Nikon S6 Review
|Full model name:||Nikon Coolpix S6|
|Dimensions:||4.0 x 2.4 x 0.8 in.
(101 x 60 x 21 mm)
|Weight:||4.9 oz (140 g)|
Imaging Resource rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
Nikon Coolpix S6 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Review Date: 09/19/2006
Nikon's new Coolpix S6 takes Style and merges it with Slim to create a very capable stylecam that you can take with you everywhere. Sporting a 6.2 megapixel sensor and 3x optical zoom with ED glass, the slimline Nikon CoolPix S6 also incorporates WiFi.
A curved front follows the form of a wave, which gently rises on the right to form a slight grip. A large 3.0 inch LCD graces the back of the camera, and a new rotating disk serves as the navigation tool for the CoolPix S6.
Zoom is equivalent to a 35-105mm lens, with a 4x digital zoom. The Coolpix S6's exposure is fully automatic, and a continuous mode offers capture of 2.2 frames per second.
Nikon is also known for a few special features that are included in the CoolPix S6, including D-Lighting, which enhances darker images to improve shadow detail. BestShot mode takes a series of shots in low light and the camera automatically picks the sharpest shot and saves only that one. And their relatively new Red-eye Fix not only reduces red-eye, it eliminates it. Right in the camera. Face-Priority AF will keep you and your friends dancing around in front of the camera to watch the camera put a "focus box" around your faces. And new One-Touch Portrait button turns on these latter two modes for quick portraits with little effort.
Also, the Nikon S6's new Pictmotion slide show feature not only creates stunning slideshows with creative wipes and effects, it adds music to the equation.
The Nikon CoolPix S6 is a stylecam that makes it easy to share your pictures with its 3.0 inch screen, and should find a home in lots of pockets and purses.
Nikon Coolpix S6 User Report
If you read Dan Havlik's review of the Coolpix S5, you know the Nikon S Coolpix line is the one with Kate Moss in the ads. But when I got my hands on the $349.95 Coolpix S6, the S5's big sister, Kate Moss was far from my mind.
Instead, I was thinking about my brother-in-law's white Corvette with its automatic transmission.
It's the hips, I said to myself. That bulge in the back on the 'Vette is just like the bulge across the lens on the Coolpix S6. Why, mount it on some Hot Wheels and pull it around with the wrist strap and someone is bound to ask you how many miles you get to a gallon.
No, no, no, I told myself. This isn't about bulges and cars. This is about Style. Remember when the Coolpix line split into the L, S, and P lines earlier this year? You know, L for Life (emphasizing ease of use), S for Style (adding photo capabilities and distinctive design), and P for Performance (advanced functionality)?
OK, so what you're saying, I said to myself, is that the Coolpix S6 doesn't have the Performance of the P series or the simplicity of the L series? But it looks cool?
That's what my brother-in-law thought about the white Corvette. Once he let me drive it down to the convenience store to buy a disposable camera for my sister-in-law. She wanted to take some pictures at her first grandchild's first birthday party he'd hocked her camera to make the down payment on the 'Vette.
Hey, I said, to myself, grandchildren? We are getting further and further away from Kate Moss.
Right. But I'm drawing a parallel to the Nikon Coolpix S6. You are only as cool as the pictures you capture.
Design. The Coolpix S6 is a docking digicam. With a 3.0-inch LCD, it isn't a subcompact, but its trim profile doesn't have room for a USB port or AC connection. Instead, it relies on what Nikon calls a Multiconnector port on the bottom of the camera.
You can drop the Nikon S6 into the included Cool Station (a dock with USB and AC connections) or you can pop it on a Kodak EasyShare printer dock using the included dock insert. Without the Cool Station, though, the S6 isn't going to last long. That's how you charge its battery. The Kodak printer dock can run a slide show and print pictures but not charge the battery.
The Nikon S6 does have another option for transmitting and printing photos, though. It has built-in Wireless G.
The Coolpix S6 itself is an attractive camera with a metallic gray paint job and chrome highlights dressing up Nikon's Wave design. The back panel is three-quarters covered by the large LCD but what's left provides a thumb grip, just four buttons and a clever navigator that doesn't just function four ways, but spins too.
I was less impressed by the business end of the Coolpix S6 with the flash as close to the lens as it could possible get. Nikon does provide an in-camera red eye fix -- and the S6 needs it. But firing the flash that close to the lens flattens anything it illuminates. And with the lens so close to the corner, it's also easy, as Dan pointed out in the S5 review, to get your finger in the shot.
The top of the camera has a chrome bar on the right side that holds the tiny Power button, the elongated Shutter button and a very small zoom control. These are the three most important controls on any camera (the ones that take the picture), but on the Nikon S6 they're also the smallest controls.
The Power button isn't quite as bad as it seems at first. It isn't ignoring you, it's just slow to shut the Nikon S6 off. Press it down until you feel it click and forget it. It will eventually turn off the power. The shutter button is placed exactly where your forefinger falls and you can feel the zoom lever just at the beginning of the first joint in your finger. So you just slide back a little off the Shutter to zoom. It looks impossible, but it works fine.
My hands seemed to fit the profile of the Nikon S6 perfectly. You might prefer to grasp the right side of the camera from the top and bottom, pressing the Shutter with the top finger. But I prefer to squeeze the back with my thumb and the front with my index finger, leaving my forefinger free to move from the Shutter button to the Zoom control. To steady the Nikon Coolpix S6, I hold the left side by squeezing the top with my forefinger and the bottom with my thumb and curling my index finger along the S-curved side of the camera.
The four buttons on the back are well spaced. Playback is on top, Mode just under it, Menu under that with Trash to Menu's right. I found myself pressing Mode and Menu most of the time. But then I used my thumb to twirl the Nikon S6 controller to select one or another option, pressing it in to confirm my selection. That works very nicely.
So, yeah, I like it. A lot better than that white Corvette.
Display/Viewfinder. When Dan dismissed the lack of an optical viewfinder on the S5, a lot of people wrote in to defend the usefulness of that little eyepiece. The tradeoff is that if you give it up, you get this huge LCD with 230,000 pixels to see your pictures. And it is a pretty compelling argument.
But this LCD is hard to see in direct sun. I took a Kodak V603 and the Nikon Coolpix S6 outside and got the glare of the sun on both of them side by side. I could see the image on the V603's screen but I couldn't see it on the S6. It isn't the LCD itself, I think, so much as whatever it is that covers it. The V603 is impossible to clean free of smudges but the S6 cleans easily. Go figure.
Performance. One issue with all compact digicams is the limited range of apertures available. Shutter speed is often required to compensate for the restricted aperture options, which can be a problem in low light situations. The Nikon Coolpix S6 ranged, in my test shots, from f/3.0 to f/8.6, which is really pretty good as these things go.
It's a small piece of glass, but it's Nikon's Extra-low Dispersion glass providing good sharpness and contrast, minimizing chromatic aberration.
Power-on wasn't quick but it didn't annoy me, either. Power-off, on the other hand, is delayed a bit -- and that took some getting used to. The Nikon Coolpix S6's Zoom performance was smooth and easy to control. Between Continuous mode and Multi-shot 16, we had enough shot-to-shot control, too. Best Shot Selector also takes continuous shots quickly.
Even if you know how to set the Nikon Coolpix S6 for a particular shooting situation, Scene mode has the advantage of quickly configuring -- and maybe even more importantly -- restoring camera settings. Sure, it's easy to click Down and shift into Macro mode. But it's also easy to forget you did that (even with the nice, big icon on the LCD to remind you) until you've taken a half-hour's worth of soft, fuzzy landscapes.
No matter what mode you're in, the Coolpix S6 offers Menu access to Image options of both quality and size, and EV compensation. In Scene modes their icons are blue rather than gray to indicate they can be set in addition to any other option you choose, a little confusing until you know the secret.
The Nikon Coolpix S6 offers 11 straight Scene modes including Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Backlight, and Panorama Assist. I'm always glad to see common tricks grouped together like Beach/Snow and Dusk/Dawn, minimizing the number of Scenes (to the dismay of Nikon's Marketing department, no doubt). But I was disappointed by Museum mode, where shutter speeds were so slow (1/2 sec) that a tripod--prohibited in museums--is required. Disappointed wasn't quite the right word when later I discovered the the Coolpix S6's Museum mode didn't bother to change the ISO higher than 100, relying entirely on Best Shot Selector to find the sharpest image. Bump that up to ISO 400 and the shutter speed could have been 1/16 sec -- nearly manageable.
But the Nikon Coolpix S6 goes further, offering four Scene Assist modes, which help you compose Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Portrait images. These special Scene modes have icons of their own in the Mode menu. Just press the Menu button in any Scene Assist mode to see the options. Landscape, for example, offers Landscape (focusing at infinity), Scenic View (which provides a horizon line in yellow), Architecture (overlays a framing grid), Group Right (to frame a person to the right of a landmark, setting focus and exposure for the portrait), and Group Left (same thing for someone on the left). Slide the Zoom lever to the Telephoto position to get a Help screen explaining each option.
The One-Touch Portrait button on the top panel of the Nikon S6 automatically activates Face Priority AF (which detects and locks focus on faces), Advanced Red-Eye Reduction, and D-Lighting. You can also adjust the effect from Normal to Brighter or Software by pressing the Menu button in Portrait mode.
The Nikon Coolpix S6's Movie mode provides six options: TV movie (640x480, 30 fps), Small size (320x240, 30 fps), Small size (320x240, 15 fps), Picmotion (320x240, 15 fps), Smaller size (160x120, 15 fps) and Time-lapse movie (640x480, 30 fps). All modes but Time-lapse record sound, but only digital zoom is available. The 30 fps options are all restricted to 60-second recordings, compatible with Picmotion. Time-lapse takes up to 1,800 stills at specified intervals (30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or 30 minutes) before assembling them into a 60-second clip, a real treat.
Options in Movie mode can lock focus during the segment or continually focus, and you set Vibration Reduction on, too, to stabilize the image.
Picmotion creates a slide show of the last 10 images with transitions, random pan and zoom effects, and music (Pachelbel's Canon in D is the default, but others are available), if you use a memory card. It's a Mode option in the Nikon Coolpix S6's Playback mode, taking nearly a minute to compose the show, only 20 of which it can store on a card. After it plays, you have the option of changing the settings or saving it to the card. Nikon recommends you cup your hand behind the speaker to improve the sound -- and it works!
It's a neat stunt in the Amaze Your Friends category, but only the Windows version of Picture Project can copy the Picmotion shows or upload your own MP3 tune to the Coolpix S6 for use in Picmotion shows. And, because the original images are required for playback, they are protected when you save a Picmotion movie -- but they are not unprotected when you delete the show.
Voice recording. On the other hand, voice recording is one of those features you don't think much about when shopping for a digicam, but that makes the device infinitely more useful once you have it in your pocket. You can record a lecture, Aunt Charlotte's stories about your grandmother, memos to yourself; you name it. You just have to remember, next time you are sitting there enthralled by some long story, to turn on your Nikon S6 on!
The Shooting Menu offers a Voice Recording option that displays how much time is available on your storage medium. The Coolpix S6's internal memory can manage nearly 10 minutes at High quality and over 27 minutes at Normal quality. A 128MB card can store 1:23:57 in High and 3:51:27 in Normal.
Just press the Shutter button to start or stop recording. During recording, you can press the OK button to pause and any of the arrows to mark the recording in the index, making it easy to find an important segment later. The Nikon Coolpix S6 records in WAV format, readable by QuickTime. Unfortunately, the lens cover remains open in Voice Recording mode, so best to stand the camera up normally with the microphone on the top panel.
WiFi. Nikon's software install includes PictureProject 1.6, its image organizer, and Wireless Camera Setup Utility 1.1. Both figure in using the S6 wirelessly.
Informit, a site devoted to information technology, recently published "Wireless Gadget Vulnerabilities: The Nikon Coolpix P1," a report detailing the wireless vulnerabilities of the Nikon Coolpix P1 when communicating with a host computer. But all currently shipping WiFi digicams (including those from Canon and Kodak) suffer from the same issue. While the threat is real, it exists for just the few moments you are transmitting from the camera to your computer. Transmissions to your local network would be an issue, but in that situation the culprit would be within range of a swinging baseball bat. In public places, however, you aren't likely to be aware of anyone snooping the brief connection between your camera and computer. Of course, if your Nikon Coolpix S6 is stolen, be sure to change the password to your WiFi hosts.
To configure the Coolpix S6 for WiFi operation, you dock it and run the setup utility, which asks you about either the computer or network access point you want to use before writing profiles back to the camera. You need to know the Network ID (or SSID) before selecting the mode. Camera to Computer mode requires you to tell the camera the wireless channel, whether authentication is open or shared, the security employed (None, WEP 64 bits or WEP 128 bits), the security key format, the key index, IP address configuration, or manual IP address if configured for manual. Access Point mode requires you to tell the camera the authentication, security, security key format, security key, key index, IP configuration and IP address, omitting only the channel. If your router uses hardware address filtering, you'll also need to know the camera's MAC address, which is reported only in the Setup menu's Firmware Version listing. Fun stuff.
Even though I know all that stuff about our setup and have done all this before, it took me several tries to get the Nikon Coolpix S6 configured correctly. You really don't know if you've made a mistake until you try to connect.
The WiFi capabilities here include a Linksys Wireless-G router, an Apple Express bridge, and a Kodak EasyShare series 3 printer dock. The Nikon Coolpix S6 can print wirelessly in two ways. It can talk to a Nikon PD-10 Wireless Print Adapter (available separately for $49.95) that plugs into the printer's USB PictBridge port (just press the Menu button in WiFi mode). Or it can print to any printer connected to your computer. I was able to print to the series 3 printer connected to the network via WiFi (but not directly without the PD-10), and to print to a Canon MP950 connected via USB to a computer on the network. The printer connection is saved and can be changed on the computer, so you can switch printers without bothering the camera.
Image transfer is not limited to copying files into PictureProject, which launches as soon as your computer detects the Coolpix S6 connection. If your workflow doesn't include PictureProject, you can transfer images wirelessly using the PC Mode menu option when connected to your network profile. Images about 2MB in size transferred in about six seconds.
The left side of the Nikon Coolpix S6 has a small blue LED that indicates WiFi connection status. It's a bit cryptic to read, though, because it tries to indicate more than one thing with each state. Blinking means, for example, that the Coolpix S6 is either looking for a connection or is asleep. Steady means it's either established a connection or is transferring data. Off means no connection. An icon in the top left of the Nikon S6's LCD indicates connection status, with a tall bar in a blue squarish icon showing connection and three bars next to it showing signal strength.
You can transfer images you've recorded, of course, but a special mode lets you transfer as you shoot. In this mode, a wireless connection is established and maintained. Whenever you press the shutter button, the Coolpix S6 captures the image and transfers it wirelessly to PictureProject. From shutter press to the end of transfer took 15 seconds. Images are named with a STCN prefix rather than the DSCN prefix. You can configure this mode to display a message confirming transfer of each image and to save the image in the camera, both of which are disabled by default. Sort of like using your hard drive for flash memory. Slow.
Also worth noting is that to achive wireless transfer, the Coolpix S6's mode dial must be set to the Wireless option. This limits you to Auto exposure mode. The manual refers to a non-existing option to set the exposure mode for the wireless Shoot & Transfer option. One can only hope.
WiFi turns out to be quite a battery drain. Since there's no optical viewfinder, you also need the 3.0-inch LCD to compose, so the two power-hungry resources quickly drain the Nikon Coolpix S6's battery.
Appraisal. With its attractive Wave design and large 3.0-inch LCD, the Nikon S6 is going to be hard to resist once you've got one in your hands. Nikon's In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, Face Priority AF, and D-Lighting enhancement join the 11 Scene modes and four Scene Assist modes to make still photography a pleasure. Add a wide selection of Movie modes and a Voice recorder mode and the Coolpix S6 is as useful as it is lovely to behold. The large LCD is a great stage for the slide show option as well as Picmotion presentations. And being able to transmit stored and live images wirelessly is a nice convenience.
The Nikon Coolpix S6 has a nice range of apertures for a digicam, not relying entirely on shutter speed to adjust exposure. The 3x optical Nikkor ED glass lens captures crisp images. I might prefer a less saturated image (particularly blue skies), but color was generally accurate. It would be nice to have more than ISO 400 and to use that in non-flash Scene modes but that isn't a deal breaker. Image quality is what counts when all is said and done, and the Coolpix S6 delivers.
- 6.0-megapixel (effective) CCD delivering image resolutions as high as 2,816 x 2,112 pixels
- 3.0-inch color LCD display with 230,000 pixels of resolution and wide viewing angle
- 3x, 5.8-17.4mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-105mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- Maximum aperture f/3.0-f/5.4, depending on lens zoom position
- Shutter speeds from 1/500 to two seconds
- 4x digital zoom
- Automatic exposure control
- Built-in flash with five modes
- Built-in mic and speaker for recording and playback of sound in videos, plus voice recording
- 20MB internal memory
- SD memory card storage
- Power supplied by lithium ion rechargeable battery, or optional AC adapter
- USB cable for quick connection to a computer from the dock
- Video cable for connection to a television set from the dock
- Nikon Picture Project software for both Mac and Windows
- Nikon Wireless Setup Utility software for both Mac and Windows
- Nikkor ED Glass lens
- In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, Face Priority AF and D-Lighting
- One-Touch Portrait button combines Face Priority AF, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix and D-Lighting
- Auto Image Rotation in playback
- Rotary jog dial for swift scrolling
- Pictmotion slide show feature
- Adjustable graphic user interface allows icon view or traditional text menus
- Voice recording mode
- QuickTime movies (with sound and digital zoom)
- Continuous Shooting, Multi-Shot, Multi-Shot 16, and Interval Timer mode.
- 11 preset Scene modes, plus four Scene Assist modes.
- Self-timer for delayed shutter release
- Best Shot Selector mode
- Macro (close-up) lens adjustment to 1.6-inch from lens
- White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes, including a manual setting, and bracketing over three exposures
- 256-Segment Matrix metering
- ISO equivalent sensitivity range of 50 to 400
- PictBridge compatibility
In the Box
The Nikon Coolpix S6 ships with the following items in the box:
- Coolpix S6 digital camera
- Cool-Station MV-15 cradle
- EH-64 AC adapter for the cradle
- PV-11 dock insert
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- Li-ion rechargeable battery EN-EL8
- WiFi Setup/PictureProject installer CD
- PictureProject reference manual CD
- Instruction manual, Quick Start Guide and registration kit
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. These days, 256 to 512MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
Small digicams are not famous for their image quality. The Nikon Coolpix S6 starts from that premise but taps into some smart electronics to compensate for the compromises. As a result, the Coolpix S6 is as attractive for its image quality as it is for its styling.
It's an eye catcher, no doubt. The wave design brings the soothing S-curve to camera design. With no buttons or levers protruding from it, it's easily slipped into a pocket so it's with you when you want to take a picture. And when you light up that 3.0-inch LCD with your images, it's even more attractive. Especially when you ask it to throw an impromptu Pictmotion presentation together.
Between capture and playback, the S6 provides a lot of picture-taking intelligence. The ED glass makes the most of the S6's small lens. The Feature System provides Nikon exclusives like face detection auto focusing, in-camera red-eye removal, and D-Lighting. The Scene modes are easily accessed, especially Portrait, which has its own button. Everything else is fun to find with the new rotary multi-selector. In short, it's a smart choice -- and therefore a Dave's Pick.
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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.