Operation and controls

In the past Nikon has been berated for unfriendly, over-complex operation on even its most basic 'point and shoot' models. The latest cameras are a marked improvement on earlier generations, though it is not without its own annoying foibles. Control layout, however, is exemplary, with the majority of the most important controls falling easily to hand, and none of the fancy joysticks, tiny buttons or other irritations that commonly plague modern digital cameras.

Rear of camera

The majority of the 4800's main controls are found on the rear of the camera, with all the most commonly accessed photographic controls (flash mode, AE compensation, macro mode and self--timer) grouped together within thumb's reach to the right of the LCD screen. Arranged around four-way controller are three buttons - one switches to and from playback mode, one is used to delete images, at the top is the main menu button (for activating on-screen menus). If you press and hold down the play button when the camera is turned off it powers up directly into play mode, without extending the lens (though since it takes nearly as long as turning it on in record mode and switching, there seems little point...)

Top of camera

The top of the 4800 is home to the large, well placed shutter release, the main power switch and the miniature speaker and microphone. A small green LED next to the power switch lets you know the camera is on.

Display and menus

The Coolpix 4800 is a point and shoot camera without pretensions; there's little in the way of manual control and everything is designed to ensure novice leave all the important decisions to the camera. I'm not a huge fan of Nikon's new interface, though it is, as mentioned above, a lot friendlier than previous Coolpix generations. In an attempt to keep things big, bold and friendly - and to ensure mistakes aren't made - Nikon has made changing many settings unecessarily long-winded. If you really are going to leave the camera in auto the whole time (and there are many who will) then you'll have no complaints, if you like to fiddle with settings you may find the interface actually gets in the way more than it helps.

This is a typical record mode live view with only the most basic information displayed on screen (you can turn most of this off if you wish). Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used, and warning if there is a possibility of camera shake (exposure information is not shown).
The 4800 normally automatically selects one of five focus points, but you can manually select an off-center focus point yourself from one of the five positions by changing the focus mode using the record menu. You can also turn off the AF area completely (centre focus). The most annoying flaw in the 4800's otherwise excellent user interface is the unnecessarily complicated method used for the basic photographic controls (flash, macro etc) that have their own buttons. Press the flash button and, rather than the usual cycling through options with each press, a small menu appears on screen. You then have to use the arrow keys to change the setting and press the enter button to confirm the change. That's three button presses just to turn on the macro mode - or turn it off again. Why? Who knows.
Pressing the menu button in standard (auto) record mode brings up a three-page menu system offering control over image quality/size, metering mode, white balance, burst mode, image parameters (sharpness, contrast, saturation), focus mode and best shot selector, bracketing and noise reduction. Again, this all seems a bit labored - why not put more options on screen and reduce the amount of pages? Turning the mode dial to scene and pressing the menu button allows you to select one of 11 scene modes, including panorama assist mode, which shows a ghosted portion of the last picture taken overlaid on the preview image. The only other thing you can change in scene mode is the image quality and size.
The four 'scene-assist' modes - first seen on the Coolpix 3200 - take the hand-holding concept even further. Each offers several basic alternatives. In scene-assist mode (the shot above shows the portrait assist mode) framing guides appear. These are not only used to make sure you frame correctly, but also to set the focus and AE points.
Here's a typical screen from playback mode - much like every other Coolpix camera for the last few years. You can turn this information off, but you can't view any exposure (Exif) information at all. Annoyingly you can only exit playback mode by pressing the play button again (and waiting over a second) - you can't half press the shutter to return to record mode. Pressing the 'enter' key (in the middle of the 4-way controller) zooms in to 3x and lets you crop an image and resave as a new file by simply pressing the shutter release.
Pressing the right zoom key lets you enlarge images up to 6x for a closer look. The left zoom key brings up thumbnails - one press gives you 4 (2x2), a second press gives you 9 (3x3).
Pressing the menu button in the playback mode brings up three pages of options covering printing, viewing slide shows, deleting/protecting, resizing and copying from the internal memory to the SD card. Finally the setup menu (which gets its own position on the mode dial). From here you can change basic camera settings, customise start-up screens and sounds and format the internal memory or card.