Nikon Coolpix 5600 Review
Positioned in the middle of Nikon's "entry-level" consumer digicam product line, the
Coolpix 5600 is an ultra-compact camera that features a 5-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 you "get it right" with
framing assist outlines on the LCD.
Despite the 5600's 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.
Shooting performance was good for a camera in this class. Power up to first image captured measured 4.4 seconds. Shutter lag measured 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 4/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot to shot delay averaged about 1.6 seconds between frames without the use of the flash and between 9 and 11 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.) Continuous mode was impressive; I was able to capture 9 frames in 5.8 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 8 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 Transcend 512MB SD card, using 5M/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 Nikkor 3x optical zoom lens produced sharp results throughout its range, with noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, with virtually no pin cushioning 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 35 - 105mm (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-assist lamp would come in handy.
I was happy with the image quality in 5-Megapixel Fine mode. When using the camera outdoors, most of our samples were sharp and colors were nicely saturated. We noticed average amounts of noise in high/low contrast areas, with slight traces of Chromatic Aberration (purple fringing around highlights.) The "Auto" white balance setting worked well in most shooting conditions, however it did struggle under some very mixed lighting, causing images to be a bit too warm.
Indoors, It also performed well. Our portrait images were sharp, well exposed and skin tones look very natural. You can 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 35mm wide angle zoom range, was sufficient for most indoor situations. Like most Nikon models, the 5600 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 remaining amount of unused memory. The 5600 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. 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 microphone is also very sensitive to wind noise, but this is a common trait for compact cameras.
The 5600 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 2450mAh NiMH cells, we were able to capture all of our sample images (about 90 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 5-megapixel Fine images have sufficient resolution to create photo-quality prints up to 11x14-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 5600 will make a great choice and offers a great value with an MSRP of under $300. If you like the features of the 5600 but don't need 5-megapixels of resolution or sound during movies, take a look at its 4-megapixel "little bother" the Coolpix 4600, which costs about $100 less.
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