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Copyright © 2005 jsd

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1  Coolpix Features

This camera has many fine features and several outstanding features. This tempts you to expect that the rest of the features would be designed to the same high standard, but the user interface and the USB interface are not. This camera can take great pictures. I don’t know of anything better – but I am still disappointed and wistful, because with a few modest changes this camera could have been made much friendlier. Much, much friendlier.

My favorite features include:

The camera has the four basic exposure modes (Programmed-auto, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual ... P, A, S, and M, respectively). It also has about 16 fancy "scene" modes, such as Close-up, Night-portrait, Party/Indoor, et cetera). Most of these appear to be variations on Programmed-auto mode, with various tweaks and biases applied to the program, but they are so poorly documented that one can’t be sure.

See reference 1 for a fuller discussion of facts and figures on the many, many features of this camera.

2  Broken Features and Missing Features

Overview:

2.1  User Interface Deficiencies

If I had been designing this thing, I would have put a few more function buttons on top, where there’s plenty of room, so that there would be 100% orthogonal one-handed control of

It should go without saying that those six functions should be orthogonal to the mode-selection function. I wouldn’t mind if mode-selection were to require two hands; right now it requires only one, which illustrates the poor sense of priorities in the current design. Zoom, spot-control, and one other function can be conveniently controlled, which means three of the six functions cannot.

2.2  USB Limitations

The USB interface is horribly limited. Apparently it can do file transfer and nothing else. This is in contrast with other brands, and indeed early Coolpix models, where you could at least perform shutter release via USB.

The camera ships with a CDROM containing a bunch of Nikon software for doing image transfers. I cannot imagine why anybody would install the software. The camera appears on the USB bus as a standard mass-storage device. This means you can plug it into just about any computer (Linux, Macintosh, Microsoft) and transfer the pictures as ordinary .jpg files.

Since they went to the trouble of providing a USB interface, I was hoping they would provide full USB control of the camera. I would have liked to use the camera to take a series of time-lapse photos: Using software such as PhotoPC (reference 2) via USB, I would like to set the focus and exposure et cetera, release the shutter, transfer the .jpg file, wait, and iterate. But no; Nikon wants you to just take pictures manually and then transfer the files.

You can’t take pictures (manually or otherwise) while the USB cable is connected. All camera functions including the LCD display shut down when the USB cable is connected.

To perform remote shutter release, Nikon wants you to buy an expensive, non-USB, non-computer-compatible widget. However, according to reference 3, you can make your own cable and control the shutter release from your computer via the serial port (not USB). I haven’t tried this, and I don’t know whether it is possible to use the serial channel for file transfer or any purpose other than simple shutter release.

3  Miscellaneous Notes

Buttons on the top of the camera:

The ring around the shutter release button:  rotate
it clockwise, to turn the camera on/off (alternate
action switch).

The shutter-release button:  
 *) If you push it halfway down:
  -- it gets you out of review mode.
  -- it causes the auto-focus calculations to be done,
   whereupon the lens elements move, and then hold their
   chosen position, even if you re-aim the camera.
  -- the flash pops up, assuming flash isn't in
   never-flash mode, and isn't unnecessary in auto
   flash modes.
 *) If you push it all the way down:
  -- normally it just takes the picture, except
  -- in delay mode, it starts the delay timer, and
   then expiration of the timer takes the picture.


The "mode" switch:
 *) If you just tap it:  in manual mode, toggles
  the wheel from controlling f/stop to controlling
  exposure time, and vice versa.
 *) If you hold it while turning the wheel, you
  cycle through the major modes, namely:
   -- Auto (point and shoot)
   -- Funk
   -- Program (semi-auto?)
   -- Shutter-priority
   -- Aperture-priority
   -- Manual (control freak)

The "func" switch:
 *) In all shooting modes, if you hold it while turning 
  the wheel, it controls the lighter/darker bias.
 *) In review mode, if/while you hold it down, you can
  record an audio commentary on a picture you've taken.

The "flash" switch:  
 *) If you tap it, it cycles through the flash modes,
  namely:
   -- no flash (bolt crossed out)
   -- anti-redeye (eye symbol)
   -- plain flash (bolt)
   -- fill?  (backlit subject)
   -- auto (blank, nothing where the flash symbol would be).
 *) If you hold it while turning the wheel, it controls
  what I think is flash energy, a number from 100 to 800,
  or "AUTO".

The wheel, by itself:
 *) In auto mode, doesn't do anything AFAICT.
 *) In funk closeup mode, doesn't do anything AFAICT.
 *) In P mode, moves you to P* modes, giving you control
  of depth of field, i.e. wheel to the left introduces a
  bias toward slower f/stops with longer exposure times.
 *) In S mode, controls the shutter (exposure time).
 *) In A mode, controls the aperture (f/stop).
 *) In M mode, controls either the shutter or the
  aperture (whichever is green at the moment).  Tap
  the "func" switch to toggle between the two possibilities.

4  Summary

You can take very good pictures with this camera. But in this price range, I would have expected a much better-designed user interface and a much more capable USB interface.

5  References

1.
http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikoncp4500/

2.
http://www.math.ualberta.ca/imaging/

3.
http://delphys.net/d.holmes/photos/coolpix_e990/e990_usb_cable.html
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Copyright © 2005 jsd

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