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Nikon Coolpix 5400

A solid update to Nikon's upper-midrange Coolpix. 5 megapixels, 4x zoom, tons of features!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 07/12/2003

Executive Overview

Updating the already stellar Nikon Coolpix line of digicams, the Coolpix 5400 offers a 5.1-megapixel CCD for capturing high quality, sharp images with great color, and a true, 4x optical zoom lens. At roughly the same size as its predecessor, the Coolpix 5000 model, the Coolpix 5400 is fairly compact at just 4.3 x 2.9 x 2.7 inches (108 x 73 x 69 millimeters). While it won't fit into a standard shirt pocket, the Coolpix 5400 should easily fit into a medium-sized purse, though a soft camera bag is the best method of transportation. The Coolpix 5400 has a good heft to it, at 13.4 ounces (380 grams), no doubt a result of the slightly large hand grip and lens. In addition to the substantial hand grip, the Coolpix 5400 comes with a neck strap, for increased portability.

A 4x, Nikkor 5.8-24mm lens is built into the camera, providing a zoom range equivalent to a 28-116mm lens on a 35mm camera (The wide-angle end of this range is quite a bit wider than that of most prosumer digicams, good for Real Estate and other applications requiring wider-than-normal coverage.) What's more, the 5400 accepts a variety of Nikon accessory lenses, which can extend its focal length range quite a bit in both directions. Focus can be automatically or manually controlled, with an adjustable autofocus area. In addition to the 4x optical zoom, the Coolpix 5400 also provides up to 4x digital zoom, depending on the image size selected. (Keep in mind that digital zoom often compromises image quality because only the central portion of the CCD's image is enlarged, decreasing resolution.) Both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch LCD monitor are included for composing shots. The LCD monitor has a rotating design, allowing it to pop up from the back panel and swivel around approximately 270 degrees. The LCD can also flip around and fold flat against the back panel, giving it the familiar rear-panel position common to most digicams. Finally, it can be closed when not in use, protecting the monitor from dirt and scratches.

Following the standard of prior high-end Nikon Coolpix digicams, the Coolpix 5400 features extensive exposure control. Full Auto, Program AE, Flexible Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual exposure modes are available, each with a wide range of features. There's also a Scene mode, offering 16 preset "scenes" to choose from. Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to eight seconds, with a Bulb setting for exposures as long as 10 minutes. (!) In Ultra High Speed Continuous mode, the maximum shutter speed extends to an amazing 1/8,000 second. A Noise Reduction option decreases the image noise that would normally be present in long exposures, using a dark-frame subtraction approach. The maximum aperture is f/2.8 - f/4.6, depending on the zoom setting, and is adjustable in 1/3 EV steps. Four metering options are available, including 256-Segment Matrix, Center-Weighted, Spot, and AF Spot (which ties the metering spot to the selected AF area). ISO can be set to a range of values, including Auto, 50, 100, 200, and 400. The camera's adjustable White Balance setting offers Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Speedlight, Shade, or Preset (which lets you set the white value by using a white card or object as a reference point). Additionally, all white balance settings can be adjusted from -3 to +3 units on an arbitrary scale to correct for minor color casts. A White Balance Bracketing mode optionally captures three images with slightly different white balance adjustments, letting you pick the best image when you view the photos on your computer.

Exposure compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments, and is controllable in all exposure modes except Manual. The Auto Bracketing feature takes three or five shots of the same subject with varying exposure values determined either by the photographer in Manual mode or by the camera in all other modes, with variable exposure steps between shots. Best Shot Select snaps multiple images and then automatically picks the sharpest, making it feasible to handhold the camera for surprisingly long exposures. The "Quick Review" button lets you quickly check the last shot taken without leaving Record mode, going so far as to make most of the Playback mode options available, while permitting a very quick return to shooting. Through the camera's settings menu, you can adjust the image sharpness and color saturation, and an Image Adjustment menu offers contrast adjustments as well. Additionally, the Coolpix 5400 lets you save two sets of user settings for focus, exposure, and other camera options, for rapid recall via the setup menu. A Self-Timer mode offers a three or 10-second countdown before firing the shutter. The camera's built-in flash operates in Auto, Flash Cancel, Anytime Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow-Sync, and Rear Curtain Sync modes. An external flash hot shoe accommodates a more powerful external flash unit, including Nikon's own dedicated Speedlights, as well as studio flash systems. (But Nikon still provides only very limited integration with their excellent dedicated Speedlights.)

The Coolpix 5400 offers a wide range of "motor drive" rapid-exposure modes for capturing quick sequences of images. Continuous L, Continuous H, Ultra High Speed Continuous, Multi-Shot 16, and 5-Shot Buffer modes are available through the settings menu, and offer a range of sequence shooting speeds. (Multi-Shot 16 mode subdivides the image area into 16 sections and captures a "mini-movie" of small images at 648 x 486-pixel resolution.) Finally, Movie mode records moving images (with sound) for as long as 180 seconds (depending on the amount of available memory space) at the 320 x 240-pixel resolution setting (as long as 70 seconds at 640 x 480 pixels). A Time Lapse Movie mode lets you capture images at specified intervals, much like traditional time-lapse photography. Finally, an audio recording feature lets you record 20-second sound clips to accompany captured images in Playback mode.

The Coolpix 5400 stores its images on CompactFlash cards (Type I or II), and a 16MB card is packaged with the camera.(Nikon rightly labels this a "starter" memory card, as its capacity is absurdly small for a five-megapixel digicam. Plan on buying at least a 64 MB card immediately, and I'd highly recommend 128MB as a practical minimum.) The camera is compatible with the IBM MicroDrive as well. File formats include several levels of compressed JPEG files as well as an uncompressed TIFF mode (Hi quality setting). Available image sizes are 2,592 x 1,944; a 3:2 Ratio version of the same width but reduced height; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960; 1,024 x 768; and 640 x 480 pixels. A Video Out jack allows the camera to be connected to a television set, for large-screen image review.

A rechargeable EN-EL1 lithium-ion battery pack powers the camera, providing generally good battery life, and an AC adapter is available as a separate accessory. (The battery and charger are included in the box with the Coolpix 5400.) The camera connects to a computer via a USB cable (included), and the accompanying Nikon View software provides image downloading and organizing capabilities for both Windows and Macintosh computers.

With its full exposure control, customizable user interface, and loads of features, the Coolpix 5400 is a worthy update to the Coolpix line. The 5.1-megapixel CCD and 4x Nikkor lens capture sharp, clear images with great quality and color, and the rotating LCD monitor makes shooting at odd angles a lot more comfortable. Like the previous Coolpix digicams that went before it, the new Coolpix 5400 offers exceptional flexibility and image quality, for both novice and prosumer-level users.


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