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Nikon Coolpix S3000 review: Nikon Coolpix S3000

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Editors' note: Many of the design, features, and shooting options are identical between the Nikon Coolpix S3000 and the Coolpix S4000 we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.

6.6

Nikon Coolpix S3000

The Good

Very small, lightweight; easy to operate; inexpensive.

The Bad

Inconsistent autofocus; poor low-light photos.

The Bottom Line

The Nikon Coolpix S3000 is an attractive inexpensive ultracompact that's a step above your average camera phone.

The Nikon Coolpix S3000--and really all sub-$150 ultracompact digital cameras--is a step-up from a camera phone. It has a better lens, shooting options, performance, image quality, and battery life than a mobile device without weighing you down. However, in the world of point-and-shoots this is a lower-end model and it shows under slight scrutiny. Don't get this camera if you're planning to shoot indoors or in low light without a flash, take pictures of fast-moving subjects, or if you want really sharp shots directly from the camera. Consider it for casual photography of well-lit portraits and landscapes that will be shared online or as 4x6-inch prints and the occasional 8x10. It's a Facebook camera that can do things the average camera phone can't.

Key specs Nikon Coolpix S3000
Price (MSRP) $149.95
Dimensions (WHD) 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.8 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 4.1 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 4x, f3.2-5.9, 27-108mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/Motion JPEG (.AVI)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/ 640x480 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Electronic
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 220 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; by computer or wall adapter
Storage media SD/SDHC cards
Bundled software Software Suite for Coolpix (Windows/Mac)

The S4000 is nicely dressed for its price. The ultracompact metal body gives it a higher-quality feel, and it's available in six colors--silver, black, green, blue, purple, and orange. Up front is a wide-angle lens with a 4x zoom and in back is a 2.7-inch LCD--both typical of its price and size. Despite its slim body and light weight, the camera is comfortable to hold and use, though with little to grab onto you'll want to use the included wrist strap.

Operating the S3000 is easy enough that anyone who's handled a digital camera before should be able to start shooting out of the box. On top is a power button and shutter release with a zoom ring. Then to the right of the LCD on back are the remaining controls. There's a Scene button for accessing all shooting modes; a playback button for viewing and editing images and videos on the camera; a delete button; and a menu button for changing any camera settings. A directional pad and OK button are used for navigation as well as changing flash, timer, exposure compensation, and macro focus settings. Menus are straightforward with separate tabs for mode-specific photo/movie options and general setup settings.

The S4000's CIPA-rated battery life is average at 220 shots per charge. The pack charges pretty quickly, though, in about 2 hours using the supplied wall adapter; it can also be charged by connecting via USB to a computer. The only output on the camera is a Micro-USB/AV port on the bottom of the camera next to the battery/memory card compartment.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix S3000
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200
White balance Auto, Custom, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash
Recording modes Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Smart Portrait, Subject Tracking, Movie
Focus modes Face priority AF, 9-point Multi AF, Center AF, Macro AF
Metering modes Multipattern, Center-weighted (when using up to 2x digital zoom), Spot (digital zoom of 2x or more)
Color effects Standard, Vivid, Sepia, Black & White, Cyanotype
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Three

The shooting options, although fairly basic, are good for snapshooters, particularly for portraits. There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Nikon's Scene Auto Selector that adjusts settings appropriately based on six common scene types. If the scene doesn't match any of those, it defaults to a general-use Auto. Then there is an Auto mode, which is similar to the program AE modes on other point-and-shoots, giving you a modicum of control over your end results. You can change ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation as well as autofocus areas and modes, flash, and continuous shooting modes. Light metering is locked to multipattern unless you're using the digital zoom.

If you're able to decipher the type of scene you're shooting, it may correspond to one of the camera's 14 selectable scene modes. All of the scenes are standards like Portrait and Landscape, and there is a Panorama Assist for lining up a series of shots that can be stitched together with the bundled software.

Nikon's Smart Portrait System gets its own spot in the shooting-mode menu. Basically, it combines a Blink Warning, Smile Shutter, Skin Softening, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, and Face Priority AF (autofocus) features into one mode. The System works well, in particular for self-portraits, allowing you to take pictures without pressing the shutter release or setting a timer.

For those who like to take close-ups, the S3000 is at its sharpest in Macro mode. It can focus as close as 3.1 inches from a subject. There are a few ways to enter Macro mode, too. It will automatically switch to it when using the Scene Auto Selector mode. You can also select Close-up mode from the camera's Scene options. And if you're in Auto mode, you can turn on with the directional pad.

There is a basic VGA-quality movie mode. There's no use of the zoom lens while recording, but there is a digital zoom.

Shooting performance is better than your average camera phone, which is a reason to get this camera. From off to first shot is 2.3 seconds. Then, from shot to shot the wait goes up to 2.7 seconds. Using the flash draws that time out to 4.1 seconds. Shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is relatively low at 0.4 second in bright conditions and 0.7 second in dim. The S3000's continuous shooting is capable of capturing up to three photos at an average of 0.7 frame per second. Lastly, the camera seems to have problems focusing. Regardless of mode, it really struggles to focus on subjects, causing me to refocus again and again before shooting. And even when the camera says you're in focus, the shots occasionally look out of focus.

The photo quality from the S3000 is OK; good enough for small prints and Web use, but it is questionable for use with anything else. Though the camera is capable of taking decent snapshots in bright lighting conditions, quality drops off noticeably between ISO 200 and ISO 400 with increased noise and softness. That's not great because even at ISO 80 the photos are soft. The noise reduction causes smeared details, and this smearing only gets worse at higher ISOs, making it a poor choice for low-light photos.

In Auto mode there's a Fixed Auto ISO option, letting you limit the camera to using a range between ISO 80-400 or ISO 80-800. I recommend using the 80-400 range whenever you're shooting in a mixed lighting environment and don't feel like switching ISO settings. The camera also seems to have problems focusing, causing me to refocus again and again before shooting.

The wide-angle lens shows some barrel distortion on the left side. There is little discernible distortion when the lens is extended. Center sharpness is good, but there was visible softness in the left corners of the lens on my review camera. In fact, the whole left side looks softer than the rest of the frame. This is only really noticeable when photos are viewed at 100 percent, though. Seeing purple-blue fringing on high-contrast subjects in photos is typical of this class of camera, but the S3000 displays an above average amount of it.

At sensitivities at and below ISO 200, the camera produces bright and vibrant colors that, while not always accurate, are pleasing. Though clipped highlights are certainly a problem for this camera (as well as many point-and-shoots), exposure is generally OK and white balance is fairly accurate, too. If the S3000 does underexpose a photo, Nikon's D-Lighting feature in the camera's playback editing options will do an excellent job of rescuing details lost in shadows without overexposing other areas of the photo.

The Nikon Coolpix S3000's biggest issue is its fairly inconsistent autofocus system, occasionally forcing you to refocus again and again to get a decent shot. It's similar to what I experienced with its linemate the S4000, so it's likely a problem with the model, not just my test sample. Photo quality is good enough for casual photographers who care more about having an attractive inexpensive ultracompact than capturing excellent photos. If you're looking for an entry-level pocket camera and all your shots are destined for online use or 4x6-inch prints or smaller, the S3000's photos are sufficient and its shooting performance, particularly shutter lag, is better than you'll get with a camera phone.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot A3100 IS
1.8 
3.9 
2.3 
0.7 
0.5 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W330
1.8 
3.4 
2.6 
0.7 
0.4 
Nikon Coolpix S3000
2.3 
4.1 
2.7 
0.7 
0.4 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP3
1.1 
4.5 
2.8 
0.7 
0.5 
Canon PowerShot SD1300 IS
1.4 
4.7 
3 
0.7 
0.5 

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

6.6

Nikon Coolpix S3000

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6Image quality 6