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Photos: Hands-on with the Nikon Coolpix S520

The Nikon Coolpix S520 is small, cheap and charming in an understated way. We're underwhelmed by the specs, but will its user-friendliness win us over?

In the light of a number of uninspiring recent releases, we can't help but feel that some of the traditional camera manufacturers like Nikon and Canon are trading on their names somewhat, while young pretenders like Casio and Panasonic are making real strides. Could the Nikon Coolpix S520 be the compact camera to change that opinion?

It boasts an 8-megapixel sensor and 3x zoom lens. Optical image stabilisation is also included in the sturdy aluminium body. The front plate has a comely brushed metal effect, with a gunmetal trim and cleverly recessed lens ring. A slightly indented space for the buttons gives the S520 a smooth profile, free from pocket-snagging protrusions.

ISO speed -- the sensitivity to light of the image sensor -- goes as high as ISO 2,000. Although this reduces the risk of blurred pictures in situations where a slower ISO may otherwise be required, like low light, it does lead to noise issues. We'll be testing that in our forthcoming review.

Features include new and improved face detection, which automatically seeks out and focuses on up to five faces. An in-camera red-eye function fixes red eyes automatically, which is good because the flash is hovering closer to the lens than a retail security guard who's just spotted Winona Ryder, Bai Ling and Richard Madeley on a shopping trip.

We're fans of Nikon's D-Lighting feature, which compensates for backlighting and lighting snafus by boosting detail in darker areas. In playback mode, favourite images can be saved separately. You can also check focus on faces in pictures you have taken with face zoom, allowing you to skip between faces in each image.

The Coolpix is available now in light bronze, black, and purple for a very friendly £125. -Rich Trenholm

Update: Read our full Nikon Coolpix S520 review

We had a quick look at the S520 at Focus on Imaging, and were slightly underwhelmed by the performance of the 64mm (2.5-inch) screen. How that 153,000-dot resolution holds up to everyday use will be another thing we focus on in our review.

One feature we like a lot is the option to select three of your favourite scene modes from the 16 available. These appear in the Mode menu for one-touch access. We've chosen as our top pick the brand new Food Mode that "allows users to capture beautiful close-up images of food at high ISO settings in restaurants or other locations where flash photography is not permitted". Other manufacturers call such a flash/sound-dousing setting museum mode. Thank goodness someone's finally made the connection to those stringent restaurant rules that restrict everything from dirty trainers to outlandishly loud and bright compact cameras.

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