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Nikon Coolpix S4000 review: Nikon Coolpix S4000

Nikon Coolpix S4000

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Joshua Goldman
Joshua_Goldman.jpg

Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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8 min read

Normally when there's a performance complaint about a touch-screen camera, it's about the responsiveness of the display. That's not true for the Nikon Coolpix S4000. Its touch controls respond well to both fingertips and the included stylus. Nikon makes the screen useful, too, not just relegating it to functions that would be better suited for physical buttons. The performance problems are related to the autofocus system, which is inconsistent at best, and general shooting speeds.

6.4

Nikon Coolpix S4000

The Good

Stylish ultracompact design; responsive 3-inch touch-screen display.

The Bad

Inconsistent autofocus; poor low-light photos, performance.

The Bottom Line

Nikon's budget-friendly Coolpix S4000 offers up a large, responsive touch screen, but its performance will test your patience.

Its photo quality, especially indoors or in dim lighting, is mediocre as well. It's capable of taking a good snapshot under the right circumstances with results suitable for small prints and Web sharing. In fact, if you're looking for an inexpensive touch-screen camera for well-lit portraits of still subjects, the S4000 is a viable option. That seems like an awfully small user group, though, and with so many other options at and below its price, you have to really want the touch screen to make this model worthwhile.

The S4000 is nicely dressed for its price. The ultracompact metal body gives it a higher-quality feel and it's available in five colors--silver, black, red, pink, and plum. Up front is a wide-angle lens with a 4x zoom and in back is a 3-inch touch-screen LCD with a higher resolution than you'd typically find in this class. Despite its slim body, the camera is comfortable to hold and use, though with little to grab onto you'll want to use the included wrist strap.

Since the touch screen is used for most functions, there are few physical controls. On top is a power button and shutter release with a zoom ring. At the lower right of the screen is a shooting-mode button and a play button for reviewing and editing photos, but that's it. Thankfully, the screen is actually quite responsive and menus and shooting options opening quickly with little to no lag.

When shooting at the camera's full 12-megapixel resolution, the whole screen is used for framing shots; icons are simply layered on top. Down the left side of the screen are icons for changing flash, timer, macro, and display functions. The lower right side has icons for touch-based shooting options and accessing the main menu system for shooting and setup settings. The touch settings include a Touch Shutter to focus on subject and shoot with one tap; Subject Tracking for automatically tracking a moving subject; and Touch AF/AE, which will automatically focus and adjust exposure for whatever you tap on. All three aren't available in all shooting modes in which case the unavailable option just won't appear. In Playback, the touch screen can be used to browse photos and videos and to draw or add decorations to pictures among other things. And while the screen responds well to fingers, Nikon includes a small stylus to use if you want better control or a screen free of fingerprints.

Touch-screen cameras generally have mediocre battery lives, which is the case here. The S4000's CIPA-rated battery life is less than 200 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.

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. There is also a Draw option for writing or drawing on the screen and then saving it as an image.

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 S4000 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 macro focus by tapping the onscreen icon.

Shooting performance is better than your average camera phone, but still pretty slow for its price. From off to first shot is nearly 3 seconds. Then, from shot to shot the wait is 2.5 seconds. Using the flash draws that time out to 4.1 seconds. The S4000'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 or even using the tap-to-focus feature, it really struggles to focus on subjects, causing me to refocus again and again before shooting. It was particularly frustrating when using the Touch Shutter feature; it results in a lot of out-of-focus shots after which you're left waiting for the camera to refresh so you can shoot again.

The photo quality from the S4000 is OK; good enough for small prints and Web use, but questionable for anything else. While 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. The noise wouldn't be so bad if it didn't cause inconsistencies with color. 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 80-40 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 S4000's lens offers a good zoom range of 4x going from a 35mm-equivalent 27-108mm. It's enough to help you frame shots or get you a little closer to your subjects. However, with only electronic image stabilization, you really have to be careful when using it in low-light conditions or risk it using a higher ISO. The wide-angle lens shows a small amount of asymmetrical 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 top right corner of the lens on my review camera. This is only noticeable when photos are viewed at 100 percent, though. Purple/blue fringing on high-contrast subjects is typical of this class of camera, but the S4000 displays an above-average amount of it. It's especially visible on off-center subjects and background objects.

At sensitivities at and below ISO 200, the camera produces bright, vibrant, and reasonably accurate colors, though reds seem to blow out. Clipped highlights are a problem for this camera (as well as many point-and-shoots), however exposure is generally OK, and white balance is fairly accurate, too.

Movie quality is on par with a pocket video camera; it's good but jittery when the shooter or subject is moving. Keep the camera still and you'll get decent clips for Web sharing. You don't get use of the optical zoom while recording; only digital zoom is available.

The Nikon Coolpix S4000 is not an easy recommendation. If your endgame is great photos regardless of lighting conditions, it's definitely a pass. Its inconsistent autofocus and somewhat slow shooting performance can make it frustrating to use, too. On the other hand, the touch-screen interface is responsive, and the camera is capable of taking a decent snapshot in bright lighting. The wide-angle lens and Smart Portrait system make it an adequate choice for portraits if they're for Web use or small prints with little or no cropping. The S4000 is otherwise too much of a compromise for the money.

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)  
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W350
1.9 
3.9 
3.1 
0.7 
0.4 
Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS
1.5 
4.9 
2.7 
0.7 
0.5 
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 
Nikon Coolpix S4000
2.9 
4.1 
2.5 
1 
0.6 

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

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

6.4

Nikon Coolpix S4000

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 5Image quality 6
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