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Nikon CoolPix 4500

Nikon updates the hugely successful Coolpix 995, adding a full 4.0-megapixel CCD!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 5/29/2002

Executive Overview

(This is a quick digest of the rest of the review. If you plan on reading the whole review, you can skip this page and continue on with the Design section that follows.)

With a slightly revamped style and sleeker look, the new Coolpix 4500 combines the advanced features from the previous 995 model with a few updated ones that make the new model even more appealing. Most important is the larger, 4.0-megapixel CCD, for even higher resolution images, but there are a number of other tweaks and enhancements that together add up to a significant upgrade. Also important to many potential buyers (but frankly not that significant in terms of actual durability), the 4500 returns to the all-metal-alloy case design of earlier models. Nikon continues with the swivel-lens design that's been a hallmark the Coolpix line from its inception. The swivel design enhances the camera's optical flexibility, greatly easing tricky low- or high-angle shots. Control layout is essentially the same, though some buttons have swapped places, and there's one fewer button overall, as well as no separate mode dial. The camera provides both a real-image optical viewfinder and an LCD monitor display for image composition, and the LCD offers an extensive information display that reports a variety of exposure information, including aperture and shutter speed settings. The 4500's user interface retains much of the speed and flexibility of the earlier design, in that it lets you adjust the most frequently used camera controls without having to resort to the LCD menu system. I regret the loss of the small status display panel that graced the top of the 995, but as it turns out, the main LCD screen now stands in for most of the functions the smaller display provided in the past. I don't think the new control arrangement is quite as effective as that on the 995, but it's still a very well thought out interface. In Playback mode, the LCD gives an informative readout on captured images and also offers both an index display of thumbnails and a playback zoom option.

Optically, the Coolpix 4500 is equipped with an 7.85-32mm, 4x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-152mm lens on a 35mm camera), made up of ten elements in eight groups. The seven blade iris diaphragm design provides excellent aperture control by offering an essentially continuous range of adjustment, a nice carryover from the 995 and 990 models. Zoom is easily controlled via the zoom rocker button on the back panel and the settings menu offers a Fixed Aperture feature, which keeps the aperture constant while the lens zooms, a handy feature for studio flash photography. An additional 4x digital zoom can be turned on and off through the settings menu and offers a "stepless" incremental zoom range from 1.1x to 4.0x. (Although as always, I feel compelled to point out that digital zoom always compromises image quality, trading off resolution for magnification.) The 4500 also offers the same variety of focusing options, including Continuous and Single autofocus modes as well as a manual control. Under the autofocus setting, you can choose the desired focus area from a set of five available, or let the camera decide on its own (which it does based which part of the subject is closest to the lens).

Exposure-wise, I really like the flexible options found in the range of manual and semi-manual exposure modes on the 4500. In addition to its manual controls though, an Automatic capture mode handles everything from the shutter speed to the white balance, making the camera as usable for novices as it is powerful for advanced users. New on the 4500 is Nikon's extensive Scene mode, which offers 16 preset "scenes" for special shooting conditions, including two scene modes (multi exposure and panorama-assist) that are completely new to any camera in the Coolpix lineup. Remaining exposure modes include Program AE (with Flexible Program), Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes. Program selects the aperture and shutter speed automatically, but gives the user complete control over white balance, exposure compensation, etc. Flexible Program does the same but instead lets the user choose from a range of valid aperture and shutter speed combinations. Aperture Priority and Shutter Speed Priority are also pretty self-explanatory, letting the user select one value while the camera selects the other. Finally, Manual gives you total control over everything. Shutter speeds are adjustable from eight to 1/2,300 seconds (with a Bulb setting for exposures as long as five minutes) and the maximum aperture ranges from f/2.6 to f/5.1, depending on the zoom setting.

Nikon has been an innovator in developing special shooting modes for its high end consumer cameras, and the Coolpix 4500 continues in this vein. The still-unique Best Shot Select function is a great aid for getting sharp photos when you have no choice but to hand hold the camera under dim lighting conditions. The Auto Bracketing feature also includes a White Balance Bracketing function, while a Noise Reduction mode reduces the noise associated with higher ISO settings in low-light/long exposure shooting situations. I was also pleased with the return of the extensive white balance menu from the 995 (Auto, Preset, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, and Speedlight) and the variety of metering options (the famous 256-element Matrix mode, Center-Weighted, Spot, and Spot AF). Also, under the settings menu, I enjoyed the ability to alter the in-camera sharpening as well as increase or decrease the contrast or turn the image into monochrome black and white. And of course, you have the ability to connect an external flash for use with or without the built-in flash.

Speaking of the internal flash, the Coolpix 4500's pop-up flash extends about 1.5 inches or so above the lens axis. This should dramatically reduce the problems with redeye that have dogged the Coolpix cameras since the original model 900 swivel design. When working without a flash, the 4500's low light capability is very impressive. Automatically-timed exposures can range as long as eight seconds, but a "bulb" exposure mode will keep the shutter open for up to five minutes, as long as you hold down the Shutter button. Similar to the 995 before it, the 4500's low light performance is quite impressive. (Although its autofocus system is limited to light levels of 1/2 foot-candle (5.5 lx) and above, meaning that you'll be reduced to somewhat uncertain manual focusing for really low light shooting.)

Like the 995, the Coolpix 4500 has a Type II CompactFlash slot on it, and the latest word I have from Nikon is that they now do officially support IBM Microdrives for use with the camera. (There was some confusion as I "went to press" with this review as to Nikon's official position regarding Microdrives and the 4500. The latest word I have from Nikon USA's PR firm is that Microdrive support is now official.) For power, the camera runs from either a 2CR5 lithium battery, or a single rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. I'm very happy to say that Nikon listened to the concerns of 995 purchasers, and now includes a rechargeable EN-EL1 LiIon battery and MH-53 charger in the box with the 4500. The camera supports USB for quick connection to a PC or Mac, and is packed with a software CD containing Nikon View Version 5, and ArcSoft's software suite, consisting of PhotoImpression, VideoImpression, Panorama Maker, and PhotoBase for PDAs. There's also an NTSC video cable (European models ship with a PAL cable) for connecting to a television set.

I've been impressed with the Coolpix line from the start. The previous Coolpix 995 was an excellent camera, and from the looks of things, the Coolpix 4500 will do just as well. The larger 4.0-megapixel CCD increases the camera's resolution capabilities, and the addition of a 16-mode Scene exposure mode increases its automatic flexibility. I've no doubt that many users who held off from upgrading to the 995 out of disdain for plastic camera bodies will be newly tempted by the 4500's return to an all-metal chassis. Just like the 995, the 4500 offers a completely automatic mode for novices, but all the controls advanced users could ask for. Happily, my tests of a production-model 4500 showed it to have image quality as good or better than that of the 995. Given the success of the 9xx series of Nikon Coolpix digicams, it's a safe bet that the Coolpix 4500 will be another huge hit.

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