DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix S6
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The Nikon Coolpix S6 ($400) packs a lot of features into a slim and stylish package. You'll get a 6 Megapixel CCD, 3X zoom lens, huge 3-inch LCD display, Wi-Fi support, and more -- all in a camera that fits in your smallest pocket. Other features include in-camera redeye reduction, a VGA movie mode, and an enhanced slideshow feature with music and transitions.
If you don't need the huge screen or Wi-Fi then you may be interested in the S6's little brother: the Coolpix S5 ($330).
There are plenty of ultra-thin cameras on the market. Find out how the S6 compares in our review, which starts now!
What's in the Box?
The Coolpix S6 has a good bundle. Inside the box you'll find:
Last year Nikon started building memory into their cameras instead of putting a memory card in the box. The Coolpix S6 has 20MB of memory, which holds just six photos at the highest quality setting. That means that you'll want to buy a memory card along with the camera. The S6 uses Secure Digital cards, and I'd say that a 512MB card is a good starter size. A high speed memory card does not seem to be a necessary purchase.
The Coolpix S6 uses the same EN-EL8 lithium-ion battery as the other cameras in the Coolpix S-series (save for the ultra zoom S4). Here's how many shots you can get out of this 2.7 Wh battery:
The Coolpix S6 turns in fairly average battery life numbers for its class. If you use the Wi-Fi a lot you probably won't get anywhere near 200 shots, though.
The usual warnings about proprietary batteries apply here. They're pretty expensive (though at $25, the EN-EL8 isn't too bad), and you can't drop in off-the-shelf batteries when your rechargeables die. That said, you'd be hard-pressed to find an ultra-thin camera that uses anything but proprietary batteries.
Nikon includes a camera dock with the Coolpix S6, which is required for USB and A/V connectivity, and optional for battery charging (you can also plug the AC adapter directly into the camera). It takes about two hours to fully charge the EN-EL8 battery.
The camera does not support the USB 2.0 HIgh Speed standard, so transfers over the USB connector will be slow.
The Coolpix S6 is one of a small handful of non-Kodak cameras that supports the IMAGELINK standard. What this means in layman's terms is that you can pop the camera onto any IMAGELINK-compatible photo printer, such as Kodak's printer docks.
Like all ultra-compact cameras, the Coolpix S6 has a built-in lens cove so there's no lens cap to deal with.
There aren't too many accessories available for the S6. The most interested one is the PD-10 wireless print adapter, which lets you send photos to any PictBridge-enabled printer using Wi-Fi (Canon includes such an accessory with their SD430 wireless camera at no extra charge). The only other accessory of note is an external battery charger.
Nikon includes version 1.6 of their PictureProject software with the Coolpix S6. The interface is 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 exposure info 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.
You will also be using the PP software for most of the wireless functions on the S6. The first thing you need to do before you can go wireless is set up a profile for your 802.11b/g network. To do this you attach the camera to your computer via the USB cable. Just fill out the form you see above and the settings will be sent to the camera. You can also set up a profile for any printer attached to your PC. The Coolpix S6 supports 64 and 128-bit WEP encryption, and you can connect directly to a computer or to an existing network.
You can view the photos on your camera from your computer -- wirelessly
Once the camera is on the network you can transfer files to your PC with ease (more on this later). While you can see what photos are on the camera from your PC, the camera itself cannot be controlled (like the Canon SD430). One especially cool feature is the ability to add photos to a slideshow as they are taken, which might be interesting for parties or wedding receptions.
The documentation included with the Coolpix S6 is about average. You get a fold-out Quick Start guide to get you going, plus a full printed manual for more details. While the manual is complete, it could definitely be a little more user friendly.
Look and Feel
The Coolpix S6 is an ultra-compact camera with a unique "wave" design. The camera is made almost entirely of metal, and it feels very solid for the most part. Ergonomics are not the S6's strong suit. The camera isn't terribly easy to hold (there's not much room for your right thumb), and the buttons on the top of the camera are truly microscopic. This is one camera that you should definitely try before you buy it.
Now here's a look at how the S6 compares to the competition in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, the Coolpix S6 is fairly average-sized for an ultra-compact camera. It's not as small as they come, but it'll fit into any of your pockets with ease.
Enough numbers, let's start our tour of the camera now!
The Coolpix S6 appears to use the same 3X optical zoom lens as the other ultra-slim models in the S-series. This lens uses "folded optics" technology, which sends most of the lens elements down the body, perpendicular to the way the light enters. Like other lenses designed this way, things are a little slow here, with a maximum aperture of F3.0 - F5.4. The focal length of the lens is 5.8 - 17.4 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. This shouldn't come as a surprise, but the lens is not threaded.
To the right of the lens is the AF-assist lamp, which also serves as the visual countdown for the self-timer. The camera uses the AF-assist lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations.
On the opposite side of the lens you'll find the S6's flash. The working range of the flash is fairly poor: 0.3 - 2.6 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 1.4 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). You cannot attach an external flash to the Coolpix S6.
The main event on the back of the Coolpix S6 is its big and beautiful 3-inch LCD display. The LCD and various buttons leave little room for your fingers, as you can see. The screen has 230,000 pixels on board, so everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility was about average, and low light visibility was very good. When the room is dark, the screen "gains up" so you can still see your subject.
Not surprisingly there's no optical viewfinder on the Coolpix S6 -- where would they even put it? You won't find a camera with an LCD this big that also has an optical viewfinder. I guess you can't have your cake and eat it too.
Virtual mode dial (record mode)
Now let's talk about the buttons to the right of the LCD. The first one switches between record and playback mode. Below that is the Mode button, which opens the "virtual" mode dial (see screenshot). The options here include:
As you can see, the Coolpix S6 is a point-and-shoot camera. There are tons of scene modes, including four "assist" modes that go the extra mile and really help you compose a nice shot.
The voice recording mode lets you record audio until you run out of memory or five hours has elapsed -- whichever comes first.
|Wireless profile selection (you can have up to three)||The wireless menu (from the Coolpix P3)|
When you turn the virtual mode dial to the Wireless position you'll be able to choose from three different wireless profiles. Next you'll choose a profile for the network or printer to which you wish to connect. Once you're connected you can choose from the following options (note that I wasn't able to grab a screenshot of this menu on the S6, so I'm using the one from the P3):
When you connect to a printer wirelessly (either the one hooked up to your computer or the optional wireless adapter) you'll get this menu:
Getting back to the tour now. Below the mode button are the Menu and Delete Photo buttons. Under that is the unique four-way controller, which also rotates like a dial. This dial works a whole lot better than the one on the Canon PowerShot SD630. You'll use this controller for menu navigation, reviewing photos, and also for:
And that's all for the back!
This top view gives you a good feel for the "wave" design of the S6. It also shows you just how tiny the power and shutter release buttons and zoom controller are -- they're awful.
The button on the far left serves two purposes. In record mode it activates "one-touch portrait mode", which turns on Face Priority autofocus and in-camera redeye reduction. In playback mode it activates the D-Lighting feature, which brightens up your photos in seconds. Here's an example:
You can use D-Lighting to brighten up underexposed areas of your photos, as well as those taken with the S6's weak flash. The catch (and there's always a catch) is that D-Lighting increases noise levels.
Next up we have the speaker and microphone, with the microscopic power and shutter release buttons next to that. On the far right is the zoom controller, which (as you may have noticed) I really did not like. Anyhow, the zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.7 seconds. I counted just seven stops in the 3X zoom range.
The only thing to see on this side of the Coolpix S6 is the Wi-Fi indicator. A blue light blinks as the camera is connecting to a network, and it remains on once connected.
Nothing to see here (except for a reflection of my tripod).
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a plastic tripod mount, the dock connector, and the battery / memory card compartment. A plastic door of decent quality protects the battery and memory card. Do note that you can't swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.
The included EN-EL8 battery is shown at right.
Using the Nikon Coolpix S6
With the "quick startup" feature turned on, the S6 takes about one second to "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. That's very good.
No live histogram here
Focus speeds were about average for an ultra-compact camera. Typically it took the S6 between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus, with longer waits at the telephoto end of the lens. Despite having an AF-assist lamp, I found the S6's low light focusing abilities to be below average.
Shutter lag was minimal at fast shutter speeds, but noticeable at slower shutter speeds.
Shot-to-shot times were good, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another photo.
If you've turned on the Blur Warning feature then the camera will ask if you want to keep a photo that it thinks is blurry. You can also delete a photo that you just took by pressing the (get this) delete photo button.
There are just a few image sizes available on the Coolpix S6. They include:
There's no support for the RAW or TIFF image formats on the Coolpix S6, nor would I expect there to be.
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 S6 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. Now here's a look at all the items in the shooting menu:
The continuous shooting mode took five shots in a row at 2 frames/second. The LCD kept up well with the action. The multi-shot 16 feature takes sixteen photos in a row and compiles them into a single collage-style image.
The interval timer shooting feature lets you do time-lapse photography with your S6. 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.
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's in the setup menu:
Well that's it for menus, let's continue with the photo tests now.
I have no complaints about the macro test results for the Coolpix S6. The colors look good and the subject is nice and sharp. The custom white balance feature had no trouble with my studio lamps, either.
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.
I wasn't terribly impressed with the night scene the first time I took it. Things were soft and noisy, so I figured it was a fluke and went out to Treasure Island again for a reshoot. Unfortunately, the results were about the same. Since the only way to take long exposures is to use the scene modes, the camera makes all the exposure decisions for you. In this case the S6 used ISO 200, which is why things are soft and noisy. The bottom line here is that if you like to take long exposures like this then the Coolpix S6 is probably not for you.
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the S6's 3X optical zoom lens. This makes things like buildings look "curved", as you can see in this shot.
The distortion chart also shows both blurry corners and vignetting (dark corners), and you'll find both in your real world photos as well, unfortunately.
The Coolpix S6 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. Unfortunately, neither of those systems got rid of the redeye in my test.
Overall, the photos I took with the Coolpix S6 were good, but not great. Photos were well exposed, though the sky was usually oversaturated and in two instances there was a greenish cast to the picture. Images were a bit soft, and even more so around the edges of the frame. Vignetting was noticeable in most of my photos as well. Images were a tad bit soft as well, but that's a pretty subjective thing. Thankfully purple fringing was not a problem.
Don't just take my word for it, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, printing the photos if you'd like, and then decide if the S6's photo quality meets your expectations.
The Coolpix S6 has a very good movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) until the memory card is full. It takes just 18 seconds to fill up the internal memory, so you'll want a large memory card for longer movies. A 1GB card holds about 14 minutes worth of video.
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. There's also an electronic vibration reduction feature which digitally reduces any "shakes" in your movies.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the VGA setting. Enjoy:
Click to play movie (8.5 MB, 640 x 480, QuickTime format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime.
The Coolpix S6 has an above average. 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. I don't like how the camera jumps from one area of the photo to another, though (it's not smooth scrolling like on most other cameras).
The S6 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.
You can browse through your photos with a calendar interface, if you want.
While the S6 supports in-camera resizing and cropping, I can't seem to find a way to rotate images. You can also use the D-Lighting feature that I described earlier.
A copy function lets you move photos from the internal memory to a memory card and vice versa.
Unfortunately the S6 doesn't tell you much about your photos. What you see above is all you get!
The cameras move through photos at an average pace, showing a low resolution image instantly, with the higher resolution image arriving about a second later.
How Does it Compare?
The Nikon Coolpix S6 packs just about every conceivable feature into its slim body. Huge LCD? Check. Fancy movie mode? Yep. Tons of scene modes? And then some. Heck, the S6 even has Wi-Fi built in. Of course, none of that matters if the camera can't take good pictures -- and I was disappointed with the Coolpix S6 in that respect.
The Coolpix S6 is a slim metal camera with a "wave" design. It's not the smallest camera in its class, but it will still fit into your smallest pocket with ease. The camera is well built. The S6 gets a mixed review in terms of usability. While the buttons on the back of the camera are okay (and I like the four-way controller wheel thing), the buttons on top are truly microscopic and hard to use. The S6 has a big and beautiful 3-inch LCD that has average visibility in low light and better-than-average visibility in low light. Unfortunately this huge screen doesn't leave much room for your fingers, which makes the camera hard to hold. Not surprisingly the S6 lacks an optical viewfinder, and I'll leave it up to you to decide if that's a good or bad thing. The camera comes with a dock, which is required for USB or video out and optional for battery charging.
The S6 has a bevy of point-and-shoot features (and only one manual feature -- white balance). If you like scene modes then you'll be pleased with this camera: it has sixteen of them, including four "assist" modes which go out of their way to help you take a great shot. Speaking of help, the S6 has help screens available for all of the menu items. One of the big selling points on the S6 is Wi-Fi, and the S6 supports 802.11b/g networks. Setting up the wireless features isn't too painful, and once up and running you can transfer photos and movies to your computer without wires. You can't control the camera wirelessly (like on the Canon SD430) and you can't upload or e-mail photos wirelessly (like Kodak's EasyShare One), and a wireless printer adapter is optional (it comes for free with the SD430). The S6 offers a pretty nice movie mode, recording video at 640 x 480 (30 fps) until the memory card is full. The slideshow feature is also very nice compared to most of the competition.
Camera performance is a mixed bag. The S6 starts up quickly and focusing times were reasonable. Despite having an AF-assist lamp, I found the camera's low light focusing abilities to be poor. There's also a bit of shutter lag when shutter speeds get slower. Shot-to-shot speeds were reasonable, as was the S6's continuous shooting mode. Battery life was about average for a camera in this class.
The Coolpix S6 won't win any awards for its photo quality. While photos were well-exposed, I found colors to be oversaturated at times and just plain wrong at others (see the greenish cast in some of the sample images). Vignetting (dark corners) and blurry edges were also a problem. Despite having a fancy two-stage redeye reduction, this annoyance still popped up in our flash test. I was also disappointed with the results of our night test shot, which was soft and noisy.
There are a few more negatives I want to mention here. For one, the flash is pretty weak, which is often the case on smaller cameras. The S6 doesn't support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, which slows down image transferring if you're using the USB cable instead of the Wi-Fi. I'm not a fan of the plastic tripod mount (on this metal camera), and it's worth pointing out that you can't swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.
Overall I was a bit disappointed with the Coolpix S6. Sure, it looks cool, and some of the features are really handy. But the bottom line is that photo quality is not as good as other ultra-compacts, and it has more flaws to boot. I'd probably skip the S6 and look at one of the cameras listed below instead.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
If you're interested in a Wi-Fi-enabled camera, the only ones available are the Canon PowerShot SD430 Digital ELPH, Kodak EasyShare One (6MP), and the slightly chunky Nikon Coolpix P3. If you don't care about Wi-Fi then you should also consider the Canon PowerShot SD630, Casio Exilim EX-Z600, Fuji FinePix V10, HP Photosmart R927, Olympus SP-700 and Stylus 710, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX01, Pentax Optio T10, Samsung Digimax i6, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1 and DSC-T30. There's also the Coolpix S5, which is the same as the S6 except for a smaller LCD and lack of Wi-Fi.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix S6 and its competitors before you buy!
Photo GallerySee how the photos turned out in our photo gallery!
Want another opinion?
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 for technical support.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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