Nikon has a growing number of compact digital cameras in its COOLPIX range that aimed at those who want a slightly wider range of features than the point-’n'-click brigade, but who still want to look chic while snapping away. The COOLPIX S5100 is the latest addition to the collection – and while it shares many of the traits of its siblings, it manages to have a few extras up its sleeve.
Chic and slim
The S5100′s dimensions are of the chunky credit card type (97x57x22mm), easily slipped into a handbag or pocket. The slim metallic body is both lightweight and durable, weighing in at 132g with its lithium ion battery and SD memory card inserted.
The target market for this camera is clearly for women, youngsters and the ‘fun’ crowd – yet, somewhat surprisingly, in the UK we are restricted to fair sober black and blue casings as opposed to the funkier pink, red, silver and purple models that are available in the USA.
This is a 12.2 megapixel compact with a 1/2.3in sensor shooting through a NIKKOR wide-angle 5x optical zoom lens with a 35mm focal length, equivalent to 28-140mm on a conventional camera. It moves very smoothly, but produces an annoyingly loud whirring sounds as it does so.
Unusually, the battery is charged via a USB lead which can either be plugged from camera to mains via a supplied adaptor, or plugged into a PC – very handy when you’re on the move with a laptop in tow.
Control systems are minimal and generally predictable – though for some reason, Nikon has continued the current trend to fit a tiny recessed (and therefore awkward to operate) power button. It sits alongside a much larger and more comfortable shutter, surrounded by a focus ring.
The back of the camera is dominated by a 2.7in 4:3 ratio LCD with the standard 230,000-pixel resolution. Beside it is a typical D-pad layout of flash, EV compensation, macro (as close as 2cm) and timer, plus separate buttons for scene mode, playback, menu and delete.
One useful, if unexpected, extra is the dedicated video record button in the top corner, which will ensure you can grab the moment at a second’s notice. Unfortunately there’s a mini-thumb rest next to it which makes it more likely you might start recording by accident.
Nikon makes much of the S5100′s low light performance, and it’s true that the camera makes use of high ISO settings (up to 3200), together with lens-shifting Vibration Reduction technology and motion detection to drastically reduce blur on the final images. But while ISO settings up to and including 800 are consistently clear, shots taken using 1600 and 3200 ISO equivalents show a dramatic increase in digital ‘noise’ in the image.
Daylight photographs emerge sharp and bright, although you may need to use the Vivid setting to bring out the right amount of saturation. You do have 18 standard scene modes to choose from as well as Auto (which chooses the optimum scene for the occasion), Smart Portrait (which includes skin softening as well as smile and blink detection) and Subject Tracking.
HD movies can be shot in 720p resolution at 30fps, but you can only use up to 2x digital zoom when recording. Indoor sound is very hissy and the images tend to be a bit lifeless. On the other hand, you can have fun with the colour options that include the most unusual ‘Cyanotype’, which casts a cool blue sheen over your pictures.
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