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Thursday, April 17 Front Page >> Mixelania >> Digicam Things >> 4500 Review

Coolpix 4500 First Look
July 2002

Click for larger image

There's a new camera around here, and it's the Coolpix 4500. Just got it a week ago, but I've already fired about 650 photos through it, and I have some initial thoughts to share.

I should note that I originally planned to buy a Nikon D100 digital camera for $3,075 Canadian dollars, plus taxes etc. But at the literal last moment, I caved. I chickened out. I decided to wait before spending that kind of money - wait to see what kind of fallout there would be over the D100's build, quality, CCD dust issues, etc etc. And it looks to be a wise choice - not two weeks after the D100's release, it's already been recalled because of a serious white balance bug.

I hedged between a Coolpix 5700 and a the 4500, and in the end, the 4500 got the nod mainly because I have about $750 worth of lenses for the 4500 (carryovers from my CP990). I also didn't like the build and LCD function of the 5700 - I admit I'm sold on Nikon's swivel design. So I preordered my camera (from Camera Canada - recommended!) and last week, I finally got one.

Out of the Box

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Coolpix 4500
Front view of the 4500, with lens popped up. Click to enlarge.

Well... it's smaller and lighter than my CP990 camera. And there's no top LCD panel for camera status. I'm going to miss that - I relied on it heavily on my previous camera.

But the body is all magnesium, which is good. Metal is good. Plastics bad.

The weight difference is really noticeable, especially when you have both the 990 and 4500 side by side. I don't know if I like this or not. But the swivel is solid, locks in with a good indent click at all the set angles, and well, it swivels. This is a boon for me, and I've gotten so used to it, I don't know what I'd do if Nikon stops using this form factor. I think I would definitely have to move to a SLR digicam next because the SLR form factor is the only other one I'm truly comfortable with.

This digicam has a pop up lens that is further away from the lens - not by much, but every little bit helps. The 990 (and previous 9xx Nikon cameras) had such horrible red eye problems, anything is an improvement.

I don't like the new way of turning the camera on or off, and Nikon made a huge mistake getting rid of the A and M modes on the selector dial. Now I have to do a fumbly 2 finger combo movement to change the camera's modes from auto to preset to program to shutter priority, to aperture priority, to manual. Stupid.

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Controls up Top
No LCD display, slider dial, and check out the position of that strap eyelet. Boo. Click to enlarge.

The placement of the strap eyelet immediately disappointed me and made me wonder when Nikon is ever going to get ergonomics right. They've come a long way, and in many ways their SLRs are so polished and intuitive, it's the standard bearer for other camera makers. But they still don't quite get it with this Nikon Coolpix 4500. Lots of stuff is done right on this camera, but the strap isn't one of them.

Nikon moved to proprietary batteries with the 995 and now this 4500 batteries (my 990 used AA batteries). This literally forced me to buy two extra ELN-1 li-ion batteries, giving Nikon more of my money. I'm not thrilled with this, but if the camera can shoot more with dedicated packs, then the pain is reduced a bit.

Before I sound like I'm just pissy about the camera, here's things I liked right away, even before firing it up. One thing I really liked as an improvement was the new thumb joystick that replaces the old 4 way pad for maneuvering thru the menu system. Very slick. There's also less buttons on the back of the camera, sometimes a good thing, sometimes not. I like as many "analog" controls as possible on a camera; that means the more I can stay away from a LCD menu system, the better. I'll have to see if Nikon's reduction in the on camera buttons will be a PITA (pain in the ass) or good design.

And there were many other things that made me decided to buy this camera. There's a pano mode I intend to rely on quite a bit. The 4mpxels will be a boon, as I'm doing more and more print work. The lighter, smaller package was at first appealing to me, and probably will remain so, I just need to get used to it. The more advanced and better-tuned white balance controls are something I want. And the fact that I can use all my old lenses, all my CF cards, and my wired remote with the camera was one of the biggest selling points.

Getting Familiar with the Camera

After I charged the first ELN-1 battery (which thankfully, is fast), I slipped it into the camera, and gave it a first shakedown.

I put the camera through some early paces, and took it out on two siteseeing trips. Here's what I liked and didn't like.

Camera dislikes

Okay, Nikon immediately lost points with me by downgrading the functionality of the power dial. On the 990, you could turn it on to A mode, M mode (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual), or playback. Now the dial is a spring tensioned "flip to turn on" and that's all it does dial.

However, accessing playback is easier, and doesn't require a mode change. Press the quick playback button, and you get a little corner image of your last picture. Press the shutter half way, and it disappears. Press the quickplay button again, and you go into full playback mode, complete with zoom (now 6x, compared to the 4x of the 990), and other playback features, including slideshow.

Nikon also lost points with me by a) making the back LCD smaller, and b) ditching the protective, flush overlay that made it really easy to clean the display (and it also protected it). The LCD is now recessed, and grit, grime, fingerprints, etc can easily accumulate and are hard to clean out from the corners and edges.

The LCD itself is much brighter, and you can now see it in most types of light except for direct sunlight. They still have the serious problem of a poor angle of viewing. I remember back to my Olympus C2020, which had an excellent LCD that could be viewed from most angles, including above or below. The Nikon goes into a faux negative mode if you view it looking down from above. Bad Nikon. Fix this eventually on your digicams, okay? Talk to Sony about outsourcing their industry-leading LCD displays.

As mentioned above, I don't much like the top strap eyelet position. It sits right under the middle segment of your index finger's underneath fleshy part. You notice it after a while. It actually can chaff.

In medium and low light, the camera has a real hard time focusing. Why Nikon refuses to put focus-assist lights or contraptions on their cameras, I'll never know. Sony, for instance, has a way cool laser system that sends out a pattern via laser, allowing the camera to focus even in complete darkness. Nikon doesn't even give us a standard focus assist light, or infrared or anything. Boo, Nikon.

Camera Likes

Nikon is the absolute king of the macro focus and shallow depth of field (DoF) in consumer and prosumer digicams, and the 4500 carries on this tradition. I like taking tight, shallow DoF macro shots, and the camera's ability to focus on objects less than an inch away is staggering. Compare this to my Nikon F80 SLR, with it's stock 28-80 zoom lens needing 2+ feet of space between lens and subject.

Nikon's Best Shot Selector (BSS) mode is phenomenal too. You won't find this on other cameras - it's proprietary to Nikon, and turns blurry, handheld shots done at 1/8th, 1/15th and even 1/4 second shutter speeds into crisp shots. How does it work? Put the camera into BSS mode, and trip and hold the shutter button. The camera will fire off a series of shots until it's internal memory buffer is full. The camera then checks which image is the sharpest (re, no camera shake), and keeps only that foto. Awesome for places where you can't use flash, or for telephoto images that you can't match the shutter speed to the camera's equivalent millimeter lens setting (nb: in photography, a rule of thumb is, you should never shoot at a lower shutter speed than the mm size of the lens - so a 50mm lens should always be shot at 1/60th a second or faster; a 300mm lens should be shot at 1/500th (or 1/350th on some cameras) or faster, etc etc).

Photo quality is, as with the Nikon CP990, first rate. But this camera's better. There's a saturation override that lets you boost or mute overall colours. It won't replace photoshop, but it can add a nice punch to the image, and the image is processed in RAW mode (ie, each original pixel), instead of a completed, altered JPG file.

White balance is powerful, and the ability to fine tune certain white balance settings (like florescent or tungsten lighting) as well as full manual white balance control is excellent, and should allow nice fine tuning for any type of lighting. I use hot lights in my still life studio, and while with the 990 I had to do a white card reading to get accurate colour reproduction, one of the 4500's tungsten (or incandescent) sub-settings seem perfectly balanced for 3400K lighting.

I also really like the new implementation of the quick preview function.

More to come soon.

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