Nikon Coolpix S10 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Hands-on Preview: 12/05/2006
Full Review: 03/19/2007
The Nikon Coolpix S10 is an update to the company's existing Coolpix S4 model, adding a couple of very useful features. The popular Coolpix S4 was Nikon's first swivel-bodied digital camera model since the Coolpix SQ was launched way back in February 2003 (and the first to retain the styling cues of its extremely popular prosumer swivel-bodied models since the Coolpix 4500 in late May 2002). There have been imitators, but no company has been quite so successful or synonymous with the concept. Inside the swivelling body of the Nikon Coolpix S10 reside the core features of the S4 model -- a 10x optical zoom lens equivalent to 38 to 380mm on a 35mm camera, coupled with a 6 megapixel imager, and a 2.5 inch LCD display. Where the S4 had an ISO range of 50 to 400, the S10 boosts the maximum to ISO 800. Even more significantly, Nikon has adopted a shift-type sensor stabilization system for the Coolpix S10 -- which should make it quite a bit easier to get a sharp exposure at the telephoto end of that powerful lens!
Other features of the Coolpix S10 include 16 beginner-friendly Scene modes, plus a One-Touch Portrait button that combines Apical Ltd.'s "D-Lighting" exposure correction technology, Identix's face-priority AF, and an in-camera red-eye fix function, to easily capture the best possible portrait image. Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode which automatically chooses the sharpest from a series of images is also included. The Nikon S10 saves images on Secure Digital cards, or in 16MB of internal memory. The camera includes USB, and video output, and comes bundled with Nikon's PictureProject software. Other features include a built-in flash strobe, movie recording at VGA resolution with sound, a macro mode that focuses to 1.6 inches, and seven white balance modes including custom. The Nikon Coolpix S10 ships in the USA from September 2006, priced at $399.95.
Nikon Coolpix S10 User Report
Intro. Nikon's first digicam, the Coolpix 900, was a swivel camera. The innovative design allowed the zoom lens to rotate up and down independently of the LCD viewfinder. You could consequently frame shots from high overhead, or below your waist --, or even right back at yourself -- with unmatched ease. Even an articulated LCD (like the one on several Canon digicams) isn't quite as comfortable, swinging out away from the camera, and your point of view.
Composing with a swivel camera is like nothing else, and owners of Coolpix swivel cameras just don't give them up. But the Nikon Coolpix S10 makes a compelling argument to owners of prior swivels to rethink their allegiance. And for anyone just dipping their toe in the digital ocean, it offers a set of features that are not just gimmicks, but real help. Among them are image stabilization (essential on a long zoom but helpful for available light photography too), face detection autofocus (for portraits of people who are not centered in the scene), a red-eye fix that goes to work before the image is saved, and a lighting adjustment for underexposed images.
There's a lot to like about the Coolpix S10, and if you appreciate the advantages of a swivel design, you'll be glad to know modern technology hasn't passed it by.
It is instructive, however, to note some of the features of earlier Nikon swivels that are missing on the Coolpix S10. No flash sync connection, no Manual mode, no Shutter/Aperture Priority modes, no converter lenses (though the 10x zoom covers that for the most part). Fortunately, that wonderful Macro mode is still available.
Design. The Nikon Coolpix S10 design resembles the sleek wave design of the S7c but it has to wave a good deal more to get around the substantial glass of its 10x Nikkor zoom, which uses 12 elements in nine groups. It comes up a bit short for me on the grip end where I was often obscuring a part of the large LCD just to hold onto the camera.
In fact, grabbing the Coolpix S10 took some practice. I was inclined to pick it up by the fat lens end. But the shooting grip was on the thin side -- and most of that is LCD. Older swivel designs were symmetrical (with a much smaller LCD) so this wasn't an issue.
The manhole cover lens cap is removable. But you'll want to keep it on. When shooting, flip it all the way back against the side of the camera. It will click into place there, and stay out of the way. If you only open it part way, it can easily flap back into the picture.
The Nikon S10 is a mostly metal body (with a plastic tripod mount) that weighs less than most long zooms, and more than most entry-level point-and-shoots, giving it some stability for hand held shots. At 4.4 x 2.9 x 1.6 inches (112.5 x 74.5 x 40.5mm), it takes a big pocket to call it pocketable, but it's small enough to take anywhere. If it were available in black, it would seem even smaller.
Most digicams run their controls down the right side of the back panel, with the shutter button, zoom lever, and power button on top. The Coolpix S10 does have the shutter button, zoom lever, and power button on top, but runs the rest of the main controls above the LCD on the back panel, with just a couple on the lens side. That's a series of four small buttons, and a joystick, which replaces the four-way navigator most cameras employ. The joystick was a pleasure to use, and very easy to get used to, especially since the LCD displays a nice large equivalent of its options the minute you activate it. I found myself making far fewer errors than usual in menu selections, and navigation.
The grip issue is resolved by committing to a two-handed grip with the Nikon Coolpix S10 -- something that comes naturally when you pick up a swivel. Your left hand, after all, wants to do a little swiveling. And, holding the heavy side of the camera, it can also free your right hand to get out of the way of the LCD, and concentrate on the shutter button.
Display/Viewfinder. There's no optical viewfinder on the Coolpix S10 (but there wasn't on the original 900 either). The 2.5 inch LCD displays a generous 230,000 pixels. It picks up fingerprints easily, but it's also viewable in sunlight.
But the nice thing about the LCD on a swivel camera is that you can angle it so you can see it, without worrying about where the lens is pointing. If you pick up a little glare, just change the LCD angle. It's independent of the lens angle.
Luke had a complaint about the Nikon Coolpix S10's LCD accuracy, however. "What you see is not what you get: playback is is shifted vertically from capture, and larger," he observed. This isn't something you'd notice outside the lab, and may be confined to our review unit.
Performance. Our preliminary performance numbers for startup, autofocus lag, and pre-focus lag were all above average for both long zooms (which tend to resemble small dSLRs), and entry-level point-and-shoots.
The Nikon Coolpix S10's zoom range of 38-380mm (in 35mm equivalents) is typical of 10x zooms, which tend to be a little narrow at the wide-angle range.
Continuous mode shooting runs about 1.6 frames per second with a Multi-shot mode at lower resolution, and compression offering 1.9 fps. Interval timer shooting is also available.
In addition to Portrait mode, which has its own button on the lens barrel, the Coolpix S10's Scene Assist modes include Landscape, Sports, and Night Portrait. Other Scene modes include Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy Back Light, Panorama Assist, and Voice Recording.
Movie mode taps into the Coolpix S10's vibration reduction with 640 x 480 resolutions at 30 fps, 320 x 240 at 15 fps, and 160 x 120 at 15 fps, all with sound. A time-lapse option at 15 fps is also available without sound.
The Nikon Coolpix S10's six megapixel sensor falls in the sweet spot between enough resolution for excellent 8 x 10 inch prints and low noise. Image sizes, and compression include 2,816 x 2,112 with low compression (High quality), then 2,816 x 2,112, 2,048 x 1,536, 1,024 x 768), and 640 x 480 all with normal compression. Only a 4:3 aspect ratio is available, no 3:2 (standard 35mm format), or 16:9 (wide screen).
Among the special features on the Nikon Coolpix S10 are some innovations, and a few Nikon classics:
- Vibration Reduction: Nikon's name for image stabilization, VR is enabled by a button on the lens barrel. Pressing the shutter button halfway activates it. When you see the image stabilize, press the shutter all the way down.
- Face-Priority Autofocus: Press the Portrait button on the lens barrel, compose your shot, and watch the Coolpix S10 find the nearest face looking at it in the scene. When you press the shutter button halfway down, the yellow face target turns green to confirm focus.
- In-Camera Red-Eye Fix: When the Flash mode is set to Red-Eye Reduction, the flash will pulse a few times to encourage your subject's pupils to contract. If that doesn't get rid of red-eye, the image undergoes further processing to eliminate it. That can cause a short delay between shots.
- D-Lighting: In Playback mode, you can enhance underexposed backlight subjects with this option, which saves a copy of the image.
- Best Shot Selection: When activated from the Record menu, the Coolpix S10 will take up to 10 shots, saving the image with the sharpest definition. There's also an option to focus on highlights, shadows, or a combination of the two when determining the best shot.
- Pictmotion: The Nikon Coolpix S10 provides five presentation styles with five tunes preinstalled, and room for three more so you can snaz up your slide shows.
The Nikon Coolpix S10's 3.7 volt, 1,100 mAh lithium ion battery pack is good for about 300 shots, a little better than most.
The Nikon S10's navigation system is simple to use, but one aspect kept driving me nuts. There's a Record/Playback button to toggle between those two options, but there's also a Mode button (used to select which Record mode, or Playback mode you want). Then there's the Menu button to configure the camera for the Record mode you've selected. It's about one level of hierarchy too many.
Luke found that the menus require two extra button clicks to confirm changes and exit. I just used the joystick to point to the option, and confirmed by pressing it in. In fact, I really liked the joystick. It does protrude in a way that's slightly disturbing compared to a four-way controller, but I just made fewer wrong turns with it.
Image Quality. The Coolpix S10 is pushing it a little, packing a 10x zoom into such a small space, but the results are surprisingly good. Macro mode, for starters, got closer than most any camera we've reviewed. Though it's soft in the corners like most digital cameras, we're talking tack sharp over most of the center.
As I say, any lens that zooms, let alone one that covers 10x, is going to have some trouble with chromatic aberration, and the Nikon S10 has it at both ends. It's large and bright, but is controlled well enough that we don't think it's a huge problem. We've seen one camera where the chromatic aberration covers the entire frame at telephoto (the recently-reviewed Panasonic TZ1 had what we suspect is longitudinal chromatic aberration in a bad way); but the Nikon Coolpix S10 follows a more predictable pattern, with tolerable chromatic aberration in the corners that's visible in an 8x10 print, but not quite glaring. (Chromatic aberration, put simply, is the inability of a lens to focus all colors or wavelenths of light on a single point. You often end up with odd colors around contrasty objects, as you see in the image at right. The perfect lens would focus all colors to a single point across the frame, but this becomes increasingly difficult to do when you build a longer and longer zoom.)
Our prints from the Nikon S10 were very good all the way up to 11x14 at ISO 100 and 200. ISO 400 shots were good to 8x10, and ISO 800 shots were acceptable (but not stellar) at 4x6. That was pretty much regardless of focal length, though wide angle shots showed noticeable barrel distortion, again expected and acceptable (barrel distortion is the tendency to bend straight lines outward).
Shooting. Taking the Nikon Coolpix S10 for a road test just before Black Friday, it had to compete with a couple of other cameras in my test bag. To test drive a camera, I take a little photo safari much as you might do going on vacation, or to a party or event. Having several cameras in the bag is not how I usually play this game, preferring to stick to one at a time. But the crunch was on.
Interestingly enough, no matter who the other contenders were, I had to stop myself from reaching for the Coolpix S10 all the time. I'd see a shot, and think, "Ah, perfect for the S10!" The other cameras could handle it, too, but somehow, the Nikon S10 gave me just that much more delight in composing and shooting.
A simple press of the pill-shaped power button fired up the Coolpix S10 reliably. It's become surprisingly difficult to turn on a lot of small digicams, but the Coolpix S10 was a relief. After a brief (and optional) welcome screen, you see the scene before you in the large LCD.
The optical zoom is fairly smooth, moving quickly over the 10x range, but digital zoom moves sluggishly in steps. It was annoying enough that I didn't bother with digital zoom unless I really wanted to get closer. These days I'm seeing some very credible digital zoom, thanks no doubt to higher resolution sensors, and the resulting acceptability of less-than-full file size for any particular image. I liked the Coolpix S10's results, but I didn't like waiting for it to step out to maximum digital zoom. The small zoom lever isn't as bad as it looks. I never had a problem using it to accurately frame my composition.
Switching between recording modes was simple once I figured it out. There's only one still mode, for one thing. But popping into Movie mode required just the press of the Mode button, a nudge to Movie from the joystick, and a click with the center of the joystick. I liked the joystick at first sight, and the large menu displayed when you use it will be welcome to anyone who squints at the little icons on most digicams.
In short, not much gets in the way of taking the shot with the Coolpix S10.
That goes for using the special features of this camera, too. Portrait mode with face recognition autofocusing is a real winner, worth upgrading from a camera without the feature. Everyone loves this feature when I show it to them. It's what autofocus always should have been for people pictures. On the Nikon S10, you activate it just by pressing a button on the lens barrel.
It works by recognizing the triangle formed by the eyes and nose, so if a subject is in profile, the Nikon S10 just focuses on the center of the scene normally. But get someone to face you, and no matter where they are in the scene, the Coolpix S10 finds them.
Vibration reduction also has a button on the lens barrel. You only really need to disable it when you're shooting from a tripod. It's an image sensor-shift design that provides about two more stops of handheld exposure. So you can often leave the flash off, and shoot in normal room light without getting blurry images. There is a little delay sometimes as the image is processed.
It's interesting Nikon has retained Best Shot Selection in a VR-equipped camera, but the feature is another real winner. If the subject is still (say in a museum), shooting up to 10 images will let the camera pick the one with the most detail. You can even tell the Coolpix S10 if you want it to concentrate on the highlight detail (for an ice sculpture, say), or shadow detail (for a black cat's portrait), or both.
Some special features -- like red-eye fix -- require little, or no conscious effort on your part. Others -- like D-Lighting -- do, but are waiting for you in Playback mode when you have time to experiment. These special features on Nikon Coolpixes are something you'll appreciate the more you use them.
I did miss a few things I've grown to enjoy on other digicams.
The main one was a choice of aspect ratios. The Nikon S10 shoots at a 4:3 aspect ratio exclusively. No wide screen shots, no 35mm format.
The other thing I missed was manual control, but I miss that on most digicams. The Coolpix S10 hides EV compensation in the LCD menu system (on the second page, no less), making it much more trouble to set than it should be on an automatic camera. That really should be button-accessible.
The lens cap gave me a little grief until I realized you can fold it back against the side of the Coolpix S10, where it will click into place securely, staying out of the way. That beats tethering a clip-on cap to the camera. The anchor is on the other side, for one thing, but they often swing into the scene with a swivel camera.
Minor gripes, really, compared to the fun of shooting with a 10x zoom swivel camera.
- 6.0-megapixel CCD delivering image resolution as high as 2,816 x 2,112 pixels
- 10x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-380mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- Max 4x digital zoom
- 2.5-inch color LCD monitor
- Automatic exposure control
- Built-in flash with five modes
- 16MB internal memory
- SD/MMC memory card storage (no card included)
- USB 2.0 computer connection
- Custom rechargeable Li-ion battery and charger included
- Software for Mac and PC
- Vibration Reduction optical image stabilization for steady shots at telephoto focal lengths
- 15 preset Scene modes
- Movie recording mode (with sound)
- Continuous, Multi-shot 16, and Interval capture modes
- Best Shot Selector mode
- Shutter speeds from 1/1,000 to two seconds
- Aperture range from f3.5 to f13.6, depending on zoom position
- Five color modes
- Self-timer for delayed shutter release
- Macro (close-up) lens adjustment
- Spot, Center-Weighted, and Matrix metering modes
- Adjustable AF area
- Auto ISO setting or 50, 100, 200, 400, and 800 ISO equivalents
- White balance (color) adjustment with seven options, including a manual setting
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility
In the Box
The Nikon Coolpix S10 ships with the following items in the box:
- The Coolpix S10 digicam
- Lens cap
- Wrist strap
- USB cable UC-E6
- Audio Video cable EG-CP14
- Rechargeable EN-EL5 Lithium-ion Battery
- Battery Charger MH-61
- Software CD containing PictureProject for Windows and Mac, and USB drivers.
- Quick-guide manuals and registration information
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. (These days, 1-2GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
- AC adapter ED-62A
Shooting with the Nikon Coolpix S10 was fun. The camera never got in the way, and often deftly avoided obstacles that would cause other camera designs to miss the shot.
I've used a swivel Coolpix since 1998, getting shots I otherwise wouldn't see. You can easily see what the kids are playing with at floor level, or get an overhead shot of the board game with the Coolpix S10. When I shoot with other designs, I always miss that versatility in composing my shots. Other cameras may be prettier to look at, but swivels like the Nikon Coolpix S10 see more. Consider that a personal endorsement.
The 10x Nikkor zoom lens makes the Nikon Coolpix S10 an exceptional swivel. It does exhibit some chromatic aberration at both wide and telephoto ends of the zoom range, but we thought it was kept under control, probably thanks to Nikon's use of ED glass in the Coolpix S10. ISO 800 shots were only usable at 4x6, but the ISO 50 shots were quite good at 11x14. There's little arguing with having such quality from a zoom this long in such a small and convenient package, especially at the street prices we're starting to see. And the special Nikon-only features included will all come in handy as you use the camera. The versatile Nikon Coolpix S10 is certainly a Dave's Pick.