Nikon has no trouble pulling off small and stylish with its Coolpix point-and-shoot cameras — even with its lower-cost models. The 10-megapixel S230 is a good example, offering up all the point-and-shoot basics, a couple of extras like face, smile and blink detection, and a big, touchscreen display — all for less than AU$379 in a package that fits easily in a pants pocket. Photo quality is good, but not great, for the money, too, but its performance is slow despite outpacing its forerunner, the Coolpix S210.
Outside of the 3-inch touchscreen LCD on the back, the S230's 3x f3.1-5.9 36-108mm-equivalent lens and 10-megapixel resolution are standard point-and-shoot fare for its price point. The body is tiny at 8cm wide by 5cm high by 1.8cm deep and weighs only 100 grams with battery and SD/SDHC card. The model is available in Australia in three colours: warm silver, gloss red and purple.
Shooting features are straightforward for the most part. The regular Auto mode gives you the most control, letting you set ISO, autofocus area mode (face priority, auto or centre), white balance, and exposure compensation. You get a handful of drive modes as well, which includes Nikon's Best Shot Selector that snaps off 10 shots while the shutter's pressed and then saves the sharpest and interval timer shooting (takes a picture every 30 seconds, 1, 5 or 10 minutes) in addition to a standard continuous setting. If you like your scene modes, the S230 has 15 of them to pick from or you can let the camera choose what it determines most appropriate by using the Auto Scene Selector mode. The camera's movie mode is limited to 320x240 or 640x480 video clips with sound, but no use of the optical zoom. (Video results were comparatively good.)
Nikon improved upon the touch controls on the Coolpix S60 — its first foray into that type of interface — mainly by adding back a couple of physical controls. The S230 has a traditional zoom ring around the shutter release as opposed to the S60's on-screen zoom controls. The other change was including an actual Mode menu button; switching shooting modes on the S60's touch interface had an irritating lag time. These two changes, along with an overall snappier touch response, make the whole shooting experience much more enjoyable. Plus, while the screen size drops from 3.5 inches on the S60 to 3 inches, the S60 only gives you 2.7 inches of that for framing shots. The S230 gives you the full 3 inches.
In playback mode, the S230 loses the S60's iPhone-esque finger swipes for navigation (actually not much of a loss) and instead goes with simple up and down arrows. What we were happy to see stay in was the ability to write on copies of photos, which is fun for drawing on your friends (or enemies) and family, but useful for adding notes to images such as locations or phone numbers.
Photo quality in general is good, and by that we mean it's typical of an ultracompact camera at this price, though not a standout. The S230 has a sensitivity range from ISO 80 to ISO 2000; however, it's best to stay below ISO 200 for the greatest colour, sharpness and detail. At ISO 400 and above there was an increase in softness. Results were also at their finest with Nikon's Motion Detection and Electronic VR image stabilisation turned off as these boost ISO along with shutter speed to minimise blur caused by subject movement or camera shake. Again, detail is best at the lower ISOs, but photos up to ISO 800 were still usable for small prints despite their softness.
Performance and image quality
Colours were natural with the exception of reds, which were a little more vibrant and would blow-out some at higher ISOs. Also, the auto white balance was too warm; take the time to use the more accurate presets or the manual white balance option. Lastly, the lens has some barrel distortion, but it is effectively corrected by the camera's Distortion Control option. However, the lens also creates a fair amount of purple fringing in high-contrast areas, characteristic of this class of camera.
Though it's faster than its predecessor the S210, the S230 is still fairly slow (as is a lot of its competition). This is most noticeable in the time to first shot: 3.5 seconds. The S230's shot-to-shot time averaged 3 seconds without flash and gets only slightly longer with flash at 3.3 seconds. Oddly enough, it has a very good burst speed at 1.6 frames per second. Unfortunately, its shutter lag is at the high end of our acceptable range at 0.5 second in bright conditions and 1 second in dim.
In the end, the Nikon Coolpix S230 is a decent, good-looking, point-and-shoot ultracompact camera that happens to have the convenience of an intuitive touchscreen interface. If you're very critical of photo quality or need something very fast, this probably isn't the camera for you (there are other options). But if you're looking for a cool camera to keep with you at all times for snapshots, the S230 is worthy.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
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