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In the crowded digital camera market, the biggest share seems to go to the manufacturer who can fill as many niches in that market as possible. This is why Fujifilm, Olympus, Canon and Sony have dominated the field for so long; they have in their model ranges a camera to suit every need, from pocket compacts to power-packed semi-pro models. Nikon, a long respected name in the photographic world, has fallen behind the market leaders, preferring to concentrate its corporate energies on the professional market, where it is only competing with its arch rival, Canon. The Nikon CoolPix range consists of only 11 models, compared to 16 in Fuji’s FinePix range, 17 in Sony’s Cyber-shot and Mavica ranges, 17 in Canon’s PowerShot range and an astonishing 30 models in Olympus’ various consumer digital ranges. Nonetheless Nikon does make occasional forays into the mass market, and the result of its latest effort is this, the CoolPix 4800.
The 4800 is a mid-range 4megapixel camera designed for the user who wants something a bit more impressive than a pocket compact but doesn’t want to go to the expense of buying a full-spec semi-pro model such as the CoolPix 8800. With a comparatively low street price of around £249, the 4800 offers a tempting specification and seemingly good value for money. It shares many of the features of the 3200, 4200 and 5200, and from a distance even looks vaguely similar, but it is physically much larger than its stable mates, measuring 106 x 66 x 54mm against 88 x 60 x 37mm for the 5200. It’s also a lot heavier, weighing 295g with battery and card, against the 5200’s 180g.
The other major difference is the lens. The 4800’s larger chassis supports a big 8x zoom F2.7-4.4 lens, equivalent to 36-300mm, and made from Nikon’s high quality ED, or Extra-low Dispersion glass. In theory this should make the 4800 a formidable camera.
Unfortunately the potential of this superb lens is wasted, let down by several other distinctly sub-standard design elements, which is what tends to happen when you build down to a price rather than up to a specification. The casing is made of plastic, and while it is undoubtedly quite strong, it still feels a lot less well-made than Nikon’s other high-end consumer models. Some of the panels bend when squeezed and creak like a cheap Chinese import. The shiny metallic finish is quite smooth and slippery, making the camera difficult to grip despite its shape. With a camera of this size and weight, a rubberized handgrip would have been a distinct improvement. It’s also worth noting that the big 8x zoom lens has no image stabilization, which severely limits its usefulness at slower shutter speeds.
Other features are equally uninspired. The camera has an autofocus illuminator, which is normally a very desirable feature, but in this case it is simply a red LED with an effective range of only a few feet. This is unfortunate because the autofocus system is slow, indecisive and has trouble coping with low light situations. The LCD monitor has a diagonal size of 1.8 inches and a resolution of 118,000 pixels, which is about average for a camera in this class, while the electronic viewfinder has a somewhat higher resolution, at 225,000 pixels.
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