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DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix S10
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 20, 2006
Last Updated: March 26, 2008

The Coolpix S10 ($400) is the latest swivel-body digital camera from Nikon. It's the followup to the lackluster (in my opinion) Coolpix S4, which wasn't nearly as impressive as the original Coolpix 900-series cameras that came before it.

The S10 addresses many of the complaints I had with the S4, adding image stabilization, a higher resolution 2.5" LCD, and an improved movie mode. It also uses a proprietary lithium-ion battery instead of AAs. Other features include a 6 Megapixel CCD, 10X optical zoom lens, point-and-shoot operation, and (of course) that unique design.

The ultra zoom market is very crowded. How does this one-of-a-kind camera hold up to the competition? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The Coolpix S10 has an average bundle. Inside the box you'll find:

In 2005 Nikon started building memory into their cameras instead of putting a memory card in the box. The Coolpix S10 has just 16MB of onboard memory, which holds a paltry five photos at the highest quality setting. That means that you'll want a larger memory card right away. The S10 supports Secure Digital cards (though not SDHC cards, as far as I can tell), and I would recommend a 512MB card as a good place to start. I only noticed a performance improvement with a high speed SD card in continuous shooting mode, so if you do a lot of that it may be worth getting one.

Where the "old" S4 used AA batteries, the Coolpix S10 uses the familiar EN-EL5 lithium-ion battery. This slender battery holds a modest 4.1 Wh of energy, which is about average these days. How much battery life did Nikon squeeze out of it? Have a look:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used for test
Canon PowerShot S3 IS 550 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Fuji FinePix S5200 500 shots 2500 mAh NiMH
Fuji FinePix S6000fd 400 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Kodak EasyShare Z710 225 shots 2 x 2100 mAh NiMH
Kodak EasyShare V610 135 shots KLIC-7001
Nikon Coolpix S4 290 shots 2 x 2000 mAh NiMH
Nikon Coolpix S10 300 shots EN-EL5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 320 shots CGR-S006
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 250 shots CGA-S007
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2 400 shots 2 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5 340 shots 2 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

Despite being an improvement over its predecessor, the Coolpix S10 still turns in battery life numbers that are about 10% below average for the group. Compared to the smaller ultra zooms, though, it's actually above average.

The usual warnings about proprietary batteries apply here. They're more expensive than AAs (though at about $30, this one isn't too bad), and you can't drop in off-the-shelf batteries when your rechargeables die.

You'll need a charger for that battery, and Nikon puts one in the box. Pop in the EN-EL5, plug in the power cord, simmer for two hours, and serve.

The S10 has a rather unique lens cap that clips onto the lens. When you want to use the camera, just swing it out to the side.

There are just two accessories available for the Coolpix S10. You've got an AC adapter, which lets you power the camera without using your batteries, and there's also a neoprene carrying case available as well.

Nikon includes version 1.7 of their PictureProject software with the Coolpix S10. The interface is somewhat reminiscent of Apple's iPhoto, and I found the software to be responsive and stable. The default view can be seen above, and it's your standard thumbnail setup.

A view showing shooting data is also available. Double-clicking on an image brings up the image edit window:

Here you can adjust things like brightness, color, and sharpness. You can also straighten images or use Nikon's D-Lighting feature to brighten up dark areas of your photos. Auto image enhancement and redeye removal features are also available.

You can also use PictureProject to e-mail or print your photos, and you can burn them to a CD as well.

The manuals included with the camera are good, but not great. You'll get a fold-out Quick Start guide to get you up and running, and there's a full manual for more details. While you will get your questions answered in the manuals, neither of them are what I'd call pleasure reading.

Look and Feel

The S10's swivel design dates back to 1998, when Nikon introduced the original Coolpix 900. While the 900-series cameras had 3X or 4X zoom lenses, the Coolpix S4 and now the S10 have much more telephoto power. While at first glance the swivel design may look like a gimmick, it's actually quite handy. You can take photos over the heads of people in front of you, or just be stealthy and take shots without your subject knowing it. The lens can rotate a total of 270 degrees, from facing the ground all the way around to facing you, the photographer.

The camera itself is fairly well built, made of a mixture of metal and plastic. The only real weak spot is the flimsy plastic door over the memory card and battery compartment. The camera's buttons are scattered over several areas, and some of them are on the small side. And, while the camera is easy to hold, my right thumb often ended up on the LCD, leaving fingerprints and blocking part of the view.

Now here's a look at how the Coolpix S10 compares to the competition in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S3 IS 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.0 in. 42.8 cu in. 410 g
Fujifilm FinePix S5200 4.5 x 3.3 x 4.4 in. 65.3 cu in. 371 g
Fujifilm FinePix S6000fd 5.2 x 3.8 x 5.0 in. 98.8 cu in. 600 g
Kodak EasyShare V610 4.4 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 8.7 cu in. 160 g
Kodak EasyShare Z710 3.8 x 3.1 x 2.9 in. 34.2 cu in. 285 g
Nikon Coolpix S10 4.4 x 2.9 x 1.6 in. 20.4 cu in. 220 g
Nikon Coolpix S4 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.4 in. 16.6 cu in. 205 g
Olympus SP-510 Ultra Zoom 4.2 x 2.9 x 2.8 in. 34.1 cu in. 325 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 4.4 x 2.8 x 3.1 in. 38.2 cu in. 310 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.6 in. 16.2 cu in. 234 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2 4.5 x 3.3 x 3.7 in. 54.9 cu in. 389 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5 4.5 x 3.3 x 3.7 in. 54.9 cu in. 406 g

While not the smallest camera in its class, the Coolpix S10 is still much smaller than the typical bulky ultra zoom.

Enough numbers, let's start our tour of the camera now!

The Coolpix S10 seems to have the same F3.5, 10X optical zoom lens as its predecessor. This lens has is entirely self-contained, and has a focal range of 6.3 - 63 mm, equivalent to 38 - 380 mm. The lens is not threaded.

One of the big new features on the Coolpix S10 is image stabilization (called Vibration Reduction here) -- and it doesn't work by shifting lens elements like on most ultra zooms. Instead, Nikon has mounted the CCD sensor on a moveable platform. The camera detects "camera shake" (which can really blur your photos, especially at the telephoto end of the lens) and shifts the sensor to compensate for that motion. Nikon says you'll get about a 2 stop advantage with it. What this means in the real world is that you can use slower shutter speeds that you could on an unstabilized camera.

Want to see how well the system works? Have a look at these:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on

Both of those shots were taken at 1/4 seconds, which is "tripod territory" on most cameras. As you can see, the VR system on the Coolpix S10 pulled off a nice, sharp photo. One thing I normally have in the discussion of a camera's image stabilization system is an example of how well the system works in movie mode. Alas, the optical VR system is disabled in movie mode for some reason. There is an electronic VR option, and I'll show you how that works later in the review.

Immediately to the left of the lens is the camera's built-in flash. A weak flash was one of the weak spots on the Coolpix S4, but Nikon has taken care of that here. This new flash has a working range of 0.3 - 5.4 at wide-angle and 1.0 - 5.4 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO), which are impressive numbers. You cannot attach an external flash to the camera.

To the upper-right of the flash is the camera's AF-assist lamp. This lamp, also used as the visual countdown for the self-timer, is used as a focusing aid in low light situations.

The last thing to see on the front of the camera is the microphone, which is right in the center of the photo.

Here's the back of the S10, with the lens pointed forward. The main event here is the large 2.5" LCD display, which received a serious bump in resolution on the S10. While the S4's LCD had a lousy 110,000 pixels, the screen here has a much nicer 230,000 pixels. As you'd expect, everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor viewing was decent, as was low light visibility. In dim light the screen brightens automatically, though not as much as I would've liked.

As you can probably tell, there's no optical viewfinder to be found on the Coolpix S10. It's certainly possible, as the old 900-series Coolpixes had one. Anyhow, some folks might be bothered by the lack of a viewfinder, while others won't even notice. In other words, it's kind of subjective.

Above the LCD are four buttons plus the four-way controller. The buttons include:

Pressing the Mode button in record mode opens up the screen above. Here you can choose from auto record, scene mode, voice recording mode, and movie mode. That voice recording feature records up to five hours of audio. What about scene modes? Well, there are plenty on the camera, including:

Five of those scenes are what Nikon calls Assist Modes. In addition to using the right settings for the situation, the camera will also display framing guidelines on the screen, so your photo will be properly composed. The Panorama Assist feature helps you line up photos for later stitching on your computer.

To the right of those buttons is the four-way controller, which is a little small for my taste. In addition to navigating the camera's menu system, the controller is also used for:

Here's a different-than-normal top view of the Coolpix S10. Up here we find more buttons plus the speaker and zoom controller.

On the lens portion of the camera are two buttons. The VR button turns the vibration reduction system on and off. One situation in which you'd want to turn off the VR system is when the camera is on a tripod.


The S10 found only one face in this test

The button below that serves two purposes. In record mode it turns on the S10's One-Touch Portrait Mode, while in playback mode it activates the D-Lighting function. The One-Touch Portrait Mode has three components: the portrait scene mode, face-priority AF, and advanced redeye reduction. I wasn't terribly impressed with Nikon's version of face detection -- at best I got it to recognize one face in the photo I've been using as a test lately. In most situations, though, the camera couldn't find any, instead giving an AF error. The Canon and Fuji cameras that I've tested found five or six. In the S10's defense, it did find "real life" faces fairly well.

The D-Lighting feature brightens up the dark areas of your photos. You'll find this feature especially useful when your subject has a strong backlight behind them. Here, have a look at this:


Straight out of the camera


After D-Lighting

Pretty noticeable difference, eh? Since nothing comes for free, I should mention that D-Lighting increases noise levels a bit, though this shouldn't matter for smaller-sized prints.

Jumping to the main part of the body, we have the speaker, power and shutter release buttons, and the zoom controller. The zoom controller, which is also on the small side, moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.7 seconds. I counted twenty steps in the S10's 10X zoom range.

Nothing to see here.

On the other side of the camera (with the lens pointing up you'll find the shared port for A/V and USB. Unfortunately, the camera does not support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, so transferring photos will be a lot slower than they could be.

You'll thread the cord for the AC adapter through that door on the bottom of the photo. The camera uses a "dummy battery" instead of plugging directly into the camera.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a plastic tripod mount and the battery/memory card compartment. The door over this compartment is quite flimsy, and you won't be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The included EN-EL5 battery is shown at right.

Using the Nikon Coolpix S10

Record Mode

The Coolpix S10 powers up and is ready to shoot in about two seconds. That's about average.


No live histogram here

Focus speeds were good, but not great. At the wide-angle end of the lens, the camera typically focused in 0.2 to 0.4 seconds. Telephoto focus times were considerably slower, often exceeding one second. Despite its AF-assist lamp, I found low light focusing on the S10 to be mediocre.

Shutter lag wasn't noticeable at faster shutter speeds, and minimal at slower speeds.

Shot-to-shot times were excellent, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another photo.

You can delete a photo that you just took by pressing the -- get ready -- delete photo button!

There are just a few image sizes available on the Coolpix S10. They include:

Resolution Quality # images on 16MB built-in memory # images on 512MB SD card (optional)
6M
2816 x 2112
High 5 166
Normal 10 328
3M
2048 x 1536
Normal 20 604
PC Screen
1024 x 768
Normal 68 2056
TV Screen
640 x 480
Normal 128 3856

See what you want to buy a memory card right away?

Not surprisingly, the RAW and TIFF image formats are not supported on the Coolpix S10.

Images are named DSCN####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The Coolpix S10 has a pretty standard menu system. There are two ways to display the menu items: by text or by icon. For each of the menu items you can press the "zoom in" button to get a description of what that item does. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in the scene modes, here is the complete record menu:

The manual white balance option is the only manual control on the Coolpix S10. That's too bad, since nearly all of the competition has full manual controls.

Now onto the continuous shooting modes. The regular continuous mode took six shots in a row at about 1.5 fps before it started slowing down to a more sluggish 0.9 fps. The LCD kept up well with the action, so tracking a moving subject should not be a problem.

The multi-shot 16 feature takes sixteen photos in a row and puts them into a 6 Megapixel collage.

The interval timer shooting feature lets you do time-lapse photography with your S10. You can take up to 1800 shots at an interval of your choosing (as long as it's 30 seconds or 5/10/30/60 minutes). You'll want to use the included AC adapter in this mode. There's also a time-lapse movie feature that I'll describe in a moment.

The Best Shot Selector feature takes up to ten shots in a row and then saves the sharpest one. There's also an exposure BSS feature which does the same, but picks the photo with the best highlights, shadows, or a mix of the two.

Now here's what you'll find in the setup menu, which is accessible from the record or playback menus:

Well that's it for menus, let's continue with the photo tests now.

The Coolpix S10 did a superb job with our standard macro test subject. The colors are nice and saturated and the subject has a "smooth" look to it. The one manual control on the camera -- custom white balance -- came in handy here, letting the camera capture accurate colors in my studio.

You can be as close to your subject as 4 cm in macro mode. To do that you need to get the lens in the optimal position, and you know that you're there when the "macro flower" on the LCD turns green.

While it looks pretty good in the thumbnail above, the full size night scene isn't as impressive as one would hope. That's because there's no manual control over shutter speed on the S10, which means that you'll need to use one of the scene modes to take long exposures. The night landscape scene that I used here adjusts the ISO automatically, which produces a soft and noisy photo. If you take a lot of night shots like this one, I'd find a camera with manual shutter speed control.

Since I can't control the shutter speed I am unable to do the night ISO test. Look for our studio ISO test in a moment.

There is moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the Coolpix S10's lens. If you want to see what this does to your photos, have a look at this shot. I did not find corner blurriness or vignetting (dark corners) to be much of a problem.

The Coolpix S10 has a two-stage redeye reduction system. The camera first uses preflashes to shrink your subject's pupils, and if it still detects redeye the camera removes it with software. The results are interesting. While there's not really any red in the eyes, there's still kind of a "glow" left. Since the flash is right next to the lens, odds are that there will be redeye in your photos, so what it comes down to is if the software-reduction tool can clean it up for you.

Here's that ISO test I promised you earlier. This one is taken in my studio with a pair of 600W quartz studio lamps. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise levels at each ISO setting, you should really look at the full size images to get the full story.


ISO 50

ISO 100


ISO 200


ISO 400

ISO 800

The test scene is very clean through ISO 200 -- making large prints shouldn't be a problem. At ISO 400 we pick up some noticeable noise, which reduces the available print sizes a bit. While not as clean as the Fuji FinePix S6000fd, the Coolpix S10 holds its own against the Canon PowerShot S3 and just beats the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 at ISO 400. At ISO 800 we get even more noise, plus a reduction in color saturation, so I'd save this setting for desperation only.

[The studio test shot was updated on 11/24/06. The original photos were overexposed.]

Overall I'd call the Coolpix S10's photo quality very good for an ultra zoom camera. The camera generally took well-exposed photos with accurate colors, though a few images had a very slight greenish cast to them. Sharpness was just how I like it -- sharp, but not too much so. Noise levels were well-controlled as long as you keep to ISO 200 or lower. Purple fringing was very low for an ultra zoom. I did notice some moiré in one shot (top of the pyramid), but that was the only occurrence that I found.

Don't just take my word for it, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, printing the photos if you can, and then decide if the S10's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The Coolpix S10 has a pretty nice movie mode that is marred by a rather annoying bug. Before I mention that, here are the good things about the movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with sound until you run out of memory. That takes just 14 seconds when you use the built-in memory, but a 1GB SD card can hold about 14 minutes worth.

There are other movie resolutions available as well. You can drop down to 320 x 240 or 160 x 120, with frame rates of 15 or 30 fps for the former and 15 fps for the latter. There's also a Pictmotion mode which records up to 60 seconds of video at 320 x 240, 30 fps. I'll have more on Pictmotion in the next section.

A time lapse movie feature is also available. This is just like the still time lapse feature that I described earlier, except that the images end up as a VGA-sized silent movie.

You can choose between single and continuous autofocus while in movie mode. I would probably use single AF as the microphone may pick up the focusing sounds otherwise. You cannot use the optical zoom during filming -- the digital zoom does work though.

For some bizarre reason, you cannot use the optical VR system in movie mode. Instead, you get an electronic stabilization option, which seems to work fairly well. All the other stabilized ultra zooms let you use their OIS system in movie mode, as far as I know.

And now, the bug. At the VGA setting, the sound in your movies always cuts off before the clip is over. I tried two different SD cards (one of which was ultra high speed) and the same thing happened again and again. Let's hope Nikon can fix this with a firmware update.

Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the VGA setting. Notice how the sound cuts off a second or two before the video ends.


Click to play movie (13.9 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The Coolpix S10 has a pretty good playback mode. Basic features such as DPOF print marking, image protection, voice captions (up to 20 seconds worth), thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll are all here. This last feature lets you enlarge your photo by as much as ten times so you can make sure everything's in focus.

The S10 has a fancy slideshow feature, similar to those found on select Sony cameras. The Pictmotion feature lets you select the photos you want, pick transitions and a soundtrack, and off you go. You can view your movies or create custom soundtracks on your Windows-based PCs, but Mac users are left out in the cold here.

The camera supports photo resizing, cropping, and rotating. You can also use the D-Lighting feature that I demonstrated earlier.

A copy function lets you move photos from the internal memory to a memory card and vice versa.

You can browse through your photos by date, if you want.

Unfortunately the S10 doesn't tell you much about your photos. What you see above is all you get!

The cameras move through photos at an average clip, showing a low resolution image instantly, with the higher resolution image arriving about a second later.

How Does it Compare?

While not for everyone, the Nikon Coolpix S10 is a unique point-and-shoot ultra zoom that earns my recommendation. It makes some significant improvements over its predecessor, the Coolpix S4, adding image stabilization, a stronger flash, a sharper LCD, and more. It's not without a few annoying flaws, though.

The Coolpix S10 has the same swivel design as the Coolpix 900, introduced back in 1998. One side of the body has the lens, while the other side has the LCD and controls. While it may seem silly, the swivel body comes in just as handy as the rotating LCDs found on many cameras -- you can shoot over things or take self-portraits, just to name two examples. The S10 is also quite small for an ultra zoom, packing a 10X zoom lens in a midsize body. Build quality is good for the most part, save for the cheap plastic door over the memory card and battery compartment. One of the nice new additions to the S10 is Nikon's CCD-shift Vibration Reduction (image stabilization) system. This effectively fights the blur of "camera shake", letting you use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Strangely enough, you can't use the VR system in movie mode, though a decent electronic VR option is still available. While the camera has the same size LCD as its predecessor (2.5"), the resolution has been bumped up dramatically, so everything's nice and sharp. Low light and outdoor visibility were above average. One thing I didn't like is that your right thumb ends up resting on the right side of the screen, since there's nowhere else to put it. The S10 lacks a viewfinder of any kind -- electronic or optical.

With just one manual control (and that's for white balance), it's safe to call the Coolpix S10 a point-and-shoot camera. You've got a normal auto mode, plus quite a few scene modes as well. Some of these scene modes go above and beyond the call of duty, showing framing guidelines on the LCD. While the S10 has a face detection feature, it did not impress me nearly as much of the ones on selected Canon and Fuji cameras. The camera has two very handy features: D-Lighting and Best Shot Selector. D-Lighting brightens up the dark areas of your photos, though noise levels increase a bit as a result. The BSS feature takes up to 10 photos in a row, saving the one which is sharpest or best-exposed. While the S10's movie mode sounds nice on paper, I was disappointed with the lack of optical VR and the audio sync problem that I described earlier.

Camera performance was just average. The camera starts up in about two seconds and cycles through shots very quickly. I didn't find shutter lag to be much of a problem, either. Focus speeds at the telephoto end of the lens were quite sluggish, and low light focusing was a disappointment, despite the S10's AF-assist lamp. Battery life was below average in the ultra zoom class as a whole, but still better than the other compact ultra zooms out there. The S10 does not support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, so file transfers will be slow.

Photo quality, on the other hand, was good -- and comparable with the best ultra zooms out there. The S10 took well-exposed photos with accurate colors (on most occasions), pleasing sharpness, and minimal purple fringing. Noise levels were low through ISO 200 and reasonable at ISO 400. While there's an ISO 800 option, I'd avoid it if possible. The camera's advanced redeye reduction system did an "okay" job at removing redeye -- your results may vary of course, as redeye is different from person to person.

I snuck most of the negatives about the S10 in the preceding paragraphs, but here are a few more. As I hinted at, the S10 has no manual controls, which is quite a contrast to most (but not all) of the other ultra zoom cameras on the market. There's absolutely zero exposure information displayed in playback mode. And finally, the built-in memory isn't much for a 6 Megapixel camera.

If you want a fairly compact ultra zoom camera that can take some creative shots, then the Coolpix S10 is probably worth a look. If you want manual controls and lens accessories then it's probably not the best choice. While I'm not jumping up and down with enthusiasm about the S10, it's cool enough (pun intended) to earn my recommendation.

What I liked:

What I didn't care for:

Some other ultra zooms to consider include the Canon PowerShot S3, Fuji FinePix S6000fd, Kodak EasyShare V610 and Z710, Olympus SP-510UZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 and DMC-TZ1, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2 and DSC-H5.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix S10 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our photo gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read more reviews at TrustedReviews and CNET.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

 

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