The Coolpix 5200 follows the basic, simple design ethos established with the Coolpix 700 and 800 series back in the 90's, and gradually refined in subsequent generations of Nikon compact cameras. The styling is fairly traditional, and unlike many similar ultra-compact models there is a decent handgrip. The entire body is clad in lightly textured cool aluminium with chromed accents (the only exception is the grey band that runs around the sides and top of the camera, which is made of plastic). The lens, when retracted, is not fully flush with the body, but the smooth lines and lack of unecessary adornment means the Coolpix 5200 looks clean and slips easily into a pocket or purse. Control layout is logical and takes no risks, making the 5200 an ideal first digital camera for anyone making the move from a 35mm film compact. Very nice indeed.
In your hand
Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Coolpix doesn't feel too small in your hand, and - unlike many ultra-compacts - it doesn't seem like it's going to slip out of your hand every time you use it. The controls are a decent size and very well positioned, and all the most important ones can be accessed using one hand. Nikon should be congratulated for avoiding sacrificing handling and usability in the race to produce the smallest camera possible.
A sturdy metal-coated, spring bound click 'n' slide door covers the battery compartment. The Coolpix 5200 uses an EL-EL5 rechargeable lithium ion battery pack ( charger included, of course). Nikon claims approximately 150 shots per charge using the CIPA standard test, which isn't fantastic, but will do most people for a whole day's shooting. We'll add our own battery life tests as soon as they have been completed.
A similar, smaller door on the left side of the camera (looking from the front) covers the SD slot, which is of the usual 'click in, click out' sprung latch type. Nikon doesn't supply a memory card in the box, but there is 12MB of internal memory to get you started. Images can be copied between the internal memory and SD card.
The optical viewfinder, complete with flash and AF ready lights is pretty standard stuff. It's inevitably small, the field of view is nowhere near the full frame (just under 75%) and it's so far from the lens that you'll get parallax errors if you shoot subjects nearer than about 2M. But it's no worse than any other similar camera, and comes in useful in very low or very bright light, or when you need to preserve battery power.
The 1.5 inch screen is nothing to write home about; at 110,000 pixels it has enough resolution to look fairly clear and crisp. There is a slight, but acceptable, video lag and it works very well in all but the brightest direct light, and does an excellent job when it gets very dark. My only minor complaint is that the screen sometimes takes too long to catch up with big changes in brightness levels, which is more of an annoyance than a problem that could interfere with actually using the 5200.
The built-in flash is fairly large for such a small camera, which is reflected in the healthy 0.3 to 4.5M operating range (0.3 to 3.5M at the tele end of the zoom). Nikon has a lot of experience in flashguns, and it shows here - exposure is excellent, even at close shooting distances. The standard on/off/red-eye/slow synch options are available - if you turn on the red-eye mode (which uses a pre-flash) the automatic red-eye removal function is also activated.
The zoom buttons are perfectly situated on the rear of the camera just below the shutter release, within easy reach of your thumb. As is normal on digital cameras, the buttons are also used in playback mode to zoom into images or view several thumbnails at once.
The 3x Zoom Nikkor lens employs an ED (Extra Low Dispersion) element and an aspherical lens, and has been designed specifically for the Coolpix 5200 (and the 4MP Coolpix 4200). The F2.8-4.9 maximum aperture is a reflection of the space saving design, and is forgivable - though it does make non-flash photography in low light at the tele end of the zoom something only the most steady-handed will attempt.
The main mode dial sits atop the camera right next to the shutter release and main power switch. From here you can choose between auto mode, scene mode, portrait-assist, landscape-assist, sports-assist or twilight portrait assist modes, plus access the setup menu or switch to movie mode. The positioning of the dial - and the size of the camera - mean you can switch modes with your thumb even when holding the camera in one hand.