The Coolpix 4600 ($200)
and 5600 ($280)
are Nikon's entry level point-and-shoot cameras for
2005. Both feature compact bodies,
a 1.8" LCD display, in-camera redeye reduction
and "D-lighting" features (more on these
later), and tons of scene modes. The main difference
between the two models is the resolution -- 4 Megapixels
for the 4600 and 5 for the 5600 -- but there are a
few other differences that I'll point out in the review.
There is also a 7 Megapixel model -- the Coolpix
7600 ($380) -- but I did not receive one to test.
This review is different than most
here at the DCRP since I'll be covering two cameras
in one review. For all the product shots I used the
Coolpix 4600 as the "model". For the test
photos I used one or both of the cameras, and I'll
make clear which one is being used for each test.
With that out of the way, let's dig
into the details on these two Coolpix cameras now!
What's in the Box?
The Coolpix 4600 and 5600 have average
bundles. Inside their respective boxes, you'll find:
- The 4.0 or 5.1 effective Megapixel
Nikon Coolpix 4600 or 5600 digital camera
- Two AA alkaline batteries
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Nikon PictureProject
- 117 page camera manual (printed)
With their 2005 Coolpix models, Nikon
is going the route of so many other camera manufacturers
by building flash memory into the camera instead of
including a memory card. In the case of the 4600 and
5600, that's just 14MB worth. That holds just 5-7 photos
at the highest quality setting, so you'll definitely
want to buy a memory card right away. The cameras use
Secure Digital memory cards, and I recommend a 256MB
card as a good starting point. A high speed card is
not a necessary purchase.
The Coolpix 4600 and 5600 use two
AA batteries. Nikon includes two alkaline batteries
with the cameras, which will quickly find their way
into the trash. I highly recommend picking up a four-pack
of NiMH rechargeables (2300 mAh or greater) which will
last longer than regular batteries and you'll be helping
the environment while you're at it. With 2000 mAh batteries
the cameras can take 340 and 360 photos (4600 and 5600,
respectively), so with higher power batteries you could
do even better. These numbers easily best those from
the Canon PowerShot A510/A520.
I'm a big fan of cameras that use
AA batteries, because 1) they're cheaper than proprietary
lithium-ion batteries and 2) you can use alkalines
in a pinch if your rechargeables die.
There's a built-in lens cover on the
Coolpix 4600/5600, so there are no lens caps to worry
Nikon offers just a few accessories
for the Coolpix 4600 and 5600. The most interesting
one is the WP-CP3 waterproof case ($220), which lets
you take the cameras up to 40 meters underwater. Other
accessories include an AC adapter ($28), battery/charger
kit ($28), and carrying case ($9). An accessory kit
with the battery/charger kit and carrying case is also
available for $36.
Nikon includes their PictureProject
software with the two Coolpixes. While it's better
than the old NikonView software, it's still nothing
to write home about. The main screen is your typical
photo organizer, which lets you put photos in folders,
give them keywords for easy searching later, rotate
The edit screen lets you adjust a
few things, such as brightness, color, and sharpness.
The Photo Effects option lets you quickly change the
image to black and white or sepia. There are also buttons
for instant photo enhancement or redeye removal.
E-mail your photos
PictureProject can also be used to
e-mail or print your photos, or share them online via
NikonNet. A slideshow feature lets you put your photos
While not very user friendly, the
manual included with the Coolpix 4600 and 5600 (they
use the same one) are complete. There's a fair amount
of fine print and "notes", but you will find
the answers you're looking for if you search hard enough.
Look and Feel
The Coolpix 4600 and 5600 are descendents
of the old Coolpix 2200 and 3200 from last year. These
new models are smaller and lighter than their predecessors.
The cameras are made entirely of plastic, but they
don't feel cheap. They're nice and small and will fit
into your pocket with ease. The important controls
are easy to reach and the camera can be used with just
Now, here's a look at how the 4600
and 5600 compare with some of the competition:
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
x 2.5 x 1.5 in.
x 2.2 x 1.3 in.
x 2.5 x 1.3 in.
x 2.4 x 1.3 in.
x 2.2 x 1.1 in.
x 2.7 x 1.6 in.
x 2.4 x 1.3 in.
x 2.4 x 1.4 in.
x 2.4 x 1.5 in.
x 2.2 x 1.4 in.
x 2.5 x 1.3 in.
x 2.5 x 1.6 in.
x 2.4 x 1.4 in.
As you can see, the Coolpix 4600 and
5600 are two of the smallest cameras in this class.
There are smaller cameras out there -- the ultra-compacts
-- which I did not put on this list.
Well that's enough about that, let's
move onto our tour now. Keep in mind that I'm using
the Coolpix 4600 as the "model" in this next
The Coolpix 4600 and 5600 both use
a fairly standard-issue F2.9-4.9, 3X optical zoom lens.
The focal range of the lens is 5.7 - 17.1 mm, which
is equivalent to 34 - 102 mm on the CP4600 and 35 -
105 mm on the CP5600. The lens is not threaded and
conversion lenses are not supported.
To the upper-left of the lens is the
built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.4
- 3.3 m at wide-angle and 0.4 - 2.0 m at telephoto,
which is about average. The flash recycle time seemed
a little slow to me, as well. You cannot attach an
external flash to the Coolpix 4600 or 5600.
Below the flash is the self-timer
lamp. There is no AF-assist lamp on either the Coolpix
4600 or 5600. You'll need to upgrade to the CP5900
or CP7900 if you want one of those.
The Coolpix 4600 and 5600 feature
a 1.8" LCD display with 80,000 pixels. I did
not find the relatively low resolution of the screen
to be a problem. Low light visibility on the cameras
isn't great. The screen gains up a little, but I
didn't find it terribly helpful for framing my shots.
The more expensive Coolpix 5900 and 7900 did a heck
of a lot better in this area.
Directly above the LCD is the optical
viewfinder, which is average-sized. The viewfinder
shows 82% of the frame (the LCD shows 97%). There's
no diopter correction feature, which is used to focus
what you're looking at.
To the right of the viewfinder is
the mode dial, which has the following options:
||You pick the scene and the camera uses
the appropriate settings. Choose from party/indoor,
beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape,
close-up, museum, fireworks show, copy, backlight,
underwater, and panorama assist
||These scene modes have more
options and some framing guidelines for easier
shooting; see below
|Night Portrait Assist
||More on this later
In case you haven't gathered by now,
this is a point-and-shoot camera with no manual controls.
Great for the beginner, not so great for the enthusiast.
Two of the Scene
The four "assist" modes
go beyond most other scene modes, offering many different
options plus framing guidelines to make shooting things
like portraits a little easier. Do note that you can't
change any menu options aside from image quality while
using the scene modes.
Just to the right of the mode dial
is the zoom controller. This moves the lens from wide-angle
to telephoto in about 1.7 seconds. I counted twenty
steps throughout the 3X zoom range, which is excellent.
The help screen
for white balance
In addition to adjusting the zoom,
the controller is used for the "zoom and scroll" feature
in playback mode and for activating the help system.
Yes, a help system -- these are the first Nikon models
to offer this useful feature. For any menu option just
press the "zoom in" button and you'll get
a help screen with a (very) brief description of the
The next item down is the menu button,
which does just as it sounds. Below that is the four-way
controller, used for menu navigation and also:
- Up - Flash setting (Auto, auto
w/redeye reduction, flash off, fill flash, slow sync)
- Down - Macro mode (on/off)
- Left - Self-timer (on/off)
- Center - Auto transfer + D-Lighting
The D-Lighting feature is Nikon's
name for a "digital flash". This lets you
brighten dark areas of your photos that could be caused
by strong backlighting or insufficient flash coverage.
Here's an example of how it works:
Night flash shot w/o D-Lighting
Same shot with D-Lighting applied
As you can see, D-Lighting helped
brighten the scene quite a bit. One thing that's not
so easy to see here is the added noise that comes along
with the D-Lighting feature. As with most things, you
have to trade one thing to get another.
Below the four-way controller are
two more buttons, for playback and deleting photos.
On top of the Coolpix 4600/5600 you'll
find the microphone, power button, and shutter release
button. Okay, the part about the microphone isn't entirely
true. While both cameras have HOLES for the microphone,
but only the 5600 actually has the electronics in there
to record sound.
On this side of the camera you'll
find the speaker and I/O ports. The I/O ports are kept
behind a plastic cover and they include USB and A/V
out (one port for both).
On the other side of the camera you'll
find the SD memory card slot, which is kept behind
a plastic door of average quality.
On the bottom of the camera you'll
find a plastic tripod mount and the battery compartment.
The door covering the battery compartment is fairly
sturdy, and it has a locking mechanism. As you can
see, the Coolpix 4600 and 5600 use two AA batteries.
Using the Nikon Coolpix 4600/5600
It takes about 2.8 seconds for the
cameras to extend their lens and "warm up" before
you can start taking pictures. You may need to disable
the startup screen in order to get that time, though.
Autofocus speeds were about average,
with focus times typically around 0.4 - 0.6 seconds
when the shutter release button is halfway pressed.
At the telephoto end of the lens, or if the camera
has to "hunt" to lock focus, the times can
exceed one second. Low light focusing was poor, due
mostly to the lack of an AF-assist lamp. Upgrading
to the Coolpix 5900 or 7900 is a good idea if you do
a lot of shooting in low light, as they do a lot better
in this area.
Shutter lag was not a problem, even
at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot speeds were good, with
a delay of under two seconds before you can take another
There is no way to delete a photo
right after you take it. You must first enter playback
Now, here's a look at the image size
and quality choices available on the two cameras:
||# images on 14MB built-in
||# images on 256MB SD
2592 x 1944
2592 x 1944
|4M* (4600 only)
2288 x 1712
2288 x 1712
2048 x 1536
1600 x 1200
1024 x 768
640 x 480
As you can see, each camera has just
a handful of image quality options. Neither of the
cameras support the RAW or TIFF image formats.
Images are named DSCN####.JPG, where
# = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even
if you replace and/or format memory cards.
Now, onto the menus!
The Coolpix 4600 and 5600 have an
all new menu system that's both more attractive and
user friendly than the menus on older Nikon cameras.
Since this is a point-and-shoot camera, there aren't
too many options in the menu. Here they are:
- Image mode (see above chart)
- White balance (Auto, preset, daylight,
incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, speedlight) -
- Exposure compensation (-2EV to
+2EV, 1/3EV increments)
- Continuous (Single, continuous,
multi-shot 16) - see below
- Best Shot Selector [BSS] (on/off)
- see below
- Color options (Standard, vivid,
black and white, sepia, cyanotype [blue cast])
The only manual control you'll find
on these cameras is with respect to white balance.
That "preset" option lets you use a white
or gray card as your "white point" so you
can get perfect color even under the most unusual lighting.
The continuous shooting mode performs
different on each camera, as you'd expect. On the CP4600
you can take up to five shots at the highest JPEG quality
at around 1.4 frames/second. The Coolpix 5600 took
nine shots in a row at 1.3 frames/second. On both cameras
the screen blacks out for a moment between each shot,
which can make following a moving subject a little
challenging. At least there's the optical viewfinder
to back you up!
The Nikon exclusive Best Shot Selector
feature takes up to 10 shots in a row and automatically
saves the sharpest picture of the group.
There's also a setup menu, which is
accessed via the mode dial. The options found there
- Welcome screen (Disable, Nikon,
animation, select an image) - the "select an
image" mode lets you pick a photo on the memory
card to use
- Date (set)
- Time zone - choose a home
and travel time zone
- Monitor settings
- Photo info (Show info, hide info, monitor
off) - choose what is shown on LCD or just
turn the whole thing off
- Brightness (-2 to +2, 1-step increments)
- Date imprint (Off, date, date & time)
- print the date/time on your photos
- Sound settings - only the
CP5600 offers the options below; there's on big
on/off switch on the CP4600 covering all of these
- Button sound (on/off)
- Shutter sound (Off, 1-3)
- Startup sound (on/off)
- Volume (Off, normal, loud)
- Blur warning (on/off) - if the
camera detects that a shot is blurry, it will tell
you and ask if you want to keep it or dump it. Expect
to see this one a lot if you take photos indoors
without the flash
- Auto off settings
- Auto off (30 sec, 1, 5, 30 min)
- Sleep mode (on/off)
- Format memory/card
- Language (German, English, Spanish,
French, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Japanese, Simplified
Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean)
- USB (PTP, Mass Storage)
- Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
- Auto transfer (on/off) - whether
photos are automatically transferred to your PC by
- Reset all
- Battery type (Alkaline, NiMH, lithium)
- Menus (Text, icons) - choose the
- Firmware version - displays the
firmware version of the camera
Well enough about menus, let's do
photo tests now. Some tests were done with just one
camera, others with both, so read my descriptions carefully!
Both cameras did a decent job with
our usual macro test subject, though each camera had
their own strengths and weaknesses, despite trying
to take the picture in the same way. For example, the
4600's colors look nicer to me (more saturated), while
the 5600's sharpness is noticeably better.
You can get as close to your subject
as 4 cm, though there's a procedure that you need to
follow in order to do that. Put the camera in macro
mode and adjust the zoom until the "macro flower" turns
green. Then you know that you can use the minimum focus
Both of the Coolpixes did a fairly
good job with the night shot test, though they could
be better. Since the cameras are point-and-shoot you're
at the mercy of their electronic brains when it comes
to taking long exposures. Putting the camera into the
Night Landscape mode seems to be the best bet. Do note
that since the camera automatically adjusts the ISO
sensitivity, noise levels are higher than they would
be otherwise. This is especially noticeable in the
CP5600 shot. Both photos are on the soft side, as well.
Thankfully there was no purple fringing to be found
Here's the distortion test, taken
with the Coolpix 4600. You'll find moderate barrel
distortion at the wide end of the lens on the cameras
(which share the same lens), with no vignetting (dark
corners) to be found.
The Coolpix 4600 and 5600 have a two-part
redeye reduction system. The first part uses the usual "preflash" system
to get your subjects pupils to contract. If the camera
thinks there's still redeye, part two comes into play:
the camera will digitally remove the redeye from the
photo. As you can see in our test, the camera (the
4600 in this case) faired well in our flash photo test.
Overall the image quality on both
cameras was very good. The images from the Coolpix
4600 seemed slightly sharper, though that's probably
just an effect of the lower resolution. On the whole
I would've liked the images to be a little sharper,
but that's just my opinion. Color accuracy and noise
levels both look good, and purple fringing was not
a major problem.
Don't just take my word for it, though.
Look at our Coolpix 4600 and 5600 photo
galleries and print the photos as if they were your
own. Then decide if their photo quality meets your
The two Coolpixes have fairly uninspiring
movie modes. Both can record video at 640 x 480, 15
frames/second until your memory card is full, though
this resolution is achieved through vertical interlacing
(read: it's not a real 640 x 480 movie mode). Of the
two cameras, only the CP5600 records sound along with
the video -- the movies taken with the CP4600 are silent.
The onboard memory holds just 24 seconds of video at
the highest quality setting, so buy a larger memory
card for longer movies.
Two other movie resolutions are available:
320 x 240 and 160 x 120 (both are 15 frames/second).
You can choose between single and
continuous autofocus while in movie mode. On the CP5600
I'd use single AF, as the focusing sounds will be picked
up by the camera's microphone.
Neither the optical nor the digital
zoom can be used during filming. Movies are saved in
I've got two remarkably similar sample
movies from both cameras. As you'll see, they're pretty
exciting. You'll also notice that the VGA movie quality
is pretty crummy... since it's not really VGA. And
remember, only the CP5600's movie has sound!
to play CP4600 movie (6.8 MB, 640 x 480, no sound,
Click to play CP5600
movie (5.9 MB, 640 x 480, QuickTime format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The Coolpix 4600 and 5600 have a pretty
standard playback mode. Basic features such as slide
shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail
mode, and zoom and scroll are all here. Both cameras
support the PictBridge standard for easy printing to
a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature lets you
enlarge the picture up to 10X (in 0.2X increments),
and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. This
feature is pretty snappy. While zoomed in you can press
the shutter release button to crop your photo.
Other nice features include a "small
picture" mode which can downsize your photos for
e-mailing plus a "copy" feature for moving
images between the internal memory and a memory card.
One other nice feature is the ability to delete a selected
group of photos instead of just one or all of them.
Unfortunately the cameras don't really
tell you anything useful about your photos (like exposure
info or settings used) and there's nothing you can
do about that.
The cameras move through photos at
a decent clip, showing a low resolution image instantly,
with the higher resolution image arriving about a second
How Does it Compare?
The Nikon Coolpix 4600 and 5600 are
both decent entry-level cameras that are best suited
for outdoor photos. In those situations they take good
quality photos with accurate colors and not much noise
or purple fringing. Indoor photos are still okay, but
taking them can be frustrating due to poor low light
focusing and an LCD which doesn't gain up much. Both
cameras are totally point-and-shoot, with white balance
being the only manual control. They have a ton of scene
modes, including unique "Scene Assist" modes
which help you frame your photos. Two other cool features
are Nikon's D-Lighting digital flash (which works if
you don't mind more noise in your photos) and in-camera
redeye reduction. The two Coolpixes also offer a help
system in their menus, though the help screens could
be more helpful.
Camera performance is average in all
areas, save for low light focusing and flash recharge
times. Both the 4600 and 5600 have the same compact,
plastic body, which doesn't feel cheap thankfully.
Their LCDs are low resolution, though I didn't find
that to be a problem. Battery life is very good on
both models when NiMH rechargeable batteries are used.
The cameras both offer a VGA movie
mode, though as it turns out that resolution is achieved
through vertical interlacing. As a result, movie quality
at the VGA setting isn't great. In addition, only the
Coolpix 5600 can record sound along with movies. Other
annoyances on the cameras include a paltry 14MB of
onboard memory and the inability to set the ISO sensitivity
While both cameras are decent and
earn my recommendation, here's what I'd do: skip both
the 4600 and 5600 and get the Coolpix
5900 instead. While I haven't completed my review
of that camera yet, I found it to be much better in
many areas, most notably in terms of low light shooting.
The 5900 has a larger LCD, better build quality, and
a superior movie mode, too. Sure it'll set you back
some more dollars, but you'll be glad that you upgraded.
What I liked:
- Good photo quality
- Compact body feels solid for the
- Tons of scene modes
- Useful D-Lighting, Best Shot Selector,
redeye reduction features
- Good redeye test results (probably
due to above)
- In-camera help system (though it
could be better)
- Optional underwater case
- Above average battery life
What I didn't care for:
- Poor low light focusing / no AF-assist
- LCD doesn't "gain up" very
much in low light
- Only 14MB on built-in memory
- VGA movie mode isn't really VGA;
only the Coolpix 5600 records sound
- Sluggish flash recharge time
- Manual controls would've been nice,
or least let me set the ISO!
- Including rechargeable batteries
would've been a nice touch
Other entry-level cameras to consider
include the Canon PowerShot A520 and SD500, Epson
PhotoPC L-500V, Fuji FinePix E500 and E510, HP
Photosmart R607, Kodak
EasyShare DX7440, Nikon Coolpix 5900, 7600,
and 7900, Panasonic
Lumix DMC-LS1 (coming soon), Pentax Optio S40 and S50,
and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-S60 and DSC-W5.
As always, I recommend a trip down
to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix 4600
and 5600 and their competitors before you buy!
See how the photos turned out in
our Coolpix 4600 and 5600 galleries.
Want another opinion?
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this
review, please send them to Jeff.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail
me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other
DCRP readers, please visit our forums.