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Nikon Coolpix 5400

Nikon’s Coolpix 5400 is a 5 megapixel pro-sumer digital camera with a 4X optical zoom and a high level of photographic control. It’s the successor to the Coolpix 5000 and while similar at first glance, actually sports many subtle differences inside and out. Costing £649.99 with a (smaller than average) 16MB memory card, it’s primarily up against Canon’s PowerShot G5 and Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-V1, although the average street price is roughly in-between the two.

Measuring 108 x 73 x 69mm and weighing 380g including battery, the 5400 is shorter and lighter than its predecessor. The 5400’s build quality is excellent and its surprisingly large grip is comfortable to hold and use. Design-wise there are a few unsightly bulges round the back, but nothing that’s a problem.

Images are composed with either the optical viewfinder or the sharp and detailed 1.5in display. The screen can be twisted and flipped at any angle, allowing you to comfortably compose shots at waist-level or ground height, over the heads of crowds, or even while seeing yourself in a self-portrait.

Present on the earlier Coolpix 5000, but sadly missing on the 5400 is the LCD status display. Admittedly most new cameras don’t have them, but they remain useful for checking details without using the main colour screen. Fortunately the flash hotshoe remains, and as a standard Nikon fitting, should work with most Nikon Speedlights; there’s also a built-in flash, with some neat options including a strobe for multiple exposures.

Power comes from a single lithium-ion battery and Nikon supplies a mains recharger, although sadly it doesn’t double-up as an AC adapter for the camera; if you get stuck, the 5400 can also be powered by a disposable 2CR5 battery. There are also USB and AV ports.

The 5400 features a 4X optical zoom lens, but sporting a 35mm equivalent range of 28-116mm, it’s much wider than its rivals. The earlier 5000 also featured a 28mm wide-angle setting, but with only a 3X range it ended up falling short on the telephoto end. Admittedly, the 5400 lens isn’t as long as its 4X rivals which reach around 140mm, but the 28mm end is much wider than the typical 35mm setting and virtually unique on a digital camera; the only other current models which offer 28mm without the use of an attachment are the pricey Minolta DiMAGE 7Hi and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-828.

The 5400’s actual focal length is 5.8-24mm with an average focal ratio of f2.8~4.6. Nikon has always been a leader in macro performance and the 5400 is no different with a closest focussing distance of just 1cm. At this distance, you’re virtually on top of your subject, but similar coverage with less distortion can be enjoyed further back when slightly zoomed-in.

Nikon is also generous with accessories, and the 5400 enjoys optional 0.2X, 0.8X and 1.5X lens converters, along with a slide copy adapter. Manual focussing presents a simple bar without actual distances or magnification, but there is confirmation when you’re in focus. The lens itself extends about 1.5cm during a nifty three second startup, and if it hasn’t been removed, takes the lens cap with it.

The 5400 employs a (1/1.8in) 5 megapixel sensor which delivers 4:3 aspect ratio images with a maximum resolution of 2592 x 1944 pixels – sufficient to make a good-looking 13 x 10in colour inkjet print at 200 ppi. There are four lower resolutions and three levels of JPEG compression; uncompressed TIFFs are also available, and there’s a fair likelihood RAW could be added in a future firmware update, like the earlier 5000.

Using the maximum resolution with the Fine and Normal compression modes delivered files measuring around 2.6MB and 1.3MB respectively. The 5400 is equipped with a Compact Flash memory slot and is certified for use with the IBM Microdrive. Unlike its rivals (and indeed the earlier 5000) which are supplied with 32MB though, Nikon has been a little mean and supplied the 5400 with just 16MB. This squeezes around six or 12 shots in Fine and Normal modes at the top resolution.

The 12-position mode dial selects between Play, Auto, Program, Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priority, along with directly accessing the white balance, sensitivity and quality settings, the Setup menu, one of 15 Scene presets, and a movie mode which can capture up to 70 seconds of video (with mono sound) at 640 x 480 pixels and 15 frames per second. Shutter speeds run between 1/4000 and 8 seconds, and an impressive Bulb option can keep the shutter open for up to ten minutes, or for preset periods of 30 seconds, one, three, five or ten minutes. Sensitivity is rated between 50 and 400 ISO.

Nikon offers a wide range of burst options including up to seven images at 3fps or sixteen tiny images taken at 2fps and crammed onto a single 5 megapixel frame. Impressively the 5400’s time-lapse function can also assemble its frames into a single movie file, although at a maximum resolution of 640 x 480. There’s also a wide range of metering and image adjustment options, but sadly no live histogram during composition.

The Coolpix 5400’s ultimate resolving power may fall fractionally below the best of its 5 megapixel rivals, but the images still look great. Macro performance is also one of the best around. Where the 5400 really scores though is its wide-angle coverage which is simply far superior to any of its rivals and will sell it immediately to many photographers. Combined with the flip-out screen, it’s a creative enthusiast’s dream.

Beyond the usual array of manual control modes, the 5400 is also equipped with a number of unique features including particularly long exposure capabilities, a decent burst mode, handy time-lapse facilities and even an optionally strobing flash.
Strangely there’s no live histogram and the supplied 16MB memory card is a bit of an insult, but overall the Coolpix 5400 is one of the strongest 5 megapixel 4X zoom cameras on the market, and as such wins the Editor’s Choice.

Verdict

Nikon’s Coolpix 5400 packs in an amazing level of features and delivers very good image quality. It’s unique selling point is an unusually wide angle lens for a digital camera, equivalent in coverage to 28mm. Its image resolution may be fractionally below the best and you’ll need to upgrade the paltry 16MB memory immediately, but overall the Coolpix 5400 is one of the best 5 megapixel / 4X zoom cameras around.

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