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Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution - especially for an ultra-compact
  • Clean images with only moderate noise levels
  • Good white balance (except under incandescent light)
  • Realistic color
  • Very compact, excellent build quality
  • Pretty fast operation
  • Huge range of 'hand-holding' features for the novice
  • Best Shot Selector
  • Well thought out controls and excellent handling
  • Some useful manual overrides
  • Excellent movie mode and very capable burst shooting
  • Easy to use
  • AF illuminator
  • Good screen
  • Very good flash performance
  • Great macro performance
  • Very little purple fringing and well controlled distortion
  • In-camera red-eye removal really works

Conclusion - Cons

  • Images look soft (though they respond well to unsharp masking)
  • Images can be over-contrasty - muddy shadows (again, the detail is there but needs fixing in Photoshop)
  • Occasional focus problems at the long end of the zoom
  • Finest quality JPEG is still quite heavily compressed
  • Too many button presses to change basic settings - presumably to avoid accidents
  • No exposure information on-screen
  • Tendency to underexpose slightly, meaning post-processing almost essential
  • Only two aperture settings

Overall conclusion

The Coolpix 5200 is a little gem of a camera that proves Nikon is not merely dabbling in consumer-level cameras, and it's the best proper compact they've produced in years. Design, build and ease of use are excellent, and there is a surprising amount of power hidden in the well-designed menus, offering control over focus, metering, white balance and so on for those who like to tweak. The novice market the 5200 is aimed at will surely welcome the hand-holding approach of the scene and scene assist modes, and the overall responsiveness makes using the 5200 a real pleasure. Features such as Best Shot Selector (which takes a burst of shots as you hold down the shutter, then chooses and saves only the sharpest one) and in-camera red-eye removal (which works virtually every time) add value to an already well-priced camera.

Purists will applaud Nikon for refusing to turn everything - including sharpening - up to 11, and in fact the 5200 would make a great pocket camera for the photographic enthusiast. So, if you're prepared to invest a little time, you can get some really sweet results - and without all that aggressive processing you're starting with a much cleaner image.

Bottom line then: a beautiful little camera with few serious faults, save for the need to post process images to really make them shine - something that could lead to disappointment amongst absolute beginners. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it as a 'carry anywhere' camera that is capable - with a little help - of producing lovely results. If the 'out of the camera' results had been more suited to the target audience there is no doubt you'd see the word 'highly' before recommended below.

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