UPDATE: In mid-2012, the lens cover became stuck, and wouldn’t open all the way. By fall, the camera was exhibiting other issues as well, such as turning off suddenly during use, failing to take a picture when the shutter button was pressed, etc. Since this was our second consecutive CoolPix to fail just after a year of light use, we’ve switched brands. Our next compact will be a Canon PowerShot.
As mentioned on my other blog, my wife and I recently ordered and received a Nikon Coolpix S6100, replacing our defunct Coolpix P60.
It should be noted that our primary cameras are digital SLRs, the Canon 350D and 400D (Rebel XT and XTi, respectively). Almost all my images, including the one above, are taken with one of our Canon DSLRs. I believe full manual control, the ability to switch lenses, much larger sensors, a flash hot shoe, the ability to shoot raw, and other characteristics of DSLRs make them indispensable for anyone serious about photography.
(8 more images after the jump)
But we always keep a compact camera (“pocket camera”) on hand for those occasions when it’s not convenient or not allowed to use a DSLR. For many moments, I’d rather have a low-quality picture rather than no image at all.
After a few days of mild normal-use testing (as opposed to extensive scientific testing), we’re pleased with this purchase. Following are a few of my initial impressions.
* Sensor: 16 megapixels (1/2.3″ CCD)
* Lens: 7x optical zoom (5-35mm, equivalent to 28-200mm)
* LCD: 3-inch touch screen (460k dpi)
* Video: 1280×720 HD Video W/Stereo Sound (.mov format)
* ISO: manual control from 80 to 3200 (or auto-ISO)
* Auto-focus: face detection and subject tracking
* Macro: minimum focus distance as close as 1.2″
* Image stabilization: yes
* Shutter speed: 4 – 1/2000 seconds (auto only)
* Exposure compensation: -2EV to +2EV (in 1/3 stops)
* Self-timer: 2 sec. or 10 sec.
* Built-in flash: yes
* Hot shoe: no
* Memory: SD, SDHC, SDXC
* Battery: rechargeable lithium-ion pack
What I Don’t Like
I’ll list the downsides first, to get them out of the way.
First, I don’t like the touch screen controls. More accurately, I don’t like the lack of physical buttons for the menu and settings. I realize touch-screens are the current fad (and possibly the way of the future), but I prefer actual buttons. My fingers are thick, so I’m forced to use the included plastic stylus in order to access any settings on this camera.
Second, when recording video, the auto-focus apparently is disabled by default. Even when using the “full-time auto-focus video” setting, you’ll lose focus when you zoom in to a subject. This is poor design. Even cheap digital cameras ten years ago could auto-focus when zooming during a video.
Third, the plastic door that reveals the computer connection port and the battery charging port (they’re the same port) doesn’t open wide enough. I have to force it wider in order to plug in the charging cable. I’m guessing this door will be the first thing to break on this camera.
Fourth, as with many compact digital cameras, this one doesn’t have a hot shoe. But you have to double the price to get one that has a hot shoe. I realize camera-makers don’t offer this in order to keep the size/weight to a minimum, but I still think it should be standard on even the smallest cameras.
Fifth, the video format is .mov. That might not bother you, but it bothers me. Instead of sticking with a standardized video format, Nikon chose to go with a proprietary one that requires Apple’s Quick Time software, one of the most offensive and annoying pieces of software I’ve ever used (and one that I permanently uninstalled years ago). Fortunately, I was able to find freeware software that will play .mov videos without the annoying qualities of Quick Time.
Lastly, the “digital zoom”. Camera-makers have been including this “feature” for more than a decade now, but it’s worse than useless. It’s useless because it’s no better than cropping and enlarging during post-processing. It’s worse, because it fools users into thinking their camera has better zoom than it does. By definition, “zoom” is a function of the lens, and the term shouldn’t be used for an in-camera crop/enlarge function. We always disable this function as soon as we buy a compact camera.
What I Like
I like that this camera comes in various colors. I know, it’s a petty thing, but the black-only choice for DSLRs gets pretty boring. As pictured above, we ordered the “violet” version of this camera.
Despite my complaint above about the lack of physical buttons on the camera, I do like that you can hold the camera without touching a bunch of buttons. (Some older compacts had so many buttons spread out over the back and top of the body that you could barely hold them.)
The face-detection auto-focus works well. When you press the shutter halfway, the camera automatically detects any faces in the frame, and focuses on the closest one. If there are no faces, it detects objects within view and focuses correctly. Sure, I’d prefer a little more control over where the focus lands, but that’s not the point of compact cameras.
The zoom range is just about right. Some compacts don’t go wide enough for my tastes and some don’t go long enough. As noted above, this camera goes from (equivalent) 28mm to about 200mm, which is a very nice range for photography. On my 1.6x crop-sensor DSLRs, this is the same field of view I get with my 18-125mm Sigma lens, which is my favorite all-purpose lens.
The image at left is fully wide, while the right one is fully zoomed. The camera and subjects were at the same distance for both shots, and neither image has been edited in any way. In the left image, you can see quite a bit of foreground (my pasty white legs) as well as the surroundings. In the right image, you can see only the subject. It’s nice to have this choice.
Two more for zoom comparison:
This time, the camera was much further from the subjects. The left image shows almost the entire swimming pool, the fence, and the neighborhood in the background. The right image shows only the out-of-shape white guy and his beautiful daughter.
I also like the color rendition, which is something I’ve always liked about Nikon compact cameras. Whether outdoors, or indoors without flash, the colors seem very accurate.
The above image depicts our living room. The camera chose 1/8 as the shutter speed and ISO400. Combined with vibration reduction, the image came out clearly and with extremely accurate color.
However, when using flash indoors, I found the color cast to be off ever so slightly (but still close enough for general use). Some images came very close, like the example below, while others were much too “warm” in appearance.
This camera also offers manual control of ISO sensitivity, up to 3200. Here’s an example at ISO3200:
I wouldn’t recommend using it; the noise-reduction software makes the resulting image look pretty crappy. But there are times when ISO3200 can allow you to get an image that you couldn’t otherwise capture. Again, the vibration reduction helped stabilize this image, which was shot in very low light at 1/30 second.
This is the camera we expected it to be. It takes sharp, clear, perfectly colored images when used outdoors or in great light. The HD video offered is a step above our last compact camera (as long as we don’t do a lot of zooming when using video) and will greatly compliment our camcorder for videoing aspects of our lives.
It’s small and light so we can take it anywhere. The flash can be disabled for use in museums or other situations where flash isn’t allowed.
If I need absolute control of my images or require off-camera flash, I’ll use one of my DSLR bodies. But this camera will help fill in the gaps nicely. The downsides are few and mostly expected, so they don’t worry us much.
(For my own reference: purchased this camera June 2011 from B&H.)