The 6-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S6 is an overly stylish little snapshooter with nice design points, useful features, solid performance, and attractive photos. Its nifty click wheel is a great way to browse settings and pictures, but the rest of its controls are irritating and the Wi-Fi capabilities underwhelming. If you want a stylish camera, you should go with the Nikon Coolpix S5, and if you want a Wi-Fi-enabled model, you should probably wait until consumer Wi-Fi cameras develop more broadly applicable features. If you're desperate for a sleek, pretty camera you don't have to plug in to sync, the NikonCoolpix S6 could be a good choice, but the Canon PowerShot SD430 might be a better one. The Nikon Coolpix S6's Kit Kat-size metal body is sleek, stylish, and generally well designed. It suffers from a few irritating compromises where Nikon clearly emphasized style over substance, but on the whole, it's a logically designed, easy-to-use digital camera.
The front of the camera is simple and unassuming. Its sleek, gently curved face holds the lens in the upper-right corner, next to a tiny flash and an autofocus-assist light. The camera's 3X, 35mm-to-105mm lens (35mm equivalent) zooms internally, never extending to mar the S6's smooth lines.
The worst aspect of the Coolpix S6 is its minimalist top edge, apparently designed so that the buttons barely extend past the camera's body, if at all. The power button is uncomfortably recessed, and the tiny shutter release is only slightly better. The zoom rocker is a tiny lever no larger than a grain of rice that you'll just as likely forget. The camera's top also has a small special-function button to enable portrait assist and other features.
In contrast to the controls on top, the buttons on the back of the camera are excellently designed. An iPod-like click wheel works with four other buttons--Menu, Mode, Review, and Trash--to control the camera's various settings and modes. The wheel can click to activate flash, timer, and macro functions, but you'll spend most of your time spinning it to browse the camera's simple menu system. A bright, 3-inch LCD sits next to the camera's buttons and occupies the rest of the S6's back plate. The LCD is readable in most lighting--an essential since the S6 lacks an optical viewfinder. The upper-right corner of the camera has a tapered, textured space for gripping with the thumb. Unfortunately, the space is so tiny and close to the edge that the camera feels as if it will squirt out from between your fingers.The Nikon Coolpix S6's feature set has some interesting capabilities, although more experienced photographers will be disappointed by the lack of manual controls. The most notable, of course, is Wi-Fi. The camera has integrated 802.11b/g capabilities so that it can wirelessly sync with any Wi-Fi-enabled computer. Unfortunately, it can only upload, print, or instantly stream shots to the computer as they're taken, through a direct, ad-hoc connection or a wireless LAN. It can't upload from a hot spot like the Kodak EasyShare One or control the camera directly from a computer like the Canon PowerShot SD430. The Wi-Fi features can be handy if you don't want to use a cable, but they don't offer any significant benefit.
The Coolpix S6 has some neat features directed at casual users. These include a handful of scene presets, from the standard Landscape and Sports settings to a special Portrait mode that automatically activates red-eye reduction and Face-Priority autofocus. It also includes a 30fps VGA movie mode, voice recording (and voice annotating of photos), and a time-lapse movie mode.
Unfortunately, the Coolpix S6's manual controls are limited. ISO sensitivity, white balance, and exposure compensation can be changed in the camera's menu system. Like most point-and-shoots, the Coolpix S6 lacks a true manual focus mode, but a specific focus zone can be manually selected with the wheel. The Coolpix S6 has no aperture- or shutter-priority shot modes.The Nikon Coolpix S6 is a relatively peppy performer, rattling off shots at a reasonable rate. After a wake-up time of just 2 seconds, the camera snapped a shot every 1.8 seconds thereafter. Even with the onboard flash enabled, we could take a photo every 2.1 seconds. Shutter lag was a moderate 0.5 second in bright light, although dim light caused the lag to balloon to 1.7 seconds.
Burst mode was quick but not breathtaking. We fired off 41 shots at the highest resolution in just less than 32 seconds, yielding a rate of 1.3fps. At the lowest-quality setting, that dropped to 2.1fps, grabbing 73 shots in about 34 seconds.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Typical shot-to-shot time
|Time to first shot
|Shutter lag (typical)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Color accuracy and range are excellent, and the Coolpix S6's exposures are generally on target. Its palette is rather neutral and faithful to the scene, not oversaturated as with many other point-and-shoot cameras. The 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 sharp images. But certain lens artifacts tend to crop up, including significant softness, as well as vignetting (darkening) at the corners of the S5's frame, especially at the wide end of the zoom lens' range. We also noticed significant barrel and pincushion 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.
Noise performance in the Coolpix S6 is similar to that of other small-sensor point-and-shoot cameras; ISO 50 is very clean, ISO 100 is also clean, ISO 200 has noticeable noise, and ISO 400 is very noisy and speckled but still usable.