Nikon S4 Review
Nikon Coolpix S4 Operation
Despite the Nikon Coolpix S4's limited exposure control, the camera offers a nice selection of external control buttons, making for an easy-to-navigate user interface. Flash mode, Self-Timer mode, Macro mode, zoom, Record mode, and an Erase function are all accessible via external controls. A slider on the top panel selects the main operating mode, and a multi-directional joystick-like controller on the back panel navigates through on-screen menus, in addition to accessing camera features directly. The LCD menu system is fairly short, with user-friendly icons in the Scene Assist modes. Operating this camera is so straightforward I doubt you'll need the manual for much more than reference. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes to get into the swing of things.
Record Mode LCD Display: In Record mode, the Coolpix S4's LCD reports limited status information, including camera modes, the resolution/quality setting, number of available images, etc. Half-pressing the Shutter button displays a green circle when focus is achieved. The camera doesn't show aperture or shutter speed information as some do. It does tell you when it thinks the image might become blurred by camera shake when it's forced to use a slow shutter speed. The Display button lets you choose between a viewfinder display of the subject by itself, or the subject with overlaid status information. Some scene mode options provide an overlaid grid as an aid to orienting the camera to your subject, while others offer subject outline as alignment aids for portraits, etc.
Playback Mode LCD Display: In Playback mode, the LCD reports the image series number, resolution/quality setting, file name and folder it's stored in on the memory card, and the date and time of image capture. It also displays an icon if the image is one that's been selected for quick download with Nikon's host software, as well as icons indicating that you can record an audio note to accompany the image or enable D-Lighting. A press of the Display button disables the information overlay. Pressing the "W" end of the zoom lever zooms out to a four-image thumbnail view of photos stored on the card. Pressing it a second time shows a nine-image thumbnail display. Pressing the zoom control in the telephoto direction zooms in as much as 10x on the subject, handy for checking image details and focus.
Nikon Coolpix S4 Modes and Menus
Auto Record Mode: Activated by sliding the Mode switch left to the Auto position (green camera icon), this mode places the camera in control of both aperture and shutter speed, as well as most other exposure features. Pressing the Menu button displays the following Shooting menu.:
- Image Mode: Sets the JPEG size and compression. Choices are 6M* High (2,816 x 2,112 pixels), 6M Normal (2,816 x 2,112 pixels), 3M Normal (2,048 x 1,536 pixels), PC Screen (1,024 x 768 pixels), and TV screen (640 x 480 pixels).
- White Balance: Chooses from Auto White Balance, PRE for custom presetting of white balance, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, and Speedlight (flash).
- Exp +/-: Accesses the Exposure compensation adjustment, +/- 2 EV in 1/3 steps.
- Continuous: Chooses from Single, Continuous, Multi-Shot 16, and Interval capture modes.
- BSS: Best Shot Selector shoots up to 10 shots and picks the one with the least blur from camera shake or poor focus. Flash is automatically turned off in this mode, since it is intended for capture of natural light photos in low light.
- Sensitivity: Selects Auto ISO or sets the camera to 50, 100, 200, or 400.
- Color Options: Sets the color mode to Standard, Vivid, Black and White, Sepia, or Cyanotype.
Movie Mode: This mode is denoted by a movie camera icon on the Mode switch. Movie mode captures moving images at 15 frames per second for as long as the memory card has available space. (Provided that you have a fast enough memory card.) Pressing the Menu button pulls up the following options:
- Movie Options: Sets the movie resolution. Choices are TV Movie (640 x 480 pixels), Small size (320 x 240 pixels), Smaller size (160 x 120), and Time-lapse mode.
- Auto Focus Mode: Selects Continuous AF (camera is always focusing--this setting uses more battery and makes some moderate repetitive sound) or Single AF (focuses only when shutter button is pressed).
- Electronic VR: Turns Electronic VR on or off.
Scene Exposure Mode: The word "Scene" indicates this mode on the Mode switch. Sixteen preset scene modes are available, by pressing the Menu button. All of the scene modes preset a variety of camera options for you automatically, four of them offer additional options to help with framing your shots.
- Portrait Assist Mode: This mode is best for portraits, and is the first of the camera's Framing Assist modes. In Portrait mode, the camera uses a larger aperture setting to decrease the depth of field, producing a sharply focused subject in front of a slightly blurred background. Selecting this scene calls up the Scene Assistance menu, which lets you choose from a range of portrait setups, including basic Face Priority AF, Portrait, Portrait Left, Portrait Right, Portrait Close-up, Portrait Couple, Portrait Figure, and the Image Mode (for changing file size and resolution). In each of these modes (except basic Portrait and Face-priority AF), an outline appears on the LCD display to help you align the subject. Face-priority AF actually surrounds each face it sees with a red box, and when focus is achieved, the red box of the face chosen for focus turns green.
- Landscape Assist Mode: Here, the camera employs a smaller aperture setting to produce sharp detail in both foreground and background objects. As with Portrait mode, the Scene Assistance menu offers a handful of options (accessed as in Portrait mode). Framing options are Landscape (no guidelines), Scenic View (mountain outline), Architecture (grid), Group Right (outlines of people with lines for buildings in the background), Group Left (also outlines of people with building and horizon lines), and Image Mode.
- Sports Assist Mode: This mode uses faster shutter speeds to freeze action. The Scene Assistance menu offers Sports, Sport Composite, and Image Mode options. Sport Composite mode takes 16 images in two seconds, each time the Shutter button is pressed, and arranges them in a four-by-four array, much like Multi-Shot 16 mode.
- Night Portrait Assist Mode: This mode is for twilight and dusk portraits. The flash is automatically set to Auto Red-Eye Reduction mode, and syncs to the slower shutter speed, which allows more ambient light in to balance color and shadows. The camera's ISO setting automatically adjusts as high as ISO 200, depending on the light level (not reported on the LCD screen). And Noise Reduction is turned on. The Scene Assistance menu offers the same framing outlines as in Portrait mode (described above), with the exception of Face-Priority AF.
- Party/Indoor: Use to capture background details in situations that require flash. Also good for preserving the look of candlelight or other indoor lighting.
- Beach/Snow: Boosts the exposure to compensate for subjects that are very bright overall.
- Sunset: Preserves the deep colors of sunsets and sunrises. (Likely sets white balance to "daylight" rather than auto, and dials in some negative exposure compensation to get a good exposure on the sky.)
- Dusk/Dawn: Preserves the colors seen in weak natural light seen before dawn or after sunset. The flash is disabled, noise reduction is automatically enabled at slow shutter speeds, and the autofocus-assist illuminator is disabled, even in dim lighting.
- Night Landscape: Combines longer exposures with the "Landscape" mode. Focus is fixed at infinity, and the flash is disabled in this mode. Noise reduction is enabled for long exposures, and the autofocus-assist illuminator is disabled, even in dim lighting.
- Close Up: Adjusts the lens for close-focusing on small objects, apparently also increases color saturation slightly. Autofocus operates continuously until you half-press the shutter button, helpful in focusing on very close subjects. AF-area mode is set to "manual," so you can select what part of the frame you want to focus on by pressing the center button of the multi-controller and moving the focus cursor around the image with the arrow keys. Press the center button again to save the new AF area selection.
- Museum: Enables longer exposure times and higher sensitivity, for indoor situations where you can't use flash. Automatically turns on the Best Shot Selector to help get a sharp image. The autofocus-assist illuminator is disabled, even in dim lighting.
- Fireworks Show: Sets a long exposure and small aperture so you can catch the colored trails of fireworks. Exposure compensation is disabled, and the autofocus-assist illuminator is disabled, even in dim lighting.
- Copy: Sets the color mode to black and white, boosts contrast, and adjusts exposure to produce sharp images of black text (or line drawings) on white backgrounds.
- Backlight: For difficult lighting conditions, when the main light is behind your subject, casting their features into shadow. The flash is set to fire even in bright conditions, to throw light onto the shadowed subject.
- Panorama Assist: Lets you capture a series of images to be stitched together later on a computer as one panoramic image. Flash, macro, and zoom setting are all fixed at their values for the first shot in the series. Likewise, exposure and white balance values are determined by the first shot in the series, to help avoid visible boundaries between the component images in the final panorama, after they've been stitched together.
- Image Mode: Sets the image resolution. Choices are 6M* High (2,816 x 2,112 pixels), 6M Normal (2,816 x 2,112 pixels), 3M (2,048 x 1,536 pixels), 2M (1,600 x 1,200 pixels), PC (1,024 x 768 pixels), and TV (640 x 480 pixels).
- Voice Recording: Transforms camera into a digital voice recorder that can hold several hours of audio on an SD card.
Playback Mode: Pressing the Playback button on the camera's back panel instantly enters Playback mode. Here, you can review captured images and movies, erase, enlarge, copy, and protect images, and also set them up for printing. Pressing the Menu button offers the following options:
- Print Set: Sets the DPOF settings for captured images. A "Print Selected" option brings up an index display, letting you mark individual images for printing. Once images are marked, you can decide whether any text is overlaid on the image (such as image information or the date and time). You can also cancel print settings here with the "Delete Print Set" button.
- Slide Show: Automates a slide show of all still images on the memory card with three seconds between shots. You can also enable a looped playback that will play for 30 minutes before the camera goes into standby mode.
- Delete: Erases selected images from the memory card, or all images (except for write-protected ones).
- Protect: Write-protects individual images from accidental erasure or manipulation. A special display of the images on the card appears, with a three image filmstrip across the top and a larger image preview on the bottom, which you scroll through and select images to be "locked." Protected images are only deleted through card formatting.
- Transfer Marking: Marks all images or allows user to select specific images for auto transfer when the camera is connected to a computer running Nikon's software.
- Small Picture: Creates a lower resolution copy of an image with this tool, choosing from 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120. Great for pictures you know you'll want to email.
- Copy: Quickly copy images from internal to external memory or vise versa. Great for images you want to bring along or keep in memory for the startup screen.
Setup Mode: The following Setup menu is accessible from the top of almost all menus:
- Welcome Screen: Chooses the welcome screen that appears at startup, either none, static, or animated, or lets you choose a previously-shot image as a personalized welcome screen.
- Date: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar. The Time Zone option lets you set the time for either your home or a destination city.
- Brightness: Adjusts the brightness of the LCD display.
- Date imprint: Includes the date, or date and time as part of the image. Options are Off, or to imprint Date, Date and Time, or a Date Counter, showing the number of days since a specific date that you've chosen and entered.
- Sound settings: Can turn on or off the button sound, shutter sound, and startup sound, as well as control the volume.
- Blur Warning: Turns the camera's Blur Warning on and off. (If off, the "camera shake" icon will not appear on the LCD monitor.)
- Auto Off: Enables the Auto Off feature, which automatically shuts down the camera after a period of inactivity, to save battery life. Times are 30 seconds, or 1, 5, or 30 minutes. Sleep mode will put the camera in standby mode after 30 seconds regardless of auto off setting if no change in scene brightness occurs; a press on the power button returns the camera to full readiness.
- Format Card/Memory: Formats the SD card or internal memory, erasing all files (even protected ones).
- Language: Changes the menu language to German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Swedish, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, or Korean.
- USB: Sets the USB protocol to Mass Storage or PTP. The PTP option supports automatic processing of camera images under Windows XP and Mac OS X operating systems (unless you want to mount the camera on the desktop), while Mass Storage is best for older operating systems. Mass Storage makes the camera appear as a hard drive to the operating system when plugged in via the USB cable.
- Video Mode: Sets the video output to NTSC or PAL timing.
- Auto Transfer: Choosing On lets you mark pictures for later transfer to a computer as they are taken.
- AF Assist: Disables the AF assist light, or puts it into Auto mode.
- Reset All: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.
- Battery Type: Specifies the type of battery in use, either alkaline, Coolpix (NiMH), or lithium.
- Menus: Sets the menu display mode to Text or Icons.
- Firmware version: Reports version number of firmware (the operating software) running on device.
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.