quality selected, at a rate of 1.1 frames/second. NOTE though, that Continuous Low mode can yield corrupted images if you're shooting at high ISOs in Large/Extra Fine mode. For the real speed fanatics, Ultra High Speed continuous mode can capture up to 100 TV-sized (640x480) images at a rate of 30 frames/second. Overall, the biggest speed issue with the Nikon 8400 is that it's rather slow writing to its memory card, and doesn't benefit much from very fast memory cards. Buffer clearing times for JPEG files captured in single-shot mode are long but reasonable, in the range of 15-20 seconds. RAW-mode files clear much more slowly (42 seconds), and long series of shots captured in continuous mode can take 100 seconds or more to fully clear the buffer.We did find a very significant variation in shutter lag times, depending on whether the camera's AF Area Mode option was enabled. One explanation might be that it takes longer for the camera to determine which of several focus areas on the subject are closer to the camera, but we suspect that it's more a matter of the 8400's IR autofocus system being disabled for AF Area Mode focusing.

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