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In terms of performance, the P4 is a bit of a mixed bag. It starts up in a little over three seconds, which is fairly slow by current standards. Focusing is nice and quick in most lighting conditions, and thanks to a good AF illuminator it can focus in darkness at a range of around three metres. Shooting speed is quite good, with a continuous setting capable of 1.8 frames per second, although only for four frames in the highest resolution. Also available are a 16-frame multi-shot setting, a 5-frame buffer mode and an ultra-high speed setting that shoots up to 100 640 x 480 frames in just over three seconds, presumably for making animations or movie clips.
Talking of movies, the P4 has the now obligatory 640 x 480 30fps setting, but also has an interesting time-lapse movie mode, in which it shoots frames at pre-determined intervals and then automatically stitches them together in to a 30fps movie, so you can shoot slow-moving things like flowers opening or the tide coming in. Another clever feature is found in playback mode, in the shape of Nikon’s D-Lighting system. This can improve poorly lit shots by brightening up shadows, although in severe cases this can lead to some problems with image noise.
After the poor results I got from the Coolpix S5, I am happy to report that the P4 produces much better images. In fact I would say that it has among the best image quality I’ve seen from a pocket compact camera. Colour reproduction, exposure and focusing are all extremely accurate, and the F2.7-5.3 lens produces excellent edge sharpness, high contrast and plenty of detail. There is significant barrel distortion at the widest setting, but not as bad as the lens on the S5.
Image noise is well controlled too, although long exposures at 200 and 400 ISO do produce some colour distortion. All in all the results were very good, far superior to most snapshot cameras, and rivaling many larger high-end cameras.
In the Coolpix P4 Nikon has produced an excellent all-rounder, a pocket compact camera with a wider than average zoom range, a useful selection of features and options, and superb image quality. It is rather expensive compared to its immediate competition, but the extra money buys the quality and reliability that go with the Nikon brand. If you are looking for something a little more than the average snapshot camera it is well worth a look.