Nikon Coolpix S200 Overview
by Theano Nikitas
Review Date: 09/22/07
One of the tiniest Nikon Coolpix cameras to date, the 7.1 megapixel Nikon Coolpix S200 is a small but stylish point-and-shoot camera. Equipped with a telescoping 3x optical zoom lens, the Nikon S200 offers a moderate 35mm-equivalent focal range of 38-114mm that is extendable by a 4x digital zoom. A 2.5-inch LCD with 153,000 pixel resolution is the only means of composing since, like most sub-compact digital cameras, the Nikon S200 does not have an optical viewfinder.
The Nikon S200's core feature set is typical for a snapshot camera: Automatic Exposure, Scene modes, Exposure Compensation and the ability to change White Balance and ISO. But the little silver camera also offers some of Nikon's trademark options: D-Lighting, an in-camera fix that adjusts exposure/brightness and Best Shot Selector, which determines the best photograph in a series of shots. Automatic Face Detection, which identifies faces in the scene and makes sure they're in focus is quickly becoming a standard feature on many digital cameras and is also available on the Nikon S200. Unlike its sibling, the Coolpix S500, the Nikon S200 offers only Electronic Vibration Reduction (as opposed to the S500's lens shift VR). Electronic VR boosts the light sensitivity when capturing images to increase shutter speed and, thereby, reduces the chance of getting a blurred image. The Nikon S200 also offers a post-capture version of Vibration Reduction that applies electronic processing to help eliminate blur from pictures already taken.
The Nikon Coolpix S200 offers an ISO range of 50 to 1,000, a High ISO mode, a variety of Movie modes, and a good selection of Playback options such as viewing by Calendar or by a Date List. The Nikon S200 can also double as a voice recorder, offering up to five hours of recording time, which is certainly not a "must have" feature, but it's a nice benefit. Compatible with SD and higher capacity SDHC cards, the Nikon S200 has 20 megabytes of internal memory and is powered by a tiny rechargeable lithium-ion battery. An optional AC adapter is also available.
Nikon Coolpix S200
by Theano Nikitas
Intro. It wasn't long ago that manufacturers seemed to be competing for the honor of designing the smallest digital camera. That rush to miniaturization has subsided, but there are still plenty of petite models on the market. At 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.7 inches and 4.4 ounces (without battery and media card), the Nikon Coolpix S200 certainly qualifies as a sub-compact model with its take-anywhere and even-slip-it-into-your-jeans-pocket design (we don't recommend this, but we know you will!). You never know when you might come across a photo op and the Nikon S200 has such a small footprint that it's hard to justify not carrying it around wherever you go.
Beyond its stylish looks and ultra-portability, the Nikon S200 is a basic snapshot camera with extras like a One-Touch Portrait mode that activates the Automatic Face Detection and Redeye reduction and a very useful on-board Help guide that explains the different setting options. Snapshooters will also appreciate the camera's D-Lighting and Best Shot Selector features, as well as the Nikon S200's assortment of Scene modes. But, like other snapshot cameras on the market, users may find a false sense of security with the camera's High ISO and electronic Vibration Reduction. Both can increase image noise levels to the point where photos won't be worth printing. But if your subject is close enough to be illuminated by the flash or there's plenty of natural light, the little Coolpix S200 does a decent job of capturing well-exposed and brightly colored pictures.
Design. Slim and stylish, the Nikon Coolpix S200's brushed silver metal body measures 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.7 inches and weighs about 4.4 ounces (without battery and media card). It's small enough to take anywhere and everywhere but because of the Nikon S200's petite body, it's important to try the camera on for size before you buy it. Photographers with small-to-medium sized hands will most likely have few, if any, problems holding and operating the camera. However, if your hands are larger, the Nikon S200's small, low profile external controls may be difficult to use. Even with relatively small hands, I was more likely to use my thumbnail than the pad of my finger to press the camera's various buttons, although this method wasn't particularly uncomfortable; only slightly awkward.
Due to its small size, there's no room for a standard mode dial. Rather, the Nikon S200 uses a Mode button that calls up a virtual menu from which to select Shooting (automatic exposure), One-Touch Portrait, Hi ISO, Scene, Voice Recording, Movie, and Set-up. While this system works fine, it's not quite as speedy as using a physical dial to switch between modes. Menus--which can be displayed as text or icons--are clear, and with the on-board Help system, easy to understand. The Nikon S200's Help system is available in all Menus and is accessed by simply pressing the "T" (Telephoto) side of the Zoom Lever. This brings up a brief description of the selected setting's function. Still, reading the User Guide is highly recommended, since all but the most basic setting changes require a trip through the menu system and can be easy to miss unless you know what you're looking for.
The camera is sturdily built, though the hinged cover that protects the battery and SD card was a little difficult to open and felt like it could easily be snapped off. But the tripod mount is located far enough to the side that you can probably change the battery and media card with no problems. Of course, that totally depends on the style of your tripod.
Display/Viewfinder. Considering the camera's small size, it's no surprise that the Nikon Coolpix S200 lacks an optical viewfinder. Its 2.5-inch LCD, despite its low resolution of 153,000 pixels, is usable under most conditions. Brightness can be adjusted via a setting in the menu, but leaving it at its default seemed to work relatively well. Bright, direct sunlight tended to make the LCD difficult to see. You'll notice some graininess when shooting in low light but although it's annoying, the grain doesn't interfere with composing and focusing.
In addition to the standard Show Info (which displays shooting information such as Mode, image quality, ISO, number of pictures remaining, etc.) and Hide Info (which displays only the current Mode), the Nikon S200 offers a third interesting option: Auto Info. This latter setting displays the same data as Show Info but only for five seconds so you have the best of both worlds: access to the information and a clear screen. If you want to see the data again, just half-press the Nikon S200's Shutter button and the information is displayed for another five seconds. A Framing Grid is also available for assistance with composing shots and ensuring straight and even horizons, though I think the lines are a little thick to leave them on all the time.
My biggest gripe about the Nikon S200's display information is that it doesn't show the Shutter Speed and Aperture. Granted, the latter is generally of little use on a snapshot camera, but knowing the Shutter Speed setting is important. Without that information, it's almost impossible to know whether or not the setting will be fast enough to avoid blur when handholding the camera. Although I rarely use any kind of electronic or non-optical image stabilization because of the extra image noise, I still want to know the Shutter Speed to decide whether it's sufficiently fast to avoid blur. If it's not, I can either use a tripod, forget about the picture, or take a chance on electronic Vibration Reduction. A concession to this omission is that the Nikon S200 will display "ISO" on the LCD when the Auto ISO goes above 50. But there's no way of knowing how much the ISO has been boosted. Although Auto ISO is capped at 800, I'd prefer to have the option to cap it at 400.
Performance. The Coolpix S200's performance won't win any awards, but with a couple of exceptions, it's okay. Start-up is relatively speedy, especially if you turn off the Welcome Screen (the Quick Startup option in the Set-up menu). Under well-lit conditions, the little camera focuses fast, and there's little shutter lag, so when you press the shutter button, the picture is taken almost immediately (0.066 second).
Under low light conditions, the Nikon S200's ability to focus is less consistent and understandably slower than in bright light. With just the right amount of contrast and the right angle, the Coolpix S200 focuses quickly. However, with low contrast subjects, the camera sometimes wouldn't focus at all. When that happened, I tried to recomposing until I hit on an area with enough contrast to gain focus. While almost all digital cameras depend on contrast to focus, the Nikon S200 seems a little fussier than most.
The Nikon S200's lens was responsive and moved smoothly through its 38-114mm focal range. There's no way to turn off the camera's 4x digital zoom but the optical zoom stops before it transitions to the digital zoom. There's an on-screen zoom indicator that turns yellow when you venture into the digital zone. From there, it's painfully slow to move through the digital zoom's range--slow enough to dissuade you from using it.
As expected, the built-in flash is small; and although the specifications state that the Nikon S200's flash will reach up to 15 feet (on Auto ISO and at wide angle), the camera doesn't quite live up to its specs. And the time it takes the flash to recycle will add another second or two to its otherwise reasonable shot-to-shot time of 2.2 seconds for Large/Fine JPEGs. On the other hand, the Nikon S200's battery exceeded the estimated 230 shots per charge in my shooting.
Some of the camera's special features, like One-Touch Portrait mode--which activates the automatic Face Detection and redeye reduction--worked reasonably well to identify and focus on our subject's face. D-Lighting, which can be applied to images in Playback to brighten a dark image, did a good job of correcting under-exposed images.
Nikon's signature Best Shot Selector was useful when shooting under low light conditions since it selects the sharpest picture of the multiple images shot in that mode. For fun, the Nikon S200 has an Interval Timer Shooting mode so you can make time-lapse movies.
Test shots made with the Nikon S200 produced mixed results. Auto white balance struggled with our test scene, not getting quite right until we set it manually. Longitudinal chromatic aberration was apparent across the frame in our viewfinder accuracy and Multi shots, causing a purple fringe around all bright objects. If you're only printing up to 8x10 without cropping, this won't be a big deal, but if you plan to crop or enlarge, this tendency to put a purple glow around all bright objects is objectionable, and not very common among competing cameras.
The Nikon S200 also produces higher than average image noise. Whenever possible I kept the ISO set at 50 to keep image noise at bay. Not surprisingly, as image noise (and its companion, noise reduction) increased, the sharpness and details in the pictures decreased as well. Although the Nikon S200's ISO is capped at 800 when using Electronic VR, those images are noisy enough that you'll want to avoid that setting.
Another shortcoming is the Coolpix S200's lens is its significant barrel distortion at wide angle, accompanied by an unusual amount of pincushion distortion at telephoto. A shot of a small wrought iron fence in front of a building was noticeably distorted.
Shooting. Whenever I travel to New York, I always take a couple of cameras with me: generally a small pocket camera and a larger, more sophisticated camera. On my most recent trip, I brought the Nikon S200 and the Canon PowerShot S5 IS; the latter was stowed in my oversized shoulder bag while the little Nikon S200 was tucked away in a pocket for quick and easy access.
The first handful of shots I took with the Nikon S200 were indoors while waiting for a friend at his office. Fortunately, there were a few interesting photographic subjects. A display of exotic flowers sitting in the reception area, with its wild and vibrant colors, caught my eye. I turned on the flash, zoomed in and snapped a few shots. After varying the zoom and my distance from the flowers, I realized that I needed to be relatively close to the flower arrangement for the flash to be effective when shooting at telephoto.
Next I turned my attention to the view from the twenty-sixth floor. I could see the Chrysler building in the distance and started shooting through the relatively clean glass. The Nikon S200 easily focused on the buildings rather than on the glass. The exposures were surprisingly good, although the camera exposed for the shadows of the nearby buildings rather than the Chrysler building, which was in bright sunlight. I would have preferred a longer telephoto lens to really zoom in on the distant architecture. But I'd rather live with the optical zoom's focal length limitations than chance degradation from the digital zoom. If I wanted to home in on the Chrysler building, I could just as easily crop the image in Adobe Photoshop.
After a quick subway ride downtown, I took the Nikon S200 for a walk along a quiet residential street. Photographing buildings from the street is a little tough, especially with a point-and-shoot camera. I knew the perspective was going to be off but the odd perspective can sometimes be interesting. As the sun started setting I again was frustrated at not knowing what Shutter Speed the camera was using but I tried to keep the ISO at the lowest setting of 50, trying to steady the camera as best I could. Not surprisingly, some of my images were blurry, so I bumped up the ISO to what I though was a good compromise between image noise and Shutter Speed. The bottom line, however, was that my favorite images were the ones made with plentiful sunlight or using the flash indoors.
Summary. A streamlined feature set and an equally sleek design will appeal to snapshooters who appreciate simplicity as well as style. However, its feature set may be a little too meager for more advanced users. The Nikon S200's image noise issues and the use of electronic rather than optical Vibration Reduction won't be of much use for those who like to shoot in low light without a flash. But the camera is easy to use, it's stylish, highly portable and at low ISOs, the Nikon Coolpix S200 can produce some decent images, and good quality prints up to 8x10.
- 7.1-megapixel CCD
- 3x optical zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-114mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- 4x digital zoom.
- 2.5-inch color LCD monitor
- Automatic Exposure
- Built-in flash with red-eye reduction
- SD/SDHC card compatibility
- 20MB internal memory
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery and charger included
- Software for Mac and PC
- One-Touch Portrait Mode
- High ISO Mode
- (Electronic) Vibration Reduction
- ISO from 50-1000
- Best Shot Selector
- Interval Time Shooting
- Movie Recording with Sound
- Continuous Shooting Mode, including Multi-Shot 16
- Shutter Speeds from 4 sec to 1/1000 sec
- Multiple White Balance settings, including Manual
- Color options: Standard, Vivid, Black and White, Sepia, Cyanotype
- LCD brightness adjustment
- Slideshow, Calendar and Date List in Playback
- Resize and Trimming functions
- Fifteen Scene Modes
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format), PictBridge printing compatibility
- Voice Memo Recording up to 20 seconds (attach to image)
- Voice Recording up to five hours
- Optional AC Adaptor available
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Nikon Coolpix S200 camera
- Wrist strap
- Rechargeable lithium ion battery and charger
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Printed manual for camera
- Software CD with PictureProject (Windows and Mac)
- Large capacity SD/SDHC card (These days, 1-2GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but we advise a larger card for taking advantage of the camera's Interval Time Shooting, 5 hour Voice Recording, and video clips.)
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
The Nikon Coolpix S200 is small, slim, and stylish, but its images are a little disappointing when compared to other cameras on the market. On the plus side, the camera looks good and is easy to use--two attributes that snapshooters value. A minimal feature set contributes to that ease of use as does the built-in Help system that explains the purpose of the camera's features with just the touch of the Zoom lever. Nikon has developed some useful technology such as D-Lighting and Best Shot Selector, both of which provide easy but practical solutions to common problems such as under-exposure. But that may not be enough to offset the S200's above average image noise, especially when using the electronic Vibration Reduction which takes the ISO setting out of the user's hands. It's one thing to knowingly boost the ISO on your own; it's risky, though, to not know if or when the camera will increase the light sensitivity to the point where your photo will be unprintable. But, if most of your photographs are shot in bright light or with a flash, then the S200's function may be equal to its stylish form. Printed results were again of lower quality than we're used to seeing from small 7-megapixel digital cameras, but what the camera delivered was good and usable at a good range of sizes, starting at 11x14 at ISO 50 and working down to 4x6 at ISO 800 and 1,000. For the price, at under $200, the Nikon Coolpix S200 isn't a bad camera, but just $30 to $40 more will get you better quality in a pocket camera.