Nikon Coolpix S7c Overview
by Mike Pasini
Hands-on Preview: 12/08/2006
Full Review: 03/15/2007
The Nikon Coolpix S7c is a WiFi capable digital camera that can wirelessly upload images to the new Coolpix Connect service, launched alongside the camera. Featuring a sleek two-tone body, the Nikon S7c includes an IEEE 802.11b/g chipset with which to upload its seven megapixel images. The Coolpix S7c has plenty of other attractions on top of this standout feature, as well. There's a prism-folded Nikkor ED-branded 3x optical zoom lens, a whopping 3.0 inch LCD display, 15 beginner-friendly scene modes, plus a few clever technologies besides. Apical Ltd.'s "D-Lighting" is an exposure correction technology, and is combined with a face-priority AF function based on tech from Identix, an in-camera red-eye fix function -- the three working together at a press of the One-Touch Portrait button to 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, along with an AE-Best Shot Selector mode that chooses the best-exposed image from a series.
The Nikon S7c also offers what the company calls "Electronic Vibration Reduction" -- which should not be mistaken for true hardware image stabilization, where either lens elements, or the image sensor are moved based on sensors that detect camera shake. The Nikon Coolpix S7c does have a gyro sensor to detect the amount of camera shake, but the correction is made in software by compensating with blur removal after the exposure, plus increased sensitivity, faster shutter speeds, tweaks to sharpening, etc. The Nikon S7c saves images on Secure Digital cards, or in 14MB of internal memory. The Nikon Coolpix S7c includes USB, and video output technology, and comes bundled with both a camera cradle, and 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 a custom hold. The Nikon Coolpix S7c ships in the USA from September 2006 priced at $350.
Nikon Coolpix S7c User Report
Intro. Hot on the heels of its S6, Nikon announced the Coolpix S7c. The new model has more resolution at 7.1 megapixels and a Hi ISO shooting mode for available light photography. But even more exciting, the Nikon Coolpix S7c can email images wirelessly through Nikon's new Coolpix Connect server. And you can do it from any T-Mobile HotSpot with a complimentary one-year subscription, too.
The Nikon S7c retains the stylish wave design of its predecessors the S6 and S5 and the same control layout and features. Its small lens makes it more suitable to family rooms than landscapes, but there's a lot of smarts built into the camera to maximize its every asset.
Design. The Nikon Coolpix S7c is, like its predecessor the S6, a docking digicam. With a 3.0-inch LCD, it isn't a subcompact, but its trim profile doesn't have room for a USB port or AC connection. Instead, it relies on what Nikon calls a Multiconnector port on the bottom of the camera.
You can drop the Nikon S7c into the included Cool Station or you can pop it on a Kodak EasyShare printer dock using the included dock insert. Without the Cool Station, though, the Nikon S7c isn't going to last long. That's how you charge its battery. The Kodak printer dock can run a slide show and print pictures but not charge the battery.
The Nikon Coolpix S7c does have another option for transmitting and printing photos, though. It has built-in Wireless G, the fast sibling to Wireless B (which, unlike some siblings, it is compatible with).
The Nikon S7c itself is an attractive camera with a metallic gun metal gray (almost black) paint job and chrome highlights dressing up Nikon's Wave design. The back panel is three-quarters covered by the large LCD, but what's left provides a thumb grip, just four buttons and a clever navigator that doesn't just function four ways, but spins too.
I was less impressed by the business end of the Coolpix S7c with the flash as close to the lens as it could possible get. Nikon does provide an in-camera red eye fix -- and the Coolpix S7c needs it. But firing the flash that close to the lens flattens anything it illuminates. And with the lens so close to the corner, it's also easy to get your finger in the shot.
The top of the camera has a chrome bar on the right side that holds the tiny Power button, the elongated Shutter button and a very small zoom control. These are the three most important controls on any camera, but on the Nikon S7c they're also the smallest controls.
The Power button isn't quite as bad as it seems at first. Press it down until you feel it click (try using a finger nail instead of your fingertip) and forget it. Happily, the Nikon Coolpix S7c shuts down much more quickly than the S6 did. The shutter button is placed exactly where your forefinger falls and you can feel the zoom lever just at the beginning of the first joint in your finger. So you just slide back a little off the Shutter to zoom. It looks impossible, but it works fine.
My hands seemed to fit the profile of the Nikon S7c perfectly. You might prefer to grasp the right side of the camera from the top and bottom, pressing the Shutter with the top finger. But I prefer to squeeze the back with my thumb and the front with my index finger, leaving my forefinger free to move from the Shutter button to the Zoom control. To steady the Nikon Coolpix S7c, I hold the left side by squeezing the top with my forefinger and the bottom with my thumb and curling my index finger along the S-curved side of the camera.
The four buttons on the back are well spaced. Playback is on top, Mode just under it, Menu under that with Trash to Menu's right. I found myself pressing Mode and Menu most of the time. But then I used my thumb to twirl the Nikon S7c controller to select one or another option, pressing it in to confirm my selection. That works very nicely.
Display/Viewfinder. There's no optical viewfinder on the Nikon Coolpix S7c (like the S5 and S6 before it), but you get a huge 3.0 inch LCD with 230,000 pixels to see your pictures. I was even able to see the screen in direct sunlight. Sweet.
Performance. Preliminary performance figures show the Coolpix S7c above average in most categories. Power on could be faster than 2.1 seconds, but you can't disable the Welcome screen. Still, it wasn't so slow that I missed shots. And shutdown speed is much improved over the S6, fortunately.
The more important shutter lag numbers -- with autofocus and prefocused (my habit) -- are very snappy. No problems there.
A 3x zoom is a little disappointing these days, even with 4x digital zoom. But it's no worse than its predecessors. It's a small piece of glass, but it's Nikon's Extra-low Dispersion glass providing good sharpness and contrast, minimizing chromatic aberration. But the Nikon Coolpix S7c is more a camera for intimate settings like the front room or dining room than for great scenics. Take a look at the images in my zoom range series to see what I mean.
The Nikon Coolpix S7c offers 11 straight Scene modes including Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Backlight, and Panorama Assist. I'm always glad to see common tricks grouped together like Beach/Snow and Dusk/Dawn, minimizing the number of Scenes (to the dismay of Nikon's Marketing department, no doubt). But I was disappointed by Museum mode, where Best Shot Selector shutter speeds were so slow (1/2 sec) that a tripod -- prohibited in museums -- is required.
But the Nikon Coolpix S7c goes further than mere Scene modes, offering four Scene Assist modes, which help you compose Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Portrait images. These special Scene modes have icons of their own in the Mode menu. Just press the Menu button in any Scene Assist mode to see the options. Landscape, for example, offers Landscape (focusing at infinity), Scenic View (which provides a horizon line in yellow), Architecture (overlays a framing grid), Group Right (to frame a person to the right of a landmark, setting focus and exposure for the portrait), and Group Left (same thing for someone on the left). Slide the Zoom lever to the Telephoto position to get a Help screen explaining each option.
And new on the Record menu is Hi ISO mode. Forget the flash (and red-eye with it), just select Hi ISO and shoot in near darkness. Results were noisy and often blurry, but we were shooting where we could barely see. More on that below.
The One-Touch Portrait button on the top panel of the Nikon S7c automatically activates Face Priority AF (which detects and locks focus on faces), Advanced Red-Eye Reduction, and D-Lighting. You can also adjust the effect from Normal to Brighter or Software by pressing the Menu button in Portrait mode.
The Nikon Coolpix S7c's Movie mode provides six options: TV movie (640x480, 30 fps), Small size (320x240, 30 fps), Small size (320x240, 15 fps), Pictmotion (320x240, 15 fps), Smaller size (160x120, 15 fps), and Time-lapse movie (640x480, 30 fps). All modes but Time-lapse record sound, but only up to 2x digital zoom is available. Options in Movie mode can lock focus during the segment or continually focus, and you set electronic (not optical) Vibration Reduction on, too, to stabilize the image.
Pictmotion creates a slide show of the last 10 images with transitions, random pan and zoom effects, and music, if you use a memory card. It's a Mode option in the Nikon Coolpix S7c's Playback mode, taking nearly a minute to compose the show, only 20 of which it can store on a card. After it plays, you have the option of changing the settings or saving it to the card. Nikon recommends you cup your hand behind the speaker to improve the sound -- and it works!
It's a neat stunt in the Amaze Your Friends category, but only the Windows version of Picture Project can copy the Pictmotion shows or upload your own MP3 tune to the Coolpix S7c for use in Pictmotion shows. And, because the original images are required for playback, they are protected when you save a Pictmotion movie -- but they are not unprotected when you delete the show.
The Shooting Menu also offers a Voice Recording option that displays how much time is available on your storage medium. Just press the Shutter button to start or stop recording. During recording, you can press the OK button to pause and any of the arrows to mark the recording in the index, making it easy to find an important segment later. The Nikon Coolpix S7c records in WAV format, readable by QuickTime. Unfortunately, the lens cover remains open in Voice Recording mode, so best to stand the camera up normally with the microphone on the top panel.
WiFi setup can be daunting and the Nikon S7c does make you do a little research for all but its T-Mobile connection, which already has a profile stored in the camera. For other connections (other than unprotected wireless routers), you'll have to create a profile using the included software with the S7c tethered to your computer via the USB cable (and the dock).
Once you know the answers to the questions the setup routine asks, it's a quick process. You can even assign a printer profile to the Nikon Coolpix S7c so it can send the computer an image to print. And you can point to any directory on your hard disk as the destination for your file transfers.
I only had one little problem with the setup. You have to change the Nikon Coolpix S7c's USB mode to PTP to get it to talk to the setup program. If it remains in Mass Storage mode, it's no sale. See below for more on our WiFi experience with the S7c.
Nikon claims the 3.7 volt lithium ion battery can power 200 shots based on the CIPA standard. That's a bit less than other 3.78 volt batteries, explained by the drain of the larger 3.0 inch LCD.
The LCD menu system is displayed in very large type and big icons whenever you call it up with the Menu button or the Mode button. Navigation using the rotary multi-selector is a bit tricky, though, until you discover the secret. Take a look at our shot of the control buttons to see what that is. The rotating part of the multi-selector does not click. Instead, to click an arrow key, you have to slide onto the outer ring, which does click but doesn't rotate. Rather than simply pressing down, I got in the habit of pressing inward from the outer ring.
Installing the software required uninstalling the older versions I had from previous reviews, but the installer handled that, too.
Shooting. I really enjoyed shooting with the Nikon Coolpix S7c (which nearly delayed this review). It's slim enough to fit in any pocket and that brought its scary moments. On a Sunday outing, I actually lost it.
I'd started out with the Nikon S7c tucked in a fanny pack, removing it to take a few shots (using the wrist strap) and putting it away when I wasn't going to shoot for a while. But entering one store, I thought it would be quicker to put it in my pants pocket, so I did. Leaving the store, though, I couldn't find it. It's so light I didn't notice it in my pants.
I'm not afraid of a little noise in my images -- if I can get an available light shot. And you can see plenty of noise in the Nikon S7c's Hi ISO images. The best place to fix this, if it bothers you, is in software where you can see the tradeoff between detail and noise, making an intelligent decision about how much noise to eliminate. If you're just making small prints, it may not be worth the effort.
Actual ISO settings used by Hi ISO varied with the shot. On the shot of the fan and stained glass, it's 1271. But other indoor shots required the full 1,600. Shutter speeds were kept to handheld limits (around 1/40 second) in Hi ISO.
But ISO 1,600 is available as an ISO option in the shooting menu. You can turn on electronic Vibration Reduction and shoot at even slower shutter speeds. My doll test used 1/7 second at ISO 1,600. While the image looks a little dull, it's pretty accurate color in that dark corner of the garage.
How far, I wondered, can you push the Nikon Coolpix S7c? One night, I snuck out the back door of the bunker and took some shots in normal streetlighting using Night Landscape mode. That uses shutter speeds as slow as one second with electronic Vibration Reduction hard at work to reduce blurring (as it reports after you snap the shot). ISO is 1,600 and the images are noisy (and even a bit more than blurred), but they have a ghostly effect all their own. Armed with a tripod or a sturdy support of some kind, you can have some fun with this.
Don't get the idea that shooting high ISO shots with the Nikon S7c is just as natural as ISO 100, because it's not. ISO 800 images can only be used at 4x6 print sizes, and 1,600 images are even questionable at that, but if you really need to get the shot and don't have a tripod handy, it's worth a try.
My WiFi experience was a blast, too. I liked what the S6 could do, but the S7c surpasses it thanks to Coolpix Connect, a new Nikon service.
The free service acts as an invisible middleman that stores images sent to it (for a limited time) and passes them along via email to any number of recipients who can view thumbnails in the email and optionally download the full resolution image if they wish. You decide how full the full resolution image is when you upload the images.
To use the service, you how to have entered your email address and a handle either on the camera directly or, more sanely, with the wireless setup software (which lets you use your keyboard). Coolpix Connect needs that to identify the sender. You also have to enter recipient email addresses, of course, which are stored on the camera. Do all that on your computer.
There's no need to configure either Coolpix Connect or wireless access to it through T-Mobile. Those profiles are built into the camera. The T-Mobile account is billed as a one-year free trial, but Nikon warns that the arrangement with T-Mobile expires Sept. 30, 2008.
So how do you use it? Very easy.
My first attempt was at Starbucks, which has T-Mobile access nearly everywhere here. While I was waiting for my espresso, I went into Wireless Transfer mode. When it found the T-Mobile HotSpot, I told it to use Coolpix Connect, it let me select images to email, the size to send, and the addresses to send them to (you click a box next to each address to include it in the email). There's no option to add a message (fortunately). The S7c sends the images to Coolpix Connect and tells you when the transfer is complete. Recipients get an email announcing you've sent them photos with thumbnails of the selection in the body of the email. And all as fast as it takes to make an espresso.
You don't have to go to Starbucks, though, or use T-Mobile to tap into Coolpix Connect. My second attempt was at home where the S7c found my home network. I told it to use Coolpix Connect, it let me select images, the size, and the recipients, and then emailed them to Coolpix Connect. And you don't have to be home, either. Any public hotspot works.
Emailing a picture from anywhere is a lot of fun. It's why cellphones have cameras. But with the S7c, it's a printable image.
Appraisal. The three big advances of the Nikon Coolpix S7c are worthwhile ones. Getting 7.1 megapixels over 6 megapixels isn't a big deal, but getting Hi ISO and Coolpix Connect certainly are. And, somehow, it's available for just $300. At that price is just plain silly to complain about anything else.
- 7.1-megapixel CCD delivering image resolution as high as 3,072 x 2,304 pixels
- 3x Nikkor ED zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- Max 4x digital zoom
- 3.0-inch color LCD monitor
- Automatic exposure control
- Built-in flash with five modes
- 14MB internal memory
- SD/MMC memory card storage (no card included)
- USB 2.0 computer connection
- Custom rechargeable LiIon battery and charger included
- Software CD with Nikon PictureProject, reference manual, and a wireless camera setup utility for Mac and PC
- WiFi capability for wireless connection to computers and printers
- Vibration Reduction optical image stabilization for steady shots at telephoto focal lengths
- 15 preset Scene modes, four with framing assist options
- Hi ISO mode
- Movie recording mode (with sound), plus Time-lapse and Stop-motion movie modes
- Continuous, Multi-shot 16, and Interval capture modes
- Best Shot Selector mode
- Shutter speeds from 1/500 to two seconds
- Maximum aperture from f2.8 to f5.0, depending on zoom position
- Five color modes
- Two Self-timer modes 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, 800, and 1,600 ISO equivalents
- White balance (color) adjustment with seven options, including a manual setting
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge printing compatibility
- CoolStation camera dock included
In the Box
The Nikon Coolpix S7c ships with the following items in the box:
- Nikon Coolpix S7c digicam
- Cool-Station MV-15 cradle
- Dock Insert PV-11
- USB Cable UC-E10
- Audio Video Cable EG-E5000
- AC Adapter EH-64
- Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL8
- Instruction manuals, Coolpix Connect User Guide, plus registration materials
- PictureProject 1.7 and Wireless Setup Utility 2.0 CD-ROMs
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. These days, a 512MB or 1GB card is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
- Wireless Printer Adapter (PD-10) to turn any PictBridge printer into a wireless printer
- Battery Charger MH-62
Small digicams are not famous for their image quality. The Nikon Coolpix S7c starts from that premise but taps into some smart electronics to compensate for the compromises. As a result, the Coolpix S7c is as attractive for its image quality as it is for its styling. And if that doesn't sell you, its extended WiFi support will.
Cabling a camera to your computer or even just removing a card to insert into a reader are things of the past with the S7c. Nikon has extended the convenience of wireless data transfer for copying, printing and now emailing beyond the world of PictureProject to T-Mobile HotSpots.
And while you're sipping a latte and WiFi-ing your images, your S7c will attract some attention, too, with its smooth wave design. With no buttons or levers protruding from it, it's easily slipped into a pocket so it's with you when you want to take a picture. And when you light up that 3.0-inch LCD with your images, it's even more attractive. Especially when you ask it to throw an impromptu Pictmotion presentation together.
Between capture and playback, the S7c provides a lot of picture-taking intelligence. The ED glass makes the most of the S7c's small lens. The Feature System provides Nikon exclusives like face detection auto focusing, in-camera red-eye removal, and D-Lighting. The Scene modes are easily accessed, especially Portrait, which has its own button. Everything else is fun to find with the new rotary multi-selector. In short, it's a smart choice -- and therefore a Dave's Pick.