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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 7:Shutter Lag & Cycle Time Tests

Review First Posted: 07/12/2003

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow 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 almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I routinely measure it with a special timing setup I constructed for the purpose. (Crystal-controlled, with a resolution of 0.001 second).

NOTE: My qualitative characterizations of camera performance below (that is, "reasonably fast," "about average," etc.) are meant to be relative to other cameras of similar price and general capabilities. Thus, the same shutter lag that's "very fast" for a low-end consumer camera might be characterized as "quite slow" if I encountered it on a professional model. The comments are also intended as only a quick reference: If performance specs are critical for you, rely on the absolute numbers to compare cameras, rather than my purely qualitative comments.

Nikon Coolpix 5400 Timings
Time (secs)
Power On -> First shot
About average for a camera with a telescoping lens.
It takes only 1.8 seconds for the lens to retract if the camera is otherwise unoccupied, but could take a hundred seconds or more if you've just filled the buffer memory with a large continuous sequence. - The lens doesn't retract until the camera has finished saving data to the memory card. - The 4.3 second time shown above is how long it takes to shut down immediately after snapping a single high-quality JPEG image.
Play to Record, first shot
About average for a high-end prosumer camera.
Record to play
First time is how long it takes the camera to display an image if it wasn't processing anything when switched to playback mode. Second number is time required if you've just snapped a photo in large/fine JPEG mode. A little slow, although the "Quick Review" function is faster..
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.89 - 0.61
On the fast side of average for a high-end prosumer digicam. Interestingly, the camera focuses more quickly at telephoto than wide-angle zoom settings.
Shutter lag, manual focus
A little leisurely - the typical delay in manual focus mode for high-end consumer models is about 0.5 seconds. (Still too slow, IMHO.)
Shutter lag, prefocus
This is a odd, to say the least. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.273 seconds when the shutter sound is turned on, but only 0.109 seconds with shutter sound off. Turn off the shutter sound for best shutter response! (This doesn't seem to apply to manual focus or autofocus operation though.)
Cycle time, large/fine files
Pretty fast. Shorter time is for first 5 or 6 shots, then times become highly variable as files are written from buffer to memory card. Post-buffer-fill cycle times range from 2.0 to 8.7 seconds, but the average is still quite fast, at 3.08 seconds. Buffer takes about 25 seconds to clear, depending on memory card speed.
Cycle time, small/basic files
Pretty quick. About 100 shots before buffer filled, but highly variable times, ranging from 1.77 to 3.33 seconds.
Cycle time, TIFF files
TIFF mode files are huge, take a loong time to write. Not a huge amount of variation in write times among name brands: Lexar, SimpleTech, and Sandisk cards all came in at about the same speed. (The 5400 doesn't yet reflect the fruits of Nikon's partnership with Lexar to take advantage of Lexar's "WA" technology, as a WA card actually took about 3 seconds longer between shots than its non-WA equivalent.) The one exception was that an old "Mr. Flash" memory card (which in the past hasn't worked at all in most Nikon digicams) took fully 49 seconds to dump each shot.
Continuous mode (High Speed), large files
2.5 frames per second for 7 frames, then must wait about 25 seconds before it will snap the next set of 3 frames. (Nikon's spec is 3 fps, I'm not sure why my test showed slower. This camera comes closer to the official specs than did the earlier Coolpix 5000 though, which I clocked at 2 fps.)
Continuous mode (Low Speed), large files
Snaps up to 29(!) frames at the 1.37 frame/second rate. Buffer takes 243 seconds to clear with a fast memory card.
Multi-Shot 16
Divides full-sized frame into a 4x4 matrix of sub-pictures. 0.5 seconds between shots (2.0 frames/second) for 16 low-res images,then 2.0 second delay before next shot is ready.
Ultra High Speed
WOW, this is fast! Great for time/motion studies (golf/tennis swings?). Captures up to 100 images at 320x240 resolution, "normal" JPEG quality. Shot to shot interval is only 0.035 seconds, or 28.8 frames/second. - This is actually faster than the 5000's movie mode, but you can only capture about 3 seconds of action, and the action is in individual files. When done shooting, it took the camera 91.3 seconds to empty the buffer memory to the card.
5-Shot Buffer
4-13 sec for buffer clear
An interesting option that captures frames continuously at about 1.4 frames/second while the shutter button is held down, then saves only the last five. (Handy for capturing a critical moment, compensating for slow reflexes on the part of the photographer.) The buffer clears in 13 seconds for large/fine files, 4 seconds for small/basic ones.
Movie Mode
15 frames/second, with sound.
Movie mode will record up to 70 seconds of 640x480 "VGA" resolution, or 180 seconds of 320x240 "QVGA" resolution action with sound. It took 36 seconds for the camera to finish writing to a fast memory card after a 70 second clip was shot.


The Coolpix 5400 is a fairly fast camera, both in terms of shutter lag and shot to shot cycle times. It has a buffer capacity of 5-7 full-res frames, but seems to take good advantage of fast memory cards, emptying the buffer to the card as it goes, giving fast recovery times, and not forcing you to wait for the entire buffer to empty completely before acquiring the next set of images. The one real oddity is that shutter lag in prefocus mode (shutter button half-pressed and held before the shot is actually taken) is strongly affected by whether the shutter sound is enabled or not. (Shutter response is much better with the shutter sound turned off.) This effect seems to only apply to prefocused operation, and not to manual or autofocus modes. (A tip of the hat to Phil Askey of for discovering this, in an email interchange between us before we posted our respective reviews.) Like other high-end Coolpix models in the past, the 5400 sports an unusually rich array of continuous-mode options, with frame rates ranging from 1.5 frames/second to 30 frames/second. (!) Overall, an excellent performer.


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