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Nikon have been producing swivel-design cameras for several years and we're looking here at their latest offering. Unlike most of their other swivel-design cameras, such as the Coolpix 4500, the Coolpix SQ is a very compact and pocketable camera.
It is targeted primarily at those new to digital photography and has quite a good specification list whilst remaining affordable.
Nikon Coolpix SQ Specifications
- Full-metal body
- Swivel lens design
- 3.1 megapixels
- 3x Optical Zoom lens. f/2.7-4.8
- 1.5 inch TFT screen
- Nine-area autofocus
- Built-in Speedlight flash
- 15 Scene modes
- Movie mode
- CompactFlash Type I
- Li-ion rechargeable battery
- Weight 180g
- Dimensions 82x82x25.5mm
- Charging and upload cradle provided
Handling and controls
The initial feeling one gets from holding the SQ is of quality, with the metallic structure feeling very solid. Being square and flat is an unusual shape for a camera, but you soon get used to it and the handling of the SQ is really very good. The control layout is simple enough, with the main mode dial and shutter-release on the top of the camera and only a few buttons giving you access to the settings and menu features.
If you've never used a swivel-design camera before, their approach has a lot of advantages. On a days shooting, there were several occasions where I made use of it. Once when photographing flowers and the second time when photographing skaters in action (see samples at the end of the review). When you've got used to the flexibility this type of camera offers you, it can be hard to go back to the 'standard' fixed LCD type.
The SQ is a fast little camera. With no external lens mechanism to extend it can be turned on and be ready to shoot very quickly. From the camera being off to the first shot being taken took 3.2 seconds, though this was with the welcome sound and screen turned off. Shot to shot times are also good and you can take several photos before the camera gets slowed down slightly whilst writing old images to the memory card. Focussing speeds are typical of digital compact cameras, but if anything the SQ is better than average.
The menu system is very simple and almost everyone should be able to operate this camera with ease. The process is further simplified by the fact that Nikon haven't exactly crammed the SQ full with settings. For example, when in the auto mode, a press of the menu button only brings up the option to change image quality or size.
This menu lets you change:
Image quality, Image size, White balance (includes custom setting), Metering mode, Continuous mode, Best shot selector, AF area mode.
|Manual mode menu|
The general set-up menu provides options for:
The Welcome screen (just slows the camera turning on), Language, Date, Brightness, Volume, Auto Off, CF Card formatting, USB, Video mode, Reset All.
There are 15 modes to choose from in total:
Portrait, Party/Indoor, Night portrait, Sports, Beach/Snow, Landscape, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night landscape, Close-up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Back Light and Panorama assist.
|The playback options on the SQ are limited, allowing you only to zoom and pan across your photos, though there are other functions for deleting, printing, slide shows, protecting photos or making a smaller version of one. There is no histogram feature, nor can you view any EXIF data on your photos.|
Nikon have been very successful with their older Coolpix cameras so expectations were quite high when we came to using the SQ.
A 3.1 megapixel CCD is going to be enough for most people new to digital photography and in terms of resolution the SQ is good. However, we've got concerns about some of the noise grain on most of the photos we took. Whilst this noise isn't overbearing, there are other three megapixel ultra compacts out there for a similar price that don't suffer so badly in this department.
Another concern is over the ISO range, which is either ISO70 or 200. Even when shooting in a dark church without flash, the camera didn't think to use ISO200 and you can't manually select the ISO.
We didn't encounter any major problems with the lens quality and the SQ proved to have very good macro capabilities for a compact. You can shoot as close as 4cm to your subject in the macro mode and the flexible body of the SQ can really help get the framing of your photograph right.
In terms of colour accuracy and white balance settings, the SQ fairs better with only slight under-saturation. The metering system coped well with most of the jobs we threw at it and for many people the overall image quality of the SQ will be more than satisfactory. It's a pity there aren't many settings to control the image quality coming out of the camera, but perhaps Nikon wanted to make the camera as simple to use as possible.
Supported on a nearby pew, the camera produced a reasonably sharp image but is slightly spoiled by the noise effect you can see in the 1:1 ratio crop below.
The colour the SQ produces isn't terribly impressive, but it is on the whole quite accurate.
The Coolpix SQ is a good camera for candids like the one above. It was easy to pan the camera away from eye level, with the skater being more or less oblivious to the fact he was being photographed.
Nikon have produced another very good camera in the Coolpix SQ. It is beautifully made, has good handling and is simple to use. Priced competitively it will be affordable to many new digital photographers who will certainly benefit from the ease of use it offers.
More seasoned digital photographers looking for a new compact might be slightly disappointed, as there are a couple of niggles over image quality. They are however only niggles and the Coolpix SQ is still a very capable of camera and one that everyone should at least carefully consider.
In summary the main positive points of the Nikon Coolpix SQ are:
Good build quality
Generally good image quality
Good macro mode
Charging/Download Base-station is useful
Easy to use
Fast operation speed
Negative points are:
Few manual controls
No histogram facility
Slight image-noise visible
Limited ISO settings
Limited Image quality settings
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