Nikon Coolpix S01 review

The Nikon Coolpix S01 is an impressively small camera aimed at shooters who stick to Auto mode—but you can do much better in the budget camera realm.
Photo of Nikon Coolpix S01

Not counting spy cameras, the Nikon Coolpix S01 ($179.95 direct) is one of the smallest point-and-shoots that you’ll ever see. It sports a 3x zoom lens, a 10-megapixel CCD sensor, and a touch-screen interface, and its operation is fully automatic—so you don’t need to know anything about camera functions to use it. Aside from the cute factor, it’s a bit of a tough sell, especially when you consider that it’s not fast, has a finicky touch-screen interface, and that our Editors’ Choice compact camera, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX150, captures better photos and isn’t that much bigger than the S01. Still, if your budget is limited, the Coolpix S01′s price is certainly compelling.

Design and Features
The S01′s most striking feature is its tiny size. It measures just 2.1 by 3.1 by 0.7 inches (HWD) and weighs a meager 3.4 ounces. One of the smaller traditional point-and-shoots we’ve tested, the Olympus VR-340, seems big in comparison at 2.4 by 4.1 by 1.1 inches in size and 6 ounces. The S01 is available in silver, red, white, or pink.

If you want to take control of your camera and adjust the ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and other settings, the S01 is not for you. It operates in a purely automatic fashion—the only thing you can really control is whether or not the flash fires. And, if you turn the flash off during shooting, it will switch back to automatic as soon as you power down the camera.

The lens is a 3x optical zoom design, covering a 29-87mm field of view in terms of 35mm photography. Its aperture starts at f/4.1 and dips to f/5.9 when zoomed all the way in, so expect to use the camera’s flash when indoors. Its top ISO is 1600, but if you apply any zoom it will be hard to get a sharp photo in normal indoor lighting, even at that high sensitivity.

The camera’s LCD is just 2.5 inches in size, and its resolution is only 230k dots. It doesn’t look bad, though it’s not as sharp as the 460k-dot 3-inch displays found in competing cameras like the Samsung DV300F. The display is touch-sensitive, and you’ll need to use it to toggle between still and movie recording, and to adjust the few options the camera does let you change—namely the flash output, the self timer, exposure compensation, and the color mode (referred to in the menu as “Special Effects”). Available color modes include the default look, a black and white mode, a sepia tone, slightly over-exposed high-key images, and slightly under-exposed low-key images. There’s a touch-sensitive Home icon to the right of the LCD that brings up the camera’s menu.

The LCD isn’t the most responsive touch screen that I’ve used. It’s a bit sluggish, and even though its design is capacitive, I sometimes had to press a bit to get it to register input. This seemed to be a problem mainly in the corners, but several of the on-screen controls—including the scroll bar for the menu and the icon to enable or disable the flash—are located in corners.

You can fire the shutter by tapping the rear display, but it’s a bit finicky. Sometimes the camera lets you select a point on which to focus and meter, but other times it will only focus in the center of the frame. I found that the focus was less reliable when using the touch method as compared to the traditional shutter button—the camera captured completely out-of-focus shots on more than one occasion when using the touch method, but was always in focus when using the physical shutter.

Performance and Conclusions
The S01 is slow. It requires a lengthy 3.4 seconds to start and fire a photo, records an average shutter lag of 0.6-second, and at best can fire off a photo every 1.6 seconds. The shutter lag is lengthy, but the real issue is that it’s inconsistent. In some instances the camera fired in as quickly as 0.2-second, but other test shots required waits of 0.9 seconds, and at one point it took almost 2 seconds for the camera to fire after tripping the shutter. Our shutter lag test usually yields consistent results—we use the camera to shoot an analog stopwatch on a computer screen—and most lag times only vary by 0.05 to 0.1-second from shot to shot. The S01 isn’t the only slow camera around, the Samsung DV300F is faster to start and shoot at 2.1 seconds, but records a 0.5-second shutter lag and makes you wait 1.5 seconds between photos.

There’s no way to control the ISO on the S01, and under our lighting system the camera defaulted to ISO 200, higher than the camera’s base ISO setting of 80. This likely hurt its Imatest sharpness score. The S01 recorded 1,527 lines per picture height at this setting, shy of the 1,800 lines required for a sharp photo. Corner and edge performance was a factor, as the center score approached an impressive 2,283 lines. Imatest calculates the final score using a center-weighted algorithm, and some noticeable color fringing and fuzziness on the leftmost and rightmost two columns of our 9-column test chart definitely brought the overall score down.

Imatest is also used to check for image noise at each ISO setting. Under our lighting setup, the S01 reverted to ISO 400. It recorded 1.4 percent noise here, which is just shy of our 1.5 percent cutoff for unacceptable noise levels. Image detail looked pretty good here, but not as good as it did at its lowest ISO 80 setting, which the camera defaulted to when taking the wide shot of our test scene. The Olympus VR-340 does a better job—it records 1,733 lines at its widest angle, but also suffers from softness at the edges and corners of the frame.

Given the lack of shooting controls, comparing the S01 to a good cell phone camera is more appropriate than putting it head-to-head with competing compact digital cameras. The S01′s image sensor is smaller than those in standard point-and-shoots–it’s 1/2.9 inches in size, where compact cameras use a 1/2.3-inch sensor. The sensor in an iPhone 5 is smaller still, 1/3.2 inches measured diagonally, but is fairly close in size to that of the S01.

I grabbed several shots with the S01 and my iPhone 5 at a brightly lit restaurant. Close examination favored the S01, but just barely. The S01 is a CCD sensor, which generally perform best at lower ISO settings, where the iPhone uses a CMOS sensor, which handle higher ISO sensitivities better. One area where the S01 trounced the iPhone was in terms of the quality of flash photography—the Coolpix has a dedicated, albeit small, flash module, which provided fairly even lighting, even when taking a close shot. The iPhone’s tiny LED flash was incapable of doing so when focusing close.

The S01 records video in 720p30 quality in QuickTime format. The quality is completely acceptable in good light. It’s smooth on playback, although does appear to stutter a bit when recording. Adjusting the optical zoom is disabled when shooting movies, but a digital zoom is available. That zoom is anything but smooth—it jumps ahead in a choppy fashion—so use it with care. There’s only one port on the camera, a proprietary USB connection that doubles as a charging port. The battery and memory are internal—you’re able to store more than 3,000 photos in the S01′s 7.3GB of internal memory.

The Coolpix S01 is impressively small and rings up at less than $200, but aside from the cute factor, it’s not a particularly compelling camera. It’s aimed at shooters who want to concentrate on the content of their photos, not the settings required to capture them. Its flash performance and modest zoom ratio beat those of even the best cell phone cameras, but if you’re not using the flash the quality of the S01′s images just edges out those of the iPhone 5. If you’re looking for a compact camera that will give you better results than your phone’s camera there are good inexpensive options like the modestly priced Olympus VR-340 ($100), or the more expensive Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX150—which impressed us enough to win an Editors’ Choice award. The S01 has some room for improvement—a better touch screen, faster, more consistent performance, and the ability to set the camera to remember settings would go a long way in making it a better product.

More Digital Camera Reviews:

Specifications
Dimensions 2.1 x 3.1 x 0.7 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary
Sensor Type CCD
Megapixels 10 MP
Recycle time 1.6 seconds
LCD dots 230000
LCD size 2.5 inches
Touch Screen Yes
Maximum ISO 1600
Type Compact
GPS No
Optical Zoom 3 x
Boot time 3.4 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 29 mm
Weight 6 oz
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
Video Resolution 720p
Lines Per Picture Height 1527
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Image Stabilization Digital
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 87 mm
Shutter Lag 0.6 seconds
Sensor Size 4.96 x 3.72 (1/2.9") mm
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
The Nikon Coolpix S01 is an impressively small camera aimed at shooters who stick to Auto mode—but you can do much better in the budget camera realm.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc