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Nikon Coolpix S520 review: Nikon Coolpix S520

If price is a major deciding factor in your next digital camera purchase, the Nikon Coolpix S520 is a solid-gold hit. Priced affordably, it's also the epitome of point-and-shoot compacts -- simple features and performance that boasts maximum ease and minimum effort

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
3 min read

It's easy to forget, when reviewing gadgets, that the majority of users want a product that does what it's supposed to with maximum ease and minimum effort. Clocking in at an extremely friendly £150, the 8-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S520 is the epitome of the modern compact point-and-shoot camera. We set out to find out if it does the job or if the average consumer should expect more.


Nikon Coolpix S520

The Good

It takes pictures -- we can't think of anything else.

The Bad

Counter-intuitive menu/mode buttons; underwhelming screen; light on features.

The Bottom Line

Despite its suave looks, the Nikon Coolpix S520 is a safe pair of hands rather than a glamorous catch. A light feature set and an absence of sexy characteristics mean it fails to stand out on any criteria except price -- but it is a solid-gold bargain

The S520 fits in the palm of the hand, with a sturdy, blocky aluminium body. It comes in light bronze, 'urban' black and purple, with a subtle brushed metal effect on the front. Optical image stabilisation is included in the sturdy aluminum body.

The controls are laid out in the standard clickpad and four buttons arrangement, with a zoom rocker button that's too narrow for our large thumbs, but nicely raised so there's plenty of travel in the button action. It's actually quite a smooth-textured zoom, not leaping in and out and quickly overshooting the point you were after.

The placement of the buttons in a slightly indented plateau did make the buttons located next to the ridge of the body tough to press, however. Also, the flash is located directly above the lens, which is a recipe for red-eye. The tripod bush could be closer to the lens too.

Our main concern was the screen. At 64mm (2.5 inches), it's the minimum size we'll settle for, but it's the subpar 153,000-dot resolution that makes the screen feel jaggy.

There are 16 scene modes; as always, some -- portrait, landscape -- are more useful than others -- food mode, for example. A panorama stitch mode allows you to combine multiple shots into one wide image.

Nikon's D-Lighting feature boosts detail in high contrast areas

We found useful the option to select three of your favourite scene modes for one-touch access. We also like Nikon's D-Lighting feature, which boosts detail in the lighter or darker areas of high contrast images to compensate for backlighting and other lighting problems.

Face detection can automatically seek out and focus on up to five faces. In playback mode, it's possible to check focus on faces by zooming in on each face in turn. There is also an option to save favourite images.

Not for the first time, we're slightly baffled by Nikon's decision to have the menu button call up the list of scene modes rather than the various shooting and setup menus, as other manufacturers tend to. We feel that separate mode and menu buttons are more intuitive.

The S520 pushes the sensor sensitivity envelope with a maximum ISO speed of 2,000. Given that noise is infecting shadows from ISO 400, that seems a pointless exercise in specs-padding. Images shot at ISO 2,000 are unusable.

Still, we can't really fault the S520 as a point-and-shoot. Although we noticed some barrel distortion, there is no loss of focus towards the edge of the frame. Even in high-contrast images there is little trace of purple fringing. Battery life is good, with one charge powering our testing.

The burst mode fires 2 frames per second without flash, which isn't anything special. Shot-to-shot time is reasonably favourable at 1.5 seconds, but drops right off when flash is involved.

With capable if uninspiring image quality in a solid, compact frame, the S520 ticks the point-and-shoot boxes. At this great price we struggle to find a better competitor, but the Sony Cyber-shot W120 seems to have a broader feature set. We'd recommend a compact that feels more exciting, like the ultra-slender Casio Exilim EX-S10, but if price is the deciding factor then the S520 is a safe bet.

Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday