DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 5400
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 25, 2003
Last Updated: December 15, 2003

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This review is now completed. All product photos have been re-shot where necessary, and all photos are from a production-level camera.

The Coolpix 5400 ($799) is Nikon's follow up to their Coolpix 5000 camera. As you may remember, I was not a huge fan of that particular model. The biggest change between the 5000 and the 5400 is the brand new 4X Nikkor zoom lens, which offers a lot more telephoto power compared to the old 3X lens.

I'll cover the rest of the 5400's new features throughout this review. On that note, let's begin!

What's in the Box?

The Coolpix 5400 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.1 Mpixel Nikon Coolpix 5400 camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • EN-EL1 Li-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Neck strap
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring NikonView 6 and drivers
  • Camera manual

At least Nikon is honest about the tiny memory card included with the CP5400: it says "Starter Card" right on it. This 16MB card won't hold very many 5 Megapixel photos, so you'll definitely want to purchase something larger right away. I'd suggest at least a 256MB card. The 5400 supports the IBM Microdrive as well (though note that I've had two fail in recent years, so I'm hesitant to recommend one).

The 5400 uses the familiar EN-EL1 rechargeable battery. This battery has 5.0 Wh of power, which puts it above average in its class, though it falls short of the batteries used on the Sony DSC-F717 and Canon G3/G5 (it is better than the battery on the Sony DSC-V1 though). Nikon doesn't tell you much about battery life, other than to say that it'll last for about 110 minutes with the flash used 1/3 of the time.

The Coolpix 5400 has only one of the two usual issues with proprietary batteries. That is its price: $35 a pop. However, if you're in a bind, you can pop in a 2CR5 battery (not rechargeable) to get you through the day, which you can't do with most Li-ion batteries.

When it's time to recharge, just pop the EN-EL1 into the included external charger. It takes two hours to recharge the battery.

The 5400 includes a lens cap and strap to protect your 4X zoom lens.

If you're a fan of camera accessories, I think you'll like the Coolpix 5400. You can choose from three add-on lenses: wide-angle ($170), telephoto ($190), and fisheye ($300). Each of these requires one of Nikon's conversion lens adapters.

In terms of flashes, you can use any of Nikon's recent Speedlites, or a non-Nikon flash. Other accessories include a wired remote control ($90), AC adapter ($25), car battery charger ($45), slide/film copier ($65), lens hood ($20), and several camera bags.

My camera included NikonView version 5.5 for Mac, and v 6.0 for Windows. Version 6 for Mac is now available for free download, so I'll cover that here.

Despite their different version numbers, NikonView for Mac (including OS X) and Windows are quite similar. The main difference is that the Windows version has some basic editing tools, including the over-hyped "one button redeye reduction" feature.

Main screen, NikonView 6 in Mac OS X

Edit screen, NikonView 6 in Windows XP

Version 6 for Mac OS X seems more stable than in past versions, though it did lock up once on me. Loading images is a bit slow, and I don't like how a separate program must be launched to edit a photo. Even with that, NikonView 6 is a nice product that can do a good job of transferring and retouching photos.

The camera manual is much like the camera itself: complex, but complete. You'll have to dig a little to find what you want, but odds are, you're question will be answered in the manual.

Look and Feel

The Coolpix 5400 looks a lot like the 5000, with a few differences that I'll point out along the way. It's main competition is probably the Canon Powershot G5 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1. Since I had both the 5400 and the G5 "in house" at the same time, here they are side by side:

The Coolpix is made of a nice combination of metal and high grade plastics. It feels very sturdy (except for the CF slot cover), and ready to take whatever you throw at it. The camera is very easy to hold, and it can be operated with one hand. I do find the controls to be very cluttered -- more on that in a bit.

Now, let's take a look at the dimensions of the Coolpix 5400 and its competitors:

  DSC-V1 PowerShot G5 Coolpix 5400
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
4.0 x 2.6 x 2.3 in. 4.8 x 2.9 x 2.8 in. 4.3 x 2.9 x 2.7 in.
Volume (AKA bulk) 23.9 cu. in. 39.0 cu. in. 33.7 cu. in.
Mass 300 g 410 g 320 g

As you can see, the Nikon is right in the middle in terms of size and mass.

Let's begin our tour of this camera now, beginning with the front.

The Coolpix 5400 has an all new, F2.8-F4.6, 4X optical zoom lens. This lens has a focal range of 5.8 - 24 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 116 mm. This should make up for the lack of telephoto power that the CP5000's 3X zoom had. In case you're wondering, 28 mm is very wide-angle for a digital camera. As I mentioned in the previous section, the CP5400 supports add-on lenses, though you'll need the conversion lens adapter first. You can also use 77 mm filters, though you'll need the HN-CP10 lens hood in order to do so.

One important change between the CP5000 and the CP5400 is the location of the light sensor. Before it was very easy for you to block with the fingers on your right hand. Now, it's located between the flash and optical viewfinder.

Speaking of the flash, the CP5400's built-in flash has a working range of 0.5 - 4.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 2.8 m at telephoto. Compare that to 0.7 - 5.0 m (wide) and 0.7 - 4.0 m (tele) on the G5, and 0.4 - 2.8 m (wide) and 0.4 - 2.0 m (tele) on the DSC-V1. You are more than welcome to use an external flash with the CP5400, via the hot shoe.

The only other item of note is the self-timer lamp, which is located on the grip. Yes, still no AF illuminator -- the G5 and DSC-V1 both have one. Come on, Nikon!

While the CP5400 retains the same rotating LCD as its predecessor, the bad news is that it has shrunk from 1.8 to 1.5 inches (though the resolution has gone up). While it's always nice to have a higher resolution LCD, I'd rather have a larger one instead... especially on a higher-end camera. Anyhow, the shots above and below show how you the LCD can rotate. You can also point it at the subject for self-portraits, and the image will be flipped appropriately.

Okay, now we can delve into the details about the back of the camera. I don't think you'll disagree with my view that things are cluttered here. One BIG change from the 5000 is that the 5400 lacks the very useful LCD info display.

I've discussed the LCD, so let's head north to the optical viewfinder. It's good-sized, and diopter correction is available to bring things into focus. The viewfinder displays 80% of the frame. You may find it a little difficult to use when the LCD is folded against the camera, as it sticks out a bit.

To the right of the viewfinder is the AE/AF lock button, with the zoom controller to the right of that. The zoom controller is very precise, and moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just over 1.5 seconds.

To the right of the LCD are four buttons, some of which have several functions. I'll go top to bottom:

  • Menu
  • Auto focus, manual focus, landscape, macro, self-timer, macro + self-timer [record mode] / Delete photo [playback mode]
  • QuickView (toggles LCD and what is displayed on it on/off) [record] / Small picture (create a small picture for e-mailing) [playback]
  • Display (toggles info shown on LCD)

Manual focus

Manual focus works allows you to use the command dial (on the top of the camera) to focus the camera. A diagram is shown on the LCD giving you the relative focus distance, though without any actual numbers, it's not easy to judge the distance. While the camera does not enlarge the image in manual focus mode, a focus confirmation feature will "sharply outline" the in-focus subject, so you can see if you are focused correctly.

To the right of those buttons is the four-way controller, with an "enter" button in the middle. This is used for menu navigation.

Okay, so maybe it wasn't that cluttered after all... it just looks like it to me. Now, the top of the Coolpix 5400.

The Coolpix 5400's hot shoe lets you use most modern Nikon flashes, including the SB-80DX/50DX/30/27/23. You can also use a non-Nikon flash, though you'll probably need to manually configure your flash's settings. Do note that the zoom head and AF illuminator on an external flash is not supported by the Coolpix 5400 (the CP5000 was the same way).

To the right of the hot shoe is the mode wheel. The CP5400's mode wheel has quite a few options, including:

Option Function
Fully Auto Point-and-shoot mode, most settings locked up.
Programmed Auto Camera chooses shutter speed and aperture. All menu options are unlocked.
Shutter Priority (Tv) You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a number of speeds ranging from 8 sec - 1/4000 sec.
Aperture Priority (Av) You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The choices range from F2.8 - F8, and will vary depending on the current focal range.
Full Manual You pick the aperture and shutter speed. Same ranges as above, plus a bulb mode for 10 minute exposures (remote shutter release cable very helpful).
Scene mode Camera uses best settings for certain situations. See below.
Movie mode More later
Set up Choose basic camera settings
Image quality These are "shortcuts" for changing the quality, ISO, and white balance. All are accessible via the menu system as well, and that's where I'll mention the available options.
White balance
Playback mode More later

A "flexible program" mode (known as program shift on some other cameras) will let you move through several aperture/shutter speed combinations while in Program mode. This is a great way to ensure a fast shutter speed or a certain aperture (for depth of field).

A quick note about the scene mode. Nikon has included quite an assortment of scenes with the camera. Just pick a scene, and the camera does the rest. The available scenes are:

  • Portrait
  • Party/Indoor
  • Night portrait
  • Beach/Snow
  • Landscape
  • Sunset
  • Night landscape
  • Museum
  • Fireworks show
  • Close up
  • Copy
  • Back light
  • Date imprint
  • Panorama assist
  • Sports
  • Dusk/dawn

Above the mode wheel is the function button. This button is customizable, with the default function being to switch the user setting (saved settings).

Moving to the right, we find the microphone and command dial (used for adjusting manual settings).

Above those is the shutter release button (with power switch around it), and buttons for flash and exposure compensation. The available flash options are auto, flash cancel, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, slow sync, and rear-curtain sync. Exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments. This button is also used to add 20 second voice annotations to photos.

On this side of the CP5400, you'll find the digital I/O port (for USB, wired remote), the speaker, and the A/V out port.

On the other side of the CP5400, you'll find the CompactFlash Type II slot and the DC-in port (for AC adapter). As I mentioned earlier, the 5400 supports the IBM Microdrive.

The plastic door covering the slot feels quite flimsy.

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. You can see the metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. The tripod mount is neither centered, nor inline with the lens.

The EN-EL1 battery is shown on the left.

Using the Nikon Coolpix 5400

Record Mode

The Coolpix 5400 takes about 3.75 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.

In good lighting, the 5400's autofocus performance was good. It took about 1/2 second to lock. However, in low light, the camera had quite a bit of trouble. An AF illuminator really would've helped here.

There's an interesting fact about shutter lag that was discovered by Phil Askey over at Digital Photography Review. Shutter lag is shorter if you have the phony shutter sound turned off. And after playing with the camera myself, I can confirm Phil's observations. The lag is barely noticeable with the shutter sound off, and much more obvious when it's on. So, instead make an imaginary sound in your head, and shorten that lag.

No live histogram in record mode on the 5400

Shot-to-shot speed was generally good, in most cases. You will wait for 2 seconds before you can take another shot, except in TIFF mode, when you can expect to wait for about 25 seconds before you can another shot. That's quite an improvement over my pre-production model.

However, also as noted by Phil Askey, the camera becomes unresponsive for the last second or two while a JPEG image is being written to the memory card. During that time, you can't switch modes (using the mode wheel or the Quick Play button), change settings, or take another shot. This is quite annoying.

You have to ability to pause and delete photos as they are being written to the memory card.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the Coolpix 5400:

Resolution Quality

# images on 16MB card

(2592 x 1944)
Fine 6
Normal 12
Basic 24

(2592 x 1728)

Fine 7
Normal 14
Basic 27
(1600 x 1200)
Fine 16
Normal 31
Basic 59
(1280 x 960)
Fine 24
Normal 47
Basic 86

(1024 X 768)

Fine 37
Normal 69
Basic 121

(640 x 480)

Fine 86
Normal 144
Basic 229

The Coolpix 5400 does not have a RAW file mode, but Nikon is promising to add one via a firmware upgrade by Spring 2004 (!).

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!

Nikon has taken a page from Olympus' playbook by offering a customizable "My Menu" that is shown before the full menu. You can put whatever you want in this menu. I did find navigating the menu system to be a little sluggish.

The complete menu options are:

  • White balance (Auto, preset, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, speedlight, shade) - more below
  • Metering (Matrix, spot, center-weighted, spot AF area)
  • Continuous (Single, continuous high, continuous low, multi-shot 16, ultra HS, five shot buffer) - see below
  • Best Shot Selector (on/off) - camera takes up to 10 shots in a row and chooses the best one
  • Image Adjustment [contrast] (Auto, normal, more contrast, less contrast)
  • Saturation Control (-2 to +2, black & white)
  • User Setting (1, 2) - store two sets of your favorite camera settings
  • Image Size / Quality - see chart
  • ISO Sensitivity (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400) - Auto tops out at 200
  • Image Sharpening (Auto, high, normal, low, off)
  • Lens (Normal, wide adapter, telephoto, fisheye, slide copy adapter)
  • Exposure Options
    • AE Lock (on/off/reset) - turning this on will lock the exposure settings after the next shot taken
    • Maximum Bulb Duration (bulb release, timed release {30 sec, 1, 3, 5, 10 min}) - bulb release means for as long as the shutter release button is held down
  • Focus Options
    • AF Area Mode (Auto, manual, off) - in manual mode, you can use the four-way switch to pick one of five focus areas
    • Auto-Focus Mode (Single or Continuous AF) - whether the camera focuses constantly or when the button is pressed halfway
    • Focus Confirmation (Manual focus, on, off) - shows what areas in the image are in focus by outlining them
  • Zoom Options
    • Digital tele (on/off) - turns digital zoom on and off
    • Fixed aperture (on/off) - fixes aperture are selected value in A and M modes
  • Speedlight Options
    • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
    • Speedlight control (Auto, Internal & External active, Internal flash off) - for using an external flash
    • Repeating flash (on/off) - creates a "strobe" effect. Choose from 1-10 Hz, in 1 Hz intervals.
  • Auto Bracketing (on, off, WB bracketing) - see below
  • Noise Reduction (on/off) - for long exposures
  • Reset All
  • My Menu - customize the initial menu
  • CF card format

Time for some further explanation on some of those.

The Coolpix 5400 has impressive white balance controls. First, you can use the white balance preset feature to use a white or gray card as a reference, for perfect white balance in any lighting. Also, for all modes except auto and preset, you can fine tune the white balance, from -3 to +3 in 1 step increments. As you lower the number, the colors move toward yellow and red. As you raise the number, images tend to be more blue.

There are several continuous shooting modes on the 5400, including one new one:

  • Continuous high: up to 7 shots at 3 frames/sec
  • Continuous low: records at 1.5 frames/sec; will slow down when buffer fills up
  • Multi-shot 16: takes 16 shots in a row and puts them into one 2592 x 1944 collage
  • Ultra HS: Takes up to 100 shots @ 320 x 240, 30 frames/sec. Images are saved into their own folder on the CF card
  • Last five shots: takes pictures at 1.5 frames/second but only saves the last five shots to memory. This is a new feature.

One last plug for DP Review: Phil Askey also found a major bug in continuous low mode, where it would take nearly 3 minutes to "flush" the image buffer. While this is going on, you can't turn off the camera, or change modes. I can confirm this issue as well; it took 3 minutes to write the 20 shots I took in continuous low mode to my 512MB, 12X Lexar CF card. This problem does not occur in continuous high mode.

The timed release feature in bulb mode allows you to have the camera keep the shutter open from 1-10 minutes, without having to keep your finger on the shutter release button.

Buried deep in the Focus Options submenu is the Manual AF Area mode option. This lets you manually select one of five focus points on the LCD, using the four-way controller. This isn't nearly as nice as Canon's FlexiZone AF system, where you can focus on virtually any area of the frame.

The auto bracketing feature will take 3 or 5 shots in a row, each with a different exposure compensation value. You can choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, and ±1.0EV. White balance bracketing works in a similar way. One shot is taken with the currently selected white balance, another with a reddish cast, and one more with a bluish cast.

There's also a setup menu on the 5400, accessible (not surprisingly) via the setup item on the mode wheel. The interesting items here include:

  • Language (German, English, French, Japanese, Spanish)
  • Folders - create, rename, delete, and select folders on the memory card
  • Monitor [LCD] options
    • Shutter release speed (Normal, quick response) - for quick response, shutter lag is reduced, though horizontal lines may be seen on LCD; this has no effect on pictures taken at this setting.
    • Display mode (Monitor on, review only, preview only, monitor off) - default setting for LCD
    • Brightness
    • Hue
  • Seq. numbers (On, off, reset) - maintain file numbering
  • Shutter sound (on/off) - turn this OFF to reduce shutter lag
  • Auto off (30 sec, 1, 5, 30 min)
  • Controls (Func., AE-L/AF-L) - define what these buttons do
  • Shot confirmation (on/off) - when on, self-timer lamp is lit to confirm that shot was taken
  • info.txt (on/off) - exposure info about photos stored in text file
  • USB (PTP, Mass Storage)
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Date imprint (Off, date, date/time) - print date on your photos

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The Coolpix lineup has always been the best for macro photography, and the 5400 is no exception: this is a macro machine. You can get as close as 1 cm -- yes, that's no typo -- to your subject. The macro "sweet spot" is near the wide-angle end of things. You'll know you're there when the macro flower on the LCD turns green.

The 5400 did quite well with our usual test subject, though he's a little on the soft side. Colors are quite saturated, as well.

The night shot came out nicely, though there's a quite a few purple halos in this shot, which was taken at F4.0. The manual controls allow you to take night shots like this with ease. The bulb mode allows for exposures as long as 10 minutes. Noise levels in this shot are low, thanks to the noise reduction system.

The distortion test shows moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle, and no vignetting or blurry corners.

The Coolpix 5400 did a great job with the redeye test. There's a bit of flash reflection, but no red can be found.

Overall, the photo quality was excellent on the Coolpix 5400. Exposure was noticeably better than on the CP5000, which tended to "blow out the sky" often. Colors were good as well. Nikon tends to go toward a softer image, and it's obvious if you look at the shots in the gallery. You can crank up the in-camera sharpening, or correct the images later in Photoshop.

View Full Size Image

View Full Size Image

View Full Size Image

Purple fringing wasn't common in my real world test photos. The only places I noticed it were in the night shot (scroll up) and the Old St. Mary's Church shot that I've taken in other reviews. The crops above show the lights in the ceiling where the purple usually appears, and the effect of aperture on the amount of purple fringing.

Don't just take my word for it -- have a look at the photo gallery and decide if the CP5400's photo quality is acceptable to you!

Movie Mode

The Coolpix 5400 has three movie modes. The first is a 640 x 480, 15 frame/sec (Nikon calls it "TV") movie with audio, which has a max recording time of 70 seconds. Do note that this is not a true VGA mode: the camera uses vertical interlacing to achieve that size.

Movie mode number two is a standard-issue 320 x 240, 15 frame/sec mode, where you can record for up to 3 minutes.

The third movie mode is somewhat unique, and it's called time lapse photo. The camera takes a still photo at a set interval, and throws it into a silent movie up to 60 seconds in length. the interval can be 10 sec, 30 sec, or 1, 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes. You can use the AE lock feature to base the exposure on the first shot taken.

For the 640 x 480 and 320 x 240 movie modes, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format. Here's a short sample movie, taken at the 320 x 240 setting:

Click to play movie (2.1MB, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Coolpix 5400 has very nice playback mode. All the basic features are here, including slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term), lets you zoom in up to 6X (in 0.2X increments), and then scroll around in the image. This feature is well-implemented on the 5400.

Other interesting features include a "hide image" option, the ability to copy images from one folder to another, and a function which marks images for automatic transfer to your computer. Pressing the "small pic" button on the back of the camera will create a 320 x 240 image, suitable for e-mailing.

One thing I've always liked about Nikon cameras it their ability to delete a group of images, rather than just one or all. Deleting photos seemed slow to me.

If you like extra info about your photos, then this is your camera. Above is just a small sample of what is available by rotating the command dial.

The 5400 moves through images at an average pace. It shows a low res version instantly, with the high res image appearing about three seconds later.

How Does it Compare?

The Nikon Coolpix 5400 is a vast improvement over the 5000, placing it among the best of the full-featured 5 Megapixel cameras. Photo quality is excellent, with low noise, purple fringing, and redeye. Exposures were also much better than on the CP5000. The camera features full manual controls, with a few bonuses like fine-tunable white balance, and a timed bulb mode. The hot shoe and threaded lens allows you to add quite a few accessories to the camera. Many people will appreciate the 28mm wide end of the lens, as well. Finally, the 5400's macro mode is first rate.

There are quite a few things that I don't like about the CP5400, though. Some of the most troubling items were pointed out on Digital Photography Review, that I commented on above. These items are the variable shutter lag (depending on whether the shutter beep is on or off), the camera "lock down" while an image is being saved to memory, and the extremely long "flush speeds" in continuous low mode. I would imagine than at least the first and last of those items could be resolved with a firmware upgrade.

Other things I don't like include the sluggish interface and confusing menus, small LCD display, and the lack of an AF illuminator (which would've helped, as the camera doesn't focus well in low light). Studio shooters should note that the CP5400 doesn't support all the features on Nikon's Speedlites, nor does it have a RAW mode (yet).

All-in-all, the Coolpix 5400 is definitely worth a look -- just don't forget the competition.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality
  • Amazing expandability in terms of lenses, flashes
  • Lens is wider than most
  • CompactFlash Type II slot
  • Tons of manual controls
  • Rotating LCD display
  • Interesting timed bulb mode lets you keep shutter open for up to 10 mins, without keeping your finger on the button
  • Awesome macro mode
  • Low redeye

What I didn't care for:

  • Bizarre shutter lag & buffering issues (firmware update needed?)
  • Clunky, sluggish interface
  • No AF illuminator, poor low light focusing
  • Does not fully support Nikon Speedlites
  • Small LCD
  • No RAW mode yet (most of competition has it)
  • Flimsy plastic door over CF slot
  • No live histogram in record mode

Other full-featured 5 Megapixel cameras to check out include the Canon PowerShot G5 and S50, Casio QV-5700, Fuji FinePix S7000 (uses SuperCCD), HP Photosmart 935, Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi, Nikon Coolpix 5700, Olympus C-5050Z, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-F717 and DSC-V1.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix 5400 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Check out the gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about a few more?

Get more opinions on the Coolpix 5400 from Steve's Digicams, Digital Photography Review, and Imaging Resource.


Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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