Nikon is claiming two titles with its new Coolpix S600 -- world's smallest 28mm point-and-shoot and fastest startup time in the same class. Taking over the 7-megapixel S500, the 10-megapixel S600 is a revved-up version over its old man. The optics have also been improved not just to show more with a 28mm lens, but also to get closer with 4x optical zoom. If you are a diehard Nikon fan, this camera will not disappoint.
The brushed metal chassis lends a touch of style and class to the S600. (Click to enlarge)
The first impression we had of the S600 was its size -- it's really petite. We tried to fit it in one of our regular camera pouches and there was still a lot of room to spare. The stylish brushed metal body looks classic with the "Coolpix" logo embossed on the chassis.
Despite its humble size, the shooter offered a sturdy and comfortable grip with our thumb resting on the zoom rocker.
The buttons layout is imported from its predecessor, including the wheel dial which also acts as a four-way directional pad for navigation. It seems the multifunctional rotary is quite a popular feature, with other major manufacturers like Canon and Fujifilm applying it to their cameras as well.
Unlike other shooters we've tested, the S600 was unable to return to shooting mode with a half-press on the shutter button. We had to press either the Play or Menu button (depending on which mode we were in) to return to shooting mode. This slowed down our capture speed a little, and we hope Nikon will make some improvements for its future models.
A hand-held shot of an evening sky. Shutter speed was at 1/15 second but note that the moon is still relatively sharp.
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Considering the size of this shooter, the 2.7-inch display is very generous. The size of the screen is also an upgrade from the S500, which has only a conventional 2.5-inch LCD.
The S600 has a 28mm wide-angle lens with 4x optical zoom and, compared with its predecessor the S500 (which has a 35mm lens with 3x optical zoom), is a much-lauded upgrade. Even though it may not be ultra-wide (like Panasonic's Lumix FX36 or Samsung's NV24HD), it is sufficient for capturing landscapes or group shots.
There were times when we didn't want to use the built-in flash unit to illuminate the scene. One situation was at a birthday celebration when the flash would have killed the mood of the warm candlelight glow. With a maximum ISO sensitivity of 3,200, it was possible to capture that particular mood with the S600 (at the expense of getting a noisier picture).
The Active Child mode will track and follow a moving subject.
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The shooter utilises an optical image stabiliser; for Nikon it is the VR (Vibration Reduction) system. This worked well, and with it we were still able to hand-hold the camera at a shutter speed of 1/30 second or lower to take relatively sharp pictures at 28mm.
It seems the S600 has two different types of face detection. One of them is the Face-priority AF which will automatically seek up to 12 faces within the frame, focus and set the proper exposure for them. The other face detection is actually one of the scene modes -- Active Child. This mode will follow and track moving subjects, focusing on them as they move. While it may seem gimmicky, it worked well when we turned the camera on a four-year-old running around the room.
A comparison of an image with and without D-Lighting applied.
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The S600 also allows you to record a voice clip to attach to a particular picture. While most people probably won't use it, we foresee holiday makers tagging their photos with short voice captions on where they took that picture.
The shooter incorporates D-Lighting technology which Nikon said can recover a certain amount of details that may be lost in the highlights or shadow regions in a high-contrast picture when taken with a conventional digital camera.
The point-and-shoot has 45MB of internal memory which, by today's standard is quite little. So invest in a SD/SDHC flash memory if you want to take more pictures.
Clocking a mere 0.7 seconds in our Lab tests, the S600 is definitely a camera with one of the fastest startup times we've tested. In fact, we were taken aback by the sheer speed the first time we powered it up. This is great because there have been countless times we missed a particular moment or great picture opportunity just because the camera was slow to start up.
The shutter lag measured a mere 0.2 seconds, which is a great complement to the fast startup time.
Flash output was generally well-balanced, with the camera adjusting the exposure for the background as well so night portraits look more vibrant.
The Lithium-ion battery was still going strong even after we took about 200 shots with the flash off. One gripe we have regarding the battery is the lack of display showing how much power is there left.
A comparison of images taken at different ISO sensitivity settings. (Click to enlarge)
Skin tones appeared natural, while brighter colours like red, green and blue were more vivid without looking oversaturated.
At ISO sensitivity of 400 or lower, pictures looked clean with almost no hint of noise. However, when turned up a notch to 800, there were slight tinges of noise, which was more obvious in the darker regions of the picture.
At ISO 1,600, noise was apparent but still acceptable. When we put ISO 3,200 to the test, the images were a tad blotchy and noise peppered the image. But for a print smaller then 8R, this shouldn't show up too much.