Nikon Coolpix 5700 Review

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Nikon Coolpix 5700

Steve's Conclusion

The Coolpix 5700 is the 2002 flagship of Nikon's Coolpix digital camera line. Like its predecessor, the Coolpix 5000, it incorporates a high-resolution 5-megapixel CCD imager in a very compact and durable magnesium body. It features the same type of fully-articulated color LCD but it's now a smaller 1.5-inch display. The most prominent feature is the large-diameter 8x Zoom- Nikkor with a 35mm equivalent of 35-280mm. This offers a wide range of focal lengths from moderate wide angle to about 2.5 times more telephoto coverage than the average digicam. The 5700 is the first Coolpix with the ability to store images in proprietary NEF raw format like its professional D1 cousins. It's also the first Coolpix to use an electronic viewfinder (EVF) rather than a coupled optical viewfinder.

In a nutshell, the Coolpix 5700 is a full-featured prosumer camera with exposure options that include Program AE(shift), Shutter speed priority, Aperture priority, Full Manual, AE Bracketing of both the exposure value and white balance and Best Shot Selector. Shutter speeds from 8 to 1/4000sec plus Bulb (max. 5 minutes!) and aperture settings from F2.8 to F10.3. A new 7,123-step auto focus system with macro coverage down to 1.2 inches! The ISO sensitivity can be set to Auto or fixed at ISO 100, 200, 400 or 800 (the ISO 400 and 800 settings yield pretty noisy images even at short shutter speeds). Metering options include 256-element matrix, center-weighted averaging, spot or spot AF that follows the 5-area Multi AF focusing system. The 5700 has improved response with a 70-millisecond shutter release lag time. This is the pre-focused shutter release time, the overall shutter lag time is a second or more.

The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) is fairly resolute with 180,000 pixels of display resolution. It's well shielded with a soft rubber eyecup and has a fairly wide viewing angle. There's a dioptric adjustment knob so even those with less than perfect eyesight should have no trouble using it. EVFs are a mixed blessing. They give you true through the lens viewing like a SLR camera. Because they're an electronic display camera settings and exposure information can be overlayed on top of the live view. The 5700 displays the AF and flash status in the EVF with a green "AF" and red "SB" dot-icons rather than using external LEDs. The EVF can be used just like the color LCD to review stored images and access the camera's menu system, this is a real plus when outdoors in the bright sunshine. The downside is power consumption, the EVF is a small color LCD screen with a backlight. The "live view" in the EVF is good but the colors are often muted and this becomes more pronounced as the ambient light level decreases. The 5700 has no focus illuminator which other cameras like the Sony F707 use to brighten up its viewfinder. The EVF does not "gain up" (brighten) in low light unless you select ISO 400 or 800 and in my opinion the noise at these ISO settings is unacceptable. This can make it difficult to see and focus on your subject in low-light or low-contrast situations. A camera of this caliber should have some type of active AF-assist system.

Another Coolpix first, as mentioned above, is the ability to capture images in a RAW data recording format called NEF (Nikon Electronic Format.) These raw files contain all of the imager data and allow you to manipulate it after the picture has been captured. The included NikonView 5 lets you view/convert the NEF raw images. For further editing there is a handy Photoshop plug-in that lets you import these 12-bit images "as shot" or you can adjust the exposure value or the white balance. The 5700 also records images in uncompressed TIFF-RGB format and compressed JPEG in five different sizes (six including the 3:2 ratio mode) and in three different quality levels.

The new 8x Zoom-Nikkor is an excellent piece of glass and gives the user a very wide range of focal lengths from moderate wide angle to super-telephoto. Only the slightest bit of barrel distortion is visible at full wide angle and there's virtually no pin cushioning at the telephoto end. I was quite impressed with the color rendition and sharpness of this lens, it is excellent. The motorized zoom is quick, it only takes 4 seconds to go from W to T, but it has a very audible high-pitched whirring sound. There's a menu option to set the zoom speed but I'll be darned if I can tell any difference between high or low speed. In normal lighting with average contrast subjects the auto focus speed is good but not what I'd call "robust." In Single-AF mode the 5700 locked the focus in about a second and half. Depending on the focal length and the amount of light and contrast in the subject, the auto focus can take longer. At extreme telephoto and moderate to low light it often "hunted" and racked the zoom in and out taking up to three seconds to achieve AF lock. You can reduce the AF delay up to 50% by using the continuous auto focus mode. It does increase power consumption but it yields the quickest response time.

The 5700 comes with a 16MB Lexar CF "starter" card (which is way too small!) and has a CompactFlash Type II card slot. Any capacity CF Type I or II flash card can be used as well as the 512MB or 1GB IBM Microdrive. I highly recommend using a quick (12x - 20x) 256MB or 512MB CF card. The 1GB Microdrive is also good but it does increase power consumption and it is a mechanical device and as such, is prone to failure. I much prefer the safety of solid state flash memory, especially at today's lower prices. Mechanically it is very ease to insert and remove CF cards or Microdrives with a "push in and pop out" type of card ejector lever. The card slot is located on the side of the hand grip so cards can be removed without taking the camera off of a tripod.

The 5700's controls are ergonomically located with the exception of the four control buttons located on the left side of the lens barrel. In normal use your left hand is "palm up" with your thumb resting near these controls. It's far too easy to inadvertently push a button and change something without knowing it. Most of us are concentrating on framing the subject, not monitoring the information status displayed in the EVF. My thumb came to rest on the "Size" button and more than once I found myself on the wrong quality setting. A simple "lock out" control over these buttons could easily prevent this from happening. I guess Nikon listened to our gripe about the Coolpix 5000's data LCD not being illuminated, this much needed feature is on the 5700. The zoom control is well-placed for operating comfortably with your right thumb. Many of the controls on the back are the same as those on the Coolpix 5000 -- thankfully Nikon took those 3 buttons (Monitor, Menu, Quick Review) off of the LCD and located them on the body with appropriate labels. And speaking of the 1.5-inch color LCD, its ability to tilt and swivel is extremely handy. It's a smaller LCD than the one on the 5000 but it's more resolute and has an effective anti-glare coating. You can control its hue and brightness.

Image processing is quite robust for a 5-megapixel camera and its rather large images. The following timings were based on the camera set to single advance mode, 2560 x 1920, JPG Fine quality, auto white balance, continuous AF was on and the flash was off. We used the included Nikon Starter CF card (8x 16MB Lexar CF card.) Power on to capture of first image takes just under 7 seconds. The shot to shot time by default is about 2 seconds but using the "quick shutter release" option in the setup menu shortens that down to about 1 second. I continued to shoot as fast as possible and was able to fire 8 frames before the "hour glass" (please wait) was displayed as the buffer was being processed. To process the entire buffer takes about 15 seconds but you can shoot another shot in approx. 2 seconds. The 2560x1920 pixel Fine JPG images average about 1.6MB in file size. The 5700 has four continuous modes with burst rates as fast as 30 frames per second at a much smaller image size. The standard Continuous High capture rate in Large/Fine mode can record 3 frames in just over 3 seconds. The 5700 (like most digicams) is optimized for processing JPEG images. When using the uncompressed TIFF mode, the camera can only capture one frame and then you do nothing but wait for about 22 seconds as it processes the 14.5MB image. In NEF raw mode the 7.8MB image is fully processed to the card in about 21 seconds but the camera will let you capture another image in approx. 4 seconds. The average user will rarely, if ever run into a full buffer that will delay their shooting.

This is the second year that Nikon has included a dedicated external flash shoe on their "Flagship Coolpix" camera and it still doesn't use the features of the Nikon speedlights it was designed for. It doesn't use the speedlight's AF-assist illuminator or control its motorized zoom head -- you must manually change the flash as you zoom the lens in and out. The D-TTL technology that can very accurately control flash exposure is missing. The 5700's internal flash must be "popped-up" so its sensor (located next to the flash tube) can be used to control the external flash's output. The best to do this is to use internal sensors that measure the flash illumination reaching the imager. Some of Nikon's competitors have been doing this for several years already. All this aside, the 5700 works quite well with external speedlights like the SB-50DX and new SB80DX -- with a few additions and changes it could work "excellently."

While on the topic of external flash, the 5700 doesn't have a standard PC flash sync port built in, it's necessary to use a shoe adapter. The Nikon AS-15 is needed to mate the camera to studio type flash systems. The user must take care when using the AS-15, it is not voltage or polarity protected. Negative trigger voltages or more than a 250v trigger voltage can damage the camera's electronics. The built-in flash has a very respectable Guide Number of 39.4 (at ISO 100, in feet) which means it has a range of 1'10" - 13' 1" in wide angle and 1'10" - 9'2" in telephoto.

Power is provided by Nikon's EN-EL1, a 7.4v 680mA lithium rechargeable pack. When fully charged it can give you approx. 90 minutes of continuous operation. Running an EVF consumes more power than a camera with an optical viewfinder. The number of pictures taken with the internal flash, using continuous-AF and how much you use the motorized zoom all add to the amount of power used. An extra EN-EL1 would be a very wise first purchase and is highly recommended. The EN-EL1 battery pack is charged outside of the camera with the supplied MH-53 charger. This small and compact (100-240 VAC) charger can fully replenish a depleted pack in about 120 minutes. The 5700 can also be powered by a one-use 2CR5 lithium battery but using this type of battery frequently can get quite expensive. I do recommend carrying one in your gadget bag for emergency use though. Nikon offers the optional ($169.95) MB-E5700 battery pack/handgrip that uses six 1.5v (AA) batteries. In addition to supplying more power, it provides a portrait mode shutter release and grip. It gives you more camera to hold onto which is especially handy when using an external speedlight or a large, add-on lens. I only hope that Nikon makes this accessory available quicker than they did with the Coolpix 5000. And finally you can use the DC IN plug to connect an external battery pack like the Maha PowerBank which provides a lightweight power source with 2-3 times the capacity of the EN-EL1.

Image quality is always the bottom line and the Coolpix 5700 delivers that in spades. This is a "prosumer" digital camera and it's a bit pricey at $1199.95 (as of July, 2002.) The camera can be operated like an automatic point and shoot or you can get as creative as needed with its array of drive, exposure, focus and capture features. This is a camera that you can grow into and offers enough options to satisfy everyone from the newbie to the semi-pro. The five megapixel images make perfect, photo-quality prints all the way up to 13x19" size that are virtually indistinguishable from film-generated photos. If the Nikon D100 SLR is out of your budget then the Coolpix 5700 may be just the advanced digicam that you're looking for.

Other comparable 5 Megapixel cameras:

Sony F717 Olympus C-5050Z Minolta Dimage 7i

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Want a second opinion?

Imaging-Resource's Coolpix 5700 review

DC Resource's Coolpix 5700 review

DP Riview's Coolpix 5700 review

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