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Nikon Coolpix P4 Digital Camera Review

Nikon Coolpix P4 Digital Camera Review - 

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Category : Compact Cameras
Product : Nikon Coolpix P4
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The Nikon Coolpix P4 is the first compact to include their Vibration reduction technology. In this review, Gary Wolstenholme takes a look at whether this camera will leave its competitors trembling.

Nikon Coolpix P4Specifications

  • 8.1 megapixels
  • 1/1.8inch CCD sensor
  • 2.5inch LCD monitor
  • Vibration reduction. Equivalent to using a shutter speeds three stops faster
  • 3.5x optical zoom
  • Focus range of 0.3m to infinity, Macro: 4cm (wide) to infinity
  • Rechargeable Lithium Ion EN-EL5 battery
  • Movie with sound
  • 23MB internal memory
  • Weight 170g
  • RRP £329.99
Build and handling
The metallic finish of the Coolpix P4 has a quality feel, and adds weight too. Although it is certainly not the lightest camera in its class, the weight isn't a problem. Being just over 2cm thick, I found the camera fits my hand perfectly, although I would prefer a finger grip to make it feel more secure to hold.

Display screen
Nikon Coolpix P4The huge 2.5inch screen dominates the rear, leaving little room for controls. Nikon have managed to lay the buttons out well, each control is well-placed and within easy reach of my thumb.

The screen has a great anti-reflective finish that makes it a pleasure to use outdoors, even in bright sunlight. In good light the screen is bright, sharp and very clear. In low light the image displayed gets a little grainier, but not overly so.

Auto-focus
Autofocus is divided into three selectable modes, AF auto selects the autofocus point for you and centre locks the focusing point in the middle. A mode for selecting the AF area manually is also included. This is ideal for creative compositions.

Battery life
I managed to get around 250 shots off a fully charged battery without using the built-in flash. The absence of an optical viewfinder means the screen cannot be turned off to save the battery, which seems to be the norm for cameras of this size.

Menu and controls
Nikon Coolpix P4 On top of the camera is an SLR-like control dial with all the shooting modes clearly shown by user-friendly icons. The Auto mode, signified by the green camera icon, takes control of all the exposure settings, leaving you to compose and take your shot.

Next on the dial are the aperture-priority and program modes. These give you a certain element of control over exposure by either using compensation or by adjusting aperture.

16 scene modes such as, face AF, portrait, party/indoor, night portrait, landscape, panorama assist, night landscape, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, fireworks show, back light, close up, museum, copy and sports provide automatic exposure control to cover almost every shooting scenario.

Zoom lens
The Nikon Coolpix P4 comes equipped with a Nikkor 3.5x zoom lens, which gives an equivalent angle-of-view of approximately 37-130mm. Zoom operation is quick enough, but not blisteringly fast and it has a tendency to run on a little after you have released the zoom control. This can lead to shuffling the zoom back and forth to try and frame your subject exactly as you want it.

Macro mode
Nikon Coolpix P4 Nikon Coolpix P4
The macro mode allows you to get very
close to your subject. Barrel distortion is evident because the macro 'sweet spot' is at the wide end of the zoom range
A crop of the image to the left, shown at
100% to show the level of detail captured.

Vibration reduction
The Coolpix P4 is the first compact camera from Nikon to incorporate their Vibration Reduction system. A special lens element moves inside the lens to counteract the movement of your hand, and it is claimed this system will give you a sharp image with a shutter speed three stops slower than normal.

These images compare how effective the vibration reduction system is. The shot was taken hand-held for 1/8sec, which will normally always lead to a blurred picture without such a feature.
Nikon Coolpix P4
Above - The scene the next three images were taken from for comparison.
Nikon Coolpix P4
  VR off
   
Nikon Coolpix P4 Nikon Coolpix P4
VR on VR plus Best Shot Selector
An exposure of this length is beyond the VR system's capabilities, although you can clearly see the difference it has made on its own to reduce the amount of blur. When the VR mode is coupled with the Best Shot Selector, the improvement is clearly noticeable. The image produced is easily sharp enough for small prints, especially if a little sharpening is applied afterwards.

Image quality
There are three different image quality levels on this camera - Fine, Normal and Basic. All images in this review were taken on Fine and at maximum resolution, so that I could truly see what the camera is capable of producing.

The matrix metering system and auto white-balance both cope very well with day-to-day conditions. The extra manual controls allow you to take control in those situations beyond what these automatic modes can cope with.
Nikon Coolpix P4 Nikon Coolpix P4
Left - The auto white-balance setting provides excellent results, providing accurate colour in all but the very worst conditions.

Above - Colours produced are rich and vibrant, without being overbearing, when the camera is set to its maximum saturation setting.
Nikon Coolpix P4
Nikon Coolpix P4
Nikon Coolpix P4
Left - The matrix meter has coped well with this difficult scene, keeping plenty of detail in the shadows although the highlights have been slightly clipped as a result.

Above - By using the VR system in conjunction with the Best Shot Selector, I was able to take a long exposure of 1/2sec to blur the motion of the water.

Detail
This camera is capable of producing images that are sharp to the edges and very detailed, especially when using the lower ISO sensitivities.
Nikon Coolpix P4 Nikon Coolpix P4
This busy scene was taken using a tripod to determine the level of detail this camera can produce A 100% crop of the image to the left shows that the camera reproduces a commendable level of detail

Noise
The following images illustrate the amount of digital noise apparent at each ISO setting.
The image to the right is the full image. The crops below are taken from where the red square is.
Nikon Coolpix P4
Nikon Coolpix P4 Nikon Coolpix P4
ISO50 ISO100
   
Nikon Coolpix P4 Nikon Coolpix P4
ISO200 ISO400
ISO50 and ISO100 both produce minimal amounts of noise, with ISO200 being a little more noisy, but not so much that it would be noticeable in small to medium sized prints. ISO400 displays more noise, but the level is an improvement on previous Coolpix cameras.
The VR system should reduce the need to shoot at higher ISO settings if your subject is static. This is no substitute for a higher sensitivity, as this is required to get a higher shutter speed to freeze your subject if it's moving.

Verdict

The Nikon Coolpix P4 may not be the smallest, lightest or even most stylish compact digital camera available, but it makes up for this with by being packed with features and producing excellent quality images. The VR system is effective, although this can be offset by the limited ISO range of the camera as many newer cameras now have sensitivities up to ISO1600.

An aperture-priority mode on a compact is a great feature, it allows greater control over shutter speed and depth-of-field which is fantastic for more demanding photographers whilst the auto and preset scene modes are simple enough for a novice to get to grips with.

In summary the positive points of the Nikon Coolpix P4 are:
Nikon Coolpix P4VR system.
Nikon Coolpix P4Anti-reflective screen is a pleasure to use outdoors.
Nikon Coolpix P4Excellent image quality.
Nikon Coolpix P4A good selection of automatic and manual controls.
Nikon Coolpix P4Macro mode.

The negative points:
Nikon Coolpix P4Limited ISO range
Nikon Coolpix P4Zoom runs on a little after the button is released (minor niggle)

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