Sunday, April 15, 2007

Nikon Coolpix S10 digital Camera Review

Communicator's Toolbox

A great gadget feeling

By Scott Bury

Nikon has a terrific new camera for serious amateur photographers and professional communicators in the Coolpix S10. It offers high, 6-megapixel resolution in a compact form, along with a host of features that make capturing great shots easy. It’s fast, flexible and has a new, lower price of $399 CDN or $350 US. Overall, it could be a champion in its category.
Basic data:
Size: 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.8 in.; 97 x 61 x 45 mm
Weight: 7.8 oz/220 g, without battery, lens cap or memory card
Resolution: 6.0 million pixels
CCD: 6.18 million total pixels
Lens: glass Nikkor 10x zoom; 6.3-63 mm; 35 mm format; f/3.5; digital zoom up to 4x
LDC monitor: 2.5-inch, 230,000 dot TFT, 170 degree wide viewing angle
Price: $399.95 CDN SRP

There’s a definite gadget appeal to the Nikon Coolpix S10 digital camera that comes from moving parts. Rather than just having a tiny viewing monitor come out on a sort of cantilever from the body, the body is actually divided into two connected parts. The lens section takes up the right-hand third, and swivels 270 degrees; the main part of the body holds the view-screen, shutter and power buttons and other controls. I just couldn’t help playing with that, rotating the body and lens around.
There are real, practical advantages to this design, of course. You can adjust the viewing angle for the viewfinder so you have a clear image however you’re shooting, You can shoot from chest level, for instance, rather than eye level, without having to bend down. Or you can hold the camera overhead to shoot over crowds, and still see the image you’re capturing. And when you close the camera a swivel the body flat, it’s a nice compact shape that fits into your pocket. Nikon has used this design in a number of models for the past seven years or so.
The lens cap is also a simple mechanical device: a round piece of plastic attached with a hinge to a plastic ring that fits around the lens housing. Most consumer-level digital cameras have a motorized lens cover that opens when you turn the power on; you have to flip the lens cap off yourself. It’s a bit flimsy; it popped off when I was shooting outdoors, at Ottawa’s Winterlude festival, and I was lucky to find that gray piece of plastic in the slush.
Other important features include
• VR Vibration Reduction image stabilization to reduce camera shake, especially at long zoom lengths
• Extended light sensitivity to ISO 800
• In-camera red-eye adjustment
• face-priority auto-focus
• D-Lighting feature to lighten dark image areas in the camera
• Pictomotion ™ software for creating slide shows with music in the camera
• USB and Pictbridge compatibility

Using the Coolpix S10
The most important measure to any camera is how good the results are. At 6 megapixels, the S10 has very good resolution for a “prosumer” camera, and even good for some professional use, although if you really need to crop and enlarge your photos, you may not have quite enough pixels for a sharp picture.
The 10x zoom, plus the 4x digital zoom, gives you even more flexibility. This is a long zoom in a compact camera, which makes it prone to vibration or any kind of motion at the extreme enlargement. That’s why Nikon’s image stabilization feature, which they call “Vibration Reduction” or VR, is so important. Anyone who’s tried a long zoom with a larger camera and ended up with blurry shots knows how important a stabilization function is.
The camera also features an “auto rotation” function, so that if you turn the camera 90 degrees for a portrait-format shot (longer than wide), the image in the view-screen rotates, too, so you’re looking at a preview that’s right-side up.
The 10x zoom is double the range of the Coolpix L5 compact camera, and the VR function really works well. Take a look at the photos of deer, which I shot in the greenbelt near my house. (Really — walking distance from my house, you can get really close to a herd of deer.)

These pictures show another advantage of this camera: the increased light sensitivity, to ISO 800. This improves the image results in low-light situations. This is important because, particularly for those of us who aren’t professional photographers, it’s often hard to know when the light level is low for a camera. It’s easy to get bright, sharp shots outdoors on a sunny day, but indoors, or at the end of the afternoon, when light is fading gradually, the amount of available light is often deceiving.
The S10 gave me excellent results in both these situations. The deer were shot in late afternoon in winter, when the sun was below tree level. There was a fair amount of light reflecting from the snow, but the amount of light that’s actually shining on the subject is not great. As you can see, the S10 deals with that challenge very nicely.
At 2.5 inches, the S10’s viewing screen is large for a compact camera. It’s easy to see the images you’ve taken, and it gives you a good idea of the overall image quality.

The S10 has very few shortcomings, but there is one that bothered me: the menu is difficult to use.
Probably as part of the effort to make a quality camera as compact as possible, Nikon has put only a few buttons on the body. The power, shutter button and the rocker switch that controls the zoom are all on the top of the body. They’re a little awkward to use, compared to some digital cameras I’ve used.
On the back of the body are four more buttons: trash, to delete unwanted shots; menu, which activates the on-screen menu; mode, which also opens the menus to select video, still shot, portrait and other image capture modes; and the Playback for viewing captured pictures and videos. There’s also a joystick for navigating through the menus and selecting options. The menus need some rethinking — the camera requires too many steps to do something as simple as switching between camera and video modes. Most cameras have a single button to switch between video and still modes, including Nikon’s Coolpix L5 (reviewed in February). Why doesn’t this one? Making other choices, especially more complex things like enhancing the photos, seem to have a lot of unnecessary steps.
One other thing: like almost every other auto-focus camera, the S10 has a noticeable shutter lag of almost a second. This makes action shots almost impossible, and I couldn’t find an easy way to turn it off. In comparison to Kodak’s EasyShare v610, the Nikon Coolpix S10 takes slightly sharper images, but the Kodak is the first digital camera I’ve found with no shutter lag. That makes it preferable for most action-oriented applications — the kind of situations that the avid amateur and the business communicator who needs pictures for the website or the newsletter will be in.

Summing up
The Nikon Coolpix S10 is an excellent high-end amateur, compact digital camera with all the features needed by a serious amateur or a business communicator with limited training in photography: sharp image, long zoom, light enhancement, red-eye reduction and more. It’s very easy to transport and relatively easy to use, once you get used to the menus. And its new low price will no doubt add to its popularity.
If Nikon could perhaps simplify the menu structure, and come up with a sturdier lens cap, they’d have a champion camera with the S10.