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Nikon S810c Review -- First Impressions

Preview posted

In late 2012, Nikon debuted the S800c, the world's first mainstream smart camera. Based around Google's Android operating system, the Nikon S800c was sleek, compact and powerful, able to run a vast selection of apps much like your smartphone can -- but with a lens and sensor unlike those in the majority of camera phones. It was an interesting product, but unfortunately, also very much a first-generation one, rather rough around the edges. Now, the 16-megapixel Nikon S810c follows in its footsteps, and aims to refine the design to create a product with broader appeal.

Many of our most significant concerns with the earlier model look to have been addressed, which is great news. (A few do still remain, though -- most notably a rather limited camera feature set for the price, and a very shallow buffer.) Perhaps most significantly, the Nikon S810c sports a much more up-to-date version of Android: version 4.2.2, also known as Jelly Bean. Although it still trails the current v4.4.2 (Kit Kat) release that's now available from Google, it's nonetheless a huge step forwards from the elderly v2.3.3 Gingerbread release used in the S800c. Google services including the company's flagship Play Store are included, making it easy to obtain apps and share them with most other Android devices.

Nikon has also radically improved battery life, and added the ability to use the camera or its Android features while the battery is being charged. And while we don't yet know if it will improve the corner softness, flare and contrast issues we saw in its predecessor, the Nikon S810c also boasts a more powerful 12x optical zoom lens that can now focus much closer. Also improved is the touch-panel display through which you'll be interacting with Android, now a TFT LCD type that's both larger and higher-resolution. (We're hoping that it's also brighter, as that in the S800c was rather dim.) One other change of note: Video and music fans will be pleased to see a brand-new headphone jack added.

Impressively, all of these changes arrive with only a very slight increase in size and weight. The Nikon S810c's pocket-friendly body is similarly-styled to that of its predecessor, if a little cleaner-looking than before. The stereo microphone ports have been moved to the top deck, and the rear-panel buttons have been rearranged more logically for landscape-orientation shooting. The card slot has also moved to the side of the camera, allowing the card to be changed while the camera is mounted on a tripod. (You'll still have to dismount to change the battery, though.)

Available from May 2014 in black-bodied or white-bodied versions, the Nikon Coolpix S810c carries the exact same list price as its predecessor: You'll be able to pick it up for around US$350.

Nikon S810c Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

At its heart, the Nikon S810c's image sensor is unchanged. It's still a 16.0-megapixel, backside-illuminated, 1/2.3-inch type CMOS chip. As mentioned, though, it now sits behind a longer 12x optical zoom lens. The extra range beyond that offered by the previous 10x zoom can all be found at the telephoto end, helping you to draw your subjects ever closer. 35mm-equivalent focal lengths now range from a generous 25mm wide angle to a fairly powerful 300mm telephoto. The extra reach comes at the expense of a slight decrease in maximum aperture across the board, however. This now starts from f/3.3 at wide angle, and falls to a rather dim f/6.3 at telephoto.

On the plus side, the lens focuses much closer at telephoto, and even more so in macro mode. Shooting at the telephoto position, you'll get as close as five feet (1.5m) from your subject, and in macro mode, you'll focus down to just 0.8 inches (2cm). The updated lens still features an optical stabilization system that works in concert with electronic vibration reduction, and there's also still a built-in, -2EV neutral density filter.

The Nikon S810c's image sensor still yields the same sensitivity and burst performance as that in the S800c. By default, sensitivity ranges from ISO 125 to 1,600 equivalents, and in Auto mode it can climb as high as ISO 3,200 equivalent. Full-resolution burst shooting is still possible at a swift eight frames per second, but it's still stymied by an anemic three-shot buffer, so you'll still have to time your shot almost to perfection if you want to capture the crucial moment.

Another slight disappointment is that the Nikon S810c's exposure options are just as limited as those of its predecessor, something we have a little difficulty understanding given that even some cameraphones provide more exposure control than this dedicated camera can. You have a choice of either program or auto exposure modes, but not of priority or manual shooting, so you'll have to rely on scene modes to get the look you're after. (There's one new scene mode, incidentally -- "Pet Portrait", for all the animal-lovers out there.)

Exposures are still determined with a 256-segment metering system that allows center-weighted or spot modes only in concert with digital zoom. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to one second ordinarily, but in certain modes can encompass everything from 1/4,000 to four seconds. And if you want to shed a little more light on nearby subjects, there's a built-in flash, with a maximum range of 18 feet (5.6m) at wide angle.

On the back of the S810c, its predecessor's rather dim Organic LED monitor has been replaced by a larger, higher resolution LCD panel. It is, of course, a touch-screen -- but that's a given for an Android device. The 16:9-aspect panel now has a diagonal size of 3.7 inches, and a resolution of around 1,229k-dots. That translates to an array of 854 x 480 pixels, with each pixel comprised of separate red, green and blue dots.

And as you'd expect, the Nikon S810c also offers other de rigeur features for an Android device such as built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking connectivity, a GPS receiver for location-awareness, and an electronic compass for direction-awareness. The GPS functionality has been updated somewhat, though, with built-in world maps and points of interest now included in the camera -- great for if you're away from home and a cell signal for your phone. (Note that the S810c itself lacks any cell connectivity, just as did its predecessor.)

The S810c also now boasts an upgraded playback mode that offers what Nikon described to us as a timeline view not dissimilar to what you'd find on a social network, allowing you to browse through your images in a friendly manner. You can also now attach comments to images either with an on-screen keyboard or using voice recognition, and these aren't burned into the image or its EXIF header. Instead, they're saved as a separate .TXT file, which allows them to be edited after the fact, but makes it a bit easy for image and text file to get separated.

Nikon has tweaked the video capabilities of the S810c somewhat, compared to those of its predecessor. The main specs -- H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC compression in a .MOV container, and a choice of Full HD (1080p30; 1,920 x 1,080 pixels), HD (720p30; 1,280 x 720 pixels) or VGA (480p30; 640 x 480 pixels) are unchanged. You can now opt for a fast-motion 15 frames-per-second framerate at Full HD resolution, however, for a 2x playback speed. Alternatively, you can shoot 60p video at HD resolution (allowing either smoother motion, or half-speed playback), and 120p video at VGA (for 1/4-speed playback.) And there's now a built-in, 3.5mm headphone jack that's not only handy for listening to your MP3 music collection or playing games, but also for listening to the audio soundtrack of your movies.

Another change in the Nikon S810c is the presence of MicroSD storage, in place of its predecessor's full-sized SD cards. This might, at first blush, seem like a curious decision -- after all, you don't really gain a huge space savings compared to the size of the camera itself. However, chances are that you'll be using the S810c alongside a smartphone, and many Android smartphones include MicroSD card slots, making it a no-brainer to simply switch cards back and forth between phone and camera. As well as the card slot, there's also around 2.4GB of available, built-in memory, a similar amount to that provided in the S800c. However, the Nikon S810c's memory is allocated a little differently, with more than in the past (1GB) dedicated to apps, and less (1.4GB) to images.

Beyond the new headphone jack, connectivity is unchanged: There's a choice of USB 2.0 High-Speed data and high-definition HDMI video output. As noted earlier, one last important difference between the Nikon S810c and S800c can be found in the battery department. The earlier model's battery is gone, replaced by a new EN-EL23 lithium-ion rechargeable that promises almost double the shot life. You should be able to capture some 270 images on a charge with the S810c, where the S800c was limited to just 140 shots. And helpfully, you can continue to use the S810c either as a camera or an Android device while the battery is charging.