If you want the versatility of a digital SLR and the portability of a compact camera, a superzoom may be the answer. Nikon's Coolpix S8200 strikes the perfect balance, thanks to its high resolution, powerful lens and great results. While it's not cheap, at around £280, if you buy one today, its impressive specs will stave off any thoughts of further upgrades for years to come.
Specs and build quality
In every respect, the S8200 looks and feels like a very serious camera. On the front, there's a massive 14x zoom (equivalent to 25-350mm on a 35mm camera), behind which sits a 16.1-megapixel sensor. The digital zoom is only 2x, but, when applied to that 350mm optical monster, it takes the maximum effective zoom to 700mm, which, on a regular camera, would require a foot of heavy metal and glass.
As you might expect, the S8200 isn't the smallest of compact cameras. It's a good inch and a quarter thick at its fattest point and weighs 213g, so it's not one we'd recommend tucking into your pocket for a trip to the pub. Take it on holiday, though, and you'll find it has sufficient power to replace a bulkier dSLR for all but the most devoted photographer.
Minimum focusing distance is a fairly run-of-the-mill 500mm in everyday shooting, but switch to macro and you can peer at your subjects from just 10mm away. We put this to good use shooting a crane fly. To complicate matters, the insect was sitting on a window, but the S8200 managed to effectively separate it from its surroundings, blurring both the view through the window and the reflected light on its surface to isolate the subject. Furthermore, the extremely shallow depth of field, which was exactly what we were hoping to see, kept the body in sharp focus while softening the leading edge of the closest wing.
The camera feels incredibly robust, and that's as much on account of its sheer bulk as it is to do with the smooth rubber coating the front. The flash rather neatly hides itself inside the case and pops up when called into action, keeping safe from harm without spoiling the S8200's clean lines.
The battery and SD card slot are tucked behind a door on the underside, which is kept well away from the tripod mount point. The mount point itself is offset from the centre of the lens, so bear in mind that you won't be swivelling the camera around the sensor if you're shooting panoramas. Fortunately, the dedicated panorama scene mode lets you shoot 180- or 360-degree frames by sweeping the lens across the scene.
The regular power, playback and movie-record buttons are supplemented by a heavy-duty mode dial on the top of the case that clicks into place with a satisfying snap. On the rear, a scroll wheel lets you move quickly up and down the menus.
As well as the 16 scene modes, there are six built-in effects for tweaking the shot at the point of capture, rather than in post production: soft, sepia, high-contrast monochrome, high key, low key and selective colour.
Sensitivity runs from ISO 100 to ISO 3,200, although, in auto mode, it stops at ISO 1,600. Should you choose to use it, there's also a neat limiter that will prevent straying beyond either ISO 400 or ISO 800 if you want to minimise noise in your pictures.
Our photo results were superb. Detail was very finely rendered and output extremely clean. We started with our regular chromatic aberration test, shooting fine metal window frames, thin tree branches and sharply contrasting edges overlaid on a bright sky, checking for areas where the lens had failed to accurately focus each wavelength of light in the same point on the sensor. Across the centre of each frame, the results were spot on, with only minor fall-off at the edges or where an overexposed sky, which you would look to avoid, had encroached on the detail.
With exposure set to auto throughout our tests, the S8200 made a good job of balancing some tricky frames where a bright sky might otherwise have caused extreme shadows in darker parts of the image. Where it encountered large areas of white in close proximity to more muted areas, such as the side of the building below, detail was lost, as revealed when we mapped the hot zones, indicated in red. But this wasn't unexpected and, in regular use, where more careful framing would have excluded this largely featureless part of the image to focus on the more interesting detail, as seen in the second image below, the camera achieved a perfect balance between the bright sky and darker brickwork.
In more general use, the S8200 produced extremely well balanced and highly detailed results, with foliage very well handled across all tones, and skies smoothly graduated as they fell towards the horizon.