The camera with a twist, but no shake, is stirred by Duncan Evans
Based on the classic Nikon CoolPix twisting barrel and body design from the very early days of digital photography, the S10 marries a 10x optical zoom with silvery, stylish good looks.
- 6Mp resolution
- 10x Zoom-Nikkor lens, covering 38-380mm (35mm equivalent)
- Advanced Vibration Reduction (VR)
- 2.5" LCD monitor
- Swivel body
- Face-priority AF
- 16Mb internal memory
- In-Camera Red-Eye Fix
- Movie recording with sound at 30fps
- 15 scene modes
The twisty-barrel CoolPix have always been aimed at those who wanted a compact camera and a bit more. In this case the more part is the 10x optical zoom enabling close up shots from afar. Marry that to the pocket-sized convenience and a healthy 6Mp resolution and for £299 you have a camera for the compact elite.
Modes and features
Featuring the same menu system as the Nikon S7c, which was reviewed recently, the S10 could be plagued with just as many control problems and yet, it all works better. Let''''s start with the top with the on/off button. This is recessed, but it''''s much larger than that on the S7c so that it''''s easier to activate. It would be easier still if it was raised mind you. The fire button is raised and a decent size, while next to this is the zoom control. This is a rocker switch and has a solid left-right action so that zooming in and out is fast and easy. It goes in steps mind you, so very precise adjustments aren''''t possible.
On the back of the camera is the 2.5in LCD monitor which is bright in all but the sunniest conditions. Above it are the control buttons and a stubby thumb navigation button within a circular selection of options. The control buttons are just the same as on the S7c, which are delete, menu, mode and playback. However, being right next to each other makes them slightly more convenient. The whole menu system though, as before, is flawed, in that accessing features has to be learnt, rather than being intuitive. To select a certain landscape mode for example, requires the mode button, then the menu button, then the thumb button pressing.
Surrounding the thumb button are flash, timer and macro options, but it is still impossible to activate macro mode if in something like landscape mode. Instead, the menu system much be navigated first. However, one flaw of the S7c – that the flash automatically went into Auto mode, when the picture was changed, even including macro mode, doesn''''t happen now.
In the main shooting menu, there are options for exposure compensation, which shows a live preview on screen, white balance – six choices plus auto, focussing, ISO – starting at a quality ISO50, colour options and the AF area mode. This is the point in the middle of the screen where the camera focusses, and also weights the metering. By selecting manual, the focus point can be simply moved around with the thumb button, if in regular shooting mode but not any of the picture modes. The picture modes themselves cover all the usual suspects with 15 choices, some of which are subdivisions. So, there''''s not an awful lot of choice, and they don''''t come with example pictures which other cameras do.
However, that isn''''t really an issue because the USPs of this camera are the twistable barrel design and the 10x optical zoom. To help keep picture in focus when at the end of that long zoom, the VR function stabilises the image. The S10 also has the happy face recognition and processing mode. Both buttons for these are on the lens barrel.
Build and handling
The body is a silvery plastic, with chrome plastic bits on the top and sides, yet it retains a pleasant and solid feel. The ability to rotate the lens about allows for picture taking in all kinds of awkward places and makes the camera very flexible. However, the one fly in the ointment of the almighty zoom is that the screw thread on the bottom of the camera is positioned too close to the lens. This means that when the camera is mounted on a tripod the lens can''''t move from its default position. It has to be moved first, then screwed onto the tripod. If you forget, it''''s annoying. Other than that, the camera is well made and fits neatly into a pocket.
|Flash options |
The flash is built in and offers options for auto control, red eye reduction, regular flash and night time portrait flash which combine the flash with a long exposure for ambient light. Red eye reduction is quite important, because the flash is on the barrel – it couldn''''t be anywhere else – with the lens. Being close together means that red eye is inevitable with standard flash. So, red eye reduction, which bombards the poor victim with countless spikes of light, is essential. The only problem is that there is so much of it, that the subject is quite likely to be blinking by the time the shutter fires.
Standard flash leads to red eye because the flash unit is right next to the lens. Red eye reduction mode fires so many spikes the subject is often blinking in the shot.
The big question with a camera that sports a 10x zoom is how good is the quality at the telephoto end of it. The answer is that it''''s pretty decent. You cannot expect the quality to be fantastic from a big zoom in a compact camera, but all too often it''''s very soggy and camera shake can be a real problem. When testing the camera the light was appalling being hazy and diffuse, which would make long zoom shots harder. The S10 produces images that are sharper than to be expected while the Vibration Reduction mode enables shots to be made using lower ISOs and slower shutter speeds. The quality of a VR shot appears to be slightly less than that of a non-VR shot, but will enable you to get pictures where a really noisy ISO is that alternative.
With the VR off the camera has to increase the ISO rating to keep the shutter speed up, to avoid getting camera shake.
With the VR system on, the picture is slightly softer, but it means the ISO is lower and there is less noise.
|The zoom isn''''t fast on an initial press, but once moving, it shoots through to maximum quickly enough. Strangely enough, more problems occur at the other end of the scale. The field of view in wide angle mode is 38mm, which may not sound much different from the standard 35mm, but it does make wide angle shots in limited space harder to get. || |
The sharpness at the end of the 10x optical zoom is commendable, and the VR system has enabled the shot to be captured at 1/16sec. It is, however, overexposed.
That''''s a minor point, but of more concern is the colour fringing. This is a problem courtesy of a combination of lens and firmware, under harsh white lighting. The camera had a real tendency to not only surround verticals with a purple glaze, but also shadow areas, any abrupt transition from dark to light, and most worryingly, anything from white to another colour. This was evident at wide-angle and telephoto angles.
The landscape test shows a good level of sharpness throughout, with only the bridge getting soft. The metering is biased towards the ground, which is why the sky is white. What is a concern is the purple fringing around anything that is white.
The autofocus wasn''''t either fast or tenacious and the macro mode struggled where other compacts would be able to focus easily. The metering is generally good, being weighted, on landscape pictures, for the land so that exposure compensation is required to bring the sky in. However, colour accuracy is very good, as long as the tendency to cover everything in shadow in a magenta cast is avoided. It makes the camera very good for portrait shots.
This is a macro mode shot of a leaf swaying in the breeze. The VR system struggled to get a sharp picture here.
With the flash turned on, the background rapidly disappears, and aside from the glare off a water droplet, this is a far better result.
The colours are fairly vivid, but very accurate, with only a slight influence of magenta in the dark blue colour. Other than than, the primaries and mixtures of colour are very good.
The underside of this arch could easily be too dark, but the metering has exposed for it, leaving the sky to bleach out. The purple fringing around the sky areas is not unexpected, but there is a magenta cast to the entire picture as well.
While quite soft, thanks to low light, there is a little noise in the shadow areas, but the colours remain good throughout, rendering good portrait tones.
The selling points of this camera are the flexibility of the design and the powerful zoom. Neither of these will let prospective purchasers down, but anyone looking for a more general camera will be disappointed by the image quality overall and the problematic flash. The VR system is something that a big zoom really needs if in poor lighting condition, but it is hardly infallible so a few shots are generally required, rather than assuming it will have worked. It does help keep the ISO rating down, which is a good idea. While ISO800 images are noisy, they retain detail and sharpness. So, one for the person who like to get close to the action and wants a pocket-sized camera, but not for everyone else.