With its supermodel-slim body and classy chassis--clad in jewel tones of brushed metallic blue, plum, bronze, and basic black--the Nikon Coolpix S210 will certainly make a style statement when you whip it out of whatever tiny pocket you've slipped it into. But as with its slightly more expensive and marginally slimmer-than-thou competitor, the Casio Exilim EX-S880, the performance and photo-quality trade-offs you make for high style and low price may not quite be worth it.
The S210 uses the typical Nikon menu scheme, though better implemented than in the annoying Coolpix S600. A Mode button pops you into selecting among auto, Hi ISO (auto ISO up to 1600, compared with ISO 800 for normal auto ISO), Scene, Voice recording, Movie, and Setup modes. Menu calls up frequently accessed shooting options: image resolution, white balance, ISO sensitivity (Auto plus manual 64 through 2000), and color effects.
You'll also find the AF area mode options here, which include Center, Manual spot, Auto, and Face Priority, as well as the various drive-mode options: single, continuous, Best Shot Selector, Multi-shot 16 (16 successive shots in a single frame), Interval Timer, and Time-Lapse in movie-capture mode. The BSS can be quite useful--it shoots up to 10 photos as you hold the shutter down, then saves the sharpest of the bunch.
But you really don't want to shoot at higher than ISO 400 with this camera, so forget the high ISO mode. As with the S600, the face-priority AF is too slow, as well as too erratic, to take seriously, and as with most snapshot models, the auto area AF invariably picks the wrong subject. As usual, I recommend that you eschew all the fancy AF modes and instead use center AF, focus, and recompose. For selecting the appropriate subject, you're still faster than the camera. There's also D-Lighting, which can apply tonal corrections in-camera for those inevitable underexposed shots, but this feature works best on models that have better high-ISO performance; it unavoidably exacerbates noise. The camera lacks optical image stabilization, and electronic stabilizers are generally poor substitutes.
Unfortunately, the S210's performance is fairly sluggish. It wakes up and shoots in a reasonable amount of time--2 seconds--but its normal single and sequential (not burst) shooting performance trails both competitors and what we consider generally acceptable. It takes 0.9 second to focus and shoot under optimal conditions and 1.5 seconds in suboptimal circumstances; most snapshot cameras have gotten those times closer to 0.5 and 1 second, respectively. Firing two shots in a row takes 3.1 seconds, 3.4 seconds with flash, both of which are close to bottom-of-class performance. Oddly, continuous-shooting performance does OK, bursting at a rate of about 1.5 frames per second.
The LCD fares pretty well. At 2.5 inches, it's a bit small for a fashionista camera and a tiny bit smaller than the EX-S880's, but about as big as you could fit on this model and typical for the price. If you boost the brightness, it's adequately viewable in direct sunlight, though that will eat into the camera's 220 shot battery life (CIPA rating). But it's got a nice, wide viewing angle that delivers a good overhead shooting and group viewing experience.
If it weren't for the poor lens and 8-megapixel sensor, the S600 would probably have much better photo quality. The 3x 38-114mm-equivalent f3.1-5.9 lens has a typical range and reach for its price class, but it's probably one of the worst we've seen with respect to sharpness.