If you're just starting out in photography--digital or analog--the 5700's learning curve is as steep as Mt. Everest. But if you're comfortable with photographic parameters and know how to use them, you probably won't mind taking the time to learn the ins and outs of this sophisticated camera. At first glance, the Coolpix 5700 looks easy enough to use, and taking a few snaps out of the box in the default automode is effortless. Upon closer inspection, however, we quickly realized that thoroughly reading the manual was necessary to make full use of the Coolpix 5700's broad range of features.
You can access many frequently used settings via controls on the camera body and lens barrel, eliminating the need to scroll through menus to make changes on the fly. However, we'd prefer dedicated buttons for even more features, especially continuous shooting, white balance, and metering settings. You can program the Function button to access white balance or metering controls, but we'd rather have quick access to both.
With few exceptions, it's easy to make adjustments, but pressing the Function button on the top right of the camera with your forefinger while rotating the adjacent command dial with your right thumb requires some tricky dual-digit coordination. Also, it's easy to inadvertently press the buttons on the lens barrel with your left thumb while you're holding the camera in a normal shooting position.
Although you may have to dig a little to find what you want, adjusting settings via the Coolpix 5700's menus is relatively simple once you get the hang of it. Nikon clearly identifies each pictograph by text at the top of the menu and marks submenus with both icons and text. Three User Set modes can be customized with your most-used settings--a handy option if you can remember all the settings assigned to each mode. To call the Coolpix 5700 feature rich would understate the wealth of options available on the camera. In fact, you almost feel like you're working with a digital SLR when you start fiddling with the camera's abundance of advanced settings.
One of the prominent features of the Coolpix 5700 is its 8X zoom lens, which provides a hefty zoom range of 35mm to 205mm (35mm camera equivalent). Relatively fast with a maximum aperture of 2.8, the lens stops down to only f/8.0. Although that's not unusual for digital cameras, we would love to see the range extended to f/11. The lens is the first one on a Coolpix model to employ extra-low-dispersion glass elements for improved photo quality and sharpness. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a zoom or manual focus ring. Dials and buttons on the camera body control those functions instead.
The Coolpix 5700's full battery of exposure, metering, white-balance, and autofocus modes is complemented by tools such as in-camera image sharpening, contrast, saturation, and noise reduction controls. The latter options, especially the contrast control, help with gentle tweaking on a shot-by-shot basis, although you may prefer the large view afforded by image-editing software on your PC to fine-tune photos. Incorporating adjustment settings on a more permanent basis, by using a customized User setting mode, should be done only after careful analysis of photos and photo output.
Another Coolpix first in the 5700 is the availability of a RAW mode, in the form of NEF--Nikon Electronic Format--a proprietary format that you can view and manipulate outside of the camera only in the provided Nikon View 5.0 software. You can also conveniently convert an NEF file to a TIFF in-camera and optionally delete the NEF file. RAW mode provides file-size savings over TIFF; you can save about seven RAW files as opposed to four TIFFs on a 64MB memory card. Six image size options, combined with three compression modes, give shooters a range of quality choices for all occasions. The Coolpix 5700's speed performance is a mixed bag. In single-shot mode, shutter-release lag time is almost nonexistent shot after shot, but only after the relatively sluggish autofocus has locked. The flash recycles rapidly, providing flash-enabled shot-to-shot times of about 3 seconds; again, autofocus lags without recomposing between shots. Be prepared to wait for the camera to record the image data at the end of a sequence of single shots, however. Multiple continuous modes provide more rapid sequential shooting, although file size, and therefore photo quality, is limited in some of them.
We tried shooting in high-resolution uncompressed TIFF and RAW/NEF modes with three different media cards, with surprising results. Write times were a few seconds shorter with a SanDisk 512MB UltraCard than with the supplied 16MB 8X starter card and averaged about 20 to 23 seconds for a TIFF and 12 to 15 seconds for a RAW file. Interestingly, writing to an older 124MB card took 57 seconds for a TIFF and 83 seconds for a RAW file. Not only were write speeds slower, the RAW file took longer than the TIFF, which isn't the norm.
The good news about shooting RAW files is that you can continue to shoot an additional two frames after the initial shot. However, once the buffer is full, the wait time while the camera writes to the media card increases accordingly--figure about 13 to 14 seconds per shot.
You can select one of two zoom speeds through the LCD menu, and the faster setting lets you go from wide to telephoto and back quite quickly. There's also a setting that lets you zoom at a fixed aperture, which gives you more control over depth of field. However, the Coolpix 5700 has a tendency to embark on a long focus search when shooting low-contrast scenes with the lens fully extended.
Switching between the electronic viewfinder (EVF) and the fully articulating foldout LCD is one-touch simple. While we prefer the LCD for its sharpness and clarity, the EVF's 97 percent frame coverage is a welcome alternative under very bright conditions. An autobrightening function, which kicks in after you press the shutter halfway, aids viewing through the EVF or LCD in low light so you can see what you're shooting. The Coolpix 5700 delivers accurate exposure in both auto and manual modes, even under low-light conditions. We found its dynamic range above average, although some clipping occurred in extreme highlights, eliminating detail. But other than losing some detail at the extremes, the Coolpix 5700 delivers stellar performance when it comes to capturing crisp photos, showing the finest facets of surfaces, including paper grain and specs of dust. And despite its large zoom range, very little lens distortion exists at either extreme.
The camera's macro setting brings you as close as 1.2 inches, but beware: The lens barrel casts a shadow when the built-in flash is used at very short distances. This is not unique to the Coolpix 5700, and there is a warning about it in the manual. If you like to get up close and personal with tiny objects, think about using an external flash. Otherwise, the built-in flash generally provides even coverage.
Noise in our test images was minimal to nonexistent, even in solid expanses of sky. Chromatic aberration occasionally reared its ugly head in the form of minimal purple fringing or slight green halos at highly contrasted edges. Naturally, the appearance of these colored edges was most evident at high compression levels, but it also showed up in some high-resolution, uncompressed images as well.