You can select from four automatic exposure options or use the built-in meter to set exposure manually. Auto choices include a 256-segment matrix, centre-weighted, or spot exposure, as well as an option that uses the current autofocus region to calculate exposure. Exposures are set using the optimum aperture, and shutter speeds range from eight seconds to 1/3,000 second in manual as well as shutter- or aperture-priority modes but are limited to no more than 2 seconds in Auto and Program modes. You can fine-tune the camera's calculated exposure by ±2EV in 1/3EV increments.
If you're handing the camera to a neophyte and want to avoid lengthy explanations, there are 15 scene modes suitable for just about every snapshooting situation, including Portraits, Party/Indoor, Night Portraits, Beach/Snow, Landscape, Sunset, Night Landscape, Museum, Fireworks, Close-Up, Copy, Back Light, Panorama Assist, Sports, and Dusk/Dawn.
Sports photographers and others annoyed by wimpy flash units will appreciate the 8400's Speedlight options. Serious flash shooters will want to consider Nikon's versatile external flash units, which slide into the flash shoe or can be linked with a cable for extra power. The 8400 can control these units's zooming flash-head capabilities.
Nikon's Best Shot Selector lets you shoot multiple exposures but automatically chooses and saves only the best one, using varying criteria. For example, standard Best Shot mode can crank out ten shots in a row, examine them for sharpness, and save the one with the most detail. Or you can command the camera to evaluate a series of images and preserve the one with the most highlight or shadow detail or the best overall exposure. There's also an autobracketing feature that will bracket exposure or white balance and save three or five variations for you to choose from later on.
Another way to hedge your bets is to use the five-shot-buffer routine, which lets you take pictures continually at 0.7fps but saves only the last five when you release the shutter button. This is a useful feature for action shots of events where you're unsure when the peak moment might occur.
Movie capabilities include capture of 640x480-pixel clips at 30fps for up to 60 seconds or, if you're looking for longer sequences, at 320x240 pixels and 15fps to the capacity of your memory card. Other motion options let you shoot at 5fps at 320x240 pixels for an old-time movie look or in time-lapse mode to grab more than 1,000 shots using five preset intervals ranging from 1 to 60 minutes. While some other digital cameras offer more flexibility in choosing intervals, Nikon's settings suffice for your average flower-blooming sequence.
In-camera editing includes an option to reduce full-resolution images to 640x480 pixels or smaller when you need a compact shot for e-mailing. Theres also a faux fill-flash feature called D-Lighting to brighten shadows.
Like the 8800, this Coolpix has an extraordinary ultra-high-speed burst mode, which can slice about 3 seconds of time into 100 wafer-thin segments at a 30fps clip. The resulting shots are distinctly low in resolution at 640x480 pixels but quite adequate for analysing your child's bowling arm or penalty kick. Low-speed burst shooting at full resolution produced 11 shots in just less than 11 seconds and five images in 1.8 seconds in 640x480-resolution high-speed burst mode.
Other performance figures ranged all over the map. Wake-up time to first shot was an average 4.8 seconds, and shot-to-shot times without flash were decent at 2.9 seconds but below average at 6.9 seconds when the flash was turned on. The Nikon Coolpix 8400 matched the 8800 in unimpressive shot-to-shot times for TIFF (21 seconds) and raw images (9.2 seconds). Shutter lag was better than average at 0.6 second under high-contrast lighting and just 1.1 seconds under more challenging low-contrast lighting conditions, thanks to the autofocus-assist LED.
However, the Nikon Coolpix 8400 did a good job of zapping red-eye. Because the built-in flash is located closer to the lens than on the 8800, shooting people with the red-eye reduction switched off almost guaranteed blazing orange pupils. With red-eye reduction activated, however, demon eyes were virtually eliminated under the same shooting conditions.
Edited by Lori Grunin
Additional editing by: Michael Parsons