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Nikon Coolpix S3100 review: Nikon Coolpix S3100

The Nikon Coolpix S3100 is easy to carry, use and look at. But its image quality is pretty average, and you don't have to look hard to find other cameras that offer more features for less money.

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Nik Rawlinson
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Nik Rawlinson

Nik Rawlinson has been writing about tech since Windows 95 was looking distinctly futuristic. He is a former Editor of MacUser magazine and one-time scribe for Personal Computer World. Nik is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.

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3 min read

This year's tidal wave of Coolpix cameras has now hit the UK's shores. Priced at around £130, the S3100 is one of the cheapest compact cameras in Nikon's line-up. But does it bring anything new to the party or is it simply a reskinned version of last year's S3000?

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7.5

Nikon Coolpix S3100

The Good

Highly portable; handy 5x optical zoom; 720p movie mode.

The Bad

Some minor picture flaws; similar compacts are cheaper; low-res screen.

The Bottom Line

The Nikon Coolpix S3100 is easy to carry, use and look at. But its image quality is pretty average, and you don't have to look hard to find other cameras that offer more features for less money.

Nikon S3100 design

The S3100 looks almost identical the S3000. The logo's in a different place and the buttons on the rear are a slightly different shape. But, otherwise, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the two apart.

Perhaps that's why Nikon has chosen to distinguish the S3100 by producing it in a range of impressively gaudy colours. Our review unit came in a spectacular morning-after-the-night-before yellow. You can also pick it up in blue, pink, black, red, silver and purple versions.

There's plenty of colour in this shot, but the S3100's images can be on the soft side (click image to enlarge).

The design itself is pretty smart, which is possibly why Nikon hasn't changed it too much. The S3100 is very slim and light, and it feels balanced in the hand. The buttons are well placed, while the ports and sockets are well protected but easily accessible.

At 2.7 inches, the LCD display isn't massive by modern standards. With 230,000 pixels, it also has a fairly low resolution. Still, it's adequate for lining up shots and the user interface is nifty.

Improved specs

Internally, the S3100 offers a few notable enhancements over its predecessor. For a start, it has a resolution of 14 megapixels, rather than 12 -- not that more megapixels necessarily make for better pictures. The optical zoom has also been increased to 5x from 4x, while high-definition 720p video-recording capability is now offered as well.

We've seen the majority of the camera's other features before, although that's not to belittle their usefulness. The blink-detection, smile-detection, red-eye-fix and skin-softening features, for example, can all be employed to help you take a decent portrait shot. The subject-tracking function will also attempt to maintain the focus on a designated target, even if it's on the move.

All of these features are selectable via a single button on the rear, along with further scene modes, so there's very little faff involved. The camera offers an anti-blur function too, although the vibration reduction is of the electronic variety, which isn't as effective as optical image stabilisation.

Performance

Out and about, the S3100 is simple to use. Press the power button and it's ready to go in just over a second.

In terms of performance, though, the camera is fairly average for a device of its price. A significant number of our test shots were slightly blurred, in spite of the evenly lit environment we took them in and the camera's own vibration-reduction system.

The contrast in this shot is pleasing, but we expected the area of focus to be much sharper and more detailed (click image to enlarge).

As you can see from our images, the S3100's colour reproduction is dramatic but not unrealistic. We found, however, that skin tones can look somewhat unnatural in certain lighting conditions, even with the full auto functions engaged.

Fringing is evident too, although, admittedly, it's no more of an issue than it is with many other compacts we've seen. We were more disappointed by the overall lack of sharpness and detail. Take a look at our photo of the bluebells and you'll see that, while there's relatively little picture noise at an ISO setting of 320, the picture lacks definition, even in the area of foreground focus.

It's our job to be picky, however, and some of these criticisms may not even be an issue for many casual users. But we have to say that, while the S3100 is by no means the worst performer we've seen, we've definitely found it easier to get good results with other models in its class. It's also not the cheapest camera of its type, so we'd recommend weighing up its small size and portability against its cost and image quality.

Conclusion

The Nikon Coolpix S3100 is a pretty good camera, but, considering what's on offer, it's on the pricey side. If you're considering buying the S3100, we'd suggest you try to pick up the S3000 instead. It's virtually the same camera and can now be found online for about half the price.

Edited by Charles Kloet 

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