Nikon S50 Review
Nikon Coolpix S50 Exposure
Note: These results taken from the Nikon Coolpix S50c, which is identical to the S50 except it has WiFi connectivity added.
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Generally good color, with good overall saturation, though some slight color shifts in the yellows and blues.
Saturation. The Nikon Coolpix S50 produced good overall saturation, though yellows are actually a bit undersaturated, while the cyan and blue tones are over saturated. Still, results are pleasing. 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.
Skin tones. Here, the S50 did render skin tones a bit on the reddish side in some cases, but results are within acceptable limits. 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.
Hue. The Coolpix S50 produced generally accurate color under most of our test lighting, though it pushed cyan toward blue and some yellows closer to green. The camera also produced slightly warm color balances, but overall results were pleasing. The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Most accurate color with the Manual white balance setting, though a hint magenta with pinkish skin tones. Average positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto WB +1.0 EV||Incandescent WB +1.0 EV||Manual WB +1.0 EV|
Both the Coolpix S50's Auto and Incandescent white balance settings produced warm color balances indoors under incandescent lighting, though the Manual option produced more accurate results. Auto white balance is really poor for this class of camera. The Nikon Coolpix S50 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +1.0 EV. Though overall color with the Manual white balance setting is a hint magenta, with pinkish skin tones, it's still pretty good overall. The blue flowers in the bouquet do have a strong purplish tint, which is a common problem among digital cameras in this shot. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Good overall color and exposure, though slightly warm color balance.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Nikon Coolpix S50 tended toward a slightly warm color balance, though overall color was good. The S50 performed about average in terms of exposure, requiring the typical amount of positive compensation we're accustomed to seeing among consumer digital cameras. Contrast is a little high, though midtone detail is still pretty good. Overall a pretty good performance considering the lack of contrast and color adjustments.
High resolution, 1,400-1,500 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to
1,500 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,400 lines vertical
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,500 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 1,400 lines vertically. Extinction occurred at around 1,800 lines vertically, but horizontal detail is still visible to 2,000 lines. 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.
Sharpness & Detail
Reasonably sharp images overall. Modest edge enhancement on high-contrast subjects, and a small amount of noise suppression.
|Detail is soft when viewed 1:1, especially in the shadows. There is also evidence of edge enhancement.||Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.
Sharpness. The Nikon Coolpix S50 captures somewhat soft images due to noise suppression, and edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as 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.
Detail. The crop above right shows a small amount of noise suppression in the darker shadows, though there's a lot of fine detail visible elsewhere. 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.
ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity setting, though big jumps in noise with strong blurring at the higher settings.
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600|
Noise level is moderately low at the Nikon Coolpix S50's lowest sensitivity setting, though noise jumps with each increase in sensitivity. At ISO 400, noise is high and blurs fine detail, and the effect is even stronger at the 800 and 1,600 settings. At 1,600 ISO, noise pixels are so bright and large that overall color balance is affected as well.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, but high contrast limits shadow detail. Limited low-light performance, just capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
Sunlight. The Nikon Coolpix S50 produced high contrast with deep shadows under the harsh lighting of the test above. Detail is limited in the darker shadow areas, and noise suppression is evident here as well. Though the overall exposure appears slightly dim at +0.7 EV, the image at +1.0 EV was just a little too hot in the highlights and on Marti's face.
Note: 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.) 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.
Low light. The Nikon Coolpix S50 captured bright images down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level (about 1/8 as bright as average city street lighting at night) only at the highest ISO setting. At ISO 100, images were dim even at one foot-candle. Overall color looks pretty good with the Auto white balance setting. The camera's autofocus system was only able to focus on the subject down to about the 1/2 foot-candle light level without an AF assist lamp, which is slightly limited compared to its exposure capabilities at the higher sensitivity settings.
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) The longer shutter times necessary here absolutely demand the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos (anything slower than 1/15 second is very difficult to hand-hold without blurring). A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. For most low-light situations, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera; but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.
Coverage and Range
Dim exposures at the default exposure setting; the camera required average exposure compensation for flash exposures. Slightly limited range.
|38mm equivalent||114mm equivalent|
|Normal Flash +1.0 EV||Slow-Sync Flash +0.3 EV|
Coverage. Flash coverage was uneven at wide angle, with strong falloff in the corners and edges of the frame, and splotchy coverage at the center. At telephoto, some falloff is noticeable in the corners, but coverage is a little more even. Indoors, under incandescent background lighting, the Coolpix S50's flash underexposed our subject a fair bit at its default setting, requiring a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get bright results. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode required less positive compensation at +0.3 EV, though the longer shutter speed results in a strong orange cast from the background lighting.
ISO 100 Range. The Nikon Coolpix S50's flash showed a very limited range, bright to only about eight feet at wide angle. At telephoto, it's never really properly exposed, even at 6 feet.
|Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range|
Auto ISO 320
Auto ISO 200
Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the shots above, the Coolpix S50 performs close to Nikon's specifications, producing reasonably bright exposures at the rated distances with its ISO set to Auto. These are pretty good figures, though the camera does boost ISO to get better performance.
Note: 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.
Good print quality, oversaturated color, good 11x14 inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 8x10, ISO 800 and 1,600 shots are usable at 5x7 and 4x6, respectively.
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 Pro 9000, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon PIXMA Pro 9000 review for details on that model.)
The Nikon Coolpix S50 delivered enough quality at ISO 100 for good looking 11x14 inch prints. At 13x19, its prints were softer looking, but probably fine for wall or table display. ISO 400 shots are usable at 8x10, ISO 800 shots are better kept to 5x7, and ISO 1,600 shots are still decent at 4x6, though there's a lot of noise at the two latter settings. ISO 1,600 has a lot of chroma noise, making it a last resort with the Nikon S50.
Color across the ISO range is way oversaturated, even more than it appears on the monitor. Most folks will like it just fine, though those who prefer accurate color will be disappointed.
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon Coolpix S50 Photo Gallery.
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon Coolpix S50 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.