Nikon has been making swivel-body cameras dating back to its successful 900-series of Coolpix cameras in the late 1990s. Lately, in addition to the main benefit of allowing extreme low- and high-angle shooting, the company has taken advantage of the design as a way to build longer zoom lenses into relatively small camera bodies. The latest, called the Nikon Coolpix S10, includes a 10X optical zoom lens that covers a 35mm equivalent of 38mm to 380mm with a fixed maximum aperture of f/3.5, giving it one of the fastest 380mm-equivalent lenses in a compact camera. The camera also sports a 6-megapixel CCD sensor with sensor-shift image stabilization--Nikon refers to this simply as VR--to help keep that long lens steady.
Strangely, Nikon didn't see fit to include any kind of manual exposure controls, which could've helped put this camera in a league with superzoom cameras such as Canon's Power Shot S3 IS. Instead, you have to rely on the camera's 15 scene modes and its plus or minus 2EV of exposure compensation to control your exposures. Nitpickers will also notice that there's no flash compensation, so you'll have to accept the flash output on which the camera decides. To its credit, the S10 did an admirable job of balancing fill flash with a bright table lamp in our lab tests.
One of the difficult things about the swivel design is that it leaves little room for buttons and basically requires two-handed shooting. Acquiescing to this, Nikon puts the buttons for Vibration Reduction (VR) and One-Touch Portrait modes on the lens barrel, while all other controls find their home above the 2.5-inch LCD screen on the other half of the swivel body. The tiny joystick, with its knurled edges, made navigating Nikon's well-laid-out menu system comfortable. However, we found the Delete button a little difficult to reach, though we don't know where else Nikon could've placed it. As with most of the company's current compact cameras, the S10's zoom rocker is to the right of the shutter button, making it easy to nudge while you wait to press the shutter.
If you're shooting a tricky scene and don't want to use a flash, you may want to consider Nikon's Best Shot Selector (BSS) mode, of which there are four versions. The first shoots as many as 10 exposures, then selects the one with the least blur. The other three variations are grouped together under a separate heading in the BSS submenu, which is labeled Exposure BSS; these include Highlight BSS, Shadow BSS, and Histogram BSS. All three capture 5 shots each time the shutter is pressed. From those images, Highlight BSS selects the one with the fewest areas of overexposure, Shadow BSS chooses the one with the smallest areas of underexposure, and Histogram BSS opts for the one with the best balance of the two.
While the S10 includes a manual white balance feature in addition to the usual assortment of presets and auto choices, Nikon throws a curveball and calls its manual white balance Preset White Balance, so when you see it don't get confused--although we were at first. Also, the camera includes three continuous-shooting modes: one is a regular burst mode that continues to capture images as you hold the shutter button; a second captures 16 shots and arranges them in a grid in one image; and the third captures images at intervals of 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or 60 minutes. Like almost all cameras these days, you can also choose from a handful of color modes, including the anticolor black-and-white mode.
Video buffs will like the S10's ability to capture clips at as high as 640x480-pixel resolution and as many as 30fps. More interesting than that, though, is the time-lapse movie mode, which lets you capture as many as 1,800 still images in intervals the same as the interval drive mode, then strings them together into a silent movie as long as 60 seconds. Now you can finally create that time-lapse clip of the sun rising over Aunt Betty's house that you've been dreaming of making since you spent a week camping in her backyard the summer after your fifth birthday.