Nikon Coolpix 5600
At a Glance
Both novice and experienced digital photographers will appreciate the Coolpix 5600's intuitive controls. Measuring 3.4 by 2.4 by 1.4 inches, the 5600 fits easily in your right hand. Some features, like the scene-mode selection wheel, cater to casual photographers. But even an experienced user will find depth in this camera's features, and Nikon's straightforward user interface puts all of them within easy reach.
The selection wheel uses icons to help novices put the camera into the mode best suited to the lighting situation and scene at hand. Options include an underwater scene mode, but you should use this only if you own a waterproof housing for the camera, since the camera itself is not waterproof.
The camera's advanced, contextual menu system gives you greater control over the scene modes, including the ability to customize certain aspects of mode settings, such as the minimum shutter speed or aperture. A dedicated delete button lets you quickly trash shots that don't work out--a feature I found quite handy.
The Coolpix 5600 earned high marks in our tests for its accurate reproduction of color and its well-balanced exposures. And though its battery life was shorter than that of some other units we've tested recently, the 5600 outlasted every other new model that uses alkaline batteries, taking photos for 2.5 hours on just two AAs.
The camera has a 3X optical zoom lens; but in my hands-on tests, I found its photos slightly fuzzy. The camera's autofocus did a reasonable job and managed to focus quickly outdoors, but indoors, getting the camera settled on the correct focusing distance took a little more effort. The camera's Blur Warning feature alerted me when the camera wouldn't be able to take a clean shot due to movement or low light, but even when I made the camera happy by holding very, very still, it managed to snap some slightly out-of-focus images in our moderately well-lit offices. The camera has no manual focus options.
Some of the Coolpix 5600's bonus features--such as the ability to create Sepia-tone or black-and-white snaps--seemed gimmicky, but Nikon's D-Lighting option (which instantly brightens overly dark snapshots) worked very well. The Coolpix doesn't include an SD card, and you'll need one: The 14MB of built-in memory lets you take a paltry five shots in the camera's highest-resolution mode.
Nikon's diminutive 5.1-megapixel camera is simple to use, and it delivers more-powerful features than you'd expect from a camera priced at under $300.