Nikon Coolpix S50c Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 9/12/07
The Nikon Coolpix S50c features a 7.2 megapixel CCD image sensor coupled to prism-folded Nikkor 3x optical zoom lenses. The S50c also includes an impressively large 3.0 inch LCD screen, and offers true optical vibration reduction -- a useful addition that helps steady shots in low light situations. What makes the Nikon Coolpix S50c different from its lower cost S50 sibling is the addition of wireless connectivity, allowing images to be transferred directly from the camera through open-access wireless hot spots.
Nikon is also known for a few special features that are included in the Nikon S50c, including D-Lighting, which enhances darker images to improve shadow detail; Best Shot Selector mode, which takes a series of shots, letting the camera automatically pick the sharpest shot and discard the others; Red-Eye Fix, which automatically finds red-eye in your images and eliminates it; and finally Face-Priority AF. This last feature will initially keep you and your friends dancing around in front of the S50c to watch it put a "focus box" around your faces, but once you get used to the mode, you'll find it very reassuring to know that your loved-one's faces will indeed be in focus, before you take the shot.
The Nikon Coolpix S50c offers 13MB of built-in memory, Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard slots, and both USB computer connectivity plus NTSC/PAL video output. The S50c draws its power from a proprietary lithium-ion battery. The Nikon S50c will ship from April 2007, priced at U.S.$350.
Nikon Coolpix S50c
by Mike Pasini
Intro. The S-series in the Coolpix line has stood for Style, according to Nikon, which launched the attractive little digicam's wave design with ads featuring model Kate Moss. But now in its third generation, the S-series makes me think more of Clara Peller than Kate Moss.
Clara was the geriatric star of the Wendy's TV commercial who, upon discovering a small hamburger patty in a very large bun, complained, "Where's the beef?" Since then the question has been applied to many products that deliver less than expected performance. And I'm sad to say, the S50c is one of them.
It remains a very attractive camera with a lot going for it. Nearly all our previous praise for the S-series is still valid; but not all of it.
WiFi, for example, seems to be atrophying. It's the one feature that distinguishes the S50c from the S50, adding $50 to the silver-bodied S50c. But the WiFi in the Nikon S50c won't let you upload images to your own computer.
Which is a lot like a hamburger without the patty.
Design. The Nikon S50c is supposed to be the stylish model in the Coolpix line and it certainly is a pleasure to look at. That's often enough incentive to whip out the credit card.
The grip is on the thin side of the Nikon S50c, not the bulge, so the camera feels like it's pulling away from you as you hold it. That almost makes this a two-hander for me. I'm more comfortable with the bulk of the weight in my grip, not the other way around. The Nikon S50c's tiny controls just serve to reinforce that approach. They have no touch whatsoever. You have to impress the Zoom lever like a would-be father-in-law with your real intentions before it grudgingly accepts your decision. And the tiny Mode, Playback, Menu and Erase buttons are almost rivets rather than interface objects. The problem is only exacerbated by the Nikon S50c's rather slow response.
So do I still like the Nikon S50c's Multi Selector and OK button? Well, honestly, it was not only a little too fast for my taste, but it was confusing. You can dial it left or right it to move up or down the menu list. Or you can just use the arrow keys. So being able (usually) to do either, I never knew which to use. It was a failure of trust, engendered by the other interface issues.
Like the Flash Lamp Indicator to the right of the speaker grill on the back panel. To hold the camera properly, your right thumb sits on top of the speaker grill (not a big deal since you don't listen to it when you are shooting). Unfortunately that position obscures the Nikon S50c's flash indicator lamp. With that big LCD, there isn't a lot of room back there, but that's the one place it should not be.
Nikon has earned peculiar distinction for its design of battery compartment doors and latches. The Nikon Coolpix 990 is famous for its easily breakable door latches. The Nikon D200 digital SLR's vertical grips have a similar problem. And even the Nikon SB-800 flash unit has a difficult-to-close battery door. So I'm not surprised to find these Nikon S50 models have retained the sliding mechanism on the short side, making them just as precarious as the worst of Nikon's designs. More than once I latched them only to find I hadn't sufficiently closed them first.
Nikon also manages to design the clunkiest battery chargers in the business. There are two in the S series. The Nikon S50c has a little brick that connects to the bottom of the S50c (and for some reason always starts it up looking for a WiFi connection). The Nikon S50 has a battery charger. But both can only be connected to an outlet with a power cord. I much prefer the more compact solution of a small charger with prongs that fold into its back, especially for travel. How tough can it be?
And don't even talk to me about the cables. Even the USB cable seems like something the telephone guy left behind because he couldn't fit it back in the truck.
The Nikon S50c body is a beauty, no question. But the rest of the package leaves a lot to be desired.
Display/Viewfinder. It is a pretty screen, credit where credit due. A big 3.0-inch LCD with a healthy 230,000 pixels and five brightness settings. It's a glossy screen, though, that picks up fingerprints easily, so have a microcloth around to keep the Nikon S50c polished.
I managed fine in sunlight even with the reflections, so I really didn't miss having an optical viewfinder on the Coolpix S50c.
Performance. On the whole, the Nikon S50c is an average performer. Our Test Results startup time is a bit misleading. I didn't find it quite that slow, but I always enable Nikon's Quick Startup option in the Setup menu to skip the razzmatazz. I'd classify both startup and shutdown times as bordering on average: certainly fast enough. You won't feel inconvenienced if you shut it off to preserve battery power.
Zoom isn't smooth, jumping in small but discrete steps through the optical range and more slowly through digital zoom. I found myself pressing the Nikon S50c's Zoom lever harder and harder to speed it up, but it isn't an accelerator. It's even worse in Movie mode, stuttering through the zoom in jarring steps.
Don't be alarmed, by the way, if you hear a little rattle when you move the Nikon S50c around. That's the VR lens and it's perfectly normal.
Shot-to-shot times were pretty good, but you have no idea what the Nikon S50c is capturing. The shutter fires quickly, but you see the live scene through the LCD rather than what you just captured. That makes sense to me, although it's a bit unnerving. No feedback, just a view of the target.
Nikon claims you can get 130 shots out of one charge of the Nikon S50c's EN-EL8 lithium-ion battery (based on the CIPA standard). That's not much. In real world terms, I found the charging procedure so cumbersome, I didn't bother to charge much. I was still able to shoot movies and stills without getting a low battery warning.
I find Nikon's large-type menus a blessing; and the simple organization is a blessing, too. Navigation with the Nikon S50c's Multi Selector scroll wheel confuses me, though. I prefer simple up/down scrolling to left/right rotation (which is up, which down?).
The Multi Selector barely fits on the back panel, leaving no room on the right for an icon to tell you the Right arrow activates EV compensation. There is an icon (on the side of the Nikon S50c's Multi Selector) but that's not where you'd look for it, is it? Nikon really should revise the layout of that back panel so you can see the flash indicator and EV icon.
Despite our autofocus numbers, which aren't bad, I find the Nikon Coolpix S50c to have a much more sluggish shutter than I like. This is always true using Face Detection, which takes some time, but it's also true generally with this camera. The usual cure for this is half-pressing the shutter button to set focus. But even then, the Nikon S50c is not very quick. Same with Sports Scene mode.
WiFi. One thing camphones do better than digicams (and there aren't many things they do better) is connect. They're phones first, after all, so connecting comes naturally to them. Send a buddy a picture? No sweat. Fire off an image to a Bluetooth printer. Just copy it.
Digicams from Canon, Kodak, and Nikon have dabbled in wireless connectivity, both with Bluetooth 2.0 (Kodak only) and WiFi (both B and G speeds). Nikon has offered several WiFi-equipped Coolpix models for some time now.
Nikon's particular implementation of WiFi connectivity in the Nikon S50c is best described as an excellent implementation of a bad concept. It works well but it doesn't let you do the one thing you want to do.
And what's that exactly? Well, to transmit images and videos wirelessly to your computer. In short, everything you can do with a USB cable -- minus the cable.
Instead what you get with the Nikon S50c's WiFi implementation is Coolpix Connect 2, and one year of free T-Mobile HotSpot access to Nikon's FotoNation-powered photo management service. You don't have to use T-Mobile, of course. Any free hotspot or your own home router works. The catch is that the Nikon S50c only transmits to Nikon's server. Unlike earlier WiFi Coolpix digicams, the S50c cannot transfer images to your own computer or a WiFi printer.
You have the option to email images through or upload them to Nikon's server managed by FotoNation in California. Period.
So yes, you get WiFi. And yes, you can email images with it. And yes, you can upload images with it, too (for temporary storage). But only through Nikon's cloud.
That may not seem much different from Kodak's strategy, in which emailed images have to go through your EasyShare Gallery account. But Kodak does let you upload your images to your own computer. It may be just to your local EasyShare directory, but they're there.
Still like the idea? Okay. Setup is the same as it has been in previous models. I used the Coolpix Connect Utility on my computer so I could type everything in with a real keyboard. You can do this on the camera now, too, but save that aggravation for when you're roaming around and want to upload from T-Mobile or a free access point.
I connected the Nikon S50c with the Nikon USB cable to a free USB port on my hub and told it the name of my wireless router and what the password is. I also entered my own email address and a test email address so I had someone (my alter ego) to send a picture to. Your own email address is used to register your two gigabytes of disk space on the Nikon server.
Nikon makes no promises about storage, however. In its Terms and Conditions of Use, it warns, "NIKON makes no guarantee whatsoever concerning the ability of the SERVICE to store or safeguard Contents. Be sure to maintain separate back-up copies of all important Contents."
Once the Nikon Coolpix S50c is configured, you enter WiFi mode from the Playback menu. You choose whether you want to send email (Picture Mail) or upload (Picture Bank), then connect to the server (my router in this case) and choose whether to send all images or list by date. You can then select individual images, confirming each screen by pressing the Shutter button (since the OK button is reserved for toggling the selection). Next you select a size: Photoprint, PC size, TV size, or Full size.
If you select Picture Mail, you check the email addresses you want to send the image to from the list displayed on the Nikon S50c's screen with checkboxes for each name toggled with the OK button again. A press of the Shutter button takes you to the Send Mail screen which is your last chance to cancel the process. If you confirm, the Nikon S50c connects to the server and transfers the image, showing an image count so you can keep track of its progress. When the transfer is complete, it terminates the connection, saving battery power.
Uploading images to the Picture Bank is nearly an identical process. And it all works very well. It just doesn't let you do the one thing you always want to do: upload to your computer.
Nikon provides three months free of Flickr pro (a gift code is included on a card with the registration materials). To send images to your Flickr account, you simply use Picture Mail to send your images to "flickr" as the address.
I can't help it, I just love sending files wirelessly. I had no trouble using my home network and I had no trouble in the field. Waiting for a bus one day, I popped into the local branch of the public library and sent myself a picture from the Nikon S50c through its free WiFi service. Piece of cake.
Shooting. I took a variety of shots with the Nikon S50c, ranging from the typical tourist pictures from Twin Peaks to those dolls in the dark to test high ISO. And I didn't skip my favorite Coolpix shots: macro. The Zoom display actually changes color (to green) when you're in the optimum focal length range for macro shooting.
In the gallery, you'll see a number of duplicate images but look at the critical exposure data below each. Note that I shot at ISO 1,600 and ISO 400, check the shutter speeds, compare the full resolution images to see how each approach held up. Vibration Reduction was almost always on.
What I conclude from my review of those images is that the high ISO shots, while noisy, hold more detail than the low shutter speed shots at more modest ISO settings -- even with VR on. Both the doll and the clown show that.
The trouble with the ISO 1,600 images is their noise. At thumbnail sizes you can't see that (it's been averaged away, much like the detail).
Nothing new about that. More disturbing, however, is the rather poor quality of the detail in the Nikon S50c's landscape shots. I don't expect much of the digital zoom shots, but they're really not comparable to the competition. I do expect more detail in middle distance shots like the curved road or the carousel.
Color, however, is pleasing in all these shots. I particularly liked the fire hydrant shot where the highlights were well contained.
Movie Mode. As our sample movie demonstrates rather dramatically, using zoom in a Nikon S50c movie is a bad idea. The zoom isn't smooth but abruptly jumps in discreet but large steps.
There are quite a few options in the Nikon S50c's Movie mode, however. They start with broadcast quality 640 x 480 pixel image size at 30 frames per second. A Pictmotion option automatically stops at 60 seconds (as much as Pictmotion can swallow) at 640 x 480 but only 10 fps. A smaller movie size of 320 x 240 and 30 fps comes next, followed by a 160 x 120 and 15 fps size. The S50c also includes a time-lapse option and a stop-motion option.
Pictmotion. The Nikon S50c has a Pictmotion option in its Playback mode. Pictmotion can create some slick presentations, but it isn't instant. It takes long enough for the program to assemble each show that the Nikon S50c displays a progress bar while the program assembles the presentation.
But you do get some sophisticated effects, panning and zooming your images to either the built-in music or tunes you add, all arranged in styles to make it easy to match the mood of your event. Only a few seconds of any movie is used, however (and repetitively, in my case).
You can still only transfer Pictmotion shows to a computer using the Windows version of PictureProject, but it's a fun way to show off what you have in your camera.
Printing. The Nikon S50c can be docked to an ImageLink printer like the Kodak printer dock plus series 3 pictured here. A clear plastic dock insert is included with the S50c to attach to the printer.
Make sure you change the USB option in the Setup menu to PTP rather than Mass Storage. I used a SanDisk Ultra II SD/USB card so I could leave the USB setting to PTP, and just pop the card into a USB port rather than change the USB setting to Mass Storage, and connect the camera to a USB cable.
With the Nikon S50c off, you attach it to the dock insert, which has a small USB connector to connect to the camera. The camera will initialize the printer (as its LCD will explain), and then display the first stored image. Use the arrow keys on the camera to scroll through your images, select them for printing, and set the print options.
Appraisal. The Nikon S50c was, in a word, disappointing. Image quality, performance, WiFi capability all left me looking for more, overshadowing the familiar Nikon strengths of a VR lens, D-Lighting, and In-Camera Red-Eye Fix automatically activated with Face Priority autofocus in Portrait mode.
- 38 to 114mm (35mm equivalent) 3x optical zoom Nikkor lens
- 4x digital zoom
- 3.0 inch LCD with 230,000 pixels and wide viewing angle
- 7.2 megapixel sensor
- 13MB internal memory
- Movie mode with sound including time-lapse and stop-motion options
- Scene modes include Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Back Light, and Panorama Assist
- Voice Memo recording
- Optical lens shift image stabilization
- Stylish wave design still looks fresh
- Built-in WiFi for wireless transfer to Nikon servers
- ISO sensitivity to 1,600 with auto range from 100 to 800
- Pictmotion presentation software with five built-in styles
- One-touch Portrait button automatically activates Face Priority autofocus and In-Camera Red-Eye Fix
- Macro mode from 1.6 inches to infinity
- Hi-Speed USB 2.0
- Wireless G (802.11b/g)
- 200MB storage on Nikon server
In the Box
The Coolpix S50c ships with the following items in the box:
- Coolpix S50c digital camera
- Camera strap
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery EN-EL8 with terminal cover
- AC Adapter EH-64 with power cable
- Dock Insert PV-12
- AV/USB cable UC-E12
- Quick Start Guide
- User's Manual
- Coolpix Connect User's Guide
- Warranty card
- PictureProject installer CD
- Coolpix Connect installer CD
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. These days, a 1GB card is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection (Nikon offers a leather case designed especially for its S-series cameras)
While the Nikon S50c has an attractive design with some intriguing bells and whistles that are more than gimmicks, I was disappointed with both how the camera performed and the quality of the images it captured. On the bright side, the Nikon S50c has a VR lens, D-Lighting, and In-Camera Red-Eye Fix: all automatically activated with Face Priority autofocus in Portrait mode. But a WiFi-enabled digicam should be able transmit wirelessly to a computer just like it does via USB connection. The Nikon S50c's failure to transmit images to your own computer is a big step backwards. Focus speed and image detail were also disappointing, as were battery life and lens performance. Unfortunately, the Nikon S50c is a very disappointing revision of one of the most attractive digicam designs ever. The Nikon Coolpix S50c will serve as a decent digital camera, given its relatively good printed results, but it's not the best on the market.