Nikon S5 Review
Nikon Coolpix S5 Exposure
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Pretty good overall color, with good saturation (though slightly pushed reds, yellows, and blues).
Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Nikon Coolpix S5 oversaturates the stronger red, green, and blue tones somewhat, with strong blues being rendered much brighter than in real life. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. For the most part, the S5's skin tone rendition was pretty good, just slightly pink in a few cases.
The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. Here, the Nikon Coolpix S5 performed well, though it pushed cyans toward blue, and yellows toward green slightly. (The cyan-to-blue shift is quite common among digital cameras, we think it's intended to produce more pleasing sky colors.) With real-life subjects, the Nikon S5's color was bright and pleasing, but it obviously really "likes" strong blues a lot.
Our random "Gallery" shots showed very pleasing color across a wide variety of subjects.
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
A warm cast with both Auto and Incandescent white balance settings, better results with Manual. About average exposure compensation required for this shot.
|Auto White Balance +1.0 EV||Incandescent WB +1.0 EV|
|Manual White Balance +1.0 EV|
Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was warm and reddish in the Nikon S5's Auto white balance mode, and more yellow with the Incandescent setting. While more reddish than we personally like to see, we suspect that results with the Auto setting will be acceptable to most consumers. (As is often the case, the images don't look as reddish when printed and viewed in isolation.) The Manual white balance option had just a hint of magenta, but the overall look was quite natural and pleasing. The Nikon Coolpix S5 required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, about typical for this shot. Overall color looks pretty good, though skin tones are pinkish and the blue flowers are dark and quite purplish. (Both very common outcomes for this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.
Good overall color balance, vibrant color, better than average exposure accuracy.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoor shots generally showed accurate exposure with slightly blown out highlights, and slightly high contrast. The Nikon S5's shadow detail was pretty good, if a little noisy, and though bright, the highlights held onto a lot of detail. Exposure accuracy overall was better than average, the camera requiring slightly less exposure compensation than we're accustomed to seeing with consumer digicams.
High resolution, 1,300 lines of strong detail.
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,300 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 1,700. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear several times, so the lines you see at 1,600 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.
|Strong detail to 1,300 lines horizontal||Strong detail to 1,300 lines vertical|
Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images, though with some edge enhancement in high contrast areas. Good shadow detail, fairly low noise suppression.
|Good definition of high-contrast elements.||Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.
The Nikon Coolpix S5's images are moderately sharp overall, though some edge enhancement is visible in high contrast areas like the crop above left. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.) We generally haven't been terribly impressed with the sharpness of any of the current crop of 6-megapixel cameras from a variety of manufacturers, so the Nikon S5's moderate sharpness seems to be more or less in line with that of its competition.
Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop above right shows some noise suppression, as some of the darker areas of Marti's hair do show limited detail. The Nikon S5 does seem a bit more restrained in its noise suppression than many cameras though, as its images look quite detailed when printed out.
ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise at the normal sensitivity settings, higher noise and some loss of detail at the highest settings. (Better than average though.)
|ISO 50||ISO 100|
|ISO 200||ISO 400|
The Nikon Coolpix S5's lower ISO settings produced low noise, without any pronounced blurring of subtle subject detail. At ISO 400, noise increases to a higher level, as you might expect. The "grain" size here is actually fairly small though, and Nikon's anti-noise processing seems to do a better than average job of preserving an impression of sharpness, even at ISO 400. (As noted below, we think most consumers would be pleased with 8x10 inch prints from the S5's ISO 400 shots, something relatively few digicams achieve.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, and better than average detail in the shadows. Slightly limited low-light abilities, but capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and slightly darker conditions at the higher ISO settings.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
The Nikon Coolpix S5 produced slightly high contrast in response to the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above. Detail was a bit limited in the strongest highlights, but better than average in the shadows. The best exposure was obtained with a +0.7 EV exposure compensation boost, a bit less than the amount typically required here. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)
At the Nikon Coolpix S5's lowest ISO setting, images were a bit dim at the one foot-candle light level, which is about equivalent to average city street lighting at night. Increasing the ISO to 200 and 400 extends the camera's capabilities somewhat, meaning that the camera can capture well-exposed images under light levels roughly half those of typical city street scenes at night. Overall color is a hint warm from the Auto white balance setting, but well within acceptable limits. The camera's autofocus system worked well unassisted down to the 1/4 foot-candle light level, and to the darkest light level we test at with the AF assist lamp enabled. Keep in mind that the longer shutter times used by the camera in low lighting require the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
Coverage and Range
A somewhat limited flash range, and a bit of a blue cast when used with typical incandescent room lighting. Less exposure adjustment required than average though.
|35mm equivalent||105mm equivalent|
|Normal Flash +0.7 EV||Slow-Sync Flash +0.7 EV|
Flash coverage was somewhat uneven at wide angle, more uniform but fairly dim at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the Nikon S5's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get reasonably bright results. This is quite typical for this shot though, and the +0.7 EV of correction the Nikon S5 required is less than average among the cameras we've tested. Combined with the background incandescent lighting, the S5's flash produces a blue cast in areas illuminated only by the flash. (See the blue "shadows" beneath the flower bouquet in the slow-sync example above.) The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting, as well as fairly strong blue tints in the shadows. Here too, the camera required a +0.7 EV exposure boost.
With the lens set to full wide angle, results were fairly bright at ISO 100 at the eight foot test distance, though intensity incrementally decreased from there. At the 14 -foot test distance, intensity was a little low, though still usable. At full telephoto, intensity was a bit dim at ISO 100 even at eight feet, before decreasing to a very low level.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
(Unknown ISO setting)
(Unknown ISO setting)
Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims. In the shots above, the Coolpix S5 seems to perform exactly as Nikon says it will, producing good exposures at the rated distances with its ISO set to Auto. While the range is rather limited, the good news here is that the camera isn't significantly boosting its ISO. This would produce greater flash range, but at the cost of higher image noise.
Good print quality, bright, appealing color, good 11x14 inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft and noisy but probably acceptable at 8x10, sharp at 5x7.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)
In the case of the Nikon S5, we found that it had ample resolution to make good-looking 11x14 inch prints, and very crisp 8x10s. Its high ISO noise performance was a bit better than we'd expected: ISO 400 shots printed at 8x10 inches were definitely a bit soft and noisy, but we think most consumers would be satisfied with them for wall or table display. Printed at 5x7 inches, ISO 400 images looked just fine. While there are some consumer cameras out there that will do better at ISO 400, the Nikon S5 is clearly better than average in this regard.
Color-wise, the Nikon S5's images looked very nice when printed on the i9900, with bright, vibrant color. Users who prefer more subdued, technically accurate color saturation levels may find the S5's's images a bit too bright, but we think most consumers will find the Nikon S5's bright, snappy images very appealing.
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon Coolpix S5 Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon Coolpix S5 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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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.