Nikon Coolpix 5700 severe underexposure problems when using flash

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by All Things Mopar, Oct 26, 2004.

  1. Hi, All!

    I bought a new Nikon 5700 in late July to replace my older
    Fuji 4900. I bought the 5700 to replace the Fuji expecting

    sharper images with less noise, which it does do well. I
    didn't have the budget for a DSLR and lenses. I chose Nikon
    on the advice from friends who are serious amateur and pro
    photographers with digitals who knew my requirements for
    price, mega pixels, etc.

    The 5700 produces excellent results outdoors with bright or
    cloudy light, but flash performance is quite variable and

    often poor. Examples of the poor pictures I got are posted

    I collect automobile pictures for a hobby, both digital
    camera and scans. Much of the time, I am outdoors at cars

    shows and city streets taking pictures some people call
    "street shooting", but I also frequent large museums such as

    the Henry Ford Museum and the Walter P. Chrysler Museum,
    both in Michigan.

    Because I want to shoot car pictures in museum settings, I
    need more range than is provided by the 5700's built-in

    Speedlight, so I bought a Vivitar 728 external flash with a
    guide number of 92 at ISO 100.

    The Vivitar 728 is an ordinary "dumb" electronic flash in
    that it has *no* set-uo or zoom or any options. It's only

    purpose is to pour a lot of light onto the subject. I
    verified at the camera store where I bought it that it could

    synch up with my 5700's hot shoe and fire either by itself
    or with Nikon's Speedlight, depending on how I have it


    About 1/3 of the time, my flash pictures with either the
    Vivitar or Nikon Speedlight are quite good. Another 1/3 are

    underexposed by maybe 2 f/stops but are easily fixable in my
    favorite editor, Jasc's Paint Shop Pro 9. The remainder

    are 4-6 f/stops under and look like the proverbial black cat
    in a coal bin.

    Virtually all camera set-up functions are factory-standard,
    so there is little chance I have messed up the operation

    of the camera's auto exposure electronics or any other
    pertinent parameter. You can see some of this in the EXIF

    of my attached example pictures. If you would like me to
    list key components of my set-up, please advise which ones

    you want to verify.

    I requested help from Nikon's Tech Support. After asking the
    obligatory newbie questions, they basically have said

    "that's the way it works". Of course, they won't even talk
    about my Vivitar because I wouldn't pop the $280 for a

    Nikon external flash.

    I've also sent about 20 example images straight from the
    camera to . Again, I got stonewalled on

    the Vivitar and lots of dumb questions. It is not nearly
    resolved yet, and I haven't heard from Nikon since my last

    E-mail to them last Friday night.

    As to the Vivitar, their only recommendation was to shoot in
    full manual mode using the 92 guide number.

    The other suggestion was the vary the Speedlight control
    called Variable Power. You will see from the pictues I've

    posted to a binary group that I've tried the max VP value
    with contiuing poor results.

    My previous digital, a FujiFilm 4900 from early 2001,
    manages pretty well in museum environments even though I

    used its built-in pop-up flash unit. Ditto for my wife's
    little $150 Kodak 6330. Neither produce "good" results, but

    exposures are OK and very consistant.

    The "bad" images I take with either the Nikon Speedlight or
    the Vivitar are underexposed by 4-6 or more f/stops. They

    *can* be fixed in PSP 9, but with much higher edit times
    than well-exposed images, plus, digital noise is problematic

    from the increased amplification of the 5700's electronics
    trying to retain detail in the image. The noise is often

    impossible to correct without destroying the sharpness and
    detail of my car pictures.

    Here is what I've done so far to relieve my problem:

    Read the 5700 manual thoroughly, several times. Read the
    Vivitar external flash manual thoroughly, several times.

    Called Nikon Tech Support on 1-800-645-6689 twice. Contacted
    Vivitar Tech Support - they said "our flash has no

    options - talk to Nikon, it is their problem". Experimented
    extensively with various settings on my camera (putting

    them back to "default" when I was done so as not to create a
    problem through user error). And, consulted with digital

    photographer experts who are Cyber friends of mine on PSP's
    user forums. Nothing has helped so far.

    As best I've been able to tell from reading the manual and
    talking to Nikon Tech Support, metering when using either

    the built-in Speedlight or an external flash of any brand
    besides Nikon is controlled exclusively by the light sensor

    on top of the flip-up speed light. To confirm this, I tested
    changing my auto exposure mode from Matrix to Spot

    without improvement.

    The Nikon Tech Support reps I talked to, although well-
    trained, patient, and thorough, could not explain to me

    exactly how the 5700 determines exposure when using flash of
    any kind, and suggested I include that in my E-mail to


    At the suggestion of Nikon Tech Support, I have also
    experimented at the WPC Museum by changing both exposure

    compensation (the +/- button next to the shutter release)
    and varying the Variable Power setting of the Speed light

    in Set-up. When pictures are properly exposed, they are
    definitely brighter with Variable Power set to 1 or 2, but

    that did *not* improve the severe underexposure I've seen in
    so many of my pictures. Ditto for exposure compensation.

    I thought I might have figured out what was causing my flash
    exposure underexposure inconsistency by noting the it

    often occurres with dark subjects and/or when there was
    something in the field-of-view that was very light colored

    and would reflect a large amount of flash light to the
    Speedlight sensor. But I have confirmed that this is *not*

    always the case.

    I've posted a 9 of example JPEGs straight from the camera
    that exhibit the problems I'm describing to with the sugject line Nikon problem #x,
    and a description of the particular image.

    Hopefully with my explanation and these example pictures,
    you may be able to diagnose my problem and recommend a

    change in my procedures to get more reliable results.

    I did not post the "good" and "almost good" pictures but the
    subject distances and ambient lighting is equivalent to

    the "problem" pictures. If it would help anyone reading this
    post, I can easily post additional pics to

    In conclusion, I can neither prove nor disprove that I have
    a technical problem with my 5700. Nothing that Nikon Tech

    Support has said so far suggests that it is broken. So far,
    Nikon is still hung up on some sort of user error, which

    is entirely possible. IMHO, if the 5700 flash system were
    broke, I'd get bad results all the time, not the

    variability I'm seeing.

    I would appreciate anyone's advice as to 1) what I might be
    doing wrong, and 2) what I might do to correct it.

    Thank you in advance for any help.
    All Things Mopar, Oct 26, 2004
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