Nikon Coolpix 4600 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The Nikon Coolpix 4600 is the "little brother" to the Coolpix 5600 and is fundamentally identical with lesser resolution and no sound during movie recording. This ultra-compact camera features a 4-megapixel imager combined with a Nikkor 3x optical zoom lens. Designed for simplicity, it offers users a point-n-shoot "Auto" exposure mode, and helps the less-experienced photographer obtain good results with its wide variety of pre-programmed scene modes. There's also scene-assisted modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait) that help with shot composition by displaying framing assist outlines on the LCD.
Despite its small size, the ergonomics are very good. The well-shaped handgrip allows for a comfortable feel in you hands, and the controls are well organized. Its 1.8-inch color LCD is used for image review, preview, access the menus and serves as the camera's data display. We found it was easy to use in both bright and dim lighting, being bright enough to use as a viewfinder on the sunniest of days, and intensifying the live image in low-ambient lighting for indoor shot composition.
The Nikkor 3x optical zoom lens produced sharp results throughout its range, with noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, but almost no pincushioning at the telephoto end of the zoom range. The lens moves smoothly and quietly through its zoom range, but not continuously; I counted 19 steps between wide angle and telephoto, quite adequate for shot composition. Its 34 - 102mm (35mm equivalent) zoom range is typical for a camera in this class, offering a sufficient field of view for portraits of individuals, small groups, and landscape shots, and enough telephoto magnification to bring your subject closer. The autofocus system complements the lens nicely, producing sharp images in most conditions, however it will fail in low-light situations; this is when an AF-assit lamp would come in handy.
Shooting performance was good for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured 3.1 seconds. Shutter lag measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 3/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot to shot delay averaged about 1.7 seconds between frames without the use of the flash and between 7 and 10 seconds with the flash. While the flash is recharging the LCD goes blank, which I found quite aggravating. There are two Sequential shooting mode to choose from (Continuous, Multi-shot 16.) With Continuous mode, I was able to capture 5 frames in about 3 seconds. Multi-shot mode captures 16 frames, then makes a single 5M/Fine image out of all 16 frames. Using this mode, I was able to capture 16 frames in under 7 seconds. The LCD viewfinder briefly displays the last image captured in all Continuous modes; you'll prefer to use the optical viewfinder if your subject is moving. All test were done using a SanDisk 256MB Ultra II SD card, using 4M/Fine size/quality, welcome screen off, preview off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The overall image quality when using 4-Megapixel Fine mode was great. Outdoors, the majority of our samples were sharp, well exposed and colors were nicely saturated. There were small amounts of noise in high/low contrast areas, with slight traces of Chromatic Aberration (purple fringing around highlights.) Its "Auto" white balance setting worked well in most shooting conditions, however it did struggle under some very mixed lighting, with images being a bit too warm.
I was also pleased with our Indoors results. Portrait shots were sharp, well exposed and skin tones looked very natural. You'll be able to include yourself in group portraits thanks to the tripod socket and self-timer. Beginners will find the Portrait Assist mode handy, offering help with shot composition for several types of situations. The red eye reduction flash mode was very effective, helped by both the pre-flash and the camera's internal Red Eye Fix feature. I saw virtually no occurrence of red-eye in the "people" pictures; Nikon seems to have gotten it right. The flash has an average range of about 10 feet, which when coupled with the 34mm wide angle zoom range, was sufficient for most indoor situations. Like most Nikon models, the 4600 excels at Macro photography. You can focus on a subject as close as 1.6-inches from the lens. It also controls the flash well, "throttling down" to ensure you don't overexpose the subject.
Movie mode has a "TV" setting for shooting clips at VGA (640x480) resolution, plus settings for 320x240 or 160x120, all at 15 fps; movies are limited in size only by the amount of remaining memory. It does not include a microphone, so no sound is recorded. The optical zoom can be used to compose movies before recording starts, but not during recording. You can opt to use the Digital zoom, but it will affect image quality. Overall our movie samples were disappointing. They showed large amounts of compression noise and were just not sharp at all.
The 4600 is powered by a pair of AA-type batteries. Nikon supplies a set of Alkalines, but we highly recommend the use of high-capacity NiMH rechargeables or Lithium one-use cells. Using a pair of 2400mAh NiMH cells, we were able to capture all of our sample images (about 85 shots) and conclude our other tests before the batteries were exhausted.
Bottom line - Aimed toward the beginner and intermediate user, it offers terrific images without having to fuss with complicated settings. Its 4-megapixel Fine images have plenty of resolution to create photo-quality prints up to 8x10-inch, or cropped prints of lesser size. If you want to take great photos at an affordable price and don't plan on recording many movie clips, the Nikon Coolpix 4600 will make a good choice and offers a great value with an MSRP of under $200. If you like the features of the 4600 but need more resolution and sound during movies, take a look at the 5-megapixel Coolpix 5600, which costs about $100 more.
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