Nikon Coolpix 5700 Review

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Having used my 5700 almost exlusively since October, 2002, I've come to have a good grasp on this digital camera's good and bad points. Nearly every photo and photo gallery on this site taken since then was shot with this camera.

Quick Overview: the Nikon Coolpix 5700 is a 5 megapixel digital still camera with an attached f2.8-4.2 35-280 mm-equivalent extending lens and a flip-out LCD. Other noteworthy features include a raw mode, electronic viewfinder (also known as an "EVF"), and 5-point autofocus system. Plenty of factual detail can be found in the Digital Photography Review in-depth review of the 5700.

Overall, I find the Nikon Coolpix 5700 to be a very good digital camera capable of excellent results. With only minor Photoshop tweaking I've created many 11 × 14-inch prints that are completely indistiguishable from prints created from 35 mm film. With the introduction of the Coolpix 8700, prices for the 5700 have fallen quite a bit making this camera an exceptional value.

Battery Life

By far the largest shortcoming of the 5700 is battery life. With the supplied EN-EL1 battery and using a mix of flash, LCD, and zoom (all draw additional power) and the auto-off feature set to turn the camera off in 5 minutes--my preferred setting, as this often leaves the camera ready to use from shot-to-shot--the battery lasts for only 150-200 shots or 4-5 hours, whichever comes first. Battery life is downright abysmal with 30-minute auto-off, giving about 2 hours of camera use.

I should note that when considering battery life I want to be prepared for a weekend of shooting--with Scouts, camping or any other outing we might take. So, while 4-5 hours of battery life sounds good, it's not going to last for the weekend.

Of course, the easiest way to handle this is to simply buy additional batteries. Having a total of three or four EN-EL1 batteries would easily give enough shooting time for a day and likely enough for two days. But depending on the batteries I bought that would cost between $100 and $140 and the camera would still feel a little small in my hands. Switching batteries so often doesn't sound fun, either.

I decided a better solution for me was to use the MBE-5700 battery pack/vertical grip which offers a few important advantages compared to having a pocketful of extra batteries: it makes the camera a little taller so it's easier for me to hold, and it uses AA-sized batteries. NiMH rechargable batteries are available in much larger capacities, making battery life that much better. Specifically, the Nikon EN-EL1 battery is rated at 650 mAh and (at the time) AA cells were available rated at 1800 mAh--nearly 3x more juice! Currently 2300 mAh AA-sized batteries are readily available, as well. In a pinch alkaline or lithium AA cells will also work fine in the MBE-5700, too.

In other words, while I consider the poor battery life to be the biggest problem with the 5700, the MBE-5700 is an excellent solution.

Straying from the battery topic a bit, the MBE-5700 is not terribly useful as a vertical grip. The grip only has a shutter release and zoom control--no shutter or aperture control! If you only use the camera in Program mode I suppose it doesn't matter, but if you want control over your photo I don't find it worth the effort of trying to use. I'll just awkwardly hold the camera vertically to take the photo. In the photo at the right you can also make out the Kirk Enterprises quick release plate I use to attach the camera to the tripod.

Usage and Handling

I was attracted to the idea of a camera that was smaller and lighter than my 35 mm gear (a Nikon F100 and several lenses--about 7 lbs); this certainly fits the bill (with MBE-5700, about 2 lbs). A cursory look at the two systems shows that the smaller, lighter 5700 has several drawbacks when compared to 35 mm: smaller buttons, slower interface and focus, and limited lens choices. The 5700 does have several benefits over the bigger, heavier 35 mm equipment, primarily that it's lighter and smaller so I can carry it around all day without getting tired! And of course, there's all the benefits of switching from film to digital: instant feedback, change ISO speed at any point, and the "film" (Compact Flash cards) holds way more than 36 photos.

Without the MBE-5700 I find the camera a little small and unbalanced in my hands; with the MBE-5700 I find the camera to be balanced and comfortable to hold. Even with the lens fully extended, the balance is pretty good.

I think this camera's menu system is good, primarily because I don't often have to use it while shooting. When I do have to use it, though, I wish the order of several options was different. For example, the first menu screen contains a few options I'll never change: Image Adjustment and Saturation Control. Focus Options and Noise Reduction are on the second menu screen; I'd prefer them on the first because I use them more frequently. Really, those are just minor niggles, though.

After transferring photos from the camera to a computer I reformat the memory card. (I could just delete the photos, but it's good practice to reformat for numerous reasons; maybe I'll expand upon that someday.) However, to reformat I need to go to the third (and last) menu screen, then scroll to the last item on that page to get to the CF Card Format option. Being the menu option I use the most, I really wish it was quicker to get to.

For my medium-sized hands, the 5700's control interface is adequate. The buttons are a little smaller than I would like but there's ample space between them so that it's easy to avoid pushing the wrong one, and easy to find the right one in the dark. With the MBE-5700 battery/grip it's much easier to hold the camera stable, as my entire hand can grip it easily.

I don't see any reason whatsoever to put the image size and quality options on a button. I can't conceive a single reason why I'd need the speed that a button affords to quickly change from a large, high-quality .jpg file to a small, low-quality .jpg for the next shot. This button could better serve to control metering, focus options, white balance, or other function. Image size and quality options should be buried deep in the menu system.

While mentioning the image size/quality button, I'll point out that I have a tendency to bump all of the buttons on the left side of the camera. Typically it's the focus button, and I end up cycling through the various focus modes (landscape, macro, macro plus self-timer, and back to normal).

Compared to manually zooming with an SLR, the zoom on the 5700 is slow and hard to adjust. Changing the Zoom Option from "High" to "Low" results in even slower zoom movement, but much greater precision. I use the "Low" Zoom Option almost always and find it to work well for most subjects, including moving people. Fast action, however, really demands some guesswork to get a good photo.

Again, compared to manually focusing with an SLR, manually focusing with the 5700 is downright painful. Distance isn't given in numbers, only with a bar and two icons; not too helpful. Holding the manual focus button while rotating the command dial and trying to tell what's in focus is a tough bit of coordination. Because manual focus works this way I typically use it as a last resort attempt to get good focus, whereas with an SLR camera I happily used it often. When in focus, though, the image in the viewfinder/LCD is oversharpened, making it easy to know where the focus is. In bright light autofocus is fairly fast and quick to lock on to a subject; indoors it can be troublesome, though still usually capable.

I'm troubled by the lack of a threadmount for filters, but that's easily remedied with a NextPhoto thread adaptor. Nikon offers a similar thing, too.

Control of the flash is incomplete. There are two options: "Auto" and "Internal & External." If a flash is attached to the hotshoe, "Auto" will fire only that; if no external flash is present the internal one gets fired. "Internal & External" will fire both the internal and (if present) external hotshoe flash all the time. Those are both fine options, but there really needs to be a way to turn off the internal flash when working in a studio environment.

256-segment metering works wonderfully. Apertures can be adjusted in 1/3-stop increments, though shutter speed can only be adjusted in full stops. Only adjusting full stops can make fine tuning tough, though it's often easy to adjust the aperture to create a correct exposure.

The CCD--the thing that actually takes the photo--in the 5700 is quite a bit smaller than a piece of 35 mm film. 1/16 the size of 35 mm film, actually. Because of this, at any given aperture and focal length the 5700 has about 16 times more depth of field than the 35 mm equivalent. Example: using a film camera with a 200 mm lens and f4.2 aperture, let's say the depth of field is only one foot for the subject. The same shot with a 5700--with a 200 mm equivalent focal length and f4.2 aperture--will have a depth of field of 16 feet! This is both a blessing and curse. While shooting a close-up with 35 mm gear and the smallest aperture I've often wished for even more depth of field; with the 5700 I get just that. With the 5700 I often wish I could better isolate the background from a subject; with a film SLR I get that. It's a double-edged sword.

The flip-out LCD is a fantastic thing for tripod-mounted and odd-angled work. Like when I want to hold the camera over my head to get a from-above style shot, I can use the LCD to help me frame the shot, rather than just guessing the composition. I hesitate to say the flip-out LCD is the greatest photographic invention since the CCD itself, but it really is that valuable.

Based on the previous paragraph, you might think I usually use the flip-out LCD to take photos; this is not true. I usually use the EVF while shooting. Holding the camera tight against my face with my arms tight against my body yields a steadier hold on the camera--and sharper result--than holding the camera away from my face with my arms outstretched to take a photo with the flip-out LCD. Basically, I only use the flip-out LCD on a tripod or for overhead shots.

Image Quality

Really, this is the important part. I wanted a camera capable of quality similar to my 35 mm equipment, but, as mentioned above, smaller and lighter. My comparisons consisted of both on-screen and print examples, including both pre- and post-processing results. After quite a bit of comparison of photos other people took with a 5700 and the results I get from scanning film on a Nikon CoolScan III film scanner I convinced myself the 5700 was film's equal and an improvement in some ways.

Prior to closer examination of a digital camera's capabilities I was very skeptical about image quality from them. The CoolScan III was giving me 12 megapixels of resolution, and I had just started using a Nikon CoolScan 4000 film scanner that gave 24 megapixels of resolution. I simply didn't believe that a 3, 5 or even 6 megapixel (the largest at the time) camera could favorably compare to the film scanner with up to four times the resolution. I was considering the pixel quantity but not the quality. Through some quick experimentation it was easy to see the quality of a digital camera pixel is significantly greater than that of a scanned pixel.

I could create pages of sample images comparing settings, sharpness, detail, noise/grain, and every other aspect of the image, but I'm not going to--there are plenty of digital camera review sites that do just that. Instead I'll work off of just one image, comparing to a scanned 35 mm slide. A typical snapshot for me, this is a 5 megapixel .jpg image with minimum compression, shot at ISO 100 and auto white balance with normal sharpness and image adjustments of 0. This photo was shot at f5.6 and 1/250 sec. It was shot around lunchtime, harsh light and all. At the original resolution of 2,560 × 1,920 pixels, this photo could be printed at 8.5 × 6.4 inches at 300 dpi or 10.2 × 7.7 inches at 250 dpi. Download the original 1.5 MB image by clicking the thumbnail at the right.

As I mentioned, this is a typical snapshot for me. If I were looking to photograph this building (W1AW at ARRL), I'd shoot it early or late in the day, perhaps with a polarizer and graduated neutral-density filter. I'd also shoot in the raw (.nef) format, which is capable of capturing a wider dynamic range (more shadow detail) and allows quite a bit of post-processing freedom not available with the jpeg format. In other words, I can do better!

Unedited Crops

All of the shots below are crops of the above image, with no levels adjustments, sharpening, etc. To view the crop at 100% click the thumbnail icon; these images have been resaved with minimal jpeg compression to minimize compression artifacts. Up close inspection show several things:

Even at ISO 100 it's not hard to find the grain/noise. It's particularly prevalent in shadow or dark areas, as well as areas of continuous tone, such as sky. However, as obvious as the noise appears here, some post-processing can easily clean it up and make a print where the noise can barely be seen. At ISO 200 the noise is also quite low. I rarely use ISO 400 and wouldn't make a print larger than 4 × 6 inches at that speed. I avoid ISO 800 if at all possible, as I find the high noise very objectionable. To be fair, though, I think ISO 800 film shouldn't be enlarged beyond 4 × 6, either.

It's easy to make out the detail in both the shingles and the brick. From this crop, the image doesn't look all that sharp, but as with noise, post-processing can add a great deal of clarity.

Chromatic abberation (CA) is obvious in a high-contrast area like this. Honestly, this is one of the worst cases of it that I've come across with this camera. Looking at the whole image, it appears a little dark. Overexposing by 1/3-1/2 stop would brighten the image up and reduce some of the contrast between the sky and antenna, cutting some of the chromatic abberation. As well, I might also use the low-contrast setting on the camera to minimize the CA. If this were actually an important shot, I'd solve this by reshooting the image at a different time (earlier or later in the day) and when the sky had fewer clouds (creating less contrast).

Edited Crops

Post-processing is a necessary part of digital photography, just as darkroom work is a necessary part of film-based photography. The two shots below are the same as those above, only they've had some minor processing done: noise reduction (with Neat Image Pro), levels adjustment, and sharpening. Printing this shot would yield a wonderfully sharp print with no (or nearly no) visible noise/grain.

As noted above, the 2,540 × 1,920 pixel image makes a pretty small print at 300 dpi. I enlarged the shot to 11 × 14 inches to better compare with the print quality I get from 35 mm. This shot was enlarged 153% to 14.9 × 11.2 inches at 250 dpi using Adobe Photoshop's Bicubic interpolation, done in 16-bit mode with the stair-stepping method.

Edited Crops Compared to a 35 mm Slide Scan

This photo is a scan of a 35 mm slide. The film is Fuji Velvia (ISO 50) and it was scanned on a Nikon CoolScan 4000 film scanner, creating a 5,215 × 3,492 pixel, 16-bit, 111 MB .tif file. At 300 dpi this would make a 17.3 × 11.6 inch print; at 250 dpi it's a 20.9 × 14 inch print. This means that when I want to print an 11 × 14 I don't have to do any interpolation of the image--in fact, I can crop and resize down and create a slightly sharper image. The original file is not available for download.

Both of the 100% crops below are from the above shot. It was resized to 11 × 16.4 inches, run through Neat Image, received levels adjustments, and was finally sharpened.

As is evident in this sky and treeline crop, there are quite a few scratches and dust spots on the 35 mm slide. I cleaned the slide as best I could before scanning, but it still needs to be cleaned up with Photoshop. Some slight chromatic abberration can also be made out along the treeline and in the clouds; this can't even be seen in a print.

It's worth noting the fine detail of the branches and leaves that can be seen in this shot; they look pretty good. This is probably an unfair comparison to the Coolpix 5700 shot above, though, as this kind of fine detail really doesn't exist in that photo. The 5700 is capable of such detail, though.

This crop of rocks is an easier piece to compare to the brick detail of the 5700 shot. Sharpness looks roughly similar and detail is easily visible.

I did similar comparisons with about a dozen different photos (from both the Coolpix 5700 and 35 mm slides I scanned) before I was convinced of what a 5 megapixel digital camera was capable of. When enlarging to 16 × 20 I think the 35 mm scan looks a little better, but not much. More experimentation is needed at larger sizes to convince me.

Color out of the 5700 is pretty good, though a little saturated and dark. I built an ICC profile to deal with it and am pretty happy with its results. More info and the profile can be found on Coolpix 5700 ICC Color Profile page. I realize it's a little odd to demand "correct" color from my digital camera when I used to primarily shoot Fuji Velvia film--a super-saturated totally-incorrect-but-oh-so-lucsious color slide film. The 5700 profile I developed simply makes it easier to pull every last detail out of a photo.

Conclusion

As stated in the beginning, the Nikon Coolpix 5700 is a very good digital camera capable of excellent results indistinguishable from prints created with 35 mm film. The caveat is really that you need to shoot at ISO 100 or 200 for that quality. At ISO 400 (and especially 800) film is capable of better results. Being used to shooting Fuji Velvia film (at ISO 50), I rarely shoot at anything but ISO 100. Battery life is abysmal when you want to do a weekend of shooting, but the problem is easily remedied.

Handling issues--slow autofocus, bumping buttons, etc--are likely going to be the biggest complaint for most. Though as with any camera, once you learn to overcome its idiosyncracies you'll get much better results.

The Nikon Coolpix 8700 looks like a significantly better camera at first (8 megapixels vs. 5) but reviews indicate an awful lot of noise--higher than the 5700's, in my opinion. A photo with more pixels and more noise probably isn't any better than a photo with fewer pixels and less noise. Since I can make 11 × 14 prints form the 5700's files, I don't see a big need for 8 megapixels, either. Add in the low price of the 5700 and it's a winner!

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Older Comments (8)

Dan & Sherree & Patrick currently uses Facebook for comments. Older comments are still here for readers, though. Read old comments »

Nice article.
With regards to battery life, if I need to extend, I don't use the lcd panel. Instead, I'll use the range finder view which tends to extend the battery life. I can shoot 350 - 400 shots by not using it (in fine mode)

I am in such a quandry in deciding between this and the Canon G6.
the price wiht the rebate means I can get more accessories immediatly but I am concerned about buying a camera that is a couple years old compared to a brand new release...

John

I have been using the Canon G3 until now. An excellent camera, probably one of the best ever made. But the 5700 is a state-of-the-art digital camera. Most people that give this camera a bad review don't spend time learning how to use the camera. This camera can produce any result you want,if you set it right!!

I just purchased the 5700 after month(s) of reviewing cameras. Based on all the reviews and this one I am excited for it to arrive!

Im on the move to buy a digi cam. I want it to use for shooting candid shots, mountains as well as macro shots. Im on the debate betweenNikon 5400, 5700 Canon G6 and Olympus C770. I 'd like a suggestion.

The Nikon 5700 has a great lens and takes well exposed sharp images. It's light weight and easy to carry around with an excellant zoom range. It really is an "all in one solution". The chief complaint you'll hear is about battery life. I don't think it's a big deal anymore because you can easily buy a "generic Nikon" lithium battery (online)for $20 or less so for less than $50 you can have 3 batteries which will certainly last you all day!

If you think you are interested I have one for sale with a lot of accessories. It's in perfect condition. Drop me an email if you want to know more.

Ron

Question:
How do I activated the flash for Nikon Coolpix 5700. Last time it's work but now it doesn't.
How to get a good quality picture from Nikon coolpix 5700. Because last time I took picture with indoor but the picture was roughly sharp and there was a shadows on it. Thank's

The movie's sound is flawed with internal mechanical noises.

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