Nikon Coolpix S8000 review: Nikon Coolpix S8000

Nikon Coolpix S8000

Joshua Goldman

Joshua Goldman

Senior Editor / Reviews

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering laptops and the occasional action cam or drone and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.

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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.


Nikon Coolpix S8000

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.

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.

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.

Nikon claims the S8000 has ultrafast start-up, autofocus, and shooting and that's true, at least partially. The camera starts up and shoots very fast at 0.8 second, but that's if you're ready to shoot as soon as the camera comes on and your timing is good. If you wait for everything to get loaded up and ready, though, it is more like 4 or 5 seconds from off to first shot. Shot-to-shot times are good for its class at 1.7 seconds without the flash and 2.1 seconds with it on. Shutter lag---how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is average for its class at 0.5 second in bright lighting and 0.9 seconds in dim conditions. The S8000 has a couple continuous shooting options; we test with its full-resolution continuous setting, which shoots at about 1.2 frames per second. There is a faster Sport Continuous option for capturing up to 45 photos at approximately 3 frames per second. In order to do this, the maximum resolution is reduced to 3 megapixels; the focus, exposure, and white balance are fixed at the first picture in the series; and the ISO is set to a range of 400-3,200. These things aren't unusual for burst modes on compact cameras, and it does allow you to capture something. However, you won't be able to do much with them beyond Web sharing and 4x6-inch prints, which is probably enough for most people.

For being one of Nikon's highest end Coolpix cameras, the S8000's photo quality is pretty average. Photos taken at ISO 400 and below are good with low noise and decent fine detail, so light cropping and enlarging are possible, resulting in good prints up to 8x10 inches. With no cropping, you can probably go slightly larger without seeing soft, smeary details. Above ISO 400, images look more like watercolor paintings than photos. At ISO 800 they're still usable for small prints and Web use, but go any higher and you end up with soft, smeary subjects and blotches of yellow and blue color noise.

In Auto mode, you have a choice of two fixed range auto settings for ISO: ISO 100-400 and 100-800. When possible, use the former. If you're using the full 10x zoom range, you're indoors, or in low-light conditions, switch to the latter.

Nikon for the most part controls lens distortion, but there is very slight barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushion distortion when the lens is fully extended. Center sharpness is OK, but gets visibly softer in the corners. Fringing is average to above average in high contrast areas of photos. In the center of the frame it's not as bad. However, subjects off to the sides have more severe fringing making it harder to edit out.

Color performance is very good--bright, vibrant, and accurate; only blues were a bit off, looking slightly pale. Exposure and white balance are good, too, though the auto white balance is slightly green under fluorescent lighting. However, it performed fine when switched to the fluorescent preset or with a manual reading.

Movie quality is on par with a pocket video camera; it's good but jittery when the shooter or subject is moving. On top is a stereo mic, and it works well, too. If you want to hear your clips in stereo directly from the camera, though, you'll have to invest in a Mini-HDMI cable.

The Nikon Coolpix S8000 is a strange camera, mostly because I'm not sure who the target user is. Is a person who would appreciate paying extra for a 921K-dot LCD and stereo mic the same one who would be satisfied with mainly snapshot shooting modes, no use of the optical zoom while recording movies, and poor high ISO photo quality? The addition of slider controls for brightness, saturation, and color tone and the use of the Rotary Multi Selector seem to suggest the S8000 may at one time have had semimanual and/or manual controls in its feature set. Maybe next time around, Nikon can take the design and key features, pop in a better sensor, and add more control over results to make this a more attractive package. As it stands, it's just an above average compact megazoom.

Shooting speed
(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)  
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1
Fujifilm FinePix JZ500
Canon PowerShot SX120 IS
Nikon Coolpix S8000
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W370

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

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