Nikon COOLPIX S4
- Massive zoom, innovative design
- Below average pictures, bulky, a little sluggish
If zooming is your thing, then the S4 might be the perfect point and shoot for you.
Price$ 599.00 (AUD)
When you see as many digital cameras as we do, it really takes something really eye-catching to grab your attention. At first glance, Nikon's S4 looks like a regular, albeit rather large point and shoot. That is until you realise the lens and flash are both facing upwards and the body is actually split into two separate parts; and there lies the beauty of this camera. A hybrid of camera and rubix cube, the S4 twists, allowing you to face the lens both forwards and backwards to create the ultimate self portrait device. More importantly however, it gives the S4 an unusual look that will draw the consumer's eye.
The new design is a novelty, but one with definite merit. When the lens is lying horizontally, your hand falls comfortably on its neck, giving a firm, solid grip. Furthermore, we loved the ease with which we could snap shots of ourself. Gone are the days of retaking blurry self portraits over and over to satisfy our vanity. With one click we are immortalised forever with crystal clarity.
That is not to say the S4 is without flaws. The lens is in a prime position to receive stray finger prints, and the hinge attaching the two parts of the camera feels like it could become damaged with time. The body is also quite large, with the lens jutting out the side, pushing the S4 beyond the realms of easily fitting into a pocket.
Controlling the camera proved to be a little more difficult than we were used to, thanks to the horizontal row of buttons above the LCD. There is no space for anything down the side of the screen, so you are forced to reach over the top, blocking the LCD, in order to manipulate any of the camera's controls. The menu is navigated via a small thumb-stick, which originally gave us some grief with its apparent inaccuracy, but after prolonged use we gradually grew accustomed to it. The rest of the controls were quick and extremely responsive.
Despite the S4's innovative design, the pictures were decidedly average. There were a few minor flaws with every facet of the shots, each being dismissible in its own right, but together they added up to a below average picture. Colours such as blue, green and black were well represented, but reds were extremely overpowering and yellows looked a little pale. In parts the pictures were clear and crisp, but other had blurred and fractured edges. The bottom right of our shots particularly seemed to suffer here. Some of our outdoors shots highlighted above average purple fringing along these edges, in some cases it was at least a millimetre or two thick. There was also some faint image noise present in some shots, particularly noticeable over areas of uniform colour. Overall the photos were fine for printing in 6x4 format, but these flaws became more pronounced when they were blown up to any real degree.
The camera's response times were equally disappointing. The S4 took two to three seconds to power up, and image write lag was roughly the same (although it was hard to tell because the image review feature cannot be turned off). Shutter lag was the only saving grace, coming in at a virtually unnoticeable .2 of a second or so.
Lately, a lot people (ourselves included), have been making a big deal of the massive 7.1x optical zoom present on the Ricoh R3. For a compact camera this is a massive achievement. The S4 however snatches the crown away from Ricoh, offering a gigantic 10x optical zoom on a non retractable lens. This appears to be a result of the unique design of the unit, allowing the lens to extend down the entire length of the camera, instead of just the width as in a normal model. People wanting a basic point and shoot with big zooming power should look no further than the S4, as this is about as big as it gets.
Aside from the zoom, the camera comes sporting a fairly standard array of features. There are 15 scene modes, and ISO settings extending to just 400. Whitebalance presets, exposure settings and colour modes (sepia, black and white etc) round out the menu, which is one of the most minimal we have seen. The continuous shot function feels quick, at about 1.3 images a second, but the best shot mode was what really caught our eye. It takes up to ten photos whilst the shutter button is depressed, and then picks the sharpest shot to keep.
In theory this sounds like a great function, but we discovered some problems with the camera's sharpness recognition. It is equipped with an option to tell you if the shot just taken is blurred, which seems extremely useful, but we found that even when we placed the camera on a flat surface, with no shaky possibility of any camera movement, it was still identifying photos as blurred.
The S4 takes AA batteries, rechargeable or alkaline, and there are two included in the box. We were quite disappointed when we only managed to take roughly 230 photographs before the batteries died. Not nearly enough in a world where 400 or more is rapidly becoming standard.
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