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First make sure the lens is clean. Now set the dial to P mode. Hold down the flower button for a few seconds and the camera will go into "super macro" mode - keep watching the screen or the viewfinder until this happens. You might also feel the zoom resetting itself. You can now go right up to the subject, literally almost touching it - be careful not to damage the lens by hitting the subject!
I think in normal macro mode 4" is too close.
Barring a malfunction with your len's autofocusing mechanism, the problem that you're experiencing is likely due to the limitations of the camera's focusing / zoom range in Macro mode.
You didn't say what ranges you were shooting from but basically, in order to get proper focus, you must first make sure you're within the proper lens to subject distance for the macro mode that you've chosen.
There are two macro modeson the S5, Macro and Super Macro. Macro shooting is done only within the ranges of 3.9 inches to 1.6 feet from your subject. SuperMacro mode (which is entered into by simply pressing the Macro button for one second) will only focus within the ranges of 0 inches to 3.9 inches. So if you are in either of these modes and stray from their focusing ranges, your camera won't focus properly.
Another issue that you may be dealing with is the very limited zoom range in Macro/Super Macro Modes. The zoom is basically meant to be set toward the maximum wide angle end of the zoom range. There is a yellow indicator bar below the Zoom Bar in the viewfinder that indicates the Out-Of-Zoom range in which the zoom basically can't be used. As you may see, only the first 10% or so of the zoom range is useable.
It might be that you could possibly be wavering in and out of the two macro mode focusing ranges and/or zooming into the Out-Of-Range zone during your session. Either can cause a similar effect such as you are describing. It's hard to say without actually being there.
To test this out I would simply set my camera on a tripod or other stand at a known fixed distance from the subject, set the camera to the macro mode indicated by that distance (either MACRO or SUPERMACRO), zoom out to the widest focal length and take the shot to see if it is clear or not.
If so, your camera probably has no problem. If it is still not focusing properly you might want to send it into the service center for a diagnostic. There is no charge to diagnose a problem with your camera and if nothing is found to be wrong you will only be out of the shipping charges spent to send the camera in to the service center. If a repair is needed, it can be done at that time.
The Macro Mode (flower icon button) operating range of the D-595 Zoom camera is 8 inches to 20-inches. This means the camera must be between 8 inches and 20 inches away from the subject for a picture to be in focus when the optical zoom is at it’s greatest wide-angle. The Super-Macro Mode allows you to shoot with the camera as close as 1-inch from the subject. See page 41 of the Advanced Manual in PDF format which is on a separate CD.
The Macro Mode (flower icon / up (^) arrow key) operating range of the D-545 Zoom camera is 8 inches to 20 inches. This means the camera must be between 8 inches and 20 inches away from the subject for a picture to be in focus when the optical zoom is at it’s greatest wide-angle. The Super-Macro Mode allows you to shoot with the camera as close as 1-inch from the subject.
The built-in Speedlight on many Nikon cameras is designed to be a convenient way to either light up a dark subject or to add fill light to a daytime scene. The built-in Speedlight cannot replace a full size, external speedlight which should be used when more power or coverage are needed.
Because the built-in Speedlight is compact and close to the camera it cannot be used under all conditions. When using a lens that is physically very long, a subject that is very close, or a wide lens hood it is possible that a shadow may be cast upon the subject. Notice, in the sample below, the round shadow in the bottom center of the photo.
When the lens is too long or the coverage is too wide with a close subject a shadow of the lens itself is cast. In figure "A" below the lens is casting a shadow. Switching (or zooming) to a shorter lens (figure "B") prevents the shadow and allows even illumination.
If your lens, subject, or lens hood choice create a shadow, an external flash (either on the camera's hot-shoe or connected to the camera by a wire or wirelessly) should be used to fully light the subject.