Bigger isn't always better, which is why the S4150 is such an interesting proposition. As the smallest of Nikon's latest releases it boasts specs that come close to matching those on a far bigger snapper -- one that would also ship courtesy of a weightier price tag. There was only one way to see whether this £139 camera was a match for its bigger, more expensive rivals: put it to the test.
Small and neat, with rounded corners and a matt metal case, the S4150 is roughly the size of a playing card, and less than an inch from front to back.
Yet despite the size it packs a 14 megapixel sensor and 7.5cm (3in) screen. The 5x optical zoom is eqivalent to 26 - 130mm in a 35mm camera, and there's a 4x digital zoom on top, taking the total to 520mm.
It's impossible to review this camera without comparing it to its close neighbour, the, with which it shares many features. They both shoot video at a maximum resolution of 1280 x 720, despite the S6150 boasting a higher native resolution of 16 megapixels.
They both share an admirably low minimum sensitivity of ISO 80, and a maximum of ISO 3200, but the S4150 has a brighter lens overall, with an aperture range spanning f3.2 - f6.5, compared with the S6150's metric of f3.7 - f5.6. In part this will be explained by the differences in the zoom, with the S4150 offering a wider angle when zoomed out, and a shorter telephoto, thus losing less light when zoomed in. Where the S6150 counters vibration by shifting the lens, the S4150 applies digital correction, and can also shoot around 10% fewer images – 190 vs 210 – on a freshly-charged battery.
It's safe to judge these models as broadly similar, therefore, and to largely discount the different resolutions, which in daily use will make little difference to the quality of your results and what you can do with them once downloaded to your computer.
Shooting results and test shots
When you start to look at the output, though, the cameras quickly distinguish themselves, with the S6150 producing superior results when examined at 100%. Even at a fairly conservative sensitivity the S4150 introduced a considerable amount of noise into some of our images.
When shooting in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, which is largely lit by natural light coming in through glass panels in the roof, we had to boost the sensitivity to ISO 320 to properly expose the darker portions of the space. However, this resulted in a very dappled image, with considerable noise in the already lighter areas of the frame and loss of detail in the glass panels as the sensor became overloaded in this area and the struts and supports were lost in the bloom of incoming light.
Moving outside, we shot a rack of London hire bikes. Here the camera dialled down its sensitivity to just ISO 80, with much improved results. Colours were realistic and foliage was well rendered. There was still some pixellation and slight blooming, but when viewed full frame rather than zoomed 1:1 this wasn't noticeable, suggesting that for online use, when the image would almost certainly be shrunk, or for printing, most users would be happy with the results as rendered.
We shot the London skyline against a blue sky, with the sun to one side of us. When taken as a whole, the results were very impressive. Colours were bright and contrasts were sharp, lifting the buildings out of their surroundings. However, on zooming to 100%, we were disappointed to see that again there was noise in the scene, and some of the finer details, such as the narrow supports of cranes, were lost to compression.
Further, where sharp edges met the sky there was evidence of fine chromatic aberration, rendered as a pink fringe running down the trailing edge of a building.
The S4150 performed very well in our studio-lit still life test, in which we photographed a selection of common objects with different colours and surface textures. The results were clean and sharp, with fine detail in woven surfaces clearly rendered and reflective surfaces accurately captured without burning out in the frame.
We repeated the test twice - once using only the available ambient light and again using the flash. As you'd expect, the results were less clear in each of these, with the ambient light result mottled as the S4150 increased sensitivity to ISO 400 (from ISO 80) and the exposure time to 1/15 second (from 1/40).