DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 4500
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, August 25, 2002
Last Updated: Tuesday, October 15, 2002

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The Coolpix 4500 is the latest in an almost legendary line of Nikon digital cameras. It uses the same swiveling lens design that has been with us since the days of the Coolpix 900. Through the years, the innards of the Coolpix have changed, but not the design. When the Coolpix 5000 arrived last year, Nikon fans wondered if the swivel design was done for. But when the 4500 was announced this summer, a sigh of relief was heard.

The CP4500 has all of the latest bells and whistles: a 4 Megapixel CCD, a 4X optical zoom lens, and tons of manual controls.

Is the 4500 as good as its predecessors? Find out in our review.

What's in the Box?

The Coolpix 4500 has a very good bundle, with one exception. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 4.0 (effective) Mpixel Nikon Coolpix 4500 camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • EN-EL1 rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • CD-ROM featuring NikonView 5 and other software
  • 167 page manual (printed)

I will get the negatives out of the way first. Actually, there's only one: the memory card. With the CP4500, you only get a 16MB card. The card is one of those unmarked Lexar "starter cards" which only mentions the size in small print on the back of the card. A 16MB is way too small for a camera with this kind of resolution, so go out and buy something much larger right away. (Apparently models bought outside the U.S. include a larger card.)

The now familiar EN-EL1 rechargeable battery (5.0 Wh), also found on the CP5000 and CP5700, is used here. Nikon estimates that the battery will last for about 100 minutes in "average use". If you use an IBM Microdrive, expect higher power consumption.

I'm a bit critic of most proprietary batteries for two reasons: 1) they're expensive and 2) if you're in a bind you can't just buy another at Walgreens. The Coolpix 4500 is somewhat of an exception, since you can also use a non-rechargeable 2CR5 battery if you are desperate.


Charger and battery

Nikon includes an external charger for the EN-EL1. They also give you a lens cap and strap to protect the lens.


The Coolpix 4500 is a mid-sized camera

Just like on other Coolpix models, there are tons of optional accessories available. That includes lenses, flashes, and hoods. You can get wide-angle, fisheye, and telephoto lenses. A wired remote control is available too. Oh, and there is also a slide copier available.

The CP4500 includes version 5.1 of NikonView, which is one way to transfer photos. The software is Mac OS X native but is still sluggish and buggy. The CP4500 is fully compatible with Mac OS X and Windows XP.

The Coolpix's manual is somewhat confusing, but everything you need is inside, if you can find it. It's also nice to see that Nikon is including printed manuals again, instead of making you view a PDF version.

Look and Feel

The unique body of the Coolpix 4500 is almost totally made of metal. It's very solid and can take quite a beating. The camera is very easy to hold, and it can be used with one hand or two.

The lens can be rotated 180 degrees in one direction, and 90 degrees in the other. You can lock it in place if you don't want to rotate it. The rotating lens is very useful for situations where you need to shoot over people's heads (just to name one example).

The official dimensions of the CP4500 are 5.1 x 2.9 x 2.0 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs 360 grams (12.8 ounces) empty. The camera isn't large, but I wouldn't call it pocket-sized either. It's slightly smaller than previous Coolpix models.

Let's tour the CP4500 now.

The Coolpix 4500 has an F2.6-F5.1, 4X optical zoom lens. The lens has a focal range of 7.85 - 32 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 155 mm. The lens mount is threaded for 28mm attachments, and all Coolpix lens accessories are supported.

Directly above the lens is the pop-up flash, which opens automatically. The flash has a working range of 0.5 - 1.6 m (wide-angle) and 0.5 - 3.0 m (telephoto). The 4500's flash doesn't cover nearly as much of an area as the CP5700's flash. If you need more flash power, you can add an external one.

Above where the Nikon label is, under a plastic cover, is the DC in port, for the optional AC adapter.

The Coolpix 4500 continues Nikon's tradition of omitting an autofocus-assist lamp.

If you buy a CP4500 in countries other than the U.S., the grip may be red instead of blue.

Here now is the back of the camera, with the lens in what I'd call the "off position". We'll take a look at the optical viewfinder in a minute.

One thing that really bothers me about the LCD (on this and the CP5700) is that it's way too small! Looking at the CP4500 side-by-side with my old CP950 really illustrates this. The 4500 has a 1.5" LCD normally found on one of those "micro cameras". The image on the LCD is bright and fluid, though it has a very narrow viewing angle.


Quick Review

Just above the LCD are buttons for turning the LCD on and off, Quick Review / Playback mode, and zoom. Quick Review shows the last image taken in a little window on the LCD, and you can move through the various images by using the four-way switch. Pressing the button again enters pull playback mode. The zoom controls move the lens slowly, but smoothly. It takes a rather sluggish 5 seconds to go from wide-angle to telephoto.

Below the LCD, you'll find buttons for :

  • Focus Mode {record} / Delete photo {playback}
  • Menu
  • Four-way switch

The focus mode button toggles through infinite focus, macro focus, and self-timer (plus combinations of the last two). If you hold down the button and turn the command dial (which you'll see in a minute), you can manually focus the camera.


Manual focus mode

Unfortunately there's only a "bar graph" showing the relative focal distance. No exact numbers here. The self-timer defaults to 10 seconds, but it will do 3 seconds if you double-press the shutter release button.

The four-way switch is used for menu navigation, and AE/AF lock, if you press it inward.

Over on the left side of the photo above, you can see the flash button, which doubles as the ISO selector when it's held down. The flash modes are auto, off, auto w/redeye, forced, slow sync. The ISO choices are Auto, 100, 200, 400, and 800.

Below-left of that button is the flash sync port. You'll need the SK-E900 flash bracket in order to use an external flash. Nikon encourages you to use only their Speedlights -- the 80DX, 30, 28DX, 28, 26, 25, 24, 22, and 22s are listed as compatible. Power zoom and AF-assist features on the external flash are not supported.

Here is the top of the camera, with the lens still in the "off" position. You can see the optical viewfinder over on the left. It covers 80% of the frame, and has diopter correction for those without perfect vision.

On the other side, you'll find a number of items:

  • Shutter release button
  • Power switch
  • Mode button
  • Function / exposure compensation button
  • Command dial

The mode button switches between:

  • Fully automatic mode - camera does everything and locks most menu items away

  • Program Mode - camera picks best exposure settings. There is also a flexible program mode which lets you pick from a few other program settings (±2).

  • Shutter Priority Mode - you choose shutter speed, camera picks appropriate aperture. Shutter speed range is 8 sec - 1/2000 sec.

  • Aperture Priority Mode - you choose aperture, camera picks shutter speed. Aperture range of F2.6 - F10.3 in 1/3 step increments. In bright light, you may be able to get the shutter speed up to 1/2300 sec.

  • Manual Mode - you choose aperture and shutter speed. This enables bulb mode, which will keep the shutter open for as long as the shutter release button is pressed, for up to 5 minutes (!). This pretty much requires a remote shutter release cable and a tripod.

  • Scene Mode - choose one of 16 scenes and the camera chooses the appropriate settings. The scenes include:
    • Portrait
    • Party/indoor
    • Night portrait
    • Beach/snow
    • Landscape
    • Sunset
    • Night landscape
    • Museum
    • Fireworks show (yay!)
    • Close-up
    • Copy - for copying text or drawings
    • Back Light
    • Multiple exposure - two successive images combined into one
    • Panorama assist
    • Sports
    • Dusk/dawn

By default, the Func(tion) button adjusts exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments). You can redefine what this button does by using the setup menu. It can be used to change continuous shooting, quality, white balance, or metering settings.

Below those buttons is the command dial, which is used for changing manual settings.

The last item of note on the top of the camera is the microphone.

Not much to see here -- just the lens pointed forward.

On the other side of the camera you'll find the CompactFlash slot. This is a Type II slot, and the IBM Microdrive is compatible. The plastic door feels very flimsy and I fear it could bust off if you're careless.

Above the slot, under a rubber cover, are the I/O ports. The only two ports here are USB and A/V out.

Lastly, here is the bottom of the camera, where you'll find the metal tripod mount, rotating lens lock, and the battery compartment. The battery door is much more sturdy than the CF slot door, in my opinion. The rotating lens lock will limit forward rotation to 90 degrees. One little tip: if you want to rotate the lens, do it before you put it on a tripod.

You can see the EN-EL1 battery, as well.

Using the Nikon Coolpix 4500

Record Mode

Turn on the CP4500 and it's ready to start taking pictures in four seconds. If you set the camera to put the lens at the last position used, or if you're using a Microdrive, startup times will be a bit slower.

When you depress the shutter release button halfway, the camera locks focus in one second. Press the button fully and the picture is taken after a short, but noticeable lag.

Shot-to-shot speed is impressive -- you will wait just over two seconds before you can take another shot. The exception to this is when you're taking a photo at the "HI" (TIFF) setting. A TIFF photo will lock up the camera for 25 seconds. There is no "RAW" mode on the CP4500.

Speaking of image quality settings, here's a chart of the various image size and quality choices available on the Coolpix:

  # of images on included 16MB card
Image Size HI quality Fine quality Normal quality Basic quality
2272 x 1704 1 8 16 32
2272 x 1520
(3:2 ratio)
1 9 17 34
1600 x 1200 N/A 16 31 59
1280 x 960 N/A 24 47 86
1024 x 768 N/A 37 69 121
640 x 480 N/A 86 144 229

TIFFs can only be recorded at the 2272 x 1704 or 2272 x 1520 sizes.

If you want to find out how many photos a larger memory card will hold, just multiply the numbers above. For example, a 1gb Microdrive will hold 64 times as many photos, so just multiply the numbers in the table by 64. Sounds easy enough, but lots of people do ask me this question, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

Now let's talk Coolpix menus. The CP4500 uses a new menu system (in appearance, at least) that can be intimidating. Items can be buried deep inside and can be hard to find You can have up to three separate sets of settings. Here's what you'll find in the CP4500 menus:

  • White balance (Auto, preset, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, speedlight) - more info below

  • Metering (Matrix, spot, center-weighted, spot AF area) - in spot AF area metering, the camera samples the light only in the current focus area

  • Continuous Menu
    • Single shot
    • Continuous - 1.5 frames/sec; I was able to take 10 in a row at the normal quality setting
    • Multi-shot 16 - puts 16 consecutive shots into one full size image - like a collage
    • Ultra HS - 30 frames/sec, 320 x 240, images saved in separate folder on the CF card
    • Movie - more later on this

  • Best Shot Selector (on/off) - takes up to 10 consecutive shots, then chooses the sharpest image

  • Image Adjustment (Auto, normal, more contrast, less contrast)

  • Saturation Control (Maximum, normal, moderate, minimum, black & white) - why B&W is here, I have no idea

  • Image Quality (Hi, fine, normal, basic)

  • Image Size (2272 x 1704, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480, 2272 x 1520)

  • User Setting (1, 2, 3) - store up to three combinations of settings for easy retrieval

  • Image Sharpening (Auto, high, normal, low, off)

  • Lens (Normal, wide adapter, telephoto 1, telephoto 2, fisheye 1, fisheye 2, slide copy adapter) - use this if you bought a conversion lens

  • Exposure Options
    • AE Lock (on/off/reset) - turning this on will lock the exposure settings after the first shot
    • Exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)

  • Focus Options
    • AF Area Mode (Auto, manual, off) - in manual mode, you can use the four-way switch to pick the area to focus on
    • Auto-Focus Mode (Continuous AF, Single AF) - how the camera focuses (always or when the button is pressed halfway)
    • Focus Confirmation (MF, on, off) - shows what areas in the image are in focus on the LCD

  • Zoom Options
    • Digital Tele (on/off) - turn digital zoom on or off
    • Startup Position (Last position, wide) - where the lens goes when you turn on the camera
    • Fixed aperture (on/off) - when on, aperture is fixed, even when you zoom in or out. Only works in A and M modes.

  • Speedlight Options
    • Pop-up (Auto, manual) - whether or not flash pops up automatically
    • Variable Power (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
    • Speedlight Control (Internal off, Internal & External active) - for using an external flash

  • Auto Bracketing
    • Exposure Bracketing - 3 or 5 shots in a row with varying EV values
    • WB Bracketing - 3 shots with varying white balance. One normal image, one "bluish" image, one "reddish" image

  • Noise Reduction (on/off) - Noise reduction will reduce the appearance of noise or grain in your images. It is only used at shutter speeds slower than 1/30 sec. Note that a tripod or a very steady hand is recommended for this feature.

A quick note about white balance: the preset mode allows you to shoot a white or gray card/paper to get the perfect WB setting. On all of the WB modes except Auto and Preset, you can fine tune the setting ±3 by using the command dial. You can also use the WB bracketing feature that I mentioned before. In other words, it's hard to have bad white balance on this camera.

In addition to the main menu, there is also a setup menu with even more options. The interesting ones include:

  • Monitor options
    • Display Mode (Monitor on, review only, preview only, monitor off) - options for the LCD
    • Brightness

  • Controls
    • Func button (Exposure compensation, continuous, quality, white balance, metering) - customize what this button does
    • AE/AF lock button (AE-L and AF-L, AE-L, AF-L) - define what happens when you press the four-way switch inward

  • File numbering (on, off, reset)

  • Shot Confirmation (on/off) - self timer will light after a picture is taken if this is turned on

  • info.txt (on/off) - saves a text file with exposure information along with your photos

  • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)

  • USB (PTP, Mass Storage)

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of menus. Let's talk photos now. For this review, I took two night shot photos and two macro photos.

My night test shot looks pretty good at the size you see above, but when you blow it up, it's actually pretty soft. The noise levels are very low, thanks to Nikon's noise reduction system.

Here's our usual 3" tall figurine, looking great. The color is excellent, and even the nose is in focus. You can get as close to your subject as 2 cm in macro mode! The camera is at its best when the zoom is right in the middle between wide-angle and telephoto. You'll know you're there when the little flower symbol on the LCD changes from white to yellow.

And here is our second macro shot. You can see incredible amounts of detail on the dollar bill, like the multi-colored threads embedded in the paper. Nikon's macro mode is one of the best out there.

Here's our redeye test. Getting that flash up and away from the lens wa s a good move, as there's really no redeye to speak of. You can see the reflection of the flash but there's no demonic red glow like on some of the older Coolpix 900-series cameras. Note that I blew this image up a bit so you could see the details.

The CP4500 produces some impressive photos. Occasionally, it would blow out the highlights (see the gallery for examples), and there is some barrel distortion at wide-angle, but overall I'm happy with what this camera can do. Chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) was not a problem, and noise levels were also quite low. Take a look at the photo gallery and decide for yourself about the photo quality.

Movie Mode

The Coolpix 4500 has an average movie mode. You can record movies up to 35 seconds long, at 320 x 240 (15 frames/sec). Sound is recorded.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format.

You cannot use the optical zoom during filming -- only the digital zoom.

Here's a quick sample movie for you. I panned around faster than I would've liked, so you'll have to forgive me for that.


Click to play movie (3.6MB, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Coolpix 4500 actually has a nicer playback mode than its more expensive cousin, the CP5700. Separate development teams, I guess.

Anyhow, the basic features that we all know are here: slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.

Zoom and scroll lets you zoom in up to 6X into your photo (in 0.2X increments), and then move around in the zoomed-in area. This is useful for checking the focus.

Here's a new one: the CP4500 has a feature called Perspective Control which allows you to change the vertical perspective. The example Nikon gives is to make a shot of a building taken looking up at it appear more square (like it was taken at eye level). You adjust the image using the four-way switch (up/down only), and when you're happy with it, you wait 40 seconds for the new image to be written to the CF card. Here's an example:


Before

After

Another CP4500 feature lets you resize your image to a much smaller size. Choose from 640 x 480, 320 x 240, 160 x 120, and 96 x 72.

One nice feature is the ability to delete a selection of photos, instead of just one or all of them. You can also mark images to be automatically transferred when the camera is hooked into the computer.

If you want more details about your photo, the CP4500 comes to the rescue. You can get four pages of additional information, including a histogram.

The CP4500 moves through images quickly. A low resolution image is shown instantly, followed by the high res version less than 2 seconds later.

You can add 20 second voice annotations to your images, as well.

How Does it Compare?

After producing some just so-so digital cameras (Coolpix 2500 and 5000), Nikon has once again returned to making top notch cameras with the Coolpix 4500 (not to mention the 5700). The CP4500 produces excellent photos, has a full suite of manual controls, uses a nice 4X Nikkor zoom lens, and has the body style that made the Coolpix famous. And lets not forget the amazing macro ability, either. On the downside, the camera is a bit slow in the focus and shutter lag department, images sometimes have the highlights blown out, and the LCD is too small for my taste. Even with the negatives, the CP4500 is one of the best 4 Megapixel cameras out there.

What I liked:

  • Swiveling, 4X optical zoom lens
  • Tons of manual controls
  • Very good photo quality
  • Stunning macro ability
  • Support for many add-on lenses + external flash
  • CompactFlash Type II slot - Microdrive works fine
  • Nice playback mode

What I didn't care for:

  • AF and shutter lag higher than it should be
  • Sometimes blows out highlights in photos
  • LCD is too small; limited viewing angle
  • No AF illuminator
  • Included 16MB memory card way too small
  • Movie mode could be better
  • Flimsy plastic door on CF slot

Some other full-featured 4 Megapixel cameras worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot G2 and S40, Casio QV-4000, Minolta DiMAGE S404, Olympus C-4040Z and E-10, and the Sony DSC-S85. I'd take a look at the (3.3 Megapixel SuperCCD-based) Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom as well.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix 4500 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the samples in our photo gallery!

Want a few more opinions?

Required reading: Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, and DP Review Coolpix 4500 reviews.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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