Nikon Coolpix S8100 review: Nikon Coolpix S8100

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The Good Excellent shooting performance; great LCD; stereo mic; 10x zoom in an attractive compact body.

The Bad Soft photos on either side of ISO 200; white balance is a little off; no manual or semimanual shooting modes.

The Bottom Line With fast performance, good photos, and an excellent feature-to-price ratio, the Nikon Coolpix S8100 is a compact megazoom worth considering.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

The Coolpix S8100 compact megazoom is Nikon's follow-up to the Coolpix S8000. That camera didn't offer much more than what you could get from other manufacturers--if anything--and produced average photos and had average shooting performance. Its design was really the only thing that made it above average. Nikon quickly moved forward with the S8100, keeping the prior model's design for the most part, but adding a high-speed backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor.

These sensors generally allow for faster shooting performance and better low-light photo quality, and this is the case with the S8100. For the same price as its predecessor you get a lot more camera, better photos, and burst shooting capable of up to 10 frames per second, among other performance gains. There's still room for improvement, but overall the S8100 is one of the better compact megazooms I've tested at its price.

Key specs Nikon Coolpix S8100
Price (MSRP) $299.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.2 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 7.4 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS
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/H.264 AAC (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080p 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/SDXC memory cards
Bundled software Software Suite for Coolpix (Windows/Mac)

Overall photo quality from the S8100 is very good, on par or above other cameras in its class. Though its sensitivity settings run from ISO 160 to ISO 3,200, the S8100 produces the best results at ISO 200. Photos on either side of this sensitivity look soft and benefit from sharpening with photo-editing software. There's a Fixed Range Auto option that will limit you to ISO 160-400, which is nice since this is where it performs best. On the other hand, the regular Auto ISO setting only goes up to ISO 800 and since the S8100 does OK there, too, it's fairly safe to use. The two highest ISOs--1,600 and 3,200--should probably only be used in emergencies, mainly because the colors get very washed out and the noise reduction makes subjects appear smeary.

Like most cameras with BSI CMOS sensors, the S8100 has multishot modes for improving low-light photos of landscapes and portraits. At a single press of the shutter release, the camera takes several photos and then combines them to improve blur from hand shake and reduce noise and correct exposure. In general, the Night Landscape mode is successful, though at full size you will see chroma noise. The Night Portrait mode takes shots with and without flash and combines them into nicely exposed shots. However, because of the nature of how these images are produced, these modes cannot be used with moving subjects.

Nikon does an excellent job of controlling both barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushioning at the telephoto end of the lens. The lens is fairly sharp in the center, but there is noticeable softness at the sides and in the corners when photos are viewed at their full resolution.

Colors produced by the S8100 are good up to ISO 800, if not altogether accurate (though that's average for midrange point-and-shoots). Exposure is consistently good, too, and if you need some help, Nikon's D-Lighting feature can be used in Playback mode. The auto white balance under unnatural light tends to be a little too warm, so it's best to use the manual white-balance option whenever possible (the presets turned out a little green under unnatural lights in my tests).

Despite its 1080p movie capture being a main selling point, video quality is merely on par with a good HD pocket video camera; good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. If you plan to do a lot of panning from side to side or shooting fast-moving subjects, there is a lot of judder. That's fairly common for point-and-shoots, but it's really noticeable on the 1080p movies. Also, while the zoom does work when recording, the movement is picked up by the mics on top so you will hear it in your movies. If you use the zoom while recording you'll want to keep the autofocus set to full time, but unfortunately you will hear the lens focusing in your movies, too. It basically sounds like a constant clicking sound.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix S8100
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 160, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Manual, Flash
Recording modes Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Continuous, Subject Tracking, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Backlighting HDR
Focus modes Multi AF, Center AF, Face Priority, Selectable Area AF, Macro
Macro 0.4 inch
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average
Color effects Brightness, Vividness, Hue controls
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 5 shots

There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Nikon's Scene Auto Selector. 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 S8100, Nikon adds some extra control over hue (color tone) and vividness (saturation), 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.

The type of scene you're shooting may correspond to one of the camera's 12 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, used in either Portrait or Night Portrait modes, combines blink detection, smile-activated shutter release, red-eye fix, skin softening, and Face Priority AF features into one mode.

There are, as mentioned earlier, multishot modes for improving low-light photos as well as an HDR (high dynamic range) mode that combines photos taken at different exposures to help bring out highlight and shadow detail. The high-speed performance of the CMOS sensor gets put to use in burst modes, too. The best one is the Continuous H setting, which lets you shoot at up to 10fps for five photos. The Continuous L mode drops to approximately 1.8fps, but can capture up to 26 photos. The camera also has a 120fps burst capturing up to 54 frames at a press of the shutter release. The images are only 1-megapixel resolution and there's a substantial wait while the camera stores all those photos, but if you're trying to capture a specific moment in time, this is your best bet with this camera.