Nikon Coolpix 4100 Review
The Coolpix 4100 is a big brother of the Nikon Coolpix 3200 that we reviewed earlier this year, and shares a nearly identical compact body design and 3x optical zoom lens. It improves on the 3200's 3-megapixel imager, offering the greater resolution of 4-megapixels for producing prints of up to 11x14 inches, and more image content for cropping. Like the 3200, it features an Auto record mode for point-n-shoot simplicity, and has a rich set of preprogrammed Scene modes to assist you in those ordinary or extraordinary photo ops. The Coolpix 4100 will keep beginners happy with its simplicity, and offers the intermediate user some flexibility in exposure control without complicated menus and features they might never use.
The Coolpix 4100 is very compact but its well-shaped handgrip makes it easy to hold and its controls are nicely arranged to prevent accidental activation. The 1.6-inch color LCD is used for image review, preview, access the settings menus and also serves as the camera's data display. It was difficult to use as a viewfinder in bright sunlight despite its brightness control. I was impressed, however, with its usability in low-light conditions as the display "gains up" to give you a brighter view for shot composition. Depressing the Play button quickly displays the last picture on the LCD, but it must be depressed again to return to shooting mode.
The 3x Nikkor zoom lens is sharp and has excellent macro coverage down to about 1.6 inches. The lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at full wideangle but is relatively free of pincushioning at full telephoto. A slight amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is present in high contrast areas at wide angle, but it diminishes to near zero at the telephoto end of the zoom range. The zoom moves smoothly and quietly through its range; having 20 steps between wide angle and telephoto, it's more than adequate for precise shot composition. Its 35-105mm (35mm-equivalent) optical zoom range is typical for a camera in this class, offering a sufficient field of view for pleasing panorama's, and enough telephoto magnification to bring your subject closer.
The power up to image capture time was about 4 seconds, while waking the 4100 from its power-saving sleep mode took 3 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured an impressive 1/10 second when pre-focused using the optical viewfinder; use of the LCD monitor adds less than 1/10 second to the pre-focused lag because of the delay in presenting the live viewfinder image, one of the most responsive LCD's I've used. The LCD does freeze, however, during autofocus, but not long enough to be troublesome while panning with a moving subject. Shutter lag including auto-focus delay measured 5/10 second using the LCD monitor, but a disappointing 1.9 seconds with the LCD turned off; apparently, turning off the LCD also turns off continuous autofocus, lengthening shutter lag. Sports Assist mode has an option, Sport spectator, which reduces the AF shutter lag to 4/10 second; your subject should be no closer than three meters in this mode.
The shot to shot performance allowed 5 images to be captured at 1.7 second intervals with subsequent shots taken at 3 second intervals. Using flash, shot to shot time ranged between 6 and 8.5 seconds depending on the distance to the subject. Continuous mode captured 4 frames in 2 seconds, then slowing to 1 frame every 3 seconds as the camera emptied its buffer to the SD card. In continuous mode, the LCD viewfinder briefly displays the last image captured; you'll prefer to use the optical viewfinder to follow a moving subject. While it's not a high-performance shooter, the 4100 is responsive enough for most family photo ops. These timings were obtained with the camera set to single advance mode, 4M High (2288 x 1712) image size, auto white balance, and flash off with a 512MB Sandisk Ultra II SD memory card installed.
Movie mode has a "TV" setting for shooting clips at 640x480, plus settings for 320x240 or 180x120 resolutions, all at 15 fps; movies are limited in size only by the remaining amount of unused memory. The Coolpix 4100 includes a microphone and movies are always recorded with sound; as a result, the optical zoom can be used to compose movies before recording starts, but not during recording. Movie mode has an option for Single or Continuous autofocus; make sure that it's set to Single to avoid recording the clicking noises of the autofocus system at work.
I was pleased with the CoolPix 4100's outdoor results. Images were in sharp focus, well exposed, and richly saturated. Beginners will benefit from the 4100's assistance with shot composition in the Landscape Assist mode, which offers framing guides for Scenic View, Architecture, and foreground portraits. My only complaint during outdoor use was the ineffectiveness of the LCD monitor in bright sunlight; you'll be thankful that there's a small zoom-coupled optical viewfinder for use in such conditions. The LCD's poor viewability in bright sunlight limits the usefulness of the 4100's Panorama assist feature, which uses the LCD to help you align the sequence of images comprising a panorama. The 4100's menu text, however, is quite readable even on the brightest of days.
The indoor results were also pleasing. The limited range of the built-in speedlight (about 11 feet) and the field of view at wide angle will limit your flash shots to small rooms and portraits of small groups. You'll be able to include yourself in those group portraits thanks to the 4100's tripod socket and the use of its self-timer. Beginners will find the Portrait Assist mode handy, offering help with shot composition for several types of portraits. The 4100 has several features which improve its effectiveness in conditions of low ambient light; the LCD viewfinder image is "boosted" and there's a limited range focus-assist lamp which will allow you to capture sharp images using flash even in complete darkness. There's also a Blur Warning that will alert you to a shot marred by camera shake, offering you the choice of saving or deleting the blurred shot. The CoolPix 4100 is very effective at squelching its flash at close range, and, combined with its macro focusing capability, would be a good choice for capturing images of small objects for inclusion in online auction listings. Your Macro shots without flash will be improved by using the Best Shot Selector mode, which captures a sequence of up to 10 shots and saves only the sharpest.
The Coolpix 4100 is powered by either two AA cell batteries or one CR-V3 lithium battery. We've always recommended the use of NiMH rechargeable AA batteries; they supply a lot more power than alkalines and they'll save you money. There's now a money-saving alternative to disposable CR-V3 batteries; check out our list of CR-V3 rechargeable batteries. The 4100's battery life was very good; I captured nearly 200 images on a pair of 2400 mAh NiMH batteries without any indication of battery exhaustion.
The Coolpix 4100 is an easy to use and reasonably priced (~$300 at the time of this review) four-megapixel compact camera. It yields sharp pictures with good tone and color saturation. The 4-megapixel high quality images will yield photo-quality prints right up to 11x14" size. The combination of PictBridge compatibility and in-camera cropping allow the beginner to forego the use of computer applications to for editing and printing, further simplifying the process of producing prints. The Nikon Coolpix 4100 will please many families with its image quality, simplicity and price. You'll want to add a 256MB SD memory card and at least two pairs of NiMH rechargeable batteries because this camera will encourage you to take pictures! If 3-megapixels of resolution is adequate for your needs, consider the Nikon Coolpix 3200; it offers a nearly-identical feature set and similar quality for about $50 less.
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