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Nikon Coolpix S51c Digital Camera Review

With a wave-form body design and Wi-Fi communications, the new Nikon CoolPix is like a lesson in particle physics, but with a sexy tutor rather than some old bloke with a beard.

|  Nikon Coolpix S51c in Compact Cameras
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Nikon Coolpix S51c front rightJust one look at the S51c is enough to bring up visions of glossy advertising featuring impossibly beautiful young people in up-market wine bars, snapping photos then using advanced technology to wire their images to grandma' on a rocking chair in the deep South. A cheque will be fine, thanks, Nikon. Anyway, it's stylish, glossy, with advanced technology, and isn't so much a style camera, as a pose camera.


Nikon CoolPix S51c Specifications

  • Sensor: CCD - 8.1 Million pixels
  • Image Size: 3264 x 2448 Pixels
  • Lens: 38-114mm, f/3.3-4.2 (3x zoom)
  • Focus: Auto Face Priority
  • Macro: 4cm
  • Exposure: Auto, Program
  • Monitor: 3.0in. TFT LCD
  • Other Features: Vibration Reduction and Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Movie Mode: Yes
  • Storage: 13Mb of internal storage memory, plus SD Cards
  • Batteries: Li-ion rechargeable
  • AC Adaptor: Optional
  • Video Output: Yes
  • Size/Weight: 98x59x21mm - 125g
  • Transfer: USB, Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11b/g


With headline features of 8Mp resolution, Wi-Fi connectivity, a 3x optical zoom and stylish good looks for £199 the S51c is up against cameras like the Casio EXILIM EX-S770 which is 7Mp, 3x optical and has a 2.8in LCD screen for the same price; the Samsun DigiMax i7 which is also 7Mp with 3x optical but offers a swivelling 3in screen and MP3 player for £199; and there's also the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T20 offering 8.1Mp res with a 3x zoom and HD video output for your TV, at £219.

Nikon Coolpix S51c sideNikon CoolPix S51c Modes and features
The S51c is designed for the point and shoot market, but that said, there's a Program mode on there which allows access to the more complex options of white balance, exposure compensation, ISO range, auto focus area mode and drive modes. Nothing too complex, but they probably won't be accessed that often anyway. Instead, a press on the Mode button brings up options which are usually available on a command dial. These include the Program mode, Scene mode, Video, Voice, Setup and a High ISO mode.

Accessing all these things though is a little more complex needs to be. As there's no command dial, the Mode button brings up those type of options, the Menu button selects sub-options within the mode chosen, the rotary wheel scrolls through those while the OK button in the centre of the wheel confirms selections. That's four different buttons and controls to select something which is rather silly for a camera that's designed to be simple to use.

On the top of the camera are the on/off button and fire button, housed in a dash of chrome. At the far left of the top of the camera are two little buttons. One activates the one-touch portrait mode - you can still use exposure compensation here - while the other activates the Wi-Fi functionality. This is where the fun starts for sure. The system works like this: the camera connects via Wi-Fi to the internet and send your photo to the Nikon Picturetown server. The system then sends an e-mail notification to all the people you have listed, telling them there's a new picture for them to see. They then log on to Picturetown to see the picture. You can't send audio or video, just pictures. If the Wi-Fi access point is open and unencrypted, then the camera will find it and allow you to simply select it. If it's an encrypted access point then you'll need anything from a WEP key to an IP address, though by this point, prospective users of the S51c will likely be thinking that this is way too complicated. Now this isn't Nikon's fault, it's how Wi-Fi access works, but making people go to the Picturetown server - both the sender and anyone who wants to see it - is a chore because it's yet another place you have to use when all you really want is to send the picture to your friends. The system also won't send notifications to mobile phone e-mail addresses which detracts from the whole roaming ethos. However, if on holiday, it does mean that friends back home can see what you're up to and you don't have to link your camera to a phone via Bluetooth and attempt to send it that way.

The back of the camera features a large 3in LCD screen, and then a very small area to shovel all the buttons into. There are four buttons around the jopypad area, which has been reinvented in the form of a rotating wheel. It is still inked to four features by pressing in the compass directions: flash, timer, macro and exposure compensation, but the rotating wheel does make accessing certain features smoother and marginally quicker.

The S51c features a decent ISO range, from ISO100 to 1600, though don't be fooled by the HiISO mode on the Mode menu. This is actually an AutoISO mode, not anything beyond ISO1600. On a similar theme, there's built in optical stabilisation, or Vibration Reduction as the camera boasts.

Nikon Coolpix S51c LCDNikon CoolPix S51c Build and handling
The S51c looks the part with stylish curves, matt black and chrome colours though it's not quite as solid as you might initially think. The handling isn't great for the simple reason that the surface of the camera is slippery, if not fish-like, while the buttons are all small, the zoom rocker being tiny. Then there's the palaver with the Mode/Menu/OK button selections, but on the plus side, the rotating wheel does work well. There's not much space to put your thumb, but what will cause more problems is that the lens is housed at the top-right corner, just where the finger from the other hand will naturally curl around. You just have to get into the habit of holding it somewhere else.

Nikon CoolPix S51c flash options
Flash options include forced off, forced on, auto, red eye auto, and rear-curtain flash for evening portraits.

Nikon Coolpix S51c batteryNikon CoolPix S51c Performance
Despite having a built-in lens the S51c is very slow to start, taking around 3secs to come on, and then more time to start focussing before it takes a picture. You aren't going to get any impromptu snapshots with this camera. This slowness extends to shutter lag as well which in our test came out at a fairly pedestrian 0.25secs. Focussing and shooting is also very slow at around 0.9secs which makes focussing and getting a grab shot a little tricky.

Those stats are pretty sluggish, but redemption does come in the form of the burst test which, when using the highest quality settings, racks up an impressive nine shots in 10secs. While the odd compact has done better than this, it's well above the average. However, I hope that you've got your SD card handy, because the built-in memory of 13Mb is enough to record a grand total of one hi-res picture. Yes, count it, one. No, count it again! Still one. If you go for standard compression 8Mp images instead, you can have two pictures. Even dropping down to 5Mp only garners five pictures. This is pretty miserly.

Now, let's have a look at the macro performance shall we. On paper this says 4cm but obviously someone at Nikon has missed a numeral off there because the closest it would actually focus on anything was 14cm. Now that's quite a discrepancy and in itself, a pretty feeble effort.

Fortunately image quality, in no short measure thanks to the EXPEED processing engine, is sharp and full of detail. The landscape mode tests showed more detail and sharpness than a compact in the this class usually produces, while the portrait shots.... However, there's also plenty of chromatic aberration in the landscape shots, around leaves, building edges and anything white.

Nikon Coolpix S51c colour chart
The colour chart shows very light blues, an understated red primary but general accurate tones from there.

Nikon Coolpix S51c church
The detail is very good, the exposure is balanced between the bright sky and the building. Plenty of colour fringing though.

Nikon Coolpix S51c portrait scene mode
In Portrait Scene mode this is plenty of detail, the skin hasn't been softened though and there are tonal variation as well.

Nikon Coolpix S51c portrait one click
In Portrait one-click mode, face detection is activated and the mode has options for softening the skin, but not by default.

Nikon Coolpix S51c building
The metering has just managed with the bright sky off to one side, though there is distinct barrel distortion here.


Nikon Coolpix S51c landscape
The landscape mode test shows good detail and sharpness throughout, though there is a little noise in the water and colour fringing against the sky.


Nikon Coolpix S51c macro flash
In macro mode, the camera refused to get as close as the 4cm on the spec sheet, and because of the low light turned on the flash.

Nikon Coolpix S51c macro no flash
Same shot with the flash forced off. The metering has lead to the left side of the picture being over exposed so it's debateable if this is any better.


Nikon CoolPix S51c Noise tests
Nicely detailed and sharp ISO100 image but there's noise apparent in the grey card right from the start. At ISO200 the noise is distinctly green and purple and is visible in the black card as well. It's a bit louder at ISO400 and the detail is starting to become compromised. At ISO800 it's louder, detail is fading out of the petals quite significantly, but edge sharpness is only slowly being eroded. At ISO1600 the petals turn dark red, the noise is significant shapes and most of the petals have lost all detail beneath the blizzard of noise. However, the shapes have been retained well, so this is a reasonable result.

Nikon Coolpix S51c ISO100 test
The ISO100 test.

Nikon Coolpix S51c ISO200 test
The ISO200 test.

Nikon Coolpix S51c ISO400 test
The ISO400 test.

Nikon Coolpix S51c ISO800 test
The ISO800 test.

Nikon Coolpix S51c ISO1600 test
The ISO1600 test.



Nikon CoolPix S51c Verdict
It looks nice, and it produces good results. The Wi-Fi connectivity relies on either an open access spot, or being provided with the encryption key, which does limit where it's going to be used. There's not much point in using it at home. The LCD screen is large and provides a good viewing platform, though it doesn't update that quickly if moving the camera. The controls are all on the small side, and while there are some decent photographic features, a camera like this is one for the point and shoot market. Here the operation could have been simpler, but it's not exactly liquid-fuel driven, vertical propulsion science is it.

There's noise at ISO100 and while it gets worse throughout the ISO range, it doesn't go mad unlike some compacts. It's only at ISO1600 that detail is obliterated and the colours shift. Image quality in general tends to be quite good, with sharpness in landscape images and detail in portraits. It's easy to get a good result on an automatic scene mode.

Most cameras in this kind of bracket have some kind of USP and in the case of the S51c it marries good looks with Wi-Fi, a portrait mode that brings in face detection, and offers optical image stabilisation as well. The handling isn't the best but the results are good and that, combined with the stylish appeal, make the S51c worthy of your consideration.


Nikon Coolpix S51c front leftNikon CoolPix S51c Plus points:
8Mp resolution
Looks stylish
Big 3in LCD screen
One touch portrait mode
Wi-Fi connectivity
Rotating wheel
Fast burst mode
Images sharp
Optical lens shift VR
Noise well controlled at higher ISOs

Nikon CoolPix S51c Minus points:
38mm field of view
Only 3x zoom
Macro disappointed
Slow startup
Noticeable shutter lag
Small buttons squashed in
Chromatic aberration
ISO100 has noise







The Nikon CoolPix S51c costs £199 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.


Photographs taken using the Nikon Coolpix S51c

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