DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 3700
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 21, 2003
Last Updated: December 26, 2003

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The Nikon Coolpix 3700 ($399) is a compact, all-metal 3.2 Megapixel camera with a 3X zoom lens. It's unique in that it's Nikon's first camera to use Secure Digital (SD) memory. It's also one of only two Nikon cameras to have an AF-assist lamp -- hopefully this is the start of a trend. The CP3700 is a point-and-shoot camera, geared toward the beginner rather than enthusiast. Is this a good take-anywhere camera? Find out now!

What's in the Box?

The Coolpix 3700 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 Mpixel Nikon Coolpix 3700 camera
  • 16MB SD memory card
  • EN-EL5 Li-ion battery (rechargeable)
  • Wrist strap
  • Eyecup
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring NikonView and drivers
  • 116 page camera manual + foldout Quick Start Guide (both printed)

Like other Nikon cameras, the Coolpix 3700 includes a Lexar "starter" memory card. The one included here is 16MB, which is okay, but you'll want a larger one right away. Might I suggest 128MB as a good place to start? The CP3700 does not support MultiMediaCards!

The Coolpix 3700 uses the new EN-EL5 battery, a proprietary lithium-ion battery with 4.0 Wh of energy. Nikon estimates that you can take about 200 photos per charge, which is typical of a compact camera.

Normally I knock a camera that uses proprietary batteries, and I do so for two reasons. One, because they're expensive. An extra EN-EL5 battery will set you back around $30. The other thing is that you can't just stuff in alkaline batteries when your rechargeables die. That's still true here, but there is another option. In addition to using the EN-EL5, the CP3700 can also use a CP1 lithium prismatic battery (not rechargeable). The CP1 lasts about 25% longer than the EL5, but here's the catch: they're not easy to find. You can't walk into a store in the middle of nowhere and pick one up -- at least, not yet. But I like the concept.

When it's time to charge the EN-EL5 battery, just drop it into the included charger. It takes about two hours to fully recharge. This isn't one of those cool "plug it right into the wall" chargers -- you must use a power cable.

The CP3700 is one of those cameras with a lens cover built right into the lens. As you can see, it's a very compact little camera!

One unusual thing Nikon includes with the 3700 is an eyecup. If you wear glasses, or just want to keep ambient light from seeping into the viewfinder, just slide it on.

Accessories are limited on this small camera. All I could find (beside extra batteries) is an AC adapter ($30) and a soft case ($15).

Nikon includes the latest versions of NikonView with the 3700 (version 6.1). You can use the software to organize and to do basic photo editing (one of the new features in version 6 is redeye reduction). It's not Photoshop, but it's decent.


Main screen, NikonView 6 in Mac OS X


Edit screen, NikonView 6 in Windows XP

As you can see, you can edit quite a few properties of your images.

Although cluttered at times, the manual included with the Coolpix 3700 is decent. Do note that the NikonView manual is on CD.

Look and Feel

The Coolpix 3700 is a compact camera with an all-metal body (and snazzy brushed metal face). Be warned that metal cameras scratch easily, and then don't look quite as nice -- take care of them! The CP3700 is very easy to hold and operate with one hand, and it fits into any pocket with ease.

How does it compare in size with other cameras in its class? Have a look:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S400 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 in. 8.2 cu in. 185 g
Canon PowerShot SD100 3.3 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 6.5 cu in. 165 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z4U 3.4 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.0 cu in. 129 g
Minolta DiMAGE G400 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu in. 145 g
Minolta DiMAGE Xt 3.5 x 2.6 x 0.8 in. 7.3 cu in. 120 g
Nikon Coolpix 3700 3.8 x 2.0 x 1.2 in. 9.1 cu in. 130 g
Olympus Stylus 300/400 3.8 x 2.2 x 1.3 in. 10.9 cu in.  165 g
Pentax Optio S4 3.3 x 2.0 x 0.8 in.  5.3 cu in. 98 g 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P8 4.3 x 2.0 x 1.4 in. 12.0 cu in.  206 g*
* mass includes Memory Stick and battery

As you can see, the CP3700 is one the lighter, but bulkier cameras in its class. The Pentax and Casio models shouldn't really be on that list, because they're much thinner than everything else.

With that out of the way, we can now begin our tour of the CP3700, beginning with the front of the camera.

The Coolpix 3700 has an F2.8-4.9, 3X optical zoom Nikkor lens. This lens has a focal range of 5.4 - 16.2 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens is not threaded, so you cannot add a conversion lens.

To the upper-left of the lens is the built-in flash. This flash has a working range of 0.4 - 3.0 m at wide-angle, and 0.4 - 1.7 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to this camera.

To the left of the flash is the microphone. On the opposite side is the AF-assist lamp, which as I mentioned, is a rare sight on a Nikon camera. This little orange light will help the camera focus in dim lighting, where other cameras will throw up their hands and give up (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Next to the AF-assist lamp is the optical viewfinder.

Here's the back of the camera, without that eyecup I mentioned in the first section.

The CP3700 has a small, but beautiful 1.5" LCD display. With 134,000 pixels, this is one sharp screen, and you'll know as soon as you see it. Images are bright and motion is really fluid on the screen (the refresh rate must be 60 fps). If you want to adjust the brightness, you can do so in the setup menu. The LCD shows 97% of the frame.

Directly above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is about average size for a compact camera. It lacks a diopter correction feature (as does most of the competition), which you use to focus what you're looking at. The optical viewfinder shows 80% of the frame.

To the right of the optical viewfinder is the display button, which turns the LCD and what is shown on it on and off.

There is a lot to talk about with regard to the items to the right of the LCD, so I'll start at the top and work my way down.

The first item is the four-way controller, which you'll use for menu navigation as well as adjusting the following settings:

  • Up - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash off, fill flash, slow sync)
  • Right - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Down - Macro (on/off)
  • Left - Self-timer (Off, self-timer, sound release)

I don't normally spend much time discussing the self-timer function in my reviews, but the one on the Coolpix is somewhat unique, and is worth talking about. When you're in self-timer mode and you press the shutter release once, the camera will count to 10 and take a picture. Double-pressing the shutter release will do a 3 second delay (great for night shots on a tripod!).

But the really cool feature is called voice release. Frame your shot, press the shutter release button, get in position, and then make some noise and the camera takes the picture. You can set the noise level required to take the picture in the setup menu. I found level 1 (the quietest) to be way too sensitive -- just setting the camera down set it off. Level 3 (the loudest) required me to yell "cheese!" from 6 feet away.

Below the four-way controller are two more buttons: one for deleting photos, and the other for entering the menu system.


Voice recording mode

The item below that is the mode dial, which has the playback button inside it. The options on the mode dial include:

  • Auto - point-and-shoot mode; most menu options locked up
  • Scene mode - you choose the situation, camera picks best settings
    • Portrait
    • Party/indoor
    • Night portrait
    • Beach/snow
    • Landscape
    • Sunset
    • Night landscape
    • Museum
    • Fireworks show
    • Closeup
    • Copy
    • Back light
    • Panorama assist
    • Sports
    • Dusk/dawn
  • Voice recording - record up to five hours of audio (with a big memory card); voice clips saved in WAV format
  • Setup mode
  • Manual mode - still point-and-shoot, but with full menu access
  • Movie

As you can see, the CP3700 has a really impressive scene mode -- great for beginners!

The final item to discuss here is the zoom controller, located at the top-right of the photo. The zoom controller moves the lens quickly from wide-angle to telephoto in under 1.5 seconds. By quickly pressing the buttons, you can make very precise movements of the lens. If I had one wish, it would be to have those buttons stick out a little more from the back of the camera.

Up on the top of the Coolpix 3700, you'll find the the speaker and shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around it.

I must confess that I don't like having the power switch in that location. That's because I'm used to having the zoom controller in that position, rather than the power switch. So every time I wanted to zoom on the CP3700, I turned the camera off instead. Your mileage may vary.

Nothing to see here!

On this side of the CP3700, you'll find the I/O ports, memory card slot, and battery compartment. The A/V and USB outputs share one port, which can be accessed by opening the little plastic door on the left.

To get at everything else, you must open the side door.

Here's a look under that plastic door (which seems like it could snap off if forced), where you can see the battery compartment and memory card slot. As I mentioned, the CP3700 uses SD memory cards -- the first Nikon camera to do so.

The included memory card and battery are shown at left.

The last stop on our tour is the bottom of the camera. Down here, you'll find a plastic tripod mount.

Using the Nikon Coolpix 3700

Record Mode

It takes less than 3 seconds for the CP3700 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.


LCD in record mode

Once you're up and running, you'll find autofocus speeds to be better than average. Unless the camera has to "hunt" or use the AF-assist lamp, expect a delay of under a second for the camera to lock focus. The AF-assist lamp helped the camera focus well in dim lighting conditions.

Shutter lag was not a problem at fast shutter speeds, and noticeable (but not horrible) at slower shutter speeds (where you should be using the flash or a tripod, anyway).

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent. You can take another picture in about 1.5 seconds. There's no way to turn off the post-shot review, so you'll have to halfway press the shutter release if the previous photo is still being displayed on the LCD.

After you take a picture, you can delete it by pressing the delete photo button on the back of the camera.

Keeping with the easy-to-use theme, the Coolpix 3700 has just a few image quality choices, including:

Option Resolution # Images on 16MB card
3M
2048 x 1536
(1:4 compression)
9
2048 x 1536
(1:8 compression)
17
2M 1600 x 1200 28
PC screen 1024 x 768 63
TV screen 640 x 480 127

The Coolpix 3700 does not support TIFF or RAW file formats.

Images are named DSCN####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

The Coolpix 3700 has a very simple menu system, also seen on the Coolpix 2100/3100. The full list of settings is only available in manual mode -- in auto mode you can only change the image quality.

  • Image mode (see chart)
  • White balance (Auto, preset, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, speedlight)
  • Continuous (Single, continuous H, continuous L, multi-shot 16, interval timer) - see below
  • Best Shot Selector [BSS] (on/off)
  • Image sharpening (Auto, high, normal, low, off) - in-camera sharpening
  • AF Area Mode (Auto, manual, off)

As you can see, the 3700 has a manual white balance feature, which lets you get perfect white balance in any lighting by using a white or gray card as your reference. This is the only true manual control on the camera.

There are a bunch of interesting continuous shooting modes on the camera. Continuous H will take up to 3 pictures at a rate of up to 2.5 frames/sec. Continuous L will take up to 5 shots at 1.5 frames/sec. Multi-shot 16 takes sixteen shots in a row (at 1.5 frames/sec) and assembles them all into one 2048 x 1536 collage. The interval timer mode (I believe this is new to Nikon cameras) lets you take photos at a set interval (30 sec, 1, 5, 10, 30, or 60 min) until you tell it to stop or the 1800 shot limit is reached. You can choose to lock the exposure after the first shot, as well. Do note that the AC adapter is basically a requirement for the interval mode.

Nikon's exclusive Best Shot Selector (BSS) feature will let you take up to 10 shots in a row, and then the camera chooses the best of the bunch -- and that's the one that is saved to the memory card. This feature is useful in situations where "camera shake" may be an issue.

The manual AF Area mode will let you choose one of five areas in the frame for the camera to focus on. The auto AF Area mode will pick one of 5 areas automatically. Or you can just turn the whole thing off, and always focus on the center of the frame.

There is also a setup menu, which is accessed via the mode wheel. The choices here include:

  • Welcome screen
    • Image (Disable, Nikon, animation, custom) - the custom mode lets you pick a photo on the memory card to use
    • Start sound (on/off)
  • Date
    • Date (set)
    • Time zone - choose a home and travel time zone
  • Date imprint (Off, date, date & time) - print the date/time on your photos
  • LCD brightness
  • Sound settings
    • Button sound (on/off)
    • Shutter sound (1-3, off) - choose a fake shutter sound
    • Volume (1-3, off)
  • Sound release level (1-3) - the higher the number, the louder the noise required to activate the self-timer
  • Auto off (30 sec, 1, 5, 30 min)
  • Memory card format
  • Language (German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Korean)
  • USB (PTP, Mass Storage)
  • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
  • Reset all
  • Firmware version - displays the firmware version of the camera

Everything up there should be self-explanatory. Since it relates to USB mode, I suppose this is as good a place as any to mention that the CP3700 is PictBridge-enabled.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

Macro shooting has always been one of the trademarks of the Coolpix series, and the 3700 continues that tradition. You can get as close as 4 cm to your subject. In order to get that close, you'll need to adjust the zoom to the middle position, at which time the macro flower on LCD will turn green.

Our standard test shot looks great, with an image that's sharp and smooth at the same time. Colors are accurate, and noise levels are low.

The night test shot was decent, but could be better, for two reasons. One, the camera has an auto ISO feature, which cranks the sensitivity up to 200 when light levels are low. That adds noise to your pictures, which you can see above. The second thing is that you cannot manually set a shutter speed -- you must rely on the camera to choose the right one for you. The Night Scene mode is your best bet for taking night shots like this.

Our distortion test shows moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle, and no vignetting (dark corners).

The redeye test shows noticeable redeye, which is quite common on compact cameras like this. You can remove it fairly well using the NikonView software included with the camera. Something else to note is the high noise levels, which is due to the auto ISO system I just mentioned.

And that's really my only complaint about the CP3700's photo quality. It's excellent outdoors, with low noise levels, sharp edges, and accurate color. Indoors, or in low light, watch out for that "ISO" warning on the LCD -- it means that the camera is bumping up the sensitivity, which leads to noisy images. I really wish there was a way just to keep the ISO sensitivity fixed at the lowest setting (50 in the case of the 3700). Purple fringing (chromatic aberrations) was really only an issue in one or two of my test shots.

Please, please, please, don't just take my word as gospel -- have a look at the photo gallery and decide for yourself if the photo quality is acceptable.

Movie Mode

Nikon has finally gotten their act together regarding movie mode. You can record movies at 640 x 480, 30 frames/second, until the memory card is full. Nikon recommends using a high speed SD card (Panasonic's are quite fast) in order to take advantage of this, though I was able to use a regular SanDisk card without any issues. Sound is recorded along with the video, as well.

In addition to that mode, there are other movie modes available:

Option Resolution Frame rate # of seconds on
16MB memory card
TV movie 640* 640 x 480 30 fps 10 sec
Time-lapse movie 640* 30 fps 4.9 sec
TV movie 640 15 fps 25 sec
Small size 320* 320 x 240 30 fps 25 sec
Small size 320 15 fps 45 sec
Black & white movie 320 15 fps 45 sec
Sepia movie 320 15 fps 45 sec
Smaller size 160 160 x 120 15 fps 200 sec

About the only thing in that chart requiring explanation is the time-lapse movie mode. It works in the exact same way as the still picture interval mode I discussed earlier, except all the frames are shoved together into one 640 x 480 silent movie.

In movie mode you can also choose between single and continuous autofocus. The latter is very useful when your subject is moving, and it is the default option in movie mode. Be warned though: you'll hear the lens focusing in your movie, which is really annoying.

As first noted in the Steves Digicams review of the 3700, you may have some audio/video synchronization issues in your movies at the VGA setting. I noticed this as well, but couldn't reproduce it consistently.

Here's a short sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (7.4MB, 640 x 480, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Coolpix 3700 has an easy-to-use, yet complete playback mode. The standard playback functions include slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail mode, image protection, and zoom & scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you zoom into your image as much as 10 times, and then scroll around in the enlarged photo. This feature is very well implemented on the 3700.

The picture enhance option lets you do some tricks with your photos. The "halo filter" will keep the center of your photo sharp, but blurs everything else. The monochrome and sepia filters create black & white and yellowish copies of your image, respectively.

The small pic option lets you downsize your image to 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120.

The movie trim feature lets you cut unwanted footage from the beginning or end of your movie. For all of the items I just discussed, the original still/movie are saved.

The Coolpix lets you mark photos that you want to be automatically transferred when you connect the camera to your PC. Another nice feature that's all too uncommon these days is the ability to delete a group of photos, rather than just one at a time or all of them.

The 3700 unfortunately doesn't give you any useful information about your photos. Even beginners would appreciate seeing some basic information about their pictures!

The camera moves through images very quickly in playback mode. A lower resolution image is shown instantly, with the high resolution version appearing less than a second later.

How Does it Compare?

The Coolpix 3700 is a very nice, compact point-and-shoot camera that addresses one of the two big issues that I've had with previous entry-level Nikon cameras: low light shooting. With the inclusion of an AF-assist lamp, the Coolpix can finally compete with cameras from Canon and Sony that have had this feature for years. My other complaint, which was not addressed here, is the auto ISO system, which bumps up the sensitivity -- and hence image noise -- in low light. If you see the ISO warning on the LCD, do your best to get rid of it (add more light, recompose the shot), otherwise your images will be noisy. Thankfully, that ISO warning is rare, and you'll get great photos most of the time, both indoors and outdoors. The CP3700 is a capable performer, with fast startup, shooting, and shot-to-shot speeds. The scene modes are great for beginners -- just pick a scene and go. The camera's movie mode is top-notch as well, though it has a few annoyances (A/V sync, focusing noise). Two other nice things are the excellent LCD display and unique voice-activated self-timer. Beside the auto ISO issue, other downsides to the CP3700 include the lack of manual shutter speed, aperture, or focus controls, and the omission of any photo information in playback mode. While I applaud the support for the new CP1 lithium prismatic batteries, I'm yet to find them for sale.

All-in-all, the Coolpix 3700 is a good camera for those who don't mind the lack of manual controls, and want something compact that they can take anywhere. Take a look at it!

What I liked:

  • Stylish, compact, all-metal body
  • Great photo quality in most situations
  • Robust performance
  • AF illuminator
  • Excellent LCD display
  • Impressive macro ability
  • Voice-activated self-timer
  • Superb movie mode (but note issues below)
  • Can use CP1 lithium batteries as well as proprietary rechargeable -- but good luck finding one

What I didn't care for:

  • Images can be noisy if ISO boost is used
  • Some redeye
  • Aside from white balance, no manual controls
  • No exposure information in playback mode
  • Some issues with A/V sync in movie mode; annoying AF sounds in movies when camera is in C-AF mode
  • I don't like the placement of the power switch (but that's just me)

Some other compact 3 Megapixel cameras worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot SD100 and S400, Casio Exilim EX-Z3 and Z4U, Fuji FinePix F700, Kyocera Finecam S5R, Minolta DiMAGE G400 and Xt, Olympus Stylus 300 and 400, Panasonic Lumix DMC-F1, Pentax Optio 555 and S4, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P72 and DSC-P8.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix 3700 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out another review of the Coolpix 3700 over at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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