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Hands-on with the Nikon Coolpix S210: The state of compacts

With oodles of new cameras announced for 2008, we're looking for some steps forward in what consumers can expect from a digital camera. So why is the Nikon Coolpix S210 so bog-standard?

With the newest models trickling to market from the raft of announcements made at PMA, we decided to have a look at the Nikon Coolpix S210 to see whether our basic expectations of a compact digital camera have changed over the last year. We briefly encountered the S210 at Focus On Imaging, and now we've got one in, so a review is fast forthcoming.

First off, the clue is in the name: compact camera. The S210 is certainly compact: it's credit card-sized on the face, give or take a millimeter. This is a very pocketable camera. Secondly, it's affordable, available for £130 online. It's also all-metal, which we approve of.

How about specs? The S210 boasts an 8-megapixel resolution. That's about the minimum we'd expect, especially for this size. 3x zoom continues to be the standard, but we're seeing more and more wide-angle compacts and a 35mm equivalent focal length of 38mm just doesn't cut it any more.

On the subject of lowest common denominator standards, the S210 packs a 64mm (2.5-inch) screen. It's bright and clear, but frankly if this year doesn't see the last of the 64mm screen, we'll throw our toys out of the pram in a big way come PMA 2009.

The S210 shouldn't be confused with the Casio Exilim EX-S10 we Craved yesterday, despite the similar names -- and the fact that they look near-identical. Although the button functions are different, the four-button-and-clickpad layout is identical, with the only physical differences being that the Nikon has a flat zoom rocker rather than a collar rocker switch, a smaller screen and no video-record button. And the Casio is shinier. On ease of use both score highly: the S210 really is a point-and-shoot.

So what doesn't the Nikon have? No image stabilisation, which we hoped would be ubiquitous by now. That may be the cost of the camera's physical dimensions, and if pocketability is more important than decent images, that's your lookout. It also doesn't have much in the way of manual control. We're clearly asking too much of a camera aimed at the snapshot segment of the market. Exposure compensation is available with one touch from the clickpad, so that's something.

The Nikon Coolpix S210 does everything it's supposed to, as long as you don't expect it do anything interesting. Our first impression is that we prefer the Casio EX-S10, but as an affordable compact camera, the Nikon at least ticks the price and size boxes. It just doesn't represent much of a step forward. Look out for our forthcoming review to see if the image quality completes the picture. -Rich Trenholm

Update: Read our full Nikon Coolpix S210 review