Nikon Coolpix 4500 Review
The Coolpix 4500 is the year 2002 update of the popular Coolpix 9xx series. It
retains the swiveling lens section and 4x optical zoom found on the 3.2 megapixel Coolpix 995 and ups the resolution to 4
megapixels. The 4500 is a full featured camera with Program(shift), aperture priority,
shutter priority, manual and 16 pre-programmed Scene modes. The body has been
redesigned and is now about 20% more compact and quite pocketable. Unlike the
995, the entire body is constructed of magnesium alloy, the 995's lens
section was plastic. The manually operated bulging flash of the 995 has been replaced
by a streamlined flash arm that closes flush to the camera body and automatically pops-
up when needed. The user controls have been significantly redesigned as well. Gone is
the combination power / mode switch and the top data LCD display. Changing the exposure
settings or camera features now requires the use of the color LCD display and menu
system. Overall, the improvements are just that, improvements, not change for the sake
The Nikkor 4x optical zoom has a 35mm equivalent of 38-155mm with a fairly fast maximum aperture of f/2.6 - f/5.1. The lens is very sharp, contrasty and matched well to the imager thereby producing impressive images. The filter thread is still 28mm so all of the accessory lenses and filters made for the Coolpix 9xx series camera will be useable. It exhibits a small amount of barrel distortion at full wideangle but almost no pincushioning at full telephoto. And I'm happy to report that the 4500 continues the same amazing macro closeup capabilities as its predecessors and has no trouble focusing down to about 3/4 of an inch! And unlike most digicams, the 4500 can focus from macro to infinity without leaving the macro focus mode.
The flash mode/ISO control was logically moved to the top of the lens section where the flash is. The flash is on a little arm that pops-up automatically when needed and in the firing position it's only about one inch above the lens. This obviously precludes its use with the accessory lenses as they would block the light coming from the flash. Getting an external flash off-camera is the answer. That requires using the AS-E900 cord, a flash bracket (like The Rollbar), and a flash. An external Nikon or Nikon compatible flash is not TTL flash metered when connected, the 4500's internal flash with its metering sensor (next to the flash tube) must be in the up position. Nikon moved the external flash port from the bottom of the lens section up to the top. This makes connecting the Nikon AS-E900 Multi-flash Adapter's cable more practical and eliminates the need to bend it 180 degrees. The 4500 still does not control the motorized zoom head of most Nikon speedlights nor does it make use of its powerful AF-assist illuminator - more on this in the next paragraph. The internal flash's output is average at a shooting range of approx. 1.6 - 9.8 ft. With a 4x lens it would be nice to have more range to catch the candid moments from a distance.
When you're shooting flash it's obviously because you are in less than ideal lighting conditions. Nikon does not use any type of "AF assist" in these conditions, much to our dismay. Other manufacturers have realized that most digicam users need a camera that can reliably focus in low light and/or low contrast conditions and have equipped their cameras with some kind of AF assist illuminator. The most impressive is Sony's "hologram" focus assist system that was first used in their Cyber-shot F707. It uses a Class 1 laser to "paint" a pattern onto the subject that the contrast detection focus system can use to confirm subject clarity. Many other digital camera makers employ some type of focus assist system, however Nikon has yet to introduce a Coolpix model with it. They do incorporate focus assist devices on most of their film cameras and SLR digitals. In all fairness to Nikon, I did find that the 4500 with its 7,900-step autofocus does a good job in very low light as long as there is significant contrast in the subject.
The 4500's image processor and 32MB DRAM buffer are quite robust. The following timings were based on the camera set to single advance mode, 2272 x 1704, fine JPG quality, auto white balance, continuous AF on, flash off with a 20x 512MB Ridata CF card. The shot to shot time is better than average at about 2 seconds. I continued to shoot as fast as possible and was able to fire five frames before the "hour glass" was displayed while the contents of the buffer was being processed. I was able to shoot another frame in about three seconds and to process the entire buffer required about 12 seconds. The 4500 has three continuous modes with burst rates as fast as 30 frames per second at a much smaller image size. The standard continuous capture rate in Large/Fine mode can record 6 frames in less than 7 seconds. The 4500 (like most digicams) is optimized for processing JPEG images so when in TIFF mode the camera can only capture one frame and then do nothing for about twenty-two seconds while it processes it. The average digi- photographer will rarely if ever run into a full buffer that will delay shooting.
The deletion of the data LCD from the top of the camera precludes the at-a-glance check of exposure, image size/quality, flash mode or drive settings. Changing these settings requires the use of the color LCD and menu system and takes considerably more battery power than the data LCD on top of the 995. The proprietary 650mAH Nikon EN-EL1 lithium battery pack is rather whimpy to begin with and now there's more reasons to use the color LCD. Nikon claims the battery is good for 100 minutes of operation with the LCD on but that is lessened the more you use the flash or run the zoom in and out. The 4500 can also be powered by a one-use 2CR5 type battery but priced at $7 to $15 each, it will quickly take the fun out of digital photography. My suggestion is to keep an extra EN-EL1 battery charged in the camera bag and carry one 2CR-5 for emergencies. Another option, if you are a heavy shooter, is to invest in an external battery pack that plugs into the DC IN port and gives you 2-3 times the power. As a side benefit it also lightens the camera as you don't need a battery in the camera.
One of the features that I really like is the Quick Review. It has now become a Coolpix standard. Pressing the Quick Review button brings the last picture captured up on the LCD in the upper left quarter of the screen. The camera remains in Record mode and tapping the shutter button takes you right back to capture mode. Pressing the Quick Review button a second time puts the camera in Play mode and the stored image is now displayed full screen. This is the only way to get into Play mode on the 4500, unlike the 995 and previous models that had the mode selector around the shutter release. To get back to record you just tap the shutter release or press the quick review button again.
As with all cameras -- image quality is the thing and the Coolpix 4500 will not let you down in that respect. The camera can be operated like an automatic point and shoot or you can dabble with its multitude of drive, exposure, focus and capture features. This is a camera that you can grow into and offers enough options to keep everyone satisfied. The four megapixel images are perfect for making photo-quality prints from 4x6" all the way up to 13x19" enlargements that are virtually indistinguishable from conventionally-processed photos. With a street price of just $699, I'm sure that we'll see a lot of these cameras out and about this summer.
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