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|John Riley reviews the Nikon Coolpix S80.|
Our modern lifestyle demands trendy, stylish products that have functionality as well as looks. Smartphones, computer tablets, netbooks and, of course, cameras all vie for our attention and our cash. The current crop of mobile phones contain increasingly sophisticated cameras and the go-anywhere appeal of this is proving very strong. With the Nikon Coolpix S80 we also have a stylish product, compact and unobtrusive, but one that offers the potential of higher quality that only a dedicated camera can. A big step up from a mobile phone, but have sacrifices been made in making this camera just as compact?
Nikon Coolpix S80: Features
The S80 is an extremely compact 14.1MP camera with a 1/2.3 in CCD. The 5x optical Nikkor zoom consists of 13 elements in 10 groups, including an ED element. The focal length range is from 6.3-31.5mm, a 35mm equivalent of 35-175mm. Vibration reduction is of the lens shift type, augmented by additional software based solutions. ISO range is from 80-1600 at full resolution, extended to ISO3200 and ISO6400 at reduced pixel counts.
The LCD monitor is a handsome 3.5 inches and is a touch sensitive Organic LED (OLED) screen with 819,000 dots. Storage media are SD/SDHC cards, plus an additional 79MB of internal memory. Power is from an EN-EL10 Li-ion battery pack, charged while in-camera from the wall socket or via the USB cable.
Various face and smile detections modes are offered, together with skin softening, 17 scene modes, HD 720p movies, plus filter effects and colour adjustment options such as sepia toning.
There is an impressive feature set packed into this tiny camera, which weighs in at just 133g with battery and SD card, and measures a svelte 98.8 x 62.6 x 16.5mm. The lens does not project forwards and is protected by a sliding metal panel that switches the camera on and off as it is deployed.
Despite the small size, there is room for a substantial tripod socket. Everything else is dwarfed by the 3.5inch OLED screen. This touch sensitive screen enables all the functions to be accessed and removes the need for any of the usual dials and buttons. Without this, such a compact package would not be possible.
The camera is packaged with the Quick Start Guide, which helpfully explains the first step is to take the camera out of the box, AV cable, AC adapter, Battery pack, Nikon View NX2 software and USB cable.
Nikon Coolpix S80: Handling
The sliding panel slickly switches the camera on and reveals the tiny lens. The position of this lens means some thought is needed when using the camera in landscape format. It is very easy for an errant finger to obscure the image and a different hold to the norm is required. The portrait format is the natural one for the S80, making it even more like a mobile phone camera in use.
Not withstanding the comment regarding landscape images, the handling of this ultra-compact body is actually very good. The shutter release is very precise, light in action and it is relatively easy to hold the camera steady. Much of the operation is via the touch sensitive screen, and this is very clear and crisp. The touch was not always 100% responsive and several times the camera was reluctant to accept an instruction. The screen is very sharp and easily seen in daylight. Its reproduction of blues though seems very garish, so it will be interesting to see if this is a characteristic of the camera or of the screen.
The S80 is very well made and it is highly likely that the superb anodised finish will be hard wearing. There is no sign of the sliding panel rubbing the camera surface so there should be no unnecessary wear to the finish.
One minor point is that my own style of use for compact cameras involves carrying a spare battery, so the in-camera charging of the S80 might not suit me so well. There is a battery charger available as an optional accessory and I would need one of those plus an extra battery pack.
Nikon Coolpix S80: Performance
Exposure is very consistent in a wide variety of circumstances. The camera delivers what I would consider to be slightly light images, but they are not clipped and the detail in highlight areas is preserved. The exact end result is easily adjusted to taste in Photoshop. Alternatively, exposure compensation can easily be dialled in.
Against the light images preserve an impressive amount of detail, probably aided by the generally light nature of the images. There is the facility to use exposure compensation and this is accessed quickly via the touch sensitive screen. This is useful where extremely dark or light subjects are found. It is worth noting though that exposure compensation is less necessary in the S80 than in many other comparable cameras.
Even bright light sources in the centre of the frame do not seem to fool the S80.
The AF of this Coolpix S80 is a pleasure. It locks on faultlessly and quickly and results in minimal delay when shooting images. One rather nifty feature is that the screen can be tapped and the camera obligingly focuses on that spot and takes a picture. What a brilliant idea for macro shots on a tripod where the desired point of focus could be anywhere on the screen.
It is encouraging that even at quite low light levels the AF system is fast. There is an AF assist light but its use does not cause excessive delay.
An inkling of some of the compromises made in the S80 appears when we look closely at the colour performance. I commented that the OLED screen shows blues as rather garish and it becomes obvious that this is one of the weaknesses of the camera. In general, colour is good, but when it comes to intense blue the subtlety is lost. The garish quality noted would appear to be a characteristic of the camera rather than of the screen.
Skin tones, on the other hand, are reproduced accurately. Considering the trouble Nikon have gone to to provide various smile and blink detection features it is of little surprise that they have also ensured high quality in the skin tones.
More general subjects, such as landscapes, are well catered for and the colours are natural and neutral. This extends to greyscale reproduction where a full range of neutral tones can be recorded.
ISO and noise performance
We are quite used to the concept that small sensors invite high levels of noise, although this is rapidly improving. The S80 has settings available from ISO80 to ISO1600 in normal mode and delivers respectably low noise levels. In fact, this is far better than I expected. Obviously detail suffers as we progress to higher ISO values, but the camera controls this well.
At ISO3200 and ISO6400 the camera uses a reduced pixel count and quality suffers very badly. I would regard these settings as last resort options. Clearly noise reduction is at work and it is commendable that there is relatively little loss of detail at lower ISO settings.
|Nikon Coolpix S80 Outdoor ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
|Nikon Coolpix S80 Test chart ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.|
The AWB setting does rather well with a very extended range of colour temperatures. Even tungsten light is handled very acceptably without resorting to the preset.
Outdoors, AWB produces an accurate result. If warmer results are required in overcast conditions then the Cloudy setting produces an effect very similar to the use of an 81A (Cloudy) filter on film. Daylight is a useful preset in that it can be used to preserve the colour of the ambient light where AWB would tend to try to correct it away. The obvious example is a red sunset, which we do not want to end up being “corrected” to an average grey.
Integral Flash/Flash Modes
Flash modes on offer include auto, red eye, suppressed flash, fill flash and slow synch. The flash unit is small but quite powerful enough at normal portrait distances. This is very much a camera that seems to be intended for pictures of people, so this is certainly in keeping with its intent.
Fill flash in daylight is a technique that was once highly complex and challenging to get right, but cameras like the S80 make it a very accessible technique that can enhance outdoor portraits, especially in bright sunlight. The flash fills in the shadows with light to remove the excessive contrast that usually exists.
The S80 causes no particular delays in normal use, with the exception of the hybrid Vibration Reduction (VR) system. When software VR clicks in this does increase the write time of a frame considerably. By contrast, the lens shift VR seems to be virtually instantaneous.
The rated expectation is around 150 shots, all the more reason to carry a spare battery. After around 100 exposures and a large amount of menu exploration there is no sign of battery depletion, so the 150 shot specification is more than likely accurate.
Sadly, if there is one area where this finely designed camera does fall down it is in lens quality. Before I explore this it is necessary though to reflect on what the target market might be. The S80 may well appeal to the smartphone user who wants a dedicated and better quality compact camera. They will likely still demand the stylish design that their other electronic items possess, so the S80 is a strong contender. They may not require A3 prints and so the performance could be very acceptable in those circumstances.
Despite the 13 elements in 10 groups, or even the ED element, the lens is not very sharp. Images are slightly soft and this worsens towards the edge of the frame. Flare resistance is not good and shooting against the light results in a low contrast veil over the images. Likewise, chromatic aberrations are poorly controlled and branches and building edges are edged in various shades of blue and purple.
The S80 fares better at close distances rather than infinity. Close up the sharpness is better and the detail is well held.
Barrel distortion is present at the widest angle but has all but disappeared by the mid-point of the zoom range. The telephoto control of distortion is good and more than adequate for shots of buildings.
Probably the worst aspect is the lack of crispness to the images at longer range. At medium to close distances things improve dramatically, although the tendency to flare remains. The S80 is unlikely to be the camera of choice if the photographer is hoping to make large prints for competition.
All of this no doubt is a direct consequence of the ultra-miniaturisation of this Nikon lens. Always something has to give and it is a shame that quality has had to suffer.
Nikon Coolpix S80: Verdict
We have here a very slick and stylish camera. It is fast to operate and has an excellent OLED screen. As a style statement it will not disgrace the other accessories in the briefcase or purse. Unfortunately the image quality is not of the highest order, although it is very acceptable for web and small prints.
I love the design but just wish the end results were better.
Nikon Coolpix S80: Pros
Superb OLED screen
Nikon Coolpix S80: Cons
Poor lens quality
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Nikon Coolpix S80: Specification
|What comes in the box||A/V Cable (EG-CP16), AC Adapter (EH-68P), Battery (EN-EL10), U)SB Cable (UC-E6) and ViewNX2|
|Lens||5x optical zoom, f/3.6-4.8, 6.3 to 31.5mm (35mm format equivalent to 35-175mm)|
|Max. Image size||4320 x 3240|
|LCD monitor size||3.5in, 819000 dots|
|Shutter speed||1/1500 - 2 sec|
|Anti-shake mode||Lens-shift type + electronic type|
|Movie mode||720p HD|
|Media type||SD / SDHC|
|Interface||Hi-Speed USB 2.0, Video / Audio Output, HDMI, DC Input|
|Power||Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL10|
|Size (wxhxd)||98.8 x 62.6 x 16.5mm|
The Nikon Coolpix S80 costs £279.00 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Nikon Coolpix S80