DCRP

Nikon Coolpix S630 Review

Using the Nikon Coolpix S630

Record Mode

The Coolpix S630 starts up fairly quickly, taking about 1.2 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting.


No histogram to be found here

In good light, autofocus speeds are quite good. The camera takes between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus at wide-angle, and 0.6 - 0.9 seconds at telephoto. On the other hand, low light focusing was abysmal. More often than not, the AF would fail when light levels were dim.

Shutter lag wasn't a problem at faster shutter speeds, though I noticed a tiny bit of it at slower shutter speeds, where you should really be using the flash or a tripod anyway.

Shot-to-shot speeds were just okay. You'll wait for roughly 2.5 seconds before you can take another photo.

After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.

Now here's a look at the available image quality settings on the Coolpix S630:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 44MB onboard memory # images on 2GB memory card (optional)
12M
4000 x 3000
Fine 6.3 MB 7 159
Normal 2.9 MB 15 341
16:9
3968 x 2232
Normal 2.2 MB 20 455
8M
3264 x 2448
Normal 2.0 MB 22 500
5M
2592 x 1944
Normal 1.3 MB

35

795
3M
2048 x 1536
Normal 800 KB 55 1250
PC
1024 x 768
Normal 200 KB 188 4273
TV
640 x 480
Normal 100 KB 353 8023

I hope this doesn't come as a surprise, but there's no support for the RAW image format on the Coolpix S630.

Images are named using the following convention: DSC_####.JPG, where #### is 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained even if you erase your memory card.

The shooting menu A help screen is available for most options

The Coolpix S630 has a simple, easy to navigate menu system. There aren't too many options (it is a point and shoot camera, after all), and if you're confused about any one option, you can get a help screen by using the zoom controller. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of items in the record menu:

  • Image mode (see chart above)
  • White balance (Auto, preset, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, flash)
  • Metering (Matrix, center-weighted) - no spot metering here
  • Continuous (Single, continuous, Best Shot Selector, multi-shot 16, interval timer) - see below
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, fixed range auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 2000, 3200, 6400) - see below
  • Color options (Standard, vivid, black and white, sepia, cyanotype, pastel)
  • AF area mode (Face priority, auto, manual, center) - see below
  • Autofocus mode (Single, full-time) - see below

The only manual control on the Coolpix S630 is for white balance. This lets you use a white or gray card as a reference, for accurate color in mixed or unusual lighting.

There are quite a few options in the continuous shooting menu that need to be mentioned. The regular continuous shooting mode is a bit of a joke. At the highest quality setting it takes two photos at 1.1 frames/second, then drops to 0.3 fps for the rest. At the normal 12 Megapixel setting, you'll get four photos at that same frame rate before the camera slows down. For faster shooting there is the sport continuous mode that I mentioned earlier, but it has issues of its own.

The Best Shot Selector is a classic Nikon feature. It takes up to ten photos in a row, and saves the sharpest one. Multi-shot 16 takes sixteen photos in a row (at 7.3 fps) and compiles them into a single 5 Megapixel collage. The last continuous shooting option is interval timer mode, perhaps better known as time-lapse. The camera will take a photo at the interval you selected (which ranges from 30 seconds to 10 minutes). You'll definitely want to use the AC adapter for interval shooting mode.

The camera offers three different Auto ISO modes. Regular Auto will boost the sensitivity as high as ISO 800, which isn't desirable. You can select from two fixed range Auto modes (64-200 and 64-400), which keep noisy from getting out of control. You can also set the ISO manually, though the two highest settings will be taken at the 3 Megapixel resolution.


The camera found four of the six faces here

Now let's move onto the AF area modes available on the S630. Auto mode selects from nine possible focus points automatically. Manual mode lets you select one of 99 possible focus points in the frame, which comes in handy when you're shooting on a tripod. There's also a center-point focus mode. And finally, as you'd expect, there's face detection. The Coolpix S630 can detect up to twelve faces in the frame, making sure that they're in focus and properly exposed. The S630 did a decent job with our test scene, finding four of the six faces without much effort.

The last thing to mention here are the two autofocus modes: single and full-time. The former locks the focus when you halfway-press the shutter release button. As its name implies, full-time AF is always focusing, even when you're not touching the shutter release. This can reduce focus times, but it's at the expense of battery life.

The Coolpix S630 has a setup menu as well. Here's what you'll find there:

  • Menus (Text, icons) - how the menus look
  • Welcome screen (None, Coolpix, select an image)
  • Date - set the date, time, and time zone
  • Monitor settings
    • Photo info (Show info, auto info, hide info, framing grid + auto info) - how settings are displayed on the LCD when taking pictures
    • Image review (on/off) - post-shot review
    • Brightness (1 - 5)
  • Date imprint (Off, date, date & time)
  • Vibration reduction (on/off) - you'll want to turn this off when the camera is on a tripod
  • Motion detection (Auto, off) - see below
  • AF-assist (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - always a good idea to keep this off
  • Sound settings
    • Button sound (on/off)
    • Shutter sound (on/off)
  • Auto off (30 sec, 1, 5, 30 mins)
  • Format memory / memory card
  • Language
  • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
  • Blink mode (on/off) - see below
  • Reset all
  • Firmware version

What's that motion detection option all about? If you have this on, and the ISO is set to "Auto", then the camera will increase the shutter speed if it detects that a subject is in motion. It goes without saying that it does this by boosting the ISO sensitivity, so keep in mind that this may reduce photo quality.

The blink mode feature will warn you if it detects that one of your subjects had their eye closed in a photo you took. This is different than the blink proof feature in Smile mode, where two photos are taken, and the one with open eyes is saved.

Enough menus -- let's talk about photo quality now.

The Coolpix S630 turned in pretty nice photo of our macro test subject, who recently had both of his "arms" glued back on. Colors look very good: the camera's custom white balance feature had no trouble with my studio lamps. The figurine is fairly sharp, as well. I did notice some weird noise, especially in the red channel. This isn't hard to miss: just look at the cloak.

To get as close as possible to your subject, you'll need to put the lens into its "macro sweet spot", which is near the wide end of the focal range. You'll know when that happens with the little "macro flower" on the LCD turns green. Once you're there, the camera can focus on objects just 2 cm away. If you're not in the sweet spot, the focus distance jumps to 60 cm.

The night shot turned out poorly, and here's why. Since there's no way to manually control the shutter speed, you have to use a scene mode and let the camera figure it out. Problem is, none of the scene modes brought in enough light. The only way I could do that was to crank the ISO up to 800, which results in the very soft and noisy photo that you see above. At least there wasn't any purple fringing! Bottom line: the S630 is not for long exposures.

Since I can't control the shutter speed and ISO at the same time, I was unable to perform the low light ISO test. Look for the studio ISO test in a bit.

There's very mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the Coolpix S630's 7X zoom lens. Corners didn't seem any softer than the rest of the image (more on that in a moment), and vignetting wasn't a problem.

The Coolpix S630 reduces redeye in your flash photos in two ways. First, it fires off several preflashes, which helps to shrink your subject's pupils. After the shot is taken, the camera analyzes the photo, looking for redeye. If it finds some, it removes it digitally. Unfortunately, neither of those methods seemed to work -- at least in my test photo. Do note that there's no way to remove redeye in playback mode, so you'll have to use software on your PC instead.

Now here's our studio ISO test. Since this is taken under controlled lighting conditions, it's comparable from camera to camera. Be sure to view the full size images (and not just the crops) when comparing noise levels! And with that, here we go:


ISO 64

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 3200

The ISO 64 and 100 shots are nearly identical, with just a slight hint of noise reduction artifacting. Noise starts to pick up a bit more at ISO 200, but this won't keep you from making midsize or large prints at that setting. There's more "speckled" noise at ISO 400, and color saturation goes downhill, as well. This is definitely as high as I'd take the Coolpix S630, since details start to get quite mushy at ISO 800 and above. And forget about the ISO 3200 and 6400 settings -- they're really only there to look good on the spec sheet.

I was disappointed with the Coolpix S630's photo quality. On the positive side, exposure and color were both very good in most situations. The problem lies in the details: photos are very soft, with substantial loss of detail due to heavy-handed noise reduction. You'll especially notice this in things like trees, grass, and the sky. None of this matters if you're making 4 x 6 inch prints, but if you're making larger prints or viewing them on your computer screen, you'll easily notice. You may also notice some highlight clipping and purple fringing in your photos. The bottom line here is that you can do better in terms of photo quality with other cameras.

Don't just take my word for it, though. Have a look at our photo gallery -- perhaps printing a few of the photos -- and then decide if the quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The Coolpix S630 has the standard Nikon movie mode (complete with A/V sync bug). You can record movies at 640 x 480 (30 frames/sec) with sound for up to 25 minutes. At this high quality setting, 15 minutes of video takes up about 1GB of space on your memory card.

Three other movie quality settings are available. If you want to keep the same resolution, you can drop the frame rate to 15 fps, though movies will appear choppy. You can also lower the resolution to 320 x 240, with your choice of 15 or 30 fps frame rates.

You cannot operate the zoom lens while you're recording a movie. As I mentioned earlier, the image stabilizer is not available either, probably because it's so noisy. An electronic VR system is available, though these digital effects are never as good as the real thing.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec. The movies have the same A/V sync problem that I've been complaining about for years, where the sound cuts out too early (Earth to Nikon: fix this).

Here's a train movie for you, taken at a different angle than normal:


Click to play movie (11.4 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The S630 has a fairly nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, voice captions, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last features lets you enlarge an image by as much as 10 times, and then scroll around. This comes in handy for checking for open eyes, proper focus, etc.

Images can be viewed one at a time. as thumbnails of various sizes, or via the calendar interface you see above. You can rotate, resize, and crop your photos, right on the camera.

Quick retouch D-Lighting

There are two ways to enhance your photos on the S630. The Quick Retouch option increases contrast and saturation, and you can adjust how much. D-Lighting (another classic Coolpix feature) brightens up shadows, though it's not adjustable, and a little over-the-top in my opinion.

The camera doesn't tell you much about your photos. Not even the shutter speed, aperture, or ISO. Boo! On a more positive note, the S630 does move through photos instantly.

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