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DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 4800
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 15, 2004
Last Updated: March 26, 2008
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The Coolpix 4800 ($399) is Nikon's first ultra zoom camera, unless you count their more expensive 5700/8700/8800 models. Specs-wise, the CP4800 doesn't really stand out from the crowd. It features an unusual 8.3X zoom, 4 Megapixel CCD, and just one manual control (white balance). With such a crowded field, the 4800 has to be quite the camera in order to stand out from the rest of the ultra zoom cameras out there. How does it fare? Find out now!
What's in the Box?
The Coolpix 4800 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
On their lower-end Coolpix cameras, Nikon is starting to follow some other manufacturers by having built-in memory, rather than including a memory card. The Coolpix 4800 has just 13.5MB of internal memory -- which holds a grand total of 7 images at the highest quality setting. That means that you'll need to buy a memory card. The 4800 uses Secure Digital cards, currently available as large as 512MB (I'd suggest at least 128MB to start with). MultiMedia (MMC) cards are not recommended. The CP4800 does take advantage of higher speed SD cards -- you'll notice this when the camera is saving a sequence of shots to the memory card.
The camera uses the good old EN-EL1 lithium-ion battery, which was common on Nikon cameras of days past. The battery has a decent amount of energy -- 5.0 Wh to be exact -- which translates to 240 shots using the new CIPA battery life standard. That's about average compared to other ultra zoom models. (The current battery life king is the Minolta DiMAGE Z10 which can take over 500 shots per charge.)
One nice thing about the CP4800 is that you can use non-rechargeable 2CR5 lithium batteries as well. This sure comes in handy when the rechargeable battery dies, though 2CR5's aren't as ubiquitous as AA's. By the way, 2CR5 batteries last about 50% longer than the EN-EL1, though they can't be reused. I would recommend buying an additional EN-EL1 battery, though it'll set you back about $35.
When it's time to recharge the battery, just pop it into the included battery charger. It takes about two hours to fully charge the battery. The charger uses a power cable rather than plugging directly into the wall.
The CP4800 is one of those cameras with a lens cover built right into the lens. I did have trouble with those little plastic pieces getting stuck, but it's probably just specific to my camera.
The only really interested accessory for the 4800 is the SB-30 external flash ($85) and its associated flash bracket ($50). Since the CP4800 doesn't have a hot shoe or flash sync port, the SB-30 works as a slave flash. If you want less redeye and much better flash photos, this is one option worth considering. Other accessories include an AC adapter ($25) and soft case ($15).
PictureProject main screen
Nikon includes a brand new software product with the CP4800 called PictureProject, and it's nothing to write home about. The main screen is your typical photo organizer, letting 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.
Although cluttered at times, the manual included with the Coolpix 4800 is pretty good. Expect to see lots of "notes" and fine print. I should also note that the PictureProject software manual is on CD.
Look and Feel
The Coolpix 4800 is the smallest and lightest ultra zoom camera on the market. Despite that, I wouldn't exactly call it compact -- it's still midsize as far as I'm concerned. The body is made entirely of plastic, and while it feels pretty solid, it's not as well built as some of the competition. The camera is easy to hold, and the important controls are well placed.
Here's a look at how the dimensions and weight of the CP4800 compare with the competition:
With that out of the way, we can begin our tour of the Coolpix 4800.
The Coolpix 4800's 8.3X optical zoom lens is on the short end of the range for ultra zoom cameras. The maximum aperture is F2.7 at wide-angle and F4.4 at telephoto, which isn't spectacular. The lens has "ED" elements to help reduce the purple fringing that plagues ultra zoom cameras. The focal range of the lens is 6 - 50 mm, which is equivalent to 36 - 300 mm. The CP4800 does not support conversion lenses.
To the upper-right of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a decent working range of 0.4 - 4.3 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 2.6 m at telephoto. As I mentioned in the previous section, Nikon offers an external slave flash for the 4800.
Just above the lens is the AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. It's so nice to finally see Nikon putting the AF-assist lamp on all their cameras. This lamp helps the camera focus in low light conditions.
The back of the 4800 features a decent-sized 1.8" LCD display with 118,000 pixels. The screen is bright, images are sharp, and motion is fluid.
As with every other ultra zoom camera, the CP4800 uses an electronic viewfinder (EVF) instead of an optical viewfinder. This is like a small LCD screen that you look at as if it was the real thing (unfortunately, it's not even close). The EVF here has 235,000 pixels which results in a sharp image. The EVF shows the same things as the LCD, though do note that you can't use both at the same time. A diopter correction knob focuses the image on the EVF screen.
Both the LCD and EVF "gain up" in low light conditions so you can still (sort of) see what you're looking at.
Directly to the right of the EVF is the button for switching between the EVF and LCD. The next item over is the mode dial, which has the following options:
Those four "assist modes" are like advanced scene modes. The camera will overlay things on the LCD/EVF which help you properly frame the photo. In case you haven't noticed so far, the CP4800 is a totally point-and-shoot camera.
To the right of the mode dial we find the zoom controller. The button has two "notches" which allow you to choose between fast and slow lens movement. At "full speed" you can move from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.3 seconds. At the slower speed that number rises to about 1.6 seconds. Quick presses on the button will make precise adjustments to the focal length.
To the right of the LCD are three buttons as well as the four-way controller. The buttons are for entering the menu or playback mode as well as for deleting a photo. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, plus:
The only things to see on the top of the Coolpix 4800 are the speaker, power button, microphone, and shutter release button. You do need to take care to keep your fingers away from the microphone while recording sound.
On this side of the camera, you'll find the USB and A/V out port (one port for both functions) as well as the DC-in port (for optional AC adapter). A rubber cover protects them from the elements.
Over here you'll find the SD card slot, which is behind plastic cover of so-so build quality.
The tour ends with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find a plastic tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. While not horrible, the door covering the battery slot could possibly bust off if forced.
As I mentioned in the first section of the review, the 4800 can use the EN-EN1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery or a 2CR5 disposable lithium battery. The EN-EL1 is shown at right.
Using the Nikon Coolpix 4800
It takes about 2.5 seconds for the CP4800 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.
No histogram to be found here
The 4800 isn't going to win any awards for its focus speeds. Quite often it took 0.8 - 1.2 seconds for the camera to lock focus after pressing the shutter release halfway. The camera focuses better than average in low light but not as good as I was expecting from a camera that has an AF-assist lamp.
The CP4800 seems to have a problem with shutter lag, as well. It was noticeable at all times, even at faster shutter speed. This isn't a great camera for action or pictures of the kids!
Shot-to-shot speed is below average, with a delay of about 2.5 seconds before you can take another picture. Like other Nikon cameras of late, the 4800 is a little fussy about performing operations while an image is being saved to the memory card. This includes opening the menus or changing a setting via a button on the camera. If the image is still being written, you'll have to wait.
To delete a photo after it is taken, you must wait for it to be saved to the memory card. You can then press the delete photo button to remove it.
Keeping with its easy-to-use theme, the Coolpix 4800 has just a few image quality choices, including:
The Coolpix 4800 does not support TIFF or RAW file formats. Then again, neither does most of the competition.
Images are named DSCN####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.
The Coolpix 4800 has a very simple menu system, different than the one on Nikon's higher-end cameras. Note that this menu is not accessible in the scene or assist modes. Here are the options in the full record menu:
As you can see, the CP4800 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. Sadly, this is the only manual control on the camera.
The continuous shooting feature will take up to 4 pictures (at best quality setting) at a rate of approximately 1.5 frames/sec. The 3 shot buffer feature keep shooting at 1 frame/second -- when you release the shutter release button the last three images taken will be saved. Multi-shot 16 takes sixteen shots in a row (at 3.5 frames/sec) and assembles them all into one 2288 x 1712 collage. Do note that the LCD and EVF are turned off while shooting in these modes, making it a pretty useless feature if your subject is moving (which is probably why you're using this feature).
Nikon's trademark Best Shot Selector (BSS) does double duty on the 4800. The original BSS feature is still here: take up to 10 pictures in a row, and the camera magically picks the sharpest one, and tosses the rest. But wait, there's more: now there are three exposure-related BSS modes:
Do note that the camera takes five, rather than ten, images in the exposure BSS modes.
There is also a setup menu, which is accessed via the mode wheel. The choices here include:
Everything up there should be self-explanatory. Let's move on to photo tests now.
Macro shooting has always been one of the trademarks of the Coolpix series, and the 4800 continues that tradition. You can get as close as 1 cm to your subject, which basically means "right up against it". In order to get that close, you'll need to adjust the zoom to just until the little flower on the LCD turns green, which is near the wide end of the lens.
The 4800 took a great photo of our usual macro subject. The subject is very sharp and colors are accurate. I have no complaints!
I do, however, have some complaints about the night test shot. You see, the only way to get to the slowest shutter speed on the camera is to use one of the scene modes (night landscape, to be specific). In regular auto mode, 1 second is the slowest speed used, which isn't slow enough for my usual test shot. So, I used night landscape which used a 1.6 second exposure. Normally that's not enough either, but since the camera automatically increases the ISO sensitivity in all modes except Auto, it brought in more light at the expense of noise. If you view the full-size image you'll see what I mean about the noise -- it's pretty bad. But, since the only mode in which you can select the ISO is Auto mode (which limits you to 1 sec exposures), there's not much you can do about it. Bottom line: the CP4800 isn't great for long exposures.
There's mild barrel distortion in our distortion test and just a slight hint of vignetting (dark corners). Vignetting was not a problem in my real world test photos.
While not perfect, the CP4800 did a fairly good job in our redeye test. There's some red here, but it's not the "demon eyes" that I see quite a bit.
Overall, the image quality on the CP4800 was very good. Images are well-exposed, colors are accurate, and everything is nice and sharp. Noise levels are a bit above average and some details were a little fuzzy (I saw a few "jaggies" as well), but these things disappear when you print the photos or downsize them. Nikon has done a great of eliminating the purple fringing that is often seen on ultra zoom cameras like this. There just isn't much of it to speak of.
Don't just take my word for all this. Have a look at the gallery and decide if the 4800's photos meet your expectations. I encourage you to print the photos, as well.
While the Coolpix 4800 has a VGA resolution movie mode, the truth is that it's really not 640 x 480. Rather, the video has been vertically interlaced up to that size. The real native resolution of the movie mode is 320 x 240 A smaller 160 x 120 mode is also available. Regardless of what resolution you choose, the camera records at 15 frames/second until the memory card is full. Sound is recorded as well.
Since the built-in memory doesn't hold more than a few seconds of video, I recommend a larger memory card if you're serious about taking movies.
You cannot use the zoom lens during filming. Something to watch out for is the autofocus mode that's used in movie mode. Unless you like a clicking background noise in your movies, you'll want to set it to S-AF (single AF) instead of C-AF (continuous AF).
Movies are saved in QuickTime format.
Here's a sample movie that I took at the fake VGA setting (oops) -- and you'll be able to tell right away. I apologize for the wind noise.
Click to play movie (6.2 MB, 640 x 480, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Coolpix 4800 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 camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to compatible photo printers.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you zoom into your image by as much as 10X, and then scroll around in the enlarged photo. This feature is very well implemented on the 4800.
The small pic option lets you downsize your image to 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120. The original image is saved. A copy feature lets you move photos between internal memory and a memory card, and vice versa.
Other features include the ability to sort your pictures into folders based on the date they were taken, and an "index image" function which makes a collage of the photos you've taken so far (like an index print at the photo lab). The Coolpix lets you mark photos that you want to be automatically transferred when you connect the camera to your PC. One last 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 camera doesn't give you any useful exposure information about your photos, unfortunately.
The camera moves through images very quickly in playback mode. A lower resolution image is shown instantly, with the high resolution version appearing about a second later.
How Does it Compare?
As I mentioned at the start of this review, the ultra zoom field is as crowded as it gets. And while it takes good pictures, there's really nothing about the Nikon Coolpix 4800 that makes it stand out from the crowd. It has less zoom, fewer manual controls, and poorer performance than most of the competition, making it a tough camera to recommend enthusiastically.
But first, the good things. The CP4800 takes sharp, colorful, and well-exposed images. Nikon has also kept redeye and purple fringing levels down. The 4800 is compact and fairly well built for a plastic camera. It has a great selection of scene modes for the beginner and everything is easy-to-use. The CP4800 has an AF-assist lamp and the LCD and EVF "gain up" in low light conditions -- both of which are valuable features. The camera has one of the best macro modes on any camera -- ultra zoom or not. Battery life is pretty good as well, and I like how you can use "regular" lithium batteries in addition to the proprietary one.
Now the bad news. While 8.3X zoom is nice, most ultra zooms have 10 or even 12 times zoom lenses. The CP4800 has just one manual control: white balance. And while that's appreciated, the majority of the other ultra zooms on the market have control over things like shutter speed. The CP4800 decides the shutter speed for you, which turned out to be a problem in the case of my night test shot. Performance was probably the camera's weakest point, with slow AF times, noticeable shutter lag, and annoying delays between photos. In continuous shooting mode, the LCD/EVF "black out" so you can't see what you're taking pictures of. Finally, the movie mode (which really isn't VGA) leaves something to be a desired.
There are a lot of choices out there in the ultra zoom market, and I think there are better cameras available than the Coolpix 4800.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Other low-cost ultra zooms worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot S1 IS (image stabilizer), Fuji FinePix S5100, HP Photosmart 945, Kodak EasyShare DX6490 and DX7590, Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 (image stabilizer) and Z10, Kyocera Finecam M410R, Olympus C-765/770 Ultra Zoom, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 and DMC-FZ15 (both have image stabilizers).
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix 4800 and it's competitors before you buy!
Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Check out another reviews of the Coolpix 4800 at Steve's Digicams and Imaging Resource.
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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