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Nikon Coolpix S5 Digital Camera Review

Nikon Coolpix S5 Digital Camera Review - We take a look at whether the impressive styling of the Nikon Coolpix S5 compromises the excellent image quality and ease-of-use, for which Nikon Coolpix cameras have gained a reputation.

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Category : Compact Cameras
Product : Nikon Coolpix S5
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Nikon's latest addition to their stylish Coolpix S-series cameras sports an impressive 6 megapixel resolution in a camera not much more than a centimetre thick. In this review Gary Wolstenholme takes a look at whether the impressive styling compromises the excellent image quality and ease-of-use, for which Nikon Coolpix cameras have gained a reputation.

Nikon Coolpix S5Specification:
  • 6.0 megapixel resolution
  • 3x Zoom-Nikkor lens (35mm equivalent), covering the range of 35-105mm.
  • High resolution 2.5” LCD
  • One-Touch Portrait button
  • Auto image rotation
  • 15 scene modes
Build and handling
The design is very similar to many other credit card sized cameras. The main difference is the wave shaped contour of the front of the camera and the jog dial control system on the back. The wave shape means that the part you hold is actually the slimmest part. At first this can make the camera difficult to balance. I lost a few shots because my finger got in the way of the lens as I struggled to get a secure grip. As I grew more familiar with the minute proportions of the S5, handling became easier.

Nikon Coolpix S5The Nikon Coolpix S5 is about as compact as cameras with a 2.5inch screen can get, and because of this there is little space left on the camera for controls. A tiny recess is provided on the back to rest you thumb, and although I did find the controls fiddly at first, they are well located, making them easy to use once you get used to them.

Menus are navigated using the jog dial on the back of the camera. This can either be pressed in the direction you wish to select, or rotated to skip through menus quickly. I found this feature especially useful in playback mode where it makes skipping through large amounts of photos a pleasure.

The build quality is good, the camera feels solid and the buttons have a quality feel. An automatic shutter snaps back to protect the lens when the camera's switched off.

Display screen
Nikon Coolpix S5The large 2.5inch screen is protected by a hard plastic acrylic cover. While this improves durability, the surface is shiny and can makes it more difficult to see in bright sunlight.

In good light the screen displays a very clear, sharp image. As light levels drop, the quality of the live image deteriorates, becoming quite dark, noisy and fuzzy which can make focus confirmation more difficult than normal. In playback it's superb - pictures displayed are bright, sharp and colourful.

Auto focus
In most shooting modes the autofocus point is locked to the centre, images can then be recomposed by holding the shutter button half pressed as you move. This system is great for accurate composition of static subjects, but can be a hindrance for moving subjects when you wish to compose your shot with the subject off-centre.

Located on the top of the camera is the 'One touch portrait button'. Pressing this overrides whatever settings you may have selected and the automatic portrait scene mode is selected. This automatic mode uses Nikon's new 'Face-AF' technology. This mode aims to recognize faces in the frame, making focusing your people pictures a doddle. I tried and fool this system and couldn't manage it, unless the face was moving extraordinarily fast, or if the subject is located at the extreme edges of the image.

Battery life
On average I managed to get around 75-120 shots from a fully charged battery taking about a fifth of those with the built in flash. With this camera not having an optical viewfinder, the screen could not be turned off to prolong the battery life.

Menu and controls
The Coolpix S5 is bristling with different modes and menus, there's so much to choose from it can be quite difficult to know where to start!
Pressing the mode button, clearly with a blue 'M' symbol, brings up the main shooting menu. Here you have a choice from - auto, scene, portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, voice recording and movie. The on-screen interface is arranged in a circle which corresponds to the jog dial control. You simply rotate the dial to select the desired mode.

The 'shooting' mode is simply the standard auto mode. When the camera is set to default, all exposure settings are taken care of by the camera. Controls such as exposure compensation and white balance can be found by pressing the menu button.
Selecting 'scene' in the mode menu give you access to 11 different scene assist modes including, party/indoor, beach snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close up, museum, fireworks show, copy, back light and panorama assist. Simply select the scene mode that best describes the conditions you are shooting in and the camera will set the correct exposure.

Finally on the top of the camera is the 'one-touch portrait button'. This initiates the 'face priority AF' feature which detects faces in the frame. Pressing this button overrides all previous settings on the camera. To return the camera to how it was, simply press the one-touch portrait button again.

Zoom lens
The Coolpix S5 comes equipped with a 3x zoom lens giving an equivalent angle-of-view of approximately 35-105mm on a 35mm camera. Zoom operation is quick and precise making quick composition a breeze.

Macro Mode
The close up mode allows you to get within 4cm of your subject when the zoom lens is set to the macro 'sweet spot' marked by an arrow on the display. I found that as you get closer, the more the camera struggles to focus, often forcing me to move further back from the subject just to get it in focus.
Nikon Coolpix S5
The macro mode allows you to get very
close to your subject.
Nikon Coolpix S5
A crop of the image to the left, shown at
100% to show the level of detail captured.

Image Quality
There are three different image quality levels on this camera - Fine, Normal and Basic. All images in this review were taken on Fine and at maximum resolution, so that I could truly see what the camera is capable of producing.

The auto white balance setting performs very well, correcting colour casts in all but the most difficult conditions.

Images from the Nikon Coolpix S5 are generally very sharp and detailed and the matrix metering system copes very well under most circumstances, tending to expose for shadow detail in very high contrast situations.

Nikon Coolpix S5 Nikon Coolpix S5
Nikon Coolpix S5 Nikon Coolpix S5
These scenes have been well exposed by the matrix metering system. Plenty of detail has been kept in the shadows and highlights have only been clipped when absolutely necessary.

Nikon Coolpix S5 Nikon Coolpix S5
Red and greens really zing.

Noise
The following images illustrate the amount of digital noise apparent at each ISO setting.
The image to the right is the full image. The crops below are taken from where the red square is.
Nikon Coolpix S5

Nikon Coolpix S5 Nikon Coolpix S5
ISO50 ISO100
   
Nikon Coolpix S5 Nikon Coolpix S5
ISO200 ISO400

ISO50 and 100 both produce clean results, with ISO200 being slightly noisier, but still very usable. At ISO400 the noise level increases dramatically, but it retains a random, film-like pattern which is still suitable for printing up to around 7x5 inches.
Compact digital cameras have been steadily improving there ability to shoot at high ISO settings, many have sensitivity settings up to ISO1600 now. For this camera to be so noisy at its maximum ISO400 setting is a disappointment. I expected better from a newly released camera.

Verdict

The Nikon Coolpix S5 is a quality feature-packed camera that will satisfy anyone looking for an ultra-compact digital camera to take pictures whilst out and about. The only disappointments are the limited ISO sensitivity range, and the amount of noise present at the maximum ISO400 setting.

The amount of preset scene modes and features are easy enough for a complete novice to use, but still providing enough control for some more demanding users.

In summary the positive points of the Nikon Coolpix S5 are:
Nikon Coolpix S5Good build quality.
Nikon Coolpix S5Great image quality at lower ISO settings.
Nikon Coolpix S5Comprehensive pre-set scene modes are easy enough for a complete novice to use.
Nikon Coolpix S5Face AF feature is very effective.

The negative points:
Nikon Coolpix S5Noise at ISO400
Nikon Coolpix S5Limited ISO range

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Photographs taken using the Nikon Coolpix S5

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