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Nikon Coolpix S200 review: Nikon Coolpix S200

This ultraslim, metal camera cuts one of the smallest profiles we've seen yet. At barely three quarters of an inch thick, the S200 is only a hair larger than the popular Motorola Razr phone. It weighs only 4.5 ounces, so you'll barely even feel it in your pocket. This small design has its drawbacks, though; the camera's various controls, especially its zoom rocker, are small, flat buttons that can feel awkward to large-thumbed users.

6.4

Nikon Coolpix S200

The Good

Super-slim design; face-detecting autofocus a nice touch.

The Bad

Disappointing lens; noisy, soft pictures.

The Bottom Line

The Nikon Coolpix S200 digital camera looks pretty and will fit almost anywhere, but it just doesn't take very good photos.
For point-and-shoot cameras, size can mean almost everything. If a camera is just half an ounce too heavy or half an inch too thick, it'll be too uncomfortable to carry around. Smaller doesn't automatically mean better, however. The 7-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S200 is one of the smallest cameras we've seen in a long time, though it isn't necessarily better than the competition.

Such a thin body doesn't leave much room for a lens. The S200's slender form sports a diminutive 38mm-to-114mm-equivalent 3x lens, hardly ideal for telephoto or wide-angle shots. You can still take plenty of pictures with the camera, but you'll have a hard time capturing vast landscapes or a tight headshot from the other side of a room with it.

Besides the mediocre lens, the S200 sports little more than the most standard features you would expect to find on a pocket camera. A modest 2.5-inch LCD screen dominates most of the camera's back panel. Its 7-megapixel sensor can reach up to ISO 1,000 sensitivity and offers Nikon's electronic Vibration Reduction, an ISO-and-shutter-speed-boosting feature for shooting with the zoom or in low light. Electronic VR isn't quite as effective as Nikon's optical Vibration Reduction, found on the S200's stainless steel brother, the Coolpix S500. The S200 also features Nikon's Face-Priority AF, a face-detecting feature that finds subjects' faces and uses them to determine focus. That way you shouldn't end up with a portrait that's focused on the plant behind Aunt Martha instead of on her face. Face detection is usually found on more high-end shooters, and sometimes determines exposure as well as focus, but Nikon has so far stuck with AF only and includes it in almost all of its snapshot cameras.

An inordinately long low-light shutter lag holds back the S200's otherwise acceptable performance. While the camera took only 0.6 second for our high-contrast shutter lag target, it took a startling 2.6 seconds with our low-contrast target. This long wait seriously hinders the camera's usefulness when shooting in low light. Otherwise, it performed sluggishly in our lab tests. After taking 1.7 seconds to start up and capture its first JPEG, the S200 could fire off a new shot every 1.9 seconds with the flash turned off. With the flash enabled, that time increased to 3.2 seconds. Burst mode snapped 10 full-resolution shots in 10.2 seconds for a rate of about 1 frame per second.

Images from the S200 aren't as sharp as we'd expect from a 7-megapixel camera. Finer details, such as smaller text or the texture of fabrics, just aren't as crisp as they could be. We saw some ISO-related noise, even at the camera's lowest ISO setting of ISO 50, though it was minor and visible only on monitors and not in prints. This remained about the same at ISO 100, though Nikon's noise reduction eats up a tiny bit of sharpness in the process. At ISO 200, noise increases a little bit and a tad more sharpness is lost, but you should still be able to get nice prints. The same can be said for ISO 400, which has a similar slight increase in noise and decrease in sharpness along with a minor loss of overall dynamic range. At ISO 800, noise increases precipitously, becoming a covering of white speckles, while a large amount of shadow detail goes by the wayside. This only becomes worse at ISO 1,000. We suggest staying below ISO 800.

Thanks to the S200's disappointing lens, most photos appear at least slightly distorted. Both wide-angle and telephoto shots develop a small amount of barrel and pincushion distortion, respectively. Strangely enough, we found that the most distortion appears in the middle of the lens, between the wide-angle and zoom extremes.

To its credit, the S200 does some things right. For example, its automatic white balance does a very nice job of neutralizing colors in incandescent and fluorescent lighting, and its tungsten preset was able to cope with our tough tungsten studio lights. Plus, the camera did a decent job of balancing flash with ambient light sources.

The Nikon Coolpix S200 suffers from a bad case of style over substance. Its ultraslim, attractive metal body looks great sliding into your pocket. When you slide it out of your pocket and start shooting, though, its image-quality issues and slow low-light performance severely tarnish the pretty camera's shine.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Shutter lag (low light)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Time to first shot  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot SD750
0.9 
1.6 
1 
0.5 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80
1.4 
1.2 
1.8 
0.6 
Nikon Coolpix S200
2.6 
1.9 
1.7 
0.6 
Nikon Coolpix S500
2 
2.8 
2.9 
1.1 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Nikon Coolpix S200
1 

6.4

Nikon Coolpix S200

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6Image quality 6