A worthy successor to the Coolpix 2000, Nikon's latest budget ultracompact, the 2-megapixel Coolpix 2100, delivers great photos and packs the ideal point-and-shoot feature set into its somewhat bulky, silver-plastic chassis. Like its 3-megapixel big brother, the Coolpix 3100, this camera is a lightweight 7 ounces with the bundled CR-V3 lithium battery and the 16MB CompactFlash card installed. Despite the 2100's diminutive size, its curvy shape makes it tough to fit into your pants pocket.
Nikon made the most of the small but cumbersome design with an intelligent control layout. Unlike with many minimalist point-and-shoots, most of the shooting features are on the mode dial. You change the flash, macro, and self-timer settings with the navigation buttons, now a common mechanism. The zoom switch is shaped for your thumb, making for easy one-handed shooting. The LCD offers access to all the well-designed menus, and Framing Assist overlays your shots to help you properly set up portraits and landscapes.
Though the 2100 lacks manual exposure options, its whopping 14 scene modes should be able to deal with most shooting demands, including fireworks, museum interiors (where flash isn't allowed), and color preservation under dusk or dawn lighting. Plus, you can resize and crop photos, as well as apply a monochrome or sepia filter to them--all from right inside the camera. The 2100's movie mode is pretty limited, however; there's no audio capture, and it can handle just 7 seconds of VGA video or 15 seconds of 320x240-pixel frames. The red-eye-reduction flash is only occasionally effective, but the accompanying NikonView software zaps red-eye in one click.
Overall, the 2100's performance ranks above average for a camera in this price and megapixel class. Shot-to-shot time under most circumstances runs less than 3 seconds. If you prefocus, there's barely any shutter lag. Autofocus feels quick and accurate, even in low light and with off-center subjects. We clocked the continuous-shooting mode (in which the flash is unavailable) at 0.3 to 0.8 frames per second, depending upon file size and compression selections--middling results, though we captured 39 consecutive VGA shots. At the highest-resolution setting, the 2100 can take up to 3 seconds to write a single image to the CompactFlash card. The 3X zoom lens is responsive and easy to control with precision, but it's a bit on the noisy side. It adds just a barely noticeable amount of barrel distortion at its widest angle. You can operate off of your own pair of rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride AA batteries, but we took more than 450 pics using a standard disposable CR-V3.
The Coolpix 2100 produces some of the best images we've seen from a 2-megapixel model. It delivers excellent white balance and color reproduction, as well as a broad dynamic range with very little noise. However, it does display slightly more purple fringing than we'd like, and as with most low-end cameras, you'll spot some noise in shots taken under dim lights or in dense shadows. In the sharpness department, the 2100's pictures are above average but not the greatest you can get from digicams in this class.