Nikon Coolpix S4000 review: Nikon Coolpix S4000

Shooting performance is better than your average camera phone, but still pretty slow for its price. From off to first shot is nearly 3 seconds. Then, from shot to shot the wait is 2.5 seconds. Using the flash draws that time out to 4.1 seconds. The S4000's continuous shooting is capable of capturing up to three photos at an average of 0.7 frame per second. Lastly, the camera seems to have problems focusing. Regardless of mode or even using the tap-to-focus feature, it really struggles to focus on subjects, causing me to refocus again and again before shooting. It was particularly frustrating when using the Touch Shutter feature; it results in a lot of out-of-focus shots after which you're left waiting for the camera to refresh so you can shoot again.

The photo quality from the S4000 is OK; good enough for small prints and Web use, but questionable for anything else. While the camera is capable of taking decent snapshots in bright lighting conditions, quality drops off noticeably between ISO 200 and ISO 400 with increased noise and softness. The noise wouldn't be so bad if it didn't cause inconsistencies with color. The noise reduction causes smeared details and this smearing only gets worse at higher ISOs making it a poor choice for low-light photos. In Auto mode there's a Fixed Auto ISO option letting you limit the camera to using a range between ISO 80-40 or ISO 80-800. I recommend using the 80-400 range whenever you're shooting in a mixed lighting environment and don't feel like switching ISO settings.

The S4000's lens offers a good zoom range of 4x going from a 35mm-equivalent 27-108mm. It's enough to help you frame shots or get you a little closer to your subjects. However, with only electronic image stabilization, you really have to be careful when using it in low-light conditions or risk it using a higher ISO. The wide-angle lens shows a small amount of asymmetrical barrel distortion on the left side. There is little discernible distortion when the lens is extended. Center sharpness is good, but there was visible softness in the top right corner of the lens on my review camera. This is only noticeable when photos are viewed at 100 percent, though. Purple/blue fringing on high-contrast subjects is typical of this class of camera, but the S4000 displays an above-average amount of it. It's especially visible on off-center subjects and background objects.

At sensitivities at and below ISO 200, the camera produces bright, vibrant, and reasonably accurate colors, though reds seem to blow out. Clipped highlights are a problem for this camera (as well as many point-and-shoots), however exposure is generally OK, and white balance is fairly accurate, too.

Movie quality is on par with a pocket video camera; it's good but jittery when the shooter or subject is moving. Keep the camera still and you'll get decent clips for Web sharing. You don't get use of the optical zoom while recording; only digital zoom is available.

The Nikon Coolpix S4000 is not an easy recommendation. If your endgame is great photos regardless of lighting conditions, it's definitely a pass. Its inconsistent autofocus and somewhat slow shooting performance can make it frustrating to use, too. On the other hand, the touch-screen interface is responsive, and the camera is capable of taking a decent snapshot in bright lighting. The wide-angle lens and Smart Portrait system make it an adequate choice for portraits if they're for Web use or small prints with little or no cropping. The S4000 is otherwise too much of a compromise for the money.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350
Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP3
Canon PowerShot SD1300 IS
Nikon Coolpix S4000

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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