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© 2004 KenRockwell.com
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This camera is state-of-the art, however the state of the art in today's digital compact cameras is still quite limited. It is a wonderful camera in its class, just that it's class still has a long way to go. Don't take my comments as specific to this camera; most are just the way the industry is today. I have a whole page explaining these class differences here.
Thus, this camera is hot for its time (2003), but in a couple of years we will all have forgotten about it as better, faster responding cameras replace it. The 8700 of 2004 is pretty much the same.
We've all been to the sites written by non-photographers with 35 pages of meaningless technical specifications and comparisons to other similar cameras. I read those too when I shop, and honestly, those sites completely skip the obvious things that a real photographer needs to know, like how does the camera work shooting things that move!
This camera was designed by the same guy who designed the clock on your VCR. Unless you are an engineer and take the manual with you everywhere you'll never be able to remember how to use even the most basic features of this camera. I couldn't even figure out how to set the resolution! Only from prior experience could I figure out how get the lens to zoom the full range since the camera had had been set to some oddball mode for an optional external attachment lens which locked it out of the full telephoto range.
The 5700 is tiny and much smaller than the Olympus E-20 and the D100. It's about the same size as the competing Fuji camera.
The 5700 has a great lens permanently attached and costs half what the D100 does. Be warned, though, the 5700 is much slower in operation so it's useless for shooting sports or your kids' softball games. Also with its smaller sensor it has much, much more noise at any ISO setting than an interchangeable lens digital SLR like the D100 or Digital Rebel.
This is not an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera, although some sell it as such and it is deceptively styled to suggest it. It is just a fixed-lens camera. More again here.
The LCD panel swivels, thus this camera is great for use on the ground pointing up at all weird angles.
The 5700 takes the standard CF cards and also takes all the microdrives.
The less expensive and smaller Coolpix 2500 and 885 take CF cards only, the microdrives won't fit.
Like all other under $1,000 digicams, it is slow to do anything and quite annoying even for photographing people at parties. You have to wait for it to do anything. If you need immediate operation you need to go directly to the D100. If you are photographing things that don't move then it's OK.
It is very complicated to get it to do anything. If you are not good with confusing picto-menus then you may either want to forget about this camera and get a Sony Mavica, or have some analytic person set it up for you and don't touch it again. It's the typical Japanese menus-o-rama.
The camera is slow at everything: it takes a while to turn on. It takes a while to focus. The most annoying thing is it takes a while to record each image after you take it, meaning the whole camera locks up for several seconds each time. This is annoying and typical for many digital cameras today. You'd be much better off with a Canon Digital Rebel or Nikon D70 if you need to photograph motion. Some of the cheapest non-zoom cameras can also be much faster since they have no focus to adjust. I have seen some competing Fujis like the S602 that still operate while recording to the card, and of course the true SLRs like the D100, D1H and Canon 10D and Digital Rebel operate while recording to the card.
If I had more time to spend with the 5700 there may be some way to throw it into a mode that might make it work faster. Personally since I already own the D1H I wasn't going to take a few hours to read the manual to figure it out.
Overall Image Quality
Much noisier than the Digital Rebel or any true digital SLR since the sensor is so teeny. It's the same as other fixed-lens cameras. Most digicams have about the same performance on test charts. The real differences are in speed and ease-of-use which in turn allow you to elicit either good or bad images from these cameras.
Yes, there are many slight differences photographing test charts which analytic people take great pleasure in analyzing, but to those of us who just want our pictures we have to realize that this, like all cameras, is limited by it's medium. As a digital camera its very limited compared to film if you want big prints, and otherwise it's swell.
It seems to have better highlight control than my D1H. Oddly, it has some subtle video-like black lines around some very bright highlights. Go make some photos on your own CF card and look at them on your own system. Image quality is a complex and personal issue, so you have to look and see for yourself.
Lens and Sharpness
This is really funny for me to watch. This is the only thing most people worry about, and most digital cameras are almost identical here!
Likewise, the 5700's lens is as sharp as it needs to be to give images as crisp as it can. The limiting factor is the number of pixels in the image, and the lens is plenty sharp for the images it can make. The normal setting for the sharpening algorithm is fine.
Here's the scoop you don't get elsewhere: see my page on the megapixel myth. This is a 5MP camera, which is pretty much the same as the rest of all the other digital cameras with other resolutions. This is pretty good as digital cameras go, and when you open up your mind and step back to look at the images, they just will not be as crisp as film if you want to make 8x10 and larger images. This is just where technology is today. Sure you can make swell 13 x 19" landscape prints from this camera if you catch the right light, however to my personal taste I much prefer film images compared to what I've seen from the 5700.
In plain language, even though this well made jewel of a camera seems great, its image quality is limited by the limited abilities of all of today's digital cameras.
It's more than enough for doing web sites and email. It's great for 4x6 prints. Using the standard formula (long print dimension in inches = (square root of megapixels) x 4) it is fine for prints up to about 6 x 9." Beyond that they start to get softer.
Hey, it has more pixels than my $4,000 D1H so it can make slightly bigger enlargements, too!
As you'd expect, there is a lot of barrel distortion at the wide end.
The long 8x zoom really reaches out, the only reason to get this camera over the far easier to use and much less expensive Canon A70.
Nikon knows all about microscopes, which has been one of their big product lines for decades. If you can find the command to put the 5700 into macro mode it works great. You can focus right up to about an inch of the front of the lens and get great macro shots, easily. People will ask you "what macro lens did you use?" and you proudly can reply "the one built into my camera."
Noise and Grain
The 5700, like all the other point-and-shoot digicams, is much noisier (grainier) than the big-sensor SLRs due to its tiny image sensor.
The 5700 is swell at ISO 100. Unfortunately at ISO 400 you can see the grain. By comparison, my D1H gives the same quality at ISO 1,600 or 3,200 as the 5700 gives at ISO 400! This is the only real difference in image quality between a $4,000 D1 and a $1,200 5700 or even $250 Coolpix 2000. (The other differences are all in speed of operation and lenses.)
The 5700 also has more chroma noise than the D1H, which means you'll see slight blotchy red and blue spots in flat gray areas if you look for them at ISO 400. Don't panic, this is just state of the art today in tiny digital cams.
I didn't try it at ISO 800; ISO 400 was bad enough.
The AUTO ISO setting knows the image suffers at high ISOs so it never cranked it up from ISO 100. Even with 1/8 second exposures indoors the auto setting stayed at ISO 100. It chose blur over grain. If you prefer lack of blur (I do) then choose ISO 400 manually indoors without flash.
Here's a big advantage of the fixed-lens cameras like the 5700 over the SLRs: with no lens to come off there is no problem with dust in the images. This is the weakest part of the true SLR cameras (D100, D1H and Canon 10D and Digital Rebel etc.)
Viewfinder and LCD
The electronic viewfinder is fine, although tiny. (An electronic viewfinder means when you peep into the camera you really are just looking at another LCD deep inside the camera. You are not looking through the lens and this is not an SLR camera even though the outside styling suggests one.) It shows the image in reasonably real-time without too much delay, although the biggest reason I rate it as poor is that it's the most cluttered I've seen. All the irrelevant camera control information like # of frames and battery life and self-timer setting and exposure more are written OVER YOUR IMAGE in the finder! It makes it very hard to concentrate on your image. I believe you can turn this off with the DISP button, at which point you're flying blind. I much prefer my Canon A70 which is designed well enough to show all the info without obliterating the image.
The finder image is small because the resolution of the finder LCD is not enough to allow it to be bigger without looking soft.
The flip-out LCD on the back of the camera is not needed. It's too tiny to show people your photos. Its only use is for composing photos from strange angles. Most cheap point-and-shoot cameras have bigger LCDs.
In about 30F / 0C temperatures the Li-ion batteries will often read dead, even if they have a pretty good charge left at 70F / 20C. To use in the cold carry a few extra batteries in your pocket and keep swapping them out as they read dead.
The camera is solid, sturdy and well built with a lot of metal. It should long outlast its usefulness. (Remember that digital cameras are disposable. In two to four years you will probably want to dispose of it in favor of a much better digital camera that costs a fraction of what the 5700 does today.)
Bokeh (what is Bokeh?)
Bokeh at the telephoto end is reasonably good. The blur circles are pretty even with soft edges. At the wide end you'll find it almost impossible to get any backgrounds out of focus, so don't worry about it.
This is a swell camera for anything that holds still. If you want a tiny digital camera that is state of its art with a great long telephoto lens then by all means go for it. If I was going on a long trip and wanted to pack as much into one tiny digital camera as I could this might be it. Actually I prefer the Canon A70 at one third the price and make do with a shorter zoom range. Just don't kid yourself that the long telephoto lens will let you shoot sports since the camera is way too slow.
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