We've long been proponents of Android-based compact cameras. On paper, it seems like an excellent way to add connectivity to a device that has long been left by the wayside in the social media age.
The reality of an Android-based camera, at least in the form of the Nikon Coolpix S800c, is only halfway to delivering the results we expect. While it's incredibly easy to shoot and share photos quickly, the rest of the photography experience is frustrating for anyone used to the functionality of a regular compact camera.
Design and features
From the outside of the S800c, there's little to give away that Android is the operating system of choice lurking inside. It looks just like any typical Nikon Coolpix camera, except the screen — 3.5 inches of OLED display — is a tad larger than average.
A 10x optical zoom protrudes just slightly from the front chassis, sporting a maximum aperture range of f/3.2-5.8, and a wide-angle of 25mm. Around the back of the camera, just next to the screen, three physical buttons provide the same navigation options that you can find on any Android phone: back, home and menu.
The simple controls on the S800c.
A shutter button, zoom rocker and power switch at the top completes the physical features — every other interaction is done through the screen. The S800c accepts SD cards for external storage, and also has approximately 1.7GB of internal storage available for photos.
Shooting modes within the camera app are typical. You get Nikon's easy automatic mode, as well as standard auto mode, scene modes, special effects (soft, sepia, monochrome, high and low key), smart portrait and movie mode.
When first turning the camera on, you're greeted with a typical camera interface. The camera starts up quickly from sleep and is ready to snap away. There's very little indication that the camera runs Android, that is, until you decide to press the home button that brings up the main screen.
The shooting interface on the default camera app.
On the main homescreen, Nikon has configured the Android install (2.3/Gingerbread) with the main apps and functions for photographers. These include:
Shooting, which takes users to the photography app
Play, for playing back photos and video
Upload, which sets up an ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection with a smartphone or tablet (users need to first download the "Connect to S800c" app for Android or iOS). This lets the smartphone or tablet browse images on the S800c
Browser, for surfing the web
Settings, which brings up the traditional Android settings screen, rather than camera settings
Social media apps, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The problem with Nikon's implementation of Android on the S800c is that it's as close to a stock-standard install as you can get. Except for the phone and SMS messaging options, everything else appears as it would on a smartphone.
When you are in another app, there's no way to quickly start taking photos. You need to exit the app, and then launch the shooting app to begin taking photos. Pressing the shutter button, which often serves the purpose of entering into shooting mode on other cameras, does nothing when you're not in the right mode. The lock screen also pops up when you power down the camera within the Android interface, presenting another barrier to quick photo-taking. However, you can install a screen lock disable app to get around this.
Unfortunately, Nikon seems to have disabled the use of the optical zoom in any other photography or camera app, apart from the default one. So if you download a particular camera app for greater control — we tried Camera FV-5 for a more SLR-like interface — you are limited to the widest end of the lens, or digital zoom if the app has this available. We also experienced times when the interface would stop responding or the physical buttons refused to elicit any sort of software reaction, forcing us to do a cold reset by removing the battery.
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
Nikon Coolpix S800c
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
Nikon Coolpix S800c
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The S800c has a number of continuous shooting modes. In the highest speed mode, it can only take 3 frames before stopping to process them, snapping an average of 1 frame every 0.1 second. In continuous low mode (as measured above), the camera keeps snapping away photos at a rate of 2.5 frames per second. The S800c also has a very useful 120fps and 60fps continuous shooting mode, which reduces the resolution to VGA and 1-megapixel, respectively.
Rather frustratingly, the S800c uses a proprietary micro-USB connector (included in the box). It wouldn't be too much of an issue if the battery life on the camera was in line with other devices of its class, but at 140 shots, it falls well below average. The battery takes 4 hours to charge fully, which is a long time for a compact, and to make matters worse, you can't use the camera or any apps while charging like you can with a regular Android device.
One performance quirk we found when testing the S800c on an open Wi-Fi network that required browser authentication, was that the connection would constantly drop in and out after a short period of inactivity. The problem was isolated to the camera, as we tested this concurrently with an Android smartphone, which maintained the connection perfectly.
Once you have a stable Wi-Fi connection up and running, the act of sharing photos and video is relatively easy. From the playback menu, you have the option of sending photos via email, or to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other sharing app on Android — just like you can from a smartphone.
For the most part, if you're not too fussy about perfect quality images, and only ever want to shoot and share online at low resolutions, the S800c will do just fine. Colour rendition is decent, though automatic white balance is quite warm.
Edge-to-edge sharpness is not a strong point for this lens. Sharpness drops off dramatically towards the corners of the frame, while the camera processor smudges detail as the sensitivity climbs. The problem intensifies across the focal length range, which results in smeary-looking shots at full magnification when at 10x zoom. However, this is only noticeable if you want to crop in to an image, print enlargements or look at shots in anything beyond a low resolution.
This image shows you just how close the optical zoom will get you, from the widest end (top) and 10x zoom (bottom).
Dynamic range is decent, though in some situations, the S800c does tend to blow out highlights. Images also show over-processing artefacts, even in ample lighting situations — a trait typical of backside-illuminated sensors.
The S800c does have decent macro performance, and shooting in this mode brings out the sharpest results from the lens. Its minimum focusing distance is 50cm.
How does the Android camera stack up next to an Android smartphone? Click here to find out.
As we showed in this comparison between an Android smartphone and an Android camera, the differences in images between the two cameras are not as huge as you might expect. The S800c does a lot better in low light and for video recording, but for most other purposes, the smartphone produced photos of comparable, if not better, standard.
Video quality is the surprise strong suit from the S800c, producing steady, stabilised footage and clear audio. Nikon enables the full extent of the 10x optical zoom while filming.
Exposure: 1/1000, f/3.2, ISO 125
Exposure: 1/250, f/3.2, ISO 125
Exposure: 1/100, f/5.2, ISO 400
Exposure: 1/125, f/4.4, ISO 125
The Nikon Coolpix S800c has so much going for it by virtue of being the first Android camera to hit the market in Australia. For casual snap-shooters and photographers who want the flexibility of sharing from the camera, it definitely achieves on the premise of being a connected device with the ability to run Android apps.
However, the user experience is mostly clunky, and the photos the S800c produces are not leaps and bounds better than those from a smartphone. Save for the advantages of optical zoom and a larger image sensor, there's little to compel existing smartphone owners to shell out the cash for yet another connected device, at least in the form of the S800c.
We hope that Nikon will allow for updates to the firmware of the S800c, either by pushing out a newer version of Android or ironing out bugs in the existing system.
Nikon Australia no longer issues RRPs for its products, though we have seen the S800c available in retailers for AU$450-499.
Updated at 2.55pm, November 23: Nikon has issued a firmware update for the S800c, which looks to rectify some of the issues encountered with the original firmware installed. You can download the update and read more on the revisions from Nikon's firmware update page.