The compact Nikon Coolpix 5900 mostly provides the features you'd expect: a 38mm-to-114mm (35mm-camera equivalent) 3x zoom lens that focuses down to 40mm in macro mode, as well as 256-segment matrix, centre-weighted and spot metering with shutter speeds between 4 seconds and 1/2,000 second and apertures of either f/2.8 or f/4.9. This almost strictly automatic camera has no aperture- or shutter-priority modes, manual exposure or manual focus.
Dig deeper, though, and you'll find a good selection of moderately cool features. For example, press the OK button while in programmed exposure mode, and you can shift the autofocus zone to any of 99 different positions in a 9-by-11 matrix clustered around the centre two-thirds of the image. You can also tell the Nikon Coolpix 5900 to meter from this manually selected focus zone, which provides a modicum of control over spot metering.
Face-Priority Autofocus, introduced with the most recent batch of Nikon point-and-shoots, fixes on human faces to make focusing easier when shooting individual or small-group candids. You can also choose between continuous and single autofocus to accommodate both fast-moving and static subjects.
This model offers bountiful scene modes, with 12 conventional options ranging from Party/Indoor to Night Landscape to Underwater (for use with Nikon's optional underwater housing). Assist modes provide onscreen framing guides for panoramas, landscapes and several portrait configurations. Special assist options help with sports and night portraits. A three-shot automatic-bracketing option is available for both exposure and white balance, along with tweaks including noise reduction, sharpening, saturation and contrast.
We also liked the Coolpix 5900's automated postshot lifesavers. The camera can monitor your pictures as they are taken and offer to erase those it deems blurry -- which should be your cue for a reshoot. The Best Shot Selector takes as many as ten pictures consecutively but saves only the sharpest one. Activate the D-Lighting feature, and the camera lightens inky shadows for you and saves the salvaged shot as a new file.
Like its predecessor, the Nikon Coolpix 5900 has an optional five-shot-buffer continuous-shooting option that cranks off photos as long as you keep the shutter release pressed. It retains only the last five pictures you take -- an advantage when you don't know the exact timing of a critical moment in an action sequence.
With the camera set to Auto ISO, the built-in speed light provides illumination out to 4.5m -- a decent range for such a compact model. In addition to the usual preflash, the camera has internal processing that uses built-in search-and-destroy algorithms to snuff out red-eye.
Like the Nikon Coolpix 7900, this model captures smooth 640x480-pixel, 30fps minimovies, but it lacks its stablemate's novel movie-mode electronic vibration reduction.