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DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 5200
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: July 6, 2004
Last Updated: March 26, 2008
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The Nikon Coolpix 5200 ($499) is a compact point-and-shoot 5 Megapixel camera. Notable features include in-camera redeye reduction (using more than just a pre-flash), numerous scene modes, a VGA movie mode, an AF-assist lamp, and a very impressive macro mode.
A 4 Megapixel version, known as the Coolpix 4200, is also available. It has less impressive continuous shooting and movie modes, though.
There are a whole lot of similar cameras out there -- how does the CP5200 hold up? Find out in our review!
What's in the Box?
The Coolpix 5200 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
On their point-and-shoot Coolpix cameras, Nikon is starting to follow some other manufacturers by having built-in memory, rather than including a memory card. The Coolpix 5200 has a paltry 12MB of memory -- which holds a grand total of 4 high quality images. That means that you'll need to buy a memory card. The 5200 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 camera uses the EN-EL5 lithium-ion battery, and one is included with the camera. This compact battery has a decent 4.0 Wh of energy, which translates to 150 photos per charge according to Nikon -- nothing spectacular.
I like to complain about proprietary batteries: they're expensive and you can't stuff in alkaline AAs when your rechargeables die. On the 5200, the first complaint is true, as additional batteries are $30 a pop (I'd recommend buying a spare). As for the second complaint, things are a little better on the CP5200 than other cameras, as it can use the Duracell CP1 disposable lithium battery. The problem with the CP1 is the price ($13), and more importantly they they are nearly impossible to find at this time.
When it's time to recharge the EN-EL5 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 CP5200 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!
Accessories are limited on this small camera. All I could find are an AC adapter ($30) and a soft case ($15).
PictureProject main screen
Nikon includes a brand new software product with the CP5200 called PictureProject. 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 5200 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 5200 is an ultra compact 5 Megapixel camera made almost entirely of metal. It feels very well constructed with the exception of the cheesy plastic door covering the battery compartment. The camera is easy to hold and operate with just one hand, and it fits into any of your pockets with ease.
Here's a look at how the size and weight of the CP5200 compare with the competition:
While a little larger than most of the cameras on the list, the CP5200 is one of the lightest. Don't let the size differences fool you -- this is still a very compact camera.
With that out of the way, we can begin our tour of the Coolpix 5200.
The Coolpix 5200 has an F2.8-4.9, 3X optical zoom Nikkor lens. The lens has "ED" (extra-low dispersion) elements which are used to reduce purple fringing in images. The focal range of the lens is 7.8 - 23.4 mm which is equivalent to 38 - 115 mm. The lens is not threaded and conversion lenses are not supported.
Just above-right from the flash is the camera's microphone. Above that is the built-in flash, which has a working range of 0.3 - 4.5 at wide-angle and 0.3 - 3.5 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to this camera.
The two items to the left of the flash are the optical viewfinder and AF-assist lamp. The latter is used for focusing in dim lighting situations. It took a long time, but Nikon is finally putting these lamps on their cameras.
Here's a look at the back of the camera. The main thing to see here is the 1.5" LCD display, which is bright and fluid. It has a resolution of 110,000 pixels so it's plenty sharp, too. If you're framing shots in low light, you'll like the fact that the camera boosts the screen sensitivity, so you can see what you're looking at.
Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which shows 75% of the frame. It's about average-sized for a camera this small. There's no diopter correction knob, though, which is used to focus what you're looking at.
Below the LCD are three buttons: delete photo, menu, and playback. Those should be self-explanatory. To the right of those is the speaker.
Moving up now, we find the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, plus:
The CP5200 has an in-camera redeye reduction feature that uses a in-camera software as well as a pre-flash to get rid of this annoying phenomenon. More on this later.
The final item on the back of the camera is the zoom controller. This moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just one second. I counted nine steps throughout the zoom range.
On the top of the Coolpix 5200 you'll find the mode dial, shutter release, and power button. The items on the mode dial include:
As you can see, the 5200 has quite a few scene modes. The five assist modes go a step further, helping your frame the shots (see screenshot above).
Note the lack of any manual modes -- this is a totally point-and-shoot camera!
On this side of the camera, you'll find the USB and A/V out port (one port for both functions) which is kept under a plastic cover.
Over here you'll find the SD card slot, which is behind a fairly sturdy plastic door.
That thing on the bottom is what the AC adapter power cord feeds through.
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 bust off if forced.
Using the Nikon Coolpix 5200
It takes about 2.5 seconds for the CP5200 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.
LCD in record mode
Press the shutter release halfway and the camera locks focus in 0.5 - 1.0 seconds in most cases. If the camera has to hunt, or if you're shooting in low light, it'll take longer. Thanks to its AF-assist lamp, the 5200 focused well in low light. I also liked how the LCD was still visible in those situations.
Shutter lag was not a problem at fast shutter speeds, but noticeable at slower shutter speeds (where you should probably be using the flash or a tripod, anyway).
Shot-to-shot speed is good, with a 1.5 second delay between shots. You'll probably have to halfway-press the shutter release button to get the camera out of the post-shot review mode first, though. One annoyance on this and other recent Nikon cameras is that you can't open the menu, change settings, or enter playback mode until the camera is finished writing the images to the memory card.
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 5200 has just a few image quality choices, including:
The Coolpix 5200 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 5200 has a very simple menu system, similar to those on the CP3200 which I reviewed previously. Note that this menu is not accessible in the scene modes. Here are the options:
As you can see, the CP5200 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 manual control on the camera.
The continuous shooting feature will take up to 7 pictures (at 5M/Fine setting) at a rate of approximately 2.5 frames/sec. The 5 shot buffer feature keep shooting at 2.5 frames/second -- when you release the shutter release button the last five 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 2592 x 1944 collage.
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.
There are two bracketing modes on the Coolpix 5200. The first, auto exposure bracketing, takes three shots in a row: one has the normal exposure, while the other two have are exposed at +0.5EV and -0.5EV. This is a good way to ensure proper exposures, those a smaller interval would've been nice. White balance bracketing also takes three shots in a row, this time with one shot being normal, the next being bluer, and the third being redder.
Now for autofocus modes. At the Auto AF Area setting, the camera will automatically choose one of five points in the frame on which to focus. Switching to Manual AF Area will let you choose one of 99 points in the frame to focus on. Turning this feature off will cause the camera to always focus on the center frame. The Single AF mode will only focus the lens when you halfway press the shutter release button, while Continuous AF is always focusing. This speeds up focusing times at the expense of battery life.
There is also a setup menu, which is accessed via the mode wheel. The choices here include:
Everything up there should be self-explanatory.
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 5200 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 just until the little flower on the LCD turns green, which is near the wide end of the lens.
Our standard test shot looks pretty good, though I wasn't able to get the depth-of-field I was hoping for (manual aperture controls would've been helpful) -- check out the blurry ears to see what I mean. Colors were accurate.
For some reason I ended up using the night scene mode for this shot -- I think that auto record mode just wasn't giving me a good exposure. Since the ISO is set to auto (64 - 200) in the scene modes, that let to the noise you can see in the picture. Since there's no way to set the shutter speed manually, you're stuck with what the camera wants to do.
Aside from the noise, the shot is well-exposed and there is no purple fringing to speak of.
The distortion test shows very noticeable barrel distortion at the wide-angle setting. I also see some blurriness in the corners, which I saw in my real world shots as well. I did not see any vignetting, or dark corners.
Nikon brags about the new in-camera redeye reduction feature on the CP5200, and I can't see that it does much good. I did the usual redeye test and well, it's still there. I wouldn't expect miracles from this system.
Overall, the CP5200's image quality is good, but not great. While color and exposure are very good, there are three issues worth mentioning. The first is noise -- it's above average and eats away at details in your photos. Issue number two is affected by issue one: images are already a bit soft to begin with, so the noise can make things worse. The third issue I mentioned a few seconds ago is the occasional blurry corner. One thing Nikon does have a handle on is purple fringing -- it's not a problem.
Don't just take my word for all this. Have a look at the gallery and decide if the 5200's photos meet your expectations. I encourage you to print the photos, as well.
The Coolpix 5200 has a very nice movie mode. You can record VGA quality video (640 x 480) at 30 frames/second, with sound, until the memory card is full. For the built-in memory, that's only 8 seconds, but if you get a larger card, you can have longer movies. Do note that a high speed SD card is recommended for recording at this setting.
If 640 x 480 resolution is overkill, you can also choose from 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 resolutions, as well. The frame rate on both of those is 30 frames/second.
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.
I have a very special sample movie for you today. Hopefully you know where this is. This movie is huge -- modem users stay away!
Click to play movie (23.8MB, 640 x 480, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Coolpix 5200 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 as much as 6 times, and then scroll around in the enlarged photo. This feature is very well implemented on the 5200.
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.
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.
A copy feature lets you move photos between internal memory and a memory card, and vice versa.
By default the camera gives you no exposure info about your photos. Press the "ok" button in the center of the four-way controller and you'll get the screen above-right, which is only slightly more useful.
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?
While not the best camera in its class, the Coolpix 5200 is a good point-and-shoot camera for those who need a lot of resolution. Its biggest weaknesses are the soft and somewhat noisy images as well as the lack of manual controls (then again, my favorite cameras, the Canon S500 and Sony W1 don't really have them either). The image softness is really only an issue for large prints or on-screen viewing, though.
The CP5200 is a compact, stylish metal camera that can go anywhere. Its well built for the most part and the ergonomics are good. Performance is about average for a camera in this class. Beginners will love all the scene modes, though enthusiasts will be longing for manual focus, shutter speed, and aperture controls. The camera focuses well in low light (thanks to an AF-assist lamp), and the LCD is still usable in those situations unlike on some cameras. The camera does offer nice continuous shooting and macro modes, and the movie mode is excellent.
A few other complaints: while Nikon has hyped up their in-camera redeye reduction feature, it didn't seem to help in my redeye test. The 12MB of on-board memory is appallingly low, so be prepared to buy a memory card. I'm not a huge fan of how the camera won't let you adjust settings or enter the menu while its saving images to the card, either. Finally, some real exposure info in playback mode would be nice (though I appreciate the histogram).
While not the best choice, the CP5200 is worth a look if you're after a high resolution point-and-shoot camera. Just be sure to research the competition carefully!
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other compact 5 Megapixel cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot S500, Casio QV-R51, Fuji FinePix F450, HP Photosmart R707, Kodak EasyShare LS753, Konica Minolta DiMAGE G500, Kyocera Finecam S5R, Pentax Optio 555, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P100, DSC-T1, and DSC-W1.
If you want to save some money, check out the similarCoolpix 4200 model. Do note that you'll lose a Megapixel of resolution, the 30 fps frame rate in movie mode, and the fast continuous shooting rate.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix 5200 and it's competitors before you buy!
Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Check out another review of the Coolpix 5200 over at Steve's Digicams.
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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