DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 4600/5600
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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:
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 about.
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.
PictureProject main screen
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 them, etc.
PictureProject edit screen
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 in PictureProject
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 to music.
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 one hand.
Now, here's a look at how the 4600 and 5600 compare with some of the competition:
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 section.
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:
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 Assist modes
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 selected item.
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:
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 shot.
There is no way to delete a photo right after you take it. You must first enter playback mode.
Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the two cameras:
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:
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 include:
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 distance.
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 anywhere.
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 expectations!
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 QuickTime format.
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!
Click to play CP4600 movie (6.8 MB, 640 x 480, no sound, QuickTime format)
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 later.
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 manually.
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:
What I didn't care for:
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!
Photo GallerySee 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.
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