DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 5900/7900
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The Coolpix 5900 and 7900 ($350 and $450 respectively) are the upper-end models in Nikon's point-and-shoot line of cameras. They're upgrades to the Coolpix 5600 and 7600, with these being the major differences between the models:
Okay so there aren't too many differences, but believe me, some of those are really useful. There are also a few differences between the 5900 and 7900, including:
Before we go on, two notes. First, this review is different than most in that I'm reviewing two cameras at the same time. I will be using the Coolpix 7900 as the "model" in the product photos. I will use one or both cameras for the photo tests where appropriate. The second thing to note is that I'll be reusing a lot of text from the Coolpix 4600/5600 review since the cameras all have a lot in common.
What's in the Box?
The Coolpix 5900 and 7900 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 Coolpix 5900 and 7900, that's just 13.5MB worth. That holds just 4 or 5 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 or 512MB card as a good starting point. A high speed SD card is recommended if you plan on using the high quality movie mode.
Unlike the Coolpix 4600/5600/7600, the 5900 and 7900 use a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (the EN-EL5 to be specific). This battery has a fairly small amount of energy -- 4.1 Wh -- which translates into 270 shots per charge for the CP5900 and 220 for the CP7900. That's still better than average, but not as good as the three AA-based Coolpixes I mentioned a second ago (they get over 300 photos per charge using NiMH batteries).
The 5900 and 7900 can also use a disposable lithium battery known as the Duracell CP1. They're not terribly easy to find, but if you can find one, they'll be relatively inexpensive ($10) and they'll last even longer than the EN-EL5. The downside is, of course, that they're disposable. This kind of gets around one of my usual complaints about cameras with proprietary batteries -- that you can't use "off the shelf" batteries -- though the CP1 isn't nearly as common as AAs. My other complaint still stands: the EN-EL5 is expensive -- $25 a pop (okay, that's not horrible, but still...).
When it's time to recharge that battery, just place it into the included battery charger. It takes about two hours to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those "plug it right into the wall" chargers that I like so much: you must use a power cable.
There's a built-in lens cover on the Coolpix 5900/7900, so there are no lens caps to worry about.
Nikon offers just a few accessories for the Coolpix 5900 and 7900. The most interesting one is the WP-CP4 waterproof case ($220), which lets you take the cameras up to 40 meters underwater. Other accessories include an AC adapter ($28) and a carrying case ($9).
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 terribly user friendly, the manual included with the Coolpix 5900 and 7900 (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 5900 and 7900 replace last years Coolpix 4200 and 5200 models. With the exception of the larger LCD display, the new models look a lot like the old ones. The cameras are small and feature a metal body. They feel quite solid and should hold up well over the long term. The Coolpix 5900 comes in a silver body, while the 7900 is black. The important controls are within easy reach of your fingers, and I found it easy to hold and operate the camera with one hand.
Now, here's a look at how the 5900 and 7900 compare with some of the competition:
That may very well be the longest list I've ever typed up! As you can see, the Coolpix 5900 and 7900 are on the upper end of the size and weight scale in this class -- but don't worry, they're still pretty darn small -- they spent plenty of time in my back pocket.
Well that's enough about that, let's move onto our tour now. Keep in mind that I'm using the Coolpix 7900 as the "model" in this next section.
The Coolpix 5900 and 7900 have a slightly higher quality lens than the CP4600/5600/7600. By higher quality I mean faster (slightly larger maximum aperture) and with better lens elements (extra-low dispersion elements to be exact; these reduce purple fringing). The downside to this nicer lens is that the focal range starts at 38 mm instead of 34 or 35 mm.
So here are the details on that F2.8-4.9, 3X optical zoom lens. The focal range is 7.8 - 23.4 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114 mm. The lens is not threaded and conversion lenses are not supported.
To the upper-right of the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.3 - 4.5 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 3.5 m at telephoto, which is quite good for a compact camera and considerably better than the CP4600/5600/7600. The flash takes about six seconds to recharge between shots, which seemed a little slow to me. You cannot attach an external flash to the Coolpix 5900 and 7900.
Just above the Nikon logo is the AF-assist lamp, which is also used for counting down the self-timer. The AF-assist lamp helps the camera focus in low light situations. The Coolpix 4600 and 5600 do not have one, while the CP7600 does.
The Coolpix 5900 and 7900 have a larger-than-average 2.0" LCD display. The old Coolpix 4200 and 5200 had a 1.5" screen, so this is a nice improvement. The LCD has 115,000 pixels, which is about average. Outdoor visibility is also average. In low light the screen "gains up" quite a bit, allowing you to see what you're trying to shoot. The "gain up" effect is much more pronounced on these cameras than on the Coolpix 4600 and 5600 which I just reviewed.
To the upper-left of the LCD you'll find an optical viewfinder, which is maybe a little smaller than average. The viewfinder shows 75% of the frame versus 100% of the frame for the LCD. As with the cheaper Coolpix models that I just reviewed, there's no diopter correction feature for the viewfinder.
To the right of the optical viewfinder is the Delete Photo button. Continuing to the right we find the zoom controller. This moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just one second. I counted nine steps throughout the 3X zoom range, which is about average. Interestingly enough, the cheaper Coolpix 4600 and 5600 (you know, with the "inferior lens") had twenty steps!
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. 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.
Below the zoom controller are the buttons for the menu and playback mode. Below those is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation and also:
As far as I can tell, the only way to see a live histogram is to enter the exposure compensation adjustment mode. Too bad it can't be shown at all times.
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:
Same shot with D-Lighting applied
As you can see, D-Lighting works as advertised. The catch (and there's always a catch) is that the brightened image will be noisier than the original.
The first thing to see on the top of the Coolpix 5900 and 7900 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 (except for white balance). 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. In the portrait assist mode you'll find something called Face Priority AF. This somehow detects human faces and ensures that they are in focus.
Do note that you can't change any menu options aside from image quality while using the scene modes.
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. Strangely enough, the door on the "superior" Coolpix 5900 and 7900 is inferior to the one on the "lesser" Coolpix 4600 and 5600. There's no locking mechanism, either. Huh?
The included EN-EL5 battery is shown at right.
Using the Nikon Coolpix 5900/7900
It takes about 1.9 seconds for the cameras to extend their lenses and "warm up" before you can start snapping pictures. Do note that you may need to disable the startup screen in order to get the fastest startup speeds.
|The only way to get a live histogram in record mode is to adjust the exposure compensation|
The Coolpix 5900 and 7900 focus quickly, with typical focus times of between 0.3 and 0.5 seconds. Even telephoto focusing was pretty snappy (around 0.7 seconds). Low light focusing was also very good thanks to that AF-assist lamp -- the cameras were noticeably better than the 4600 and 5600 that I just reviewed.
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.
You can delete a photo right after you take it by pressing the "delete photo" button on the back of the camera.
Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the two cameras:
The two Coolpixes have way more image quality choices than the entry-level models that I just took a look at. There's no support for the RAW or TIFF image formats, though.
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 5900 and 7900 both use the new 2005 Nikon menu system, complete with a "help" screen that I described earlier. The 5900 and 7900 have many more options than the 4600 and 5600, as you'd expect from the "superior" models. Here's a look at all the available options:
The only real 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.
There are a few different continuous shooting modes on the two cameras. The regular continuous mode allowed me to take 8 shots in a row at 1.8 frames/second on the Coolpix 5900, while the Coolpix 7900 took 20 shots at 1.5 frames/second (both cameras were at the highest image quality setting). The 5 shot buffer feature will keep shooting at 1 frame/second and when you release the shutter release button the last five images taken will be saved. The multi-shot 16 feature will take 16 shots in a row at the same frame rate as the regular continuous mode but the images will be put into a full-size collage. The LCD goes dark briefly between each shot which can make following a moving subject a little tricky (at least there's an optical viewfinder for backup).
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 are two bracketing modes on the Coolpix 5900 and 7900. Auto bracketing (aka exposure bracketing) will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value (-0.5EV, 0EV, +0.5EV). The white balance bracketing feature takes three shots in a row, with the first photo having normal white balance, the second being a little bluer, and the third being a little redder.
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 great job with our usual macro test subject. The subject is very sharp on both cameras, and the colors are nice and saturated.
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 (this will be near the wide end of the lens). Then you know that you can use the minimum focus distance.
The night shots were just okay. The reason for this is that there's no way to manually set the shutter speed, so you're at the mercy of the camera. I took the first shot in auto record mode (example from the 7900) and it was just too dark and there was nothing that I could do about it. So I put the camera into night landscape mode and that brought in more light, but not by using a slower shutter speed. Rather, the ISO was increased up to 200 automatically which brightened things up. The bad part about that is that noise levels are quite high, giving the photos a very soft look. The bottom line here is that the CP5900 and CP7900 aren't the best choice for long exposures.
I took the distortion test using the Coolpix 5900. Here you can see some moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens. What isn't so visible is some corner softness, which you can see better in the lower right corners of these shots.
The Coolpix 5900 and 7900 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. The Coolpix 5900 was my test subject and it did pretty well in the redeye department!
Overall I'd rate the image quality as "very good". Photos were well exposed with saturated color, low noise levels (even on the CP7900), and not too much purple fringing. My biggest complaint is that images are on the soft side, though this can be remedied by adjusting the in-camera sharpening (compare these for an example: auto sharpening, high sharpening).
Don't just take my word for it, though. Look at our Coolpix 5900 and 7900 photo galleries and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if their photo quality meets your expectations!
The Coolpix 5900 and 7900 have an excellent movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480, 30 frames/second, with sound until the memory card is full. This is a big step up from the so-so movie mode on the Coolpix 4600 and 5600 which I just reviewed. Anyhow, the built-in memory holds just 12 seconds of video at the highest quality setting, so you'll want a larger card for longer movies. A high speed SD card is basically required for this movie mode -- look for one with at least a 10MB/sec transfer rate (I believe that's 66X).
You can also record at 15 frames/second at 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 if you want smaller movies.
You can choose between single and continuous autofocus while in movie mode. I would probably use single AF as the microphone may pick up the focusing sounds otherwise. You cannot use the optical zoom during filming -- the 2X digital zoom does work though.
The Coolpix 7900 (only) offers an electronic vibration reduction (VR) feature which helps reduce the effects of "camera shake" in your images. Do note that this can only be used for shooting movies -- not stills.
I've got two identical sample movies for you, one from each camera. I apologize in advance for the shakiness during part of the video -- you try holding two cameras while a train goes shooting by. Here are the movies, taken at the highest quality setting (be warned -- they're big downloads):
Click to play CP5900 movie (15.1 MB, 640 x 480, QuickTime format)
Click to play CP7900 movie (15.0 MB, 640 x 480, QuickTime format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The Coolpix 5900 and 7900 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?
I ended up liking the Nikon Coolpix 5900 and 7900 quite a bit more than the lower-end CP4600 and CP5600 that I just took a look at. These are two cameras which offer a lot of features for a point-and-shoot camera and they deliver good photo quality, especially if you tweak the sharpness a bit.
The Coolpix 5900 and 7900 are compact but not tiny cameras (wait for the Coolpix S1 if you want that) with sturdy metal frames. They're easy to hold and operate with one hand, and they can go anywhere that you do. The Coolpix 5900 comes in silver while the 7900 comes in a more "professional looking" black. The Coolpixes offer a large 2.0" LCD that works very well in low light conditions. Photo quality on both cameras is very good, though I would up the sharpness to "high", since the images are a little soft at the default sharpness setting. The only other image quality issue I noticed is a tiny bit of blurriness in the corners of some of my photos. Camera performance is good in most areas including startup speed, focusing times, and shutter lag. Low light focusing was very good thanks to the cameras' AF-assist lamps. Battery life was also above average.
The Coolpixes are point-and-shoot cameras, with the very useful custom white balance feature being the only manual control. There are tons of scene modes available for almost every shooting situation, and the in-camera help system explains what the menu items are (though more detail would be nice). Both cameras offer an excellent VGA (30 fps) movie mode that can record until you run out of memory. Do note that a high speed SD card is needed for that, though. The Coolpix 7900 adds an electronic image stabilization feature as well to help "smooth out" your shaky videos". Two other nice things about the CP5900 and CP7900 are the D-Lighting digital flash (shown earlier) and in-camera redeye reduction features, both of which seem to work as advertised.
So what's not to like (besides the soft images)? I wish there was some control over shutter speed, as my night shots illustrated so well. While not horrible, the flash recharge time could be faster. And what's with the 13.5MB of built-in memory? The cover over the battery compartment is too easy to accidentally open -- it needs a lock. And finally, I wish you could see the live histogram at all times, instead of just for a moment when you press the exposure compensation button.
All-in-all though, I do recommend the Coolpix 5900 and 7900 to anyone wanting a compact point-and-shoot camera. A lot of people will be comparing the Coolpix 7900 with the Canon PowerShot SD500 and they are equal in many areas. The SD500 offers manual shutter speed control, better performance, and a sleeker design, while the 7900 has more scene modes, two bracketing functions, and control over things like sharpness and contrast. My advice is to try both in person to see which you prefer!
Trying to decide between the Coolpix 5900 and 7900? Unless you're making huge prints or if you must have the black-colored body, the 5900 is fine for just about everyone. The 7900's electronic VR feature is nice, but I don't think I'd pay extra for that alone.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other cameras in this class worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD400 and SD500, Casio Exilim EX-Z57 and EX-Z750, Fuji FinePix F450, HP Photosmart R707, Kodak EasyShare LS753, Konica Minolta DiMAGE G600 and X50, Nikon Coolpix 5600 and 7600, Olympus D-630Z and Stylus Verve S, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix 5900 and 7900 and their competitors before you buy!
Photo GallerySee how the photos turned out in our Coolpix 5900 and 7900 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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