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Nikon Coolpix S550 Digital Camera Review

Nikon Coolpix S550 Digital Camera Review - Matt Grayson takes a look at another cool Nikon compact in the form of the S550. He knows it's cool because it says so on the front.

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Nikon Coolpix S550 in Compact Cameras

With a smooth blue skin and minimalistic design, the Nikon Coolpix S550 is most certainly a lover, not a fighter.

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Nikon Coolpix S550: Specification

  • Nikon Coolpix S550 Resolution: 10Mp
  • Image size: 1/2.3-in.
  • Sensor type: CCD
  • Zoom: 5x (36-180mm)
  • Macro: 10cm
  • Monitor: 2.5in TFT LCD
  • Storage: Internal memory/SD
  • Image size: 3648x2736
  • Vibration Reduction: Yes
  • Sensitivity: ISO64-2000
  • Interface: Hi-Speed USB
  • Power: Rechargeable Li-ion
  • Size: 90x53.5x22mm
  • Weight: 120g

The Nikon Coolpix at £149 will give you 10Mp, 5x optical zoom and a smile shutter with blink detection technology.

The Fujifilm FinePix F50fd is £5 less, has 12Mp, 3x optical zoom and face detection 2.0 which can detect faces from any angle.

Also the Panasonic DMC-FS5 at £161 shares the 10Mp resolution of the Nikon, has a smaller 4x optical zoom, a higher sensitivity up to ISO6400 and is fitted with a Leica lens.

Nikon Coolpix S550: Modes and features
Such a small camera with such a large zoom. The Nikon Coolpix S550 has a 5x optical zoom packed into the thin exterior. I'm thinking that maybe it's a TARDIS with its blue shell. Powering it up and a small harp strum emits to hide the motor of the lens although it's quiet enough anyway. Nikon Coolpix S550 The lens barrel is a three-step telescopic affair which helps to squeeze it into the squashed body.

A small flash and the AF emitter accompanies the lens on the front of the camera and that's it. The top of the camera follows the order of most digital compacts these days and minimises the amount of buttons on the top plate. All that remains on the S550 is the power button and shutter release.

A small, rocking zoom switch sits in the top right corner of the camera with a small doppled area just below as a gripping area for the thumb. The typical Nikon layout of four buttons surrounding the navigation pad is present and consists of the mode button, playback, menu and delete.

Hitting the mode button will ask you which shooting mode you Nikon Coolpix S550 wish to choose and you have a selection of choices such as smile detection, high ISO, scenes, audio record, video and set-up.

Choose the shooting and high ISO modes and the menu button will bring up the general menu when pressed, but choosing either scenes or smile detection will bring up different modes. The smile detection will start taking pictures as soon as it sees the subject smile to make sure you don't miss that fleeting grin from the kids.

Nikon Coolpix S550: Build and handling
A neat metal case surrounds the circuitry and ensures more protection against knocks. Only the tripod bush and battery door are plastic which is great but at the same time unfortunate that those two parts will get heavy use so will be more likely to break or wear down.

Everything fits where it should do, so there's no stretching fingers to change modes or features while you're trying to take a picture.

After several Nikon models annoying me with a menu system that won't allow you to simply exit by pressing the shutter release, it seems that the Gods have answered my prayers and Nikon have sat up and taken notice. I'd like to think it was my reviews that they learned from but they'll never admit it.

The flash has a range of 0.3-4.7m at wide angle and 0.6-3.1m at telephoto which is on the top end of average although isn't a bad result considering the tiny size of the flash unit.

Nikon Coolpix S550: Performance
Nikon Coolpix S550
Nice colours with balanced results in both colour and mono tones.
Starting up, the screen will come on in a couple of seconds but will then need to sort its focusing out which will take an extra couple of seconds. Four seconds may sound like a short time but if the subject is a child, their emotions can change so quickly the moment can be lost.

The shutter lag test amazed me. Through a series of shots I got results of between 0.04 and 0.01 seconds. This is half the speed of other compacts and brilliant news for candid photographers.

All the colours are nicely balanced on the colour test chart with priority going to blue and red. The earth colours are nicely reproduced and I like the skin tone so the portrait images should come out nicely. The yellow is vibrant and I like the result of the mono tones.

The metering has been fooled by the light on the portrait shot with the subject coming out slightly under exposed. What has come out is good with decent skin colour and some fine detail.

Nikon Coolpix S550
The portrait image.
Nikon Coolpix S550
The portrait image with flash.

Using flash has sent the auto white balance (AWB) running for cover. The image has a definite green cast to it compared to the non-flash shot, but when they're not side by side, it doesn't seem to have an overly powerful cast to it. I think that the under eposure of the portrait shot without flash has given a bluish cast which looks harsher when placed next to the flash image.

The flash has balanced the image perfectly with clear detail, nice catchlights and no shadows.

Looking at the landscape image and a lot of detail is lost out towards the edges of the frame similar to a vignette. Detail in the foreground is good, but it peters out towards the background. The white bars usually show up a deal of fringing against the darkness of the lock, but it's kept to a minimum which is a great result.

Nikon Coolpix S550
Landscape mode loses detail in the edges but has hardly any fringing on the white bars.
Nikon Coolpix S550
Macro can only get to 10cm meaning lots of background is also in the frame.

Macro can reach an optimum focusing distance of 10cm which, quite frankly, is rubbish. In fairness the S550 chose an aperture of f/3.5 to throw the background out of focus but there was too much of it on show to be effective.

Nikon Coolpix S550
Face detection works by triangulating facial features in a frame and focusing on them. It will even track them if they move.

Nikon Coolpix S550: Focusing and metering
The Nikon Coolpix S550 has a face recognition system, as well as detection, that allows you to photograph family members or friends and store them to memory. The camera will then prioritise them in a photograph ensuring strangers aren't shot by mistake. A blink detection system will warn you if the subject has blinked so you can take another shot. This feature is enabled in portrait or night portrait modes only which are switched on in the scene mode menu. Blink detection is defaulted on in the set up menu and can be turned off if you don't require it.

Face detection has always been software based in Nikon cameras and this has never performed better than hardware based detectors that companies such as Fujifilm use.

The S550 has no over-riding metering modes but has four focus areas to choose from including centre, manual, auto and face priority. The manual mode will bring up the focusing square on the screen that you can move around using your navigation pad. However, it's let down with only a portion of the screen available to use and around 30-40% not being used.

Nikon Coolpix S550: Noise test
At full size, noise is starting to creep into the image even at ISO200 but it's not too noticable until ISO400 where it starts to affect the image. Detail in the petals is also good until this point then definition starts to deteriorate. Purple blobs accompany white artefacts in the grey area at ISO800 and it's at this stage the noise is visible at normal size.

ISO1600 and ISO2000 sees such a drop in quality that the resolution is lowered when choosing this setting in an effort to control noise. Definition in the petals is almost zero and the squares are badly speckled.

Nikon Coolpix S550
The ISO64 test.
Nikon Coolpix S550
The ISO100 test.
Nikon Coolpix S550
The ISO200 test.
Nikon Coolpix S550
The ISO400 test.
Nikon Coolpix S550
The ISO800 test.
Nikon Coolpix S550
The ISO1600 test.
Nikon Coolpix S550
The ISO2000 test.

Nikon Coolpix S550: Verdict
The S500 lacks some features I enjoyed using on the higher spec S600 such as the 3cm macro and wide angle lens. However at £50 less, it's priced accordingly to its bigger brother and its own capability.

It's a camera designed to flatter you and to make sure you look good while you're socialising with friends and family. Frankly this is the only time you'll really use the S550.

This is a camera that won't help you out when the light gets tough but will do it all for you instead. If that's your cup of tea then take a look at the Coolpix S550.

Nikon Coolpix S550: Plus points
Nice design
Good colour results
Good overall build quality
Change to menu system

Nikon Coolpix S550: Minus points
Bad macro feature
Noise comes in early
Plastic build for high use tripod mount and battery door





The Nikon Coolpix S550 costs around £149 and is available in a variety of colours from the ePHOTOzine shop here.


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