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Nikon Coolpix S10 review: Nikon Coolpix S10

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.

7.0

Nikon Coolpix S10

The Good

Solid, fast 10X optical zoom lens; flexible, swivel-body design; sensor-shift image stabilization.

The Bad

No manual exposure controls; no flash compensation; noisy images at ISO 400 and above.

The Bottom Line

Nikon's S10 has some decent features, including a really nice lens, but it doesn't live up to its potential and can't compete with similarly priced superzooms.
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.

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.

We were pleased, for the most part, with the S10's performance in our lab tests. It took 1.7 seconds to start up and capture its first image, then took 1.9 seconds between subsequent images without flash, and 2.2 seconds with the flash turned on. In bright lighting conditions, its shutter lag measured a speedy 0.6 second, but slowed considerably in dim light to 2.5 seconds. In its standard continuous-shooting mode, we were able to capture 54 VGA-size JPEGs in 33.1 seconds for an average rate of 1.63fps. When we stepped up to 6-megapixel JPEGs, we captured 39 shots in 31.4 seconds for an average of 1.24fps.

Images from the Nikon Coolpix S10 were very nice with lots of fine detail at its lower ISOs, well-saturated colors, and very little in the way of JPEG artifacts or colored fringing. The camera's automatic white balance served up nearly neutral colors with our lab's tungsten lights; there was an extremely mild warm cast, though some users may even like the effect. The tungsten white-balance setting yielded a slightly greenish cast with our tungsten lights, while the Preset (a.k.a. manual) white balance provided the most neutral results.

We saw almost no noise at the camera's lowest sensitivity setting of ISO 50. A very slight, very fine layer of noise crept in at ISO 100, though it was visible only on our monitor and wouldn't show up in prints. It increased slightly again at ISO 200, though again was minimized by printing and wasn't very distracting on our monitors. We did notice that there was some loss of finer detail, though we could still distinguish the individual hash marks on our test scene's measuring tape. At ISO 400, noise was noticeable on our monitor, and the hash marks on the measuring tape now blurred together completely, though prints were still usable, especially at smaller sizes. By ISO 800, noise was rampant, lots of detail was lost, and images weren't really usable for prints beyond 4x6 inches, though we'd shy away from boosting the sensitivity this high if at all possible.

Nikon does some things right with the Coolpix S10, most notably the lens and the versatile twist design, but its noise performance could definitely improve and we'd like to see them include some more advanced controls. With significant improvements in these two areas alone, Nikon's swivel-cams might be able to reclaim the status they once had as some of the most innovative and desirable compact cameras around. As they are now, you may as well spend a little extra cash and look to Canon's S3 IS. With its swiveling LCD, it'll give you all of the Nikon Coolpix S10's versatility along with more powerful controls and better noise performance.

Shooting speed
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Time to first shot  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Sony Cyber Shot DSC-H2
1.5 
2.6 
0.4 
Canon PowerShot S3 IS
1.7 
1.5 
0.4 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ4
1.1 
2.8 
0.5 
Kodak EasyShare P850
1.7 
4.0 
0.6 
Nikon Coolpix S10
1.9 
1.7 
0.6 
Note: Seconds

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Note: Frames per second
7.0

Nikon Coolpix S10

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 6Image quality 7