**The back of any compact digital camera has quickly become prime real estate; just about everything can be accessed from the back. The most dominant feature of this camera by far is the 2-inch LCD screen in the lower left corner. It’s well designed and bright enough to see in daylight. The LCD is slightly raised from the surface of the camera, helping to create a plane of separation between it and the other important features. At the top left, users can attempt to interact with the small optical viewfinder - if they want a headache. Just to the right of the viewfinder are two LEDs that indicate flash and auto focus readiness.
**The memory card port cover and a metal strap connector are the two features on the right side of the Nikon Coolpix 5900. The memory card cover snaps easily in and out of place.
**The top of any digital camera has a couple of standard and important features: mode dial, shutter button, and power button. The Nikon Coolpix 5900 does not break from this industry trend, and places all three of these elements to the far right of the camera body. Farthest right is the on/off button with its accompanying green LED. Slightly to the left, and forward, is the shiny shutter button. It is adequate in size and the index finger falls on it naturally. Back and to the left from the shutter button, users can access the main mode dial, which can be rotated both directions and set to one of eight settings.
**Viewfinders on most compact digital cameras are useless and overrated. Here's the lowdown on the viewfinder on board the Nikon Coolpix 5900. The optical viewfinder on the 5900 is the very small glass circle at the top right of the camera body (when viewing from the front); it provides an approximated and quite inaccurate view of the scene. Although most windows on compact models offer a restricted viewing perspective of the composition, electronic viewfinders generally come far closer to the recorded frame than their optical counterparts.
**The Nikon Coolpix 5900 has a 2-inch 115k dot amorphous silicon LCD screen that takes up the majority of the back of the camera. With the limited perspective offered by the camera’s compromised optical viewfinder, users will likely rely on the LCD screen for both viewing and composing images. The 115,000 pixels of resolution did not seem overwhelmingly clear, though it is more than ample for scrolling through menu options. The additional inclusion of a manual LCD brightness adjustment will prove a significant advantage when viewing outdoors.
**The instant flash is built into the front side of the Nikon Coolpix 5900’s body. The Speed Light is effective from 1-14 feet with a width of 1-11 feet. Flashes are overrated on these small cameras, and it’s best to go with natural light. But when that’s not possible, I suppose this direct flash will do the trick. The 11-14 ft. maximum illumination range does not offer anything beyond most fixed flash units on competing compact models, though it is on par with the pack. Without a hot shoe, users will have enough lighting available for direct portraits, but not much more. I wonder when camera companies will put the flash on a hinge so it can be better aimed and controlled?
The Nikon Coolpix 5900 is armed with an f/2.8-f/8.2, 3x optical zoom all-glass Nikkor lens with a macro mode that focuses as close as 1.6 inches. The variable focal length lens contains a zoom range of 7.8-23.4mm, equivalent to 38mm-114mm in 35mm format. The zoom is pretty quick, mostly steady, and the LCD responds well. Don’t expect a smooth zoom though, as it’s irrelevant on the compact digital cameras. When additional magnification is sought without regard for the accompanying compromise in image quality, users can apply an additional 4x digital zoom.
**Model Design / Appearance
**The Coolpix 5900 has a matte silver finish covering the whole body, with some reflective accents around the lens barrel and on the front of the left side (when viewing from the front). The Nikon Coolpix 5900 has an enlarged, contoured left side that creates a stable grip, similar to the one on the Coolpix 7900. Overall, the Nikon 5900 measures approximately 4 inches across, contains well-placed buttons that are easily accessible with the thumb of the right hand, and mode dials accessible with the index finger or thumb.
The Nikon Coolpix 7900 has a sleek aesthetic, cast in black with silver accents. The Nikon Coolpix 5900, on the other hand, blends in with the rest of the more bland Coolpix line, with a characterless flat silver finish. Nikon should take some cues from Apple and the iPod minis with their multiple color finishes, making for a more visually interesting product line. And let’s face it, the iPod minis have shown the tech world that pastels and spring colors have become the new white (or silver in this case). The design and layout of the Nikon Coolpix 5900 is fine, but if Nikon expects the new foray into digital imaging to stand out from the rest of the Coolpix line or other point-and-shoot models, they need to devise a way to separate from the pack.
**Size / Portability
**Measuring 3.5 x 2.4 x 1.4 inches, the Nikon Coolpix 5900 is a compact camera. Perhaps a little too bulky to slip into the pocket of your tight pleather pants, the Coolpix 5900's light 5.3 oz will still fit nicely into a jacket pocket, purse, or hand bag for that night out on the town. Both lightweight and small, the Coolpix 5900 also has a sleek look, albeit a look identical to lesser models.
**At PMA, I was able to spend some time handling the Nikon Coolpix 5900, and despite the apparent irritation of the Nikon booth guards hovering over my shoulder, I managed to get a decent feel for the camera. The buttons are mostly on the back right side of the camera body, and they are intelligently placed for superior handling. The mode dial on the top of the camera, in addition to the shutter button and the menu control pad, are all intelligently placed in relation to each other. The large 2-inch LCD makes navigating through the menu a delight, although more of the joy can be attributed to Nikon’s awesome menu layout which any technophobe could endorse. The zoom buttons are within reach of the thumb, making it easy to toggle between wide angle and telephoto perspectives.
The Nikon Coolpix 5900 is compact, but the layout of the buttons and dials make it feel large. All too often, the buttons and dials are so small that they’re difficult to navigate. The camera body is small, but not so compact so as to make me feel clumsy while handling it. On these compact digital cameras, users must be aware of where their fingers are so as not to obstruct the lens. It’s a little easier to avoid obstruction on the 5900, considering the retractable/extendable lens barrel. The buttons on the back are within easy reach and the Nikon Coolpix seemed to handle pretty well overall.
**Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size
**The Nikon Coolpix 5900 has one major control button located at the lower right corner of the back of the camera body. The placement is spot on, as the thumb falls here naturally when it comes time to use the control button. The button itself is elegantly contoured and circular in shape. Its center is raised in the shape of a plus sign.
Each point of the button/dial engages a different feature, and often each divot between the points engages its own feature. At the center is the circular Enter/Ok button which is simple to press and activate. Nikon has one of the best menu buttons around, and when I get to the menu section, you’ll see that I’m a little partial to the menu layout as well. Overall, the button is well placed, is in easy reach of the appropriate digits, and is large enough to be useful, but not so large as to get in the way. The simplified design definitely makes the camera appealing to any level of point-and-shooter.
In order to make any adjustments to the picture quality, or to make any advanced photographic maneuvers, users must become acquainted with the menu. Fortunately, on a Coolpix camera, this is neither difficult nor tedious. The menu can be accessed by pressing the "menu" button, located above the main control dial on the back of the camera body. Once engaged, users can turn their attention to the 2-inch LCD screen which makes viewing the menu options easy. Depending on the mode, users can navigate between recording or playback settings using the control dial (the button with the raised plus sign). The bright LCD makes the menu visible while its organized structure makes it very user friendly. Depending on the mode, there are two types of menu configurations: one based on a grid set up (in the AE modes), and one which utilizes a vertical scroll system that is standard on most digital cameras.
Overall, the menu is not crowded and is very easy to navigate, yet covers a plethora of adjustable features. Users can navigate in and out of selections using the right and left arrows, similar to the way they would on the internet, using the back and forward buttons in their browser. The function name is displayed in a bar on the left with the options atop one another. Each setting has an accompanying icon displayed on the right.
The 2005 Nikon Coolpix lineup introduced a new help feature which is great for discerning the icons and other cuneiform-like feature symbols. If you’re a technophobe, and you are feeling lost within the menu, or can’t remember what something does or means, just press the help button. A nifty dialogue box appears when you press the help button, which doubles as the telephoto zoom button once the menu is disengaged.
There are many menu options available in automatic mode: Image, White Balance, Metering, Continuous, BSS, Color Options, Image Adjustment, Image Sharpening, Sensitivity, Auto Bracketing, Saturation Control, AF Area Mode, Auto Focus Mode, and Noise Reduction. These will be discussed in greater detail below.
**Ease of Use
**Handling in conjunction with navigation and performance are elements I consider when discussing ease of use. How quickly can I get around the camera? How fast can I make a manual adjustment? How reliable are the automatic features? Will I be pleased with this camera’s performance in "easy" mode? I am pleased to report that during my handling of the Nikon Coolpix 5900, I was quite impressed. The camera had great response time for making automatic adjustments, the menu and collaborative buttons and dials are easy to reach and use, and together they work in concert to help users take better photos. The camera is well-built and evenly weighted both physically and aesthetically.
The menu system is one of the best on the market this year, which scores huge points in the ease of use department. All too often, ease of use and handling go out the window when I’m lost in a menu or I can’t decipher the icons. The Nikon Coolpix 5900 is extremely easy to use, and I dare say that most users will find that they can cruise through the menu system to make quick manual adjustments as needed.
**With a little patience, users can work wonders with the new Nikon 5900. When in automatic mode (the icon with the camera on a green background), managing photographic elements such as exposure, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, focus, and ISO is a breeze, as it’s all done for you. These smaller digital cameras are famous for their ease of use, and the Nikon Coolpix 5900 is another testament to that claim. My experience with the camera thus far has been minimal, though by all appearances, the Nikon Coolpix 5900 made quick, intelligent adjustments to automatic features.
**Growing in popularity, movie modes have successfully found their way into the realm of essential compact digital camera settings. The Nikon Coolpix 5900 has a few video recording modes available, all of which record video at 30 frames per second with audio. The settings are classified by the resolution of the frame. Among the movie mode settings are: TV (640 x 480), Small Size (320 x 240), and Smaller Size (160 x 120). Each video segment is recorded as a QuickTime movie to the memory card.
Drive / Burst Mode
A few continuous shooting modes are included on the Nikon Coolpix 5900. Users will notice that within the menu, Continuous is an option with the following sub-options available: Single and Continuous modes, which both record roughly 2 frames per second at a maximum of 5 shots. A Multi-Shot 16 mode will approximate 1.7 frames per second. These continuous capture modes will help improve the camera's speed as well as act like bracketing modes. By recording a predetermined number of shots, users can time the sequence to help capture the exact shot in an action sequence.
**Playing back your images on the Nikon Coolpix 5900 is done with the touch of a button--the Playback button to be exact. Simply press the Playback button, located to the right of the menu button, and voila. Pressing the playback button offers a quick review of pictures by scrolling through single frames or zooming out to see the pictures in groups. Magnification can be achieved using the zoom controls in the top right corner of the camera.
Other features available in playback mode include automatic Red-Eye Removal, Date and Time Stamp, Crop, and D-Lighting, which allows users to salvage photos with too much back light. The Nikon D-Lighting feature is a noticable addition to this year’s Coolpix models. The setting is designed as a point-and-shoot editing effect that will help salvage underexposed images that ordinarily would be discarded. Using this feature, the camera will automatically raise the dark tonal levels in the frame and bring the shot to an acceptable exposure.
Custom Image Presets
Like other Nikon digital cameras, the Nikon Coolpix 5900 has a very healthy number of custom image presets, including Auto, Scene Assist (portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait), Scene (party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close up, museum, fireworks show, copy, back light, panorama assist, underwater), BSS (best shot selector), Image Adjustment, Image Sharpening, Saturation Control, Auto Exposure Bracketing, WB Bracketing, and Noise Reduction. The abundance of preset modes grants point-and-shoot users a substantial amount of control over the image, far beyond most automatic cameras.
Users can access these preset modes on the Nikon Coolpix 5900 by setting the mode dial to SCENE or through the Portrait selection. Additionally, several of the preset modes are available through the main menu when in automatic mode.
**Manual Control Options
**There are a host of manual control options available on the Nikon Coolpix 5900, including White Balance, Exposure, and Metering. Listed below are descriptions of the manual settings available.
The Nikon Coolpix 5900 is quite versatile when the auto focus mode is in use. There are three separate types of auto focus: 99-point auto focus, 5-area auto focus, and center auto focus. Users can switch between these within the menu, and should have no trouble recording properly focused pictures. New to the Nikon Coolpix line is a Face Priority Auto Focus setting, available when the camera is set to Portrait mode. According to Nikon, the feature identifies human subjects by detecting their eyes in the composition and makes the subject’s face the default focal priority. This seems like a helpful feature and will likely go over well with the point-and-shoot crowd.
There is a "manual focus" feature on the Nikon Coolpix 5900, but it behaves more like spot focusing. I didn’t - and don’t - expect much by way of manual focus on these compact digital cameras. If you are looking for real control over manual focus, particularly using a focus ring, you’ll have to upgrade to a small or full-sized digital SLR. Some compact cameras offer digital means in which the user can "manually" alter the focus, but generally these modes are tedious and require more work with less precision than their automatic counterparts.
**There are numerous metering options on the Nikon Coolpix 5900. These include Matrix, Center Weighted, Spot, and Spot AF Area settings. By selecting the metering feature within the menu, users can toggle through the above options.
Each metering mode handles exposure in a different way. Matrix meters the entire frame, while Center Weighted meters and sets exposure relative to the center. Spot metering allows users to select a specific spot within the scene to independently meter, and Spot AF Area works in conjunction with the Focus Area feature. These options cover all the basic necessities and should be a standard for the rest of the digital imaging industry to expand upon.
**Exposure on the Nikon Coolpix 5900 is controlled by pressing the control dial to the right (towards the -/+ icon). The onscreen exposure readout indicates the amount of light exposed to the CCD. I like how this feature is accessible without having to go into the menu, which makes the adjustment quick and painless.
**The Nikon Coolpix 5900 includes every possible white balance scenario known to the human race. To access the white balance options, users can press the menu button and then scroll to the white balance feature bar. Auto, Preset (which is the true manual mode), Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Shade, Speed Light, and White Balance Bracketing are available to users. This healthy selection should be useful for a variety of shooting situations and apply to a range of users. Color balancing is critical to quality photography, so be sure to learn how to make this important feature work for you.
**Few point-and-shoot digital cameras offer a wide variety of ISO options, though a relatively expansive sensitivity range is included on the Nikon Coolpix 5900. Automatic, 64, 100, 200, and 400 ratings are available for users to select. The ISO 64 offering should help to ensure that clean, low noise images are recorded given ample lighting.
**The Nikon Coolpix 5900 has multiple shutter speeds ranging from 4-1/2000th of a second. This gamut of speeds is ample for the types of shooting scenarios compact digital camera users find themselves in, although users cannot manually adjust the speed of the shutter. For users fixed to a tripod trying to capture a night scene, the automatic 4-second exposure should suffice, though for those instances when motion and time lapse scenes are sought, users will have to upgrade to a higher performing model of camera.
**The Nikon Coolpix 5900 has an aperture range of f/2.8-f/4.9 (wide angle) and f/4.9-f/8.2 (telephoto). The 5900 does not appear to have manual aperture control available, though the variety of scenarios included with automatic aperture adjustments should be more than enough to compensate. Manual aperture control is not an industry standard, so it’s not a huge loss, although more engaged users may find its exclusion disappointing.
Picture Quality / Size Options
Like most digital cameras at this price point, there are several quality and size options available on the Nikon Coolpix 5900. In the quality department, users can select between Fine, Normal, and Basic. Image size options include 2592 x 1944, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1024 x 768, and 640 x 480. This is an adequate frame selection for any digital camera enthusiast. These days, the number of high quality pictures is only limited by the size of your memory card. Use the lower settings for emailing or web posting and higher ones for display on your $20k plasma screen TV for your clubhouse mates to enjoy. Then again, if you have said $20k plasma screen, and you belong to said clubhouse, why are you buying a $350 camera?
Picture Effects Mode
While it’s not generally recommended that users make adjustments to the image in-camera, there are some picture effects available on the Nikon Coolpix 5900. These include Standard Color, Vivid Color, Black and White, Sepia, and Cyanotype. All of these picture effects are accessible through the main menu under the Color Options setting.
Software - *PictBridge, ArcSoft, PictureProject and QuickTime are included in the software package with the Nikon 5900. These basic photo imaging products will assist users in moving and editing their photos. *
Jacks, ports, plugs - *One terminal is located on the left side and is home to the USB and A/V out ports. The port is covered by a gray rubber port cover. *
Direct Print Options - *Direct print options are becoming a vital part of marketing other photo imaging products, so it’s important to note that the Nikon Coolpix 5900 has a Transfer button, making output for printing or emailing with PictBridge software simple. *
**Interestingly, all of the models in the new Nikon lineup include 13.5 megabytes of internal memory. This is handy for emergencies (photo emergencies that is — i.e. loss of memory card) and for transferring or copying to another card without a computer. Additionally, the Nikon Coolpix 5900 is compatible with Secure Digital memory cards. Located on the right side of the camera body, the memory card slot is nicely concealed by a matching gray port cover.
*Help Button - *I am definitely a fan of the new Help button included on the Nikon Coolpix 5900. It’s easily accessible and gives quick, concise explanations — a gem to any beginner or new user!
D-Lighting Setting - The Nikon D-lighting feature helps compensate (after a picture has been taken) for excessive back lighting or underexposed regions in an image. The D-lighting feature is designed as a one-touch automatic correction to bring the tonal levels in the image up to adequate visibility and salvage otherwise lost images without extensive editing work.
Underwater Scene Mode — A new underwater scene mode is included on the Nikon Coolpix 5900; handy for the common vacationer or marine biologist. But the optional underwater housing is required to take the 5900 into the water.
For a retail price of $349.95, the Nikon Coolpix 5900 fits right into its pricing category. For the same price and a few more manual options, consumers can check out the 5-megapixel Kodak LS753. However, that camera will have slightly less zoom and a lot less style. The Canon PowerShot SD20 has the same price, similar megapixel count, more manual options, and more style (it does come in four colors!); it also has no optical zoom and a tiny 1.5-inch LCD screen. Overall, the Nikon Coolpix 5900 is a decent value, as most compact digital cameras in this range will offer similar options, but perhaps not the flashiest features. With a 2-inch LCD screen, easy menu options, 5.1 megapixels, cool features like D-Lighting and Red-Eye Removal, and a help menu, $349.95 is not too much to ask for the Nikon 5900.
In short, the Nikon Coolpix 5900 is a great buy at $349.95 (USD); you get all the frills of a more expensive camera (Nikon Coolpix 7900) at a lower cost. The only reduction that I can spot is a diminished megapixel count. With 5.1 effective megapixels and an all-glass 3x optical Nikkor zoom lens, performance should be solid. Applying a 2-inch LCD, a host of preset modes and some manual control options, along with an innovative help button, smart design and an intuitive menu system, the Nikon Coolpix 5900 is a great solution to your low budget digital imaging needs regardless of photographic competence.
Without having properly tested the model, the conclusion may read somewhat hollow, but from a handling perspective, there are fewer cameras on the market that compare (at this price point) to the Nikon Coolpix 5900. It's evenly weighted, well-stocked with features and trinkets, and still laid out intuitively enough for even the most despondent technophobe. Stay tuned for the full review, which will run the camera through the digital imaging performance gauntlet.
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