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Nikon Coolpix S630 Review

How Does it Compare?

On paper, the Nikon Coolpix S630 sounds like an impressive camera. It offers a 7X zoom lens in a stylish, compact body that would normally house a 3X or 4X lens. It has all the required point-and-shoot features, including auto scene selection, face/smile/blink detection, and help screens for every menu option. Unfortunately, the Coolpix S630 fails at its most important task: taking a quality photograph. There are numerous other issues, ranging from poor low light focusing to annoyances in movie mode. If you're going to spend $280 on a digital camera, I'd suggest choosing a camera other than the Coolpix S630.

The Coolpix S630 is a compact and stylish camera that comes in five colors (the red is especially sharp). The body is made of a mixture of metal and plastic, and it feels fairly solid, except for on the bottom. There you'll find a very flimsy door over the memory card and battery compartment, plus a plastic tripod mount. And, since the two are so close together, you won't be able to access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod. Nikon did a good job at making the S630 easy to hold with one had, with plenty of room for your thumb. The buttons are on the small side, but it didn't bother me very much in the real world. The S630 features a 7X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 37 - 260 mm. As is often the case with compact lenses, the one here is on the "slow" side, with a maximum aperture of F3.5 - F5.3. The camera uses a very noisy sensor-shift image stabilization system, which does an effective job of reducing blurry photos. Do note that you cannot use it in movie mode, though. On the back of the camera is a 2.7" LCD display with 230,000 pixels. I found the screen fairly easy to see outdoors and in low light situations. Like all compact cameras, the S630 lacks an optical viewfinder.

The S630 is a point-and-shoot camera at heart, with just one manual control, and that's for white balance. The camera has the ability to select a scene mode for you, or you can pick one of the numerous scenes yourself. Naturally, the S630 has face detection (which works well), and takes things a step further by adding smile and blink detection. One thing I like about Nikon's compact cameras is the built-in help system, which explains each and every scene mode and menu option. The playback mode is decent, with resize/trimming/cropping functions, plus Quick Retouch and D-Lighting options (though I wish the last item was adjustable). The camera's movie mode is a mixed bag. It does indeed record at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with sound, but you can't use the optical zoom or image stabilizer, and the sounds cuts out before the movie is finished (this bug has been on Nikon cameras for years).

Performance is a mixed bag. The S630 starts up fairly quickly, and focusing is great when light levels are high. In low light, however, the camera struggled to focus -- big time. Shot-to-shot speeds were slower than average. The camera offers two continuous shooting modes: regular and sport. The regular mode is unremarkable, firing off 2-4 shots at 1.1 frames/second. If you want to go faster, you'll have to use sport continuous mode, which shoots as fast as 11 fps. The problem is that it does so at ISO 640 and above, at a resolution of 3 Megapixel. If you've seen the sample photos, then you probably know why that's not a good thing. The Coolpix S630's battery life numbers are below average in its class.

Photo quality is undoubtedly the Coolpix S630's weak spot. Exposure is generally spot-on, though like most compact cameras, the S630 likes to clip highlights. I have no complaints about color: the camera handled everyday shooting and my studio lamps without an issue. The big problem is detail, or rather a lack of detail. Images are soft, overprocessed, and fuzzy -- even at IS0 64. The reason for this is that Nikon is applying a ton of noise reduction to photos. So, instead of seeing grainy photos as the ISO increases, you just lose detail. If you're only printing 4 x 6's or downsizing your photos for viewing on your computer screen then it's probably not an issue, but if you're not, then you'll certainly notice what I'm talking about. Purple fringing popped up here and there, though overall it wasn't a problem. The camera has a two-pronged approach to redeye removal and, at least in my tests, it didn't work as promised (your mileage may vary). There's no tool in playback mode to remove redeye, so you'll have to deal with it on your computer if it's a problem for you.

The Coolpix S630 is one of those cameras that I really wanted to like, but after spending a few months with it, I was disappointed. I like the design and the big zoom in a small package concept, but the photo quality and performance leave much to be desired. There are certainly better cameras out there for your hard-earned money, and I'd suggest taking a look at them instead (see below for some starting points).

What I liked:

  • Accurate color, generally good exposure
  • 7X zoom lens in a compact, easy to hold body
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization (but see issues below)
  • Sharp 2.7" LCD is visible outdoors and in low light
  • Fast AF in good light
  • Tons of scene modes, plus an auto scene selection option
  • Face, smile, and blink detection all work fairly well
  • Time-lapse photo feature
  • In-camera help system

What I didn't care for:

  • Soft images with substantial detail loss due to noise reduction
  • Occasional highlight clipping
  • Poor low light focusing
  • Lens is on the slow side (in terms of aperture)
  • Noisy image stabilizer; cannot be used in movie mode
  • Unimpressive continuous shooting mode; faster option requires high ISO and lower resolution
  • Sluggish shot-to-shot times
  • Audio cuts out early in movies (still!)
  • Below average battery life
  • Cheap plastic door over memory/battery compartment; plastic tripod mount
  • Cannot access memory card slot while camera is on a tripod
  • Camera provides no exposure info in playback mode
  • No optical viewfinder

Some other compact cameras with a little extra zoom power include the Canon PowerShot SD970 IS, Casio Exilim EX-FC100, Fuji FinePix J250, Kodak EasyShare M380, Olympus Stylus 7000, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS15, Ricoh CX1, Samsung SL420, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W290.

As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Nikon Coolpix S630 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

There are plenty of sample photos to look over in our photo gallery!

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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.