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Cameras

Nikon Coolpix S500: Model behaviour

The Nikon Coolpix S500 is a 7.1-megapixel compact camera with a zippy scroll wheel and a cool optical image stabilisation system, all packed into a fashionable model-slim frame

The Nikon Coolpix S500 arrived in our office this week, and boy does it look good. But is this compact the brainy type, modelling to pay its way through college, or just another vacuous party-going airhead?

The body is a stainless steel, brushed gunmetal-grey affair. It manages the neat trick of feeling solid while still being size zero-slim and as light as a half-a-grapefruit breakfast. The big draw is that, despite its diminutive frame, the S500 fits in optical image stabilisation. This fractionally moves the lens to compensate for the tiny vibrations of nicotine-shaky hands, a method that is usually utilised by higher-end cameras and dSLRs.

Strangely, the S500 also includes the inferior digital method of image stabilisation more often found on compact cameras, and makes it available with a dedicated button on the top. The button simply drops the shutter speed right down, so there isn't enough time for your jitters to blur the picture. The problem with this is that compact cameras don't always perform well at the higher ISO levels required to compensate for such short exposure: early indicators suggest the S500 doesn't deal well with this issue.

We like the zippy scroll wheel, which injects a note of fun into the S500's standoffish user experience. It's much better than the four-way click pad found on most cameras, allowing you to nip backwards and forwards through the menus with the swiftness of a trapeze artist on rollerskates.

With a fairly average set of specs -- 7.1 megapixels and 3x optical zoom, meh -- the S500 lives and dies by its styling. It's as classy, refined and understated as a New York fashionista, but has the bonus of a scroll wheel darting about like an overexcited pet Chihuahua. To find out whether the image-stabilisation feature can translate the stunning looks into great photos, look out for a full review soon. -Rich Trenholm