Nikon Coolpix S8000 review: Nikon Coolpix S8000

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The Good Great LCD; stereo mic; 10x zoom in an attractive compact body.

The Bad Poor low-light photo quality; no optical zoom while recording movies; mixed shooting performance; no semimanual, manual modes.

The Bottom Line A nice design and a couple extra features keep the Nikon Coolpix S8000 from being an also-ran compact megazoom.

7.2 Overall

A year ago, the Nikon Coolpix S8000 would've been impressive: a slim, compact 14-megapixel camera with a wide-angle zoom lens, a high-resolution LCD, and a 720p HD movie mode with a built-in stereo mic and HDMI output for less than $300. And frankly, those features are still enough to grab attention from competing models. On the other hand, the users who would appreciate these features might also want more or better shooting options; the S8000 is for the most part an automatic camera. They'd probably also want better indoor/low-light photo quality, too. But, if you don't care about any of that and don't do a lot of cropping of your shots or printing them larger than 4x6 inches, the S8000 is an above average compact megazoom.

Key specs Nikon Coolpix S8000
Price (MSRP) $299.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 6.5 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 921K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 10x, f3.5-5.6, 30-300mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,320x3,240 pixels/1,280x720 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 210 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; by computer or wall adapter
Storage media SD/SDHC memory cards
Bundled software Software Suite for Coolpix (Windows/Mac)

Available in black, red, silver, and bronze, the S8000 is compact for having a 10x zoom lens, and it's one of the slimmest in its class. That's likely because of the smoothly flared lens surround, which is somewhat out-of-step with the camera's otherwise boxy design. It's attractive, though, and will fit easily in a pants pocket or small handbag. The metal casing makes it feel high-quality and despite it being completely flat, the right side has a textured finish that improves your grip slightly. If there is one problem with the design it's the flash. It pops up from the left side, so it's easily blocked by fingers when it rises and then leaves you little room to grip the camera once it's up. Fortunately, it only pops up when needed.

The controls and menu system are fairly uncomplicated, so out-of-the-box shooting shouldn't be much a problem. The menu system is broken into three tabs: Shooting, Movie, and Setup. The layout keeps you from doing too much hunting through settings. And thanks to the high-resolution screen, menus are nice-looking, sharp, and easy to read. The LCD gets reasonably bright as well, so you shouldn't struggle too much when framing shots in bright direct light. It's great for playback to boot.

Controls are pretty straightforward. Squeezed between the large thumb rest and the screen, is a record button for movies. Below that is a shooting mode button labeled "Scene" with a playback button to its right; a four-way control pad/wheel with an OK button in its center (Nikon calls it a Rotary Multi Selector); and then Menu and Delete buttons at the very bottom. The control pad is used for menu and image navigation as well as setting self-timer, adjusting flash and exposure compensation, and turning on macro focus. Should you want to move faster through menus or images and videos, you can spin the wheel instead of doing single presses with underlying control pad. Although it moves easily, you can feel stops. All in all, it's a pretty standard digital camera arrangement, but everything could be more responsive.

The S8000 is powered by a lithium ion rechargeable pack that is rated for a measly 210 shots; this was supported in testing, though it was a mix of stills and movies. The battery is charged in the camera by connecting via USB to a computer or the included wall adapter. The battery and card compartment are on the bottom behind a locking door. Next to it is a Mini-USB/AV port. A covered Mini-HDMI port is on the right side of the camera for connecting to an HDTV or monitor; you'll need to buy a cable, though.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix S8000
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Manual, Flash
Recording modes Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Smart Portrait, Subject Tracking, Movie
Focus modes Multi AF, Center AF, Face Priority, Selectable Area AF, Macro
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average
Color effects Brightness, Vividness, Hue
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 10

There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Nikon's Scene Auto Selector, which is the first option in the camera's Scene mode. It 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 like the program AE modes on other point-and-shoots. You can change ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation as well as light metering, autofocus area and mode, and continuous shooting modes. For the S8000, Nikon adds some extra control over hue (color tone) and vividness (saturation), too, with adjustable sliders. They're not revolutionary, but if you like to experiment they'll be welcomed. (Then again, so would semimanual or manual controls.) The slider settings get stored in the camera's memory for the Auto mode, so they stay even if you power the camera off.

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.

Nikon's Smart Portrait System gets its own spot in the shooting-mode menu. Basically, it combines blink detection, smile-activated shutter release, red-eye fix, skin softening, and Face Priority AF features into one mode. The System works well (though the red-eye reduction failed most times and there's no option to use it in playback mode), in particular for self-portraits, allowing you to take pictures without pressing the shutter release or setting a timer. The blink detection will fire off a second shot if the camera thinks someone blinked (though squinting had the same effect) and skin softening helps smooth out skin tones and can be set to low, normal, or high. Plus, the smile and blink detection and skin softening can be shut off entirely.

The last of the shooting modes is Subject Tracking, and the name pretty much says it all. Place the focus area box at the center of the frame on your subject, hit OK, and the camera will move the box with the subject. If the subject moves out of frame, the camera will do its best to pick up the subject when it reenters the frame. The camera can be set to focus once or continuously and it can prioritize tracking faces, but otherwise everything else is handled automatically. The mode mostly works as promised, but it should really just be an AF area option instead of a whole mode.

If you like to shoot close-ups, the S8000 has a few ways to enter Macro mode. It will automatically switch to it if you're using the Scene Auto Selector mode. You can also select a Close-up mode from the camera's Scene options. And if you're in Auto mode, you can switch to macro focus via the control pad. You can focus as close as 0.4 inch from your subject.

There is no Movie mode to select since video capture is activated with the dedicated record button. Press it and a couple seconds later the camera starts recording; resolutions can be set up to 720p HD quality at 30 frames per second. There is no use of the optical zoom while recording, but a stepped digital zoom is available and there is a continuous AF option.

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