At less than 1 inch thick and only slightly larger than a credit card, the Nikon Coolpix S5 is an excellent camera to slip into your pocket and take anywhere you go. It's very attractive as well, with gray lettering on a body of chrome-trimmed, satin silver metal. The front of the camera curves slightly in an S-shape, giving the body a sophisticated, slightly organic look. Even charging and syncing look cool, thanks to the camera's matching docking station. Build quality, as with most Nikons, is very solid.
The Coolpix S5's sleek, contoured body, bright 2.5-inch LCD, and recessed, internally zooming lens scream style rather than substance, and the camera doesn't seem to be designed with shooting efficiency in mind. The recessed power button, shutter release, and zoom rocker on the top edge of the camera are practically microscopic. They function well enough, but they clearly sacrifice comfort and accessibility for maintaining the S5's smooth lines.
The iPod-style scrolling click wheel on the back is a brilliant feature, recalling the wheel-style controls of decades of film cameras, as well as digital SLRs. The wheel feels incomplete, though; it can directly change only flash, macro, and timer features, forcing the user to delve into the camera's menu to tweak image settings such as white balance, ISO sensitivity, resolution, and EV. Thankfully, the menu itself is simple, and those settings can be changed with just a spin or two of the click wheel.
Snapshooters who don't normally fiddle with those settings, however, should be happy with the Coolpix S5. Nikon has incorporated a dedicated Mode button for quick access to scene modes, and another button selects a special portrait mode that activates Nikon's face-priority autofocus, in-camera red-eye removal, and D-lighting automatic exposure adjustment.
Designed to deliver quality snapshots with minimal fuss, the Nikon Coolpix S5 offers a mixed bag of features. Casual photographers who just want to point and shoot will be pleased, but the limited options will disappoint users who like to tinker with image settings. The 6-megapixel sensor is big enough for nice 8x10-inch prints at low ISO settings, and the modest 35mm-to-105mm zoom lens (35mm equivalent) sports an equally modest maximum aperture of f/3.0 to f/5.4.
The Coolpix S5 has several small conveniences, such as 21MB of internal memory; a 30fps VGA movie mode with electronic vibration reduction; interval and 16-shot burst modes; a feature that warns you when you've taken a blurry picture; and Pictmotion slide-show software that animates your images with transition effects and music from either on-camera tracks or user-uploaded MP3s. The camera sports 15 shot presets, including 4 shooting modes such as Portrait and Sports, and 11 scene modes, such as Museum and Beach/Snow.
On the other hand, the camera lacks control over contrast, sharpness, and JPEG compression, though there are two 6-megapixel image settings with different compression levels and five color modes.
The Nikon Coolpix S5 is a snappy performer, capturing its first shot after power-up in just 2 seconds. The camera performs even better when you actually start shooting, delivering a shot-to-shot time of 1.8 seconds. It stays quick even with the onboard flash enabled, requiring just 2.1 seconds to recycle between flash shots. The Coolpix S5 exhibits impressive autofocus and shutter-lag performance in good lighting as well, focusing on and capturing CNET's standard high-contrast target in 0.5 second. Low-contrast shooting is a bit more sluggish, upping shutter lag to 1.7 seconds.
The Coolpix S5 is quick enough in burst mode; in our testing, it captured 41 shots at 1.3fps using the highest image-quality setting. At the lowest image-quality setting, the camera captured 73 frames at 2.1fps.
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|
The Nikon Coolpix S5 offers generally excellent image quality for snapshots, though critical viewers may notice vignetting and other minor flaws creeping into their photos.
Color and tonal range are excellently rendered, and its color accuracy and exposures are generally on target. The Coolpix S5's palette is rather neutral and faithful to the scene, not oversaturated as with many other point-and-shoot cameras. The Coolpix S5's Vivid color setting gives images a little more warmth and pop but doesn't go too far. Flesh tones are warm but not ruddy, even with flash at close range, and the camera's automatic white balance is fairly accurate under most conditions.
The lens exhibits very little chromatic aberration, which causes the purple or green fringing commonly found along strongly backlit or high-contrast edges, and it can yield quite sharp images. But lens artifacts tend to crop up, including significant softness and vignetting (darkening) at the corners of the Coolpix S5's frame, especially at the wide end of the zoom lens's range. We also noticed significant pincushion and barrel distortion--lines curving inward at the telephoto end and bowing outward at the wide end, respectively. Thankfully, most of these image flaws will probably go unnoticed by casual viewers looking at prints. The camera's edge sharpening is occasionally too aggressive in high-contrast areas with thin lines, such as power lines in front of a white wall, which gives them light halos.