Price: £850 plus VAT
The Coolpix 5700 is Nikon’s first contender in the popular long-zoom class of digital cameras. It’s amazingly compact, looks fabulous, and really delivers the photographic goods if you can justify the £850 price tag. It’s a high-end model with a true five-megapixel (2,560-x-1,920-pixel) CCD, sophisticated controls, and a clever rotating LCD monitor that can be viewed from nearly any angle. If all this sounds familiar, it’s because the 5700 is closely based on the recent Coolpix 5000 (d 45). We were disappointed with the 5000, partly due to so-so image quality, but also because of the measly 3x zoom lens – its main 5mp rivals (the Sony F707 and Minolta Dimage 7) have much longer lenses for the same price. The high-quality 8x zoom lens on the Coolpix 5700 now puts Nikon decisively at the top of the tree – it has a greater range than the 5x Sony or 7x Minolta. The £850 tag is the same as the original price of the Coolpix 5000, whose current £650 price puts it in line with the broadly similar 4mp Canon PowerShot G2. The 5700’s lens range is equivalent to 35-280mm. Its f/2.8 maximum aperture is par for the course, but like the 5000, the minimum of f/7.4-8 is a bit limiting. A 28mm wide-angle equivalent like the Coolpix 5000 would have been nice, but you can’t have everything. A 1.5x telephoto adaptor to give 420mm equivalent is available, as is a 28mm lens adaptor, at £149 each. Unfortunately, accessory lenses for other Coolpix cameras won’t fit this model. The big lens means the body is inevitably larger than the pocket-sized 5000, but it’s still compact – the magnesium alloy-bodied 5700 weighs 480g; it’s slightly smaller all-round than the Fuji FinePix 602Z (reviewed on page 42), which has only a 6x lens. As you’d expect for the price, there’s a full range of manual and automatic exposure controls, plus a sophisticated multi-zone metering system with spot and centre-weighted options. The control buttons are similar to the 5000’s, except for a group on the left of the lens barrel that I sometimes pressed accidentally. The main monitor’s ‘Vari-angle’ rotating design is similar to the 5000 and some Canon digitals – and means you can view it from almost any angle (handy for overhead or waist-level shots), but the 1.5-inch screen is a bit small when most rivals have 1.8 inches. An electronic, through-lens viewfinder replaces the separate optical viewfinder of the 5000. It has a fairly high resolution – so it can be used all the time, unlike older LCD viewfinders, which you’d only consider if light stopped you using the main monitor. CCD sensitivities range from ISO 100-800. The 800 end is rather noisy for low-light work, despite Nikon’s otherwise effective noise reduction mode. I mostly stuck with ISO 100, which actually seemed more sensitive than the 160 setting of the rival Fuji 602Z being tested at the same time. Nikon includes a ‘clear image’ mode, which takes three images in rapid succession and compares them to cancel noise. This only works with 1.2mp resolution, however. The built-in pop-up flash is fine for fill-ins, and can be set to pop up automatically in low light. For serious flash work, you’d use the standard hotshoe, which can interface directly to Nikon Speedlights, but will also accept third-party flashguns. Burst modes let users take three full-resolution shots at 3fps (frames per second), or continuous recording of lower resolutions at 1.5fps. It’s also possible to take up to 100 320-x-240-pixel shots at 30fps. The 15fps, 60-second QuickTime movie mode has sound recording with built-in playback. The 5700’s shutter response is fairly fast, but the autofocus is too slow to capture action shots. Both exposure and white-balance can be bracketed. I found the white-balance to be fine on automatic, though the camera seems prone to oversaturating reds. Some users of the 5000 complained about the absence of a backlight for the status display on the top panel; Nikon has added one on the 5700. Image-quality is very impressive. Nikon doesn’t mention it, but it seems to have improved the signal processing; the 5700 doesn’t show the same multi-colour fringing in fine details that we criticized on the 5000. The only slight weak spot is a tendency to burn-out highlights. Analysis of the images in Photoshop’s Levels dialog box suggests that the metering is biased towards shadow detail rather than highlights, rather than any real failing of the CCD. You can solve this by overriding the exposure with an on-screen histogram and burnout indicator on the playback monitor. For ultimate quality, files can be saved in Nikon’s NEF raw format, and accessed via a Photoshop plug-in – though for full editing, optional Nikon Capture 3 software, first developed for Nikon’s pro digital SLRs, is needed. The standard JPEG setting should be fine for most purposes. Downloading is via the supplied USB cable. The NikonView 5 software is an improvement on its clunky predecessors, except that by launching its Image Transfer downloader before the browser, it gives the impression that users must download all images to view them. However, the downloader can be dismissed, images previewed on the camera, then downloaded by dragging them onto a disk icon. Also bundled is ArcSoft’s Panorama Maker image-stitcher; FotoStation Easy picture database; and Adobe Photoshop Elements. A 32MB CompactFlash card is included, and IBM’s Microdrive is supported. The battery has a long life between charges, but for heavy use, an extra-cost base grip to take a second battery can be fitted. A charger is supplied. Overall, the Coolpix 5700 is excellent, and puts Nikon into pole-position in the 5mp prosumer sector.