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Nikon Coolpix S31 Preview

by Mike Tomkins
Posted 01/28/2013

Consumers can tend to treat entry-level digital cameras almost like disposables. Take it everywhere, let it take a beating, and when it gives up -- most likely sooner, rather than later -- it makes way for another entry-level camera. It doesn't have to be like that, though. Even on an entry-level budget, you can pick up a fairly rugged camera that will accompany you on a day at beach or pool (and handle the occasional accidental drop) without you needing to reach for your pocket book. The Coolpix S31, suggests Nikon, is one such camera.

Priced affordably at just US$120, and available from February 2013, the Nikon S31 ships in five eyecatching colors: white, blue, pink, brown, or yellow. Fans of boring old black and silver need not apply, unless they fancy repainting their camera. (Warning: We do not recommend repainting your camera. Unless you want to reach for the pocket book again, that is.)

The Nikon S31 belies its pricetag with a selection of waterproofing to 16.4 feet (5m), shockproofing to 3.9 feet (1.2m), and dustproofing. And while its CCD image sensor, at just 10.1 megapixels, lags the state of the art in terms of raw resolution, that's probably a good thing: we've long argued that megapixel ratings well into the double digits far exceed the needs of the average photographer. At 300 dpi, you should be able to make an 8 x 10-inch print with fairly generous cropping from the S31's images, and you won't have to deal with storing and processing the huge files generated by many cameras these days.

ISO sensitivity ranges from 80 to 1,600 equivalents, about par for the course in an entry-level camera. On the front panel, there's a fairly typical Nikkor-branded 3x optical zoom lens. With a 35mm-equivalent focal range from 29 to 87mm, and a maximum aperture of f/3.3 to f/5.9, it's neither the brightest, nor the most powerful, but it's likely adequate for typical consumers. (Although the wide angle is a bit tighter than we've grown accustomed to in the last few years.)

Of course, concessions have to be made to hit a price tag like this, and for the Nikon S31 one such example is its LCD monitor. With a 2.7-inch diagonal, it's noticeably smaller than the displays on most digicams these days. More curious is the choice of flash positioning, something that won't have had much impact on price. Sitting right above the optical path, the Nikon S31's strobe is closer to the lens than need be, and that's likely going to increase the incidence of red-eye. We can't think of much reason for the design, other than to help avoid a fingertip covering the strobe, and perhaps to make it stand out a bit more on the shelf at your local big-box retailer.

As well as stills, the Nikon Coolpix S31 can capture high-definition video. We're currently awaiting specifics as to resolution and frame rate, but we do know that a dedicated video button is included. And you can also use the same filter effects that you would for stills on your videos, too. Unleashing your creative side needn't mean you're limited to one specific moment in time, after all.

The Nikon S31 includes USB 2.0 High-Speed data connectivity. Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types. There's also a not-very-generous 26MB of internal memory, enough for a few life-saving shots if you accidentally leave the house without a flash card, but you'll need to pick those shots carefully.

Power comes from a proprietary EN-EL12 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack, and both battery and charger are included in the product bundle. Nikon says that the Coolpix S31 will be capable of capturing a reasonably generous -- by entry-level standards, anyway -- 260 shots on a charge.

Available from February 2013, the Nikon Coolpix S31 is priced at around US$120. Five body colors will be available: white, blue, pink, brown, or yellow.