Like a brother or a sister who might be mistaken for a twin, Nikon's new entry-level point-and-shoot digital camera is nearly identical to its more expensive sibling. Outwardly, the Nikon Coolpix 4600 and the Coolpix 5600 look exactly the same, but the 4600 has a 4-megapixel sensor instead of the 5600's 5.1-megapixel chip. And while the 4600 has the same video specs as the 5600, it doesn't record video with sound.
Like the 5600, the 4600 has several novice-friendly features, including Blur Warning, D-lighting, and Best Shot Selector, which provide automatic solutions to problems you might otherwise solve with manual settings. This camera, however, doesn't offer manual settings because its likely owners aren't interested in fiddling with them. Add the Coolpix 4600's small size, solid construction and 3x optical zoom, and you have a camera that's worth considering if you're a casual snapshot photographer on a tight budget.
The Nikon Coolpix 4600's well designed, compact body is lightweight and easy to hold with one hand. Most of the buttons and controls cluster together on the back within easy reach of your right thumb. Lefties, however, will find it difficult to hold this camera with just the left hand. The clustered buttons and controls leave ample room on the back for the 46mm (1.8-inch) LCD screen. It's large enough to do the job, though you can find low-cost point-and-shoot cameras with larger screens, if that's important to you. The LCD shows you about 97 per cent of the image you'll capture, while the optical viewfinder provides only about 82 per cent coverage.
The menu selections on the Coolpix 4600 are almost identical to the ones on the 5600. Since the camera provides essentially no manual settings, and the setup options have a dedicated spot on the mode dial, the Nikon's menus contain a limited number of choices. That's a plus for beginners who might be confused by too many options. It's a minus, however, for experienced users who might want to explore the creative principles of photography.
Even an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera should have at least a few manual settings. The Nikon Coolpix 4600 is all automated, all the time -- except for the ability to adjust the exposure plus or minus 2EV and select a light source for the white balance. You can also set the white balance to match a white or grey object, such as a handkerchief or an industry-standard white-balance card. That's an unusual feature for a low-end model.
The camera's 16 shooting modes consist of Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Night Portrait assist modes, as well as 12 scene exposure modes, including Close Up, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Museum and Underwater, which you can use with an optional underwater housing. Those are more options than many point-and-shoot cameras offer, and they could help beginners feel more confident about producing quality results in difficult situations. The shooting modes help make up for the lack of manual settings, which you would need for just these kinds of challenges.
Other features include Blur Warning, which checks each photo immediately after it's captured. If it's too blurry, you can eliminate it before it's saved. A related feature, Best Shot Selector, lets you shoot as many as ten photos with a single press of the shutter-release button. The camera analyses the images and saves the sharpest one. Another useful feature, D-lighting, brightens photos that are too dark. It could come in handy for low-light, backlit or partially flash-illuminated images. Unfortunately, it also boosts visual noise, so you should use it sparingly.