Nikon Coolpix S3|
Thin, gorgeous and very cool
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
The Coolpix S3 is the kind of small, elegant camera I didn't necessarily expect from Nikon. Then again, Nikon is no longer just about SLRs and big, standard-size cameras chuck full of features. A couple of issues ago we included the very compact Coolpix 7900 into a roundup of 7-megapixel cameras and it won the "for beginners" category.
I can just see Nikon's product planners gather in a room to determine how to counter Casio's awesome S500. Knowing that it was going to be hard to beat Casio in the features and slender-hightech-elegance department, the boys decided to make their ultra-slim look just as small from the front (it's a bit smaller, actually), make it just as light (almost, at a feathery 4.8 ounces all included it misses the Casio by just a tenth of an ounce), trump it in resolution (6 megapixel versus 5) and display size (2.5 inches versus 2.2), and go for a classy matte-black look versus the Casio's sexy orangy-red. That left thickness where no one seems able to compete with Casio and Sony. So Nikon conceded there (0.8 versus 0.63 inches) but gave the Coolpix S3 a fully internal 3X zoom that many consumers might prefer to the Casio's big telescopic lens barrel.
I don't know if anything like that took place, but the two cameras sure compete for the same space and discretionary income in your pocket.
Even though the S3 is very small and handy, it feels more substantial than the Casio that always seems to serve as a gauge for all the others. It can't be the weight as that's about the same, so it must be the slightly thicker body and the more traditional controls of the Coolpix. Whereas the Casio is stylized and minimalistic to the max, the Nikon has all the usual buttons and controls, and also the usual mix of text and various color icons. It's all nicely visible on the matte-black body that is also almost immune to smears and fingerprints. The large 2.5-inch LCD is appreciated, and needed as there is no optical viewfinder. The menus are fairly clear and you can even switch between text and icons. The button markings are a bit busy and you often have to study them before you perform an operation.
Like most cameras in this class, the Coolpix S3 is essentially a point & shooter. There is no manual mode, but you sure have your selection of "scene" modes, no fewer than 18. And many scene modes have sub-selections. Portrait mode, for example, gives you a choice of seven variations--like person to the left, person to the right, face priority, couples, etc.--and for each variation you can call up a description. In a Nikon I'd probably prefer a bit of manual control instead of all those scene mode permutations, but this is what this class is all about.
The S3 lets you record up to 20 seconds of sound annotation to each picture, and you can also use the camera as an unlimited voice recorder. Playback volume is very low.
The S3 can take 640 x 480 movies with sound, and you can zoom in during recording but not during playback. The Coolpix offers a time-lapse movie mode where the camera takes pictures in intervals between 30 seconds and an hour. This means you can record flowers opening and closing or other interesting things. Since the S3 needs its cradle for charging or connecting to a PC, you can't really mount it on a tripod and record large interval movies because the battery won't last.
In our image quality tests, the Nikon scored quite high, but had a bit of a hit-or-miss tendency. Some pictures turned out very well, with good contrast and good detail even up close, but others didn't fare so well. This is a camera that wants you to know it and its features for best performance.
Not so much:
- Small, light, and attractive
- Fully internal 3X optical zoom
- Nifty scene modes with sub-modes
- Buttons and icons are a bit busy
- Not many features
- Somehow feels thicker than it is