Price: £555 plus VAT
Sitting near the top end of Nikon’s CoolPix range, the five-megapixel (2,592-x-1,944-pixel) 5400 has a compact single-piece design with a magnesium body, high quality exposure metering, and enough conventional controls to keep pros and keen amateurs happy. Nikon supports its CoolPixes with a wide range of lenses. This model has a hotshoe for external flashes – Nikon’s own Speedlight models can interface to the exposure controls. The 5400 replaces the 5mp CoolPix 5000, which shipped early last year at a higher price. Although the output resolution is the same, the 5400 uses a CCD that Nikon says is much less prone to coloured fringing around fine detail. The lens is also new, and has been extended to a 4:1 zoom range. It retains the 5000’s excellent wide-angle facility, equivalent to a 28mm f/2.8 lens on a 35mm camera, where most digital compacts start at around 35mm. The new lens zooms to 116mm equivalent, and macro focuses down to 1cm. The new lens mount is larger, so accessory lenses for the older Nikon CoolPixes (such as the 800, 4500, 5000) won’t fit. The 5400 accepts the new lenses introduced with last year’s CoolPix 5700, a similar-looking 5mp camera with a long-zoom 35-280mm lens. Nikon offers a 0.8x wide angle and a 1.5x telephoto adaptor plus a new FC-E9 fisheye lens (with a massive 190-degree angle of view) for special effects including all-round ‘immersive vision’ (mainly meaning the iPix system – see www.ipix.com). Our test camera arrived with an FC-E9 and adaptor ring courtesy of iPix. This lens is twice the size and weight of Nikon’s FC-E8 for earlier CoolPixes, but has greatly reduced colour aberrations and edge fringing. Expect to pay around £220.The 5400’s body height is greater than the 5000’s, and its control set has been significantly revised – mostly for the better. There’s now a dedicated Mode selection dial on top, in addition to a small thumbwheel for choosing exposure values, and a four-way switch for selecting options on the main display. The Mode dial lets you quickly change exposure modes, choose scene modes, and get at the important ISO, white-balance and resolution settings without wading through on-screen menus. The small LCD status screen has gone, so other functions are displayed on the main colour monitor. The 15 scene modes include pre-sets for different lighting conditions, plus an overlapping panorama assistant. This monitor (like the 5000/5700) is the flip-out-and-fully-rotate type, so it can be viewed from practically any angle, helped by a good anti-reflection coating. It’s a pity that there’s no histogram option to judge exposures on playback, as the monitor is a bit deceptive. Other new features include an improved movie mode with options for 640 (TV) or 320 line capture, plus an interval timer with settings between 30 seconds and 60 minutes. It’s also able to shoot at up to three frames per second for seven shots. A best-shot selector takes multiple identical shots and automatically chooses the best sharpness or exposure. A sophisticated repeating flash setting lets you shoot stroboscopically on the same frame, with intervals from 1/10th to one second. File formats are a choice of JPEG or uncompressed TIFF – Raw will be added in a future firmware upgrade. TIFF shots take an awfully long time to write to the card – 36 seconds compared to less than one second for Fine JPEG. The 5700 takes Compact Flash or Microdrive cards. There’s a USB 1.1 port for connecting to PCs or remote controls. Nikon View software is provided for downloading, editing, and archiving. The CoolPix 5400 is a useful advance on its predecessor. The £550 Canon G5 is its biggest rival, with a similar spec, including a rotating monitor. The Canon’s images are a bit sharper and its lens has a wider maximum aperture, but not such a wide angle (35-140 mm). The £490 5mp Olympus C-5050Z is in the same league – the monitor only flips up-down, but the 35-105 mm equivalent lens has a still wider aperture of f/1.8. Nikon’s own £750 CoolPix 5700 is also worth considering if you’d prefer a long zoom to a wide angle.