The Nikon Coolpix S1200pj's built-in projector is a neat feature, but still we find the asking price too high.
Whether we'll live to see the paperless office -- or the paperless home -- is up for debate, but if everyone followed Nikon's lead we'd be one step closer. The 'pj' at the end of this camera's name points to its built-in projector, which lets you display your pictures without ever having to print them out.
The projector is the S1200pj's most obvious selling point (and presumably the reason for the hefty £350 price tag), and we were excited to give it a try. Yet we also wanted to see how it performed as a regular point-and-shoot camera, so rounded off our close examination with some equally close-up photography.
All digital cameras have a screen on the back for reviewing your shots, but the S1200pj goes one step further, supplementing this with a projector on the front so you can share your snaps with family and friends without all crowding around a small screen.
On the top, where you might expect to find a mode dial, there's a diopter control for focusing the image. This moves the lens inside the body (as with the shooting lens, it doesn't protrude) to sharpen things up, and produces some great looking results. But with the bulb rated at a mere 20 lumens (for comparison, a 25W lightbulb has 200 lumens), you'll want to darken the room if you're not projecting to a surface close at hand.
The projector has a throw of up to 3m, by which point the image will be the equivalent to a 60-inch display, with resolution topping out at 640x480 pixels and contrast at 200:1. There's a neat stand in the foot of the body to help here, which tilts the camera backwards and projects the image higher. If you've invested in the optional remote you can use this to control stills playback.
This projector isn't just for boring your friends with holiday snaps, though, as it'll happily take an external input. We used an optional Belkin AV Dock connector to stream YouTube movies from our iPhone, at which point the camera's speaker also replayed the video soundtrack.
The same trick would let you stream from an iPad or iPod touch, but be beware that using the projector for extended periods zaps the battery. Nikon clocks the maximum life at just an hour when used this way, so it's not a viable solution to watching downloaded movies in your hotel room.
The S1200pj's macro mode gets you a respectable 3cm from your subject, from where the results are extremely sharp and detailed with a good fall-off beyond the naturally short depth of field.
We tested it out in the field -- literally -- by photographing this teasel head, back-lit by the setting sun. The S1200pj made excellent use of the available light, keeping the main body of the teasel properly exposed despite the fact the sun was clearly visible behind it in the frame.
The individual spikes of the head were well rendered, with even the small hairs on each one clearly visible in the finished result.
There was no evidence of chromatic aberration (improperly rendered colours) in our regular tests as the sharp lens perfectly aligned each of the wavelengths of visible light, which is particularly important when photographing fine detail against a bright background.
At 100 per cent zoom, an increased variation in brightness (or 'noise', caused by the camera's sensor or circuits) was also evident in shots where the S1200pj had raised its sensitivity to what we would still consider fairly conservative levels. At a lower sensitivity setting of ISO 80 the results were clean, but at just ISO 200 they were starting to look dappled in the darker areas of some of our shots.
In better-lit and well-balanced compositions, however, detail was well rendered right into the corners of our images, and areas of subtly graduated tones, such as skies, were kept smooth and blemish-free.
The S1200pj also put in an excellent performance in our standard still-life test when shooting under studio conditions. We gathered together a collection of everyday objects comprising various colours and different surface textures to test both its exposure skills and rendering talents. It passed with flying colours on both fronts, in these conditions keeping sensitivity pinned at ISO 80 and exposing for a fairly generous 1/50 second.
Reflective surfaces were particularly well handled, with the bare minimum of clipped highlights; blacks were dense and rich and it very cleanly rendered the detail on our fabric doorstop and the characters in a page of printed text.
We repeated the test twice over -- once using ambient light, and once with the onboard flash. Neither lived up to the professional lighting set-up. To make the most of the ambient light levels, the S1200pj hiked its sensitivity to ISO 400, thus muddying fine detail such as the coarse fabric, and losing the rich, pure blacks.
Those blacks returned when we switched on the flash, which cut sensitivity to a more manageable ISO 200, but the throw of the flash wasn't as even as we'd have liked. The foreground was overlit, while the background of our shot, which was less than 60cm away, was too dark, meaning we had a mixed set of results all round.
There are loads of creative tools built into the firmware, including a smile sensor to take portraits when your subject is looking their best, and filters to apply a soft focus, sepia, monochrome and high- or low-key contrast. Our favourite tool is selective colour, where you pick the only colour you want to preserve in each scene from a vertical spectrum, and everything else is rendered in monochrome.
There's also a handy panorama assist, which works up, down, left or right, to overlay the edge of your previous shot on top of the current live view. It's useful, but not as neat as the automated sweep panorama function that's becoming more common in this class of camera.
Like any modern digital compact, the S1200pj also shoots videos, with one-touch access to movie mode courtesy of a dedicated shooting button on the back of the case.
There aren't a great deal of options here, but then you don't really need them. Set your resolution, switch on wind noise reduction and you're done. The S1200pj takes care of everything else, turning out a good set of results.
Pans and zooms are smooth, and thanks to the optional continuous autofocus we were able to reframe our shots while shooting and keep everything sharp, with only momentary lapses into blur as it corrected itself. Compensation for changes to the level of available light were handled both smoothly and swiftly, for an impressive finished result.
Like the Coolpix S100, the lens is entirely enclosed within the body. Yet it still manages a 5x optical zoom (plus 4x digital), equivalent to 28-140mm on a 35mm camera, with an aperture of f/3.9 - f/5.8, which is a little slower than we'd like at the telephoto end.
The sensor has a native resolution of 14.1 megapixels, with sensitivity stetching from ISO 80 to ISO 6,400. Exposure compensation is +/-2EV in 1/3EV steps, set using an on-screen scale that simultaneously updates the live view. Switch to movie mode and you'll be shooting at 720p, so the results will qualify as high definition, and with a built-in HDMI connector they can be played back to your TV without first being downloaded.
Around the back there's a 3-inch screen -- pretty much the standard dimension these days.
Overall build quality is excellent, with a sturdy metal front and rigid plastic back, although the buttons have a cheap-sounding clickiness that spoils the effect.
The Coolpix S1200pj is a good camera, but at £350 it's simply too expensive for our liking. The projector is a genuinely useful feature rather than a mere gimmick, and it's great for anyone who wants to regularly share their pictures with friends on the spur of the moment. Ultimately, though, this is pushing up the price beyond a level we can justify as in other respects the specifications of this camera, while high end, don't far exceed what you could buy for considerably less.
Check out our review of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX7V to see what we mean. It may be missing the projector, but it ups the resolution to 16.2 megapixels, doubles the length of the zoom and shoots higher resolution 1080p video, while shaving around £100 off the asking price.
That has ultimately impacted the S1200pj's overall score. It's sure to come down in price sooner or later, but at the moment the price-to-features equation dents its appeal.