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DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix S7c
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: January 30, 2007
Last Updated: March 29, 2008

The Coolpix S7c ($350) is the update to the Coolpix S6, which was one of Nikon's first cameras to support Wi-Fi. The S7c supports Wi-Fi too -- in fact, it's been enhanced over its predecessor. While before you could just transfer photos to your computer wirelessly, the S7c lets you e-mail photos right from your camera, from almost any Wi-Fi access point. It's even preset for T-Mobile Hotspots (usually found at Starbucks), so you can send some photos while sipping your double americano.

Other new features on the S7c include more pixels (7MP vs 6MP on the S6), a slightly different lens (in terms of maximum aperture), a more powerful flash, Electronic Vibration Reduction, and new high ISO options. What hasn't changed? The S7c still has a huge 3-inch LCD, fancy slideshow feature, and VGA movie mode.

Before we start the review, I have to knock Nikon for some rather questionable product labeling. If you're shopping for a camera and look at the S7c or its box, you might be mislead about its Vibration Reduction (image stabilization) capability. Have a look at this:


On the box: VR - Vibration reduction


"VR" is not only on the sticker, it's even on the camera itself. Nowhere does it say that it's electronic

So, according to the labels on both the camera and the box, the S7c has Vibration Reduction / image stabilization. And that's what I thought for a while, until I started using the camera. I noticed that there was only an "electronic VR" option available. After checking the manual (and confirming with Nikon), it turns out that VR on the S7c is nothing more than some post-shot sharpening. Pretty misleading if you ask me.

Okay, rant over. Read on to find out how the S7c performs in the crowded ultra-compact field!

What's in the Box?

The Coolpix S7c has an average 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. And, in one of those "what were they thinking?" moves, Nikon put less memory into the higher resolution Coolpix S7c than they did on the S6. That camera had 20MB, and the S7c has just 14MB. You can fit just four photos at the highest quality setting into that amount of memory, so consider a large memory card to be a required purchase. Since it's 7 Megapixel, I'd recommend getting at least a 512MB memory card for the S7c. The camera can use SD or MMC memory cards, and spending the extra bucks on a high speed card is worth it (no need to go overboard, though).

The Coolpix S7c uses the same EN-EL8 lithium-ion battery as its predecessor. With just 2.7 Wh of energy, you wouldn't expect stellar battery life numbers out of the camera. So what does it get?

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD430 ** 150 shots
Canon PowerShot SD630 *** 160 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z700 260 shots
Fuji FinePix V10 *** 170 shots
HP Photosmart R927 *** 165 shots
Kodak EasyShare One (6MP) **/*** 135 shots
Nikon Coolpix S6 **/*** 200 shots
Nikon Coolpix S7c **/*** 200 shots
Nikon Coolpix S9 190 shots
Olympus SP-700 *** 180 shots
Olympus Stylus 730 *** 190 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX50 *** 300 shots
Pentax Optio T20 *** 130 shots
Samsung Digimax NV3 * 200 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N2 *** 300 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T50 *** 400 shots

* Numbers not obtained using CIPA standard
** Has Wi-Fi
*** Has 3-inch LCD

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The S7c turns in battery life numbers which are about average. Of course, that's without using Wi-Fi, so expect much lower numbers if you use that feature frequently.

The usual reminders about proprietary batteries apply here. They're pretty expensive (though at around $23, 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 S7c, which is required for USB and A/V connectivity (a big negative in my opinion), 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 and dock do not support the USB 2.0 HIgh Speed standard, so transfers over the USB connection will be slow.

Like all ultra-compact cameras, the Coolpix S7c has a built-in lens cover so there's no lens cap to deal with.

There aren't too many accessories available for the S7c. The most interested one is the PD-10 wireless print adapter (priced from $50), which lets you send photos to any PictBridge-enabled printer using Wi-Fi. The only other accessories of note are an external battery charger (priced from $17) and leather camera case (around $40).

Nikon includes version 1.7 of their PictureProject software with the Coolpix S7c. 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'll use the included Wireless Camera Setup Utility to get the S7c's Wi-Fi feature going. You plug in the camera to your Mac or PC with the dock and USB cable and then run the program. You can enter your wireless network information, including SSID, type of network (ad-hoc or infrastructure), and security method (none, WEP, and WPA). The camera then sends that info to the camera. You can also choose a printer that's on your network for wireless printing, and you can set up the camera's address book as well (which is much) easier than dialing it in on the camera.

I'll tell you what you can do with the Wi-Fi feature later in the review.

The S7c's manual is thick and complete. It's not what I'd call pleasure reading (due to all the fine print), but it'll answer any question you might have about your camera. There's also a quick start guide included to get you up and running with the camera.

Look and Feel

On the outside, the Coolpix S7c is the "old" Coolpix S6 with a dark gray finish -- they look identical. That means that it's an ultra-compact made mostly of metal, with a stylish "wave" design. The camera is well put together.

I'm not a huge fan of the camera's ergonomics, though. Several of the camera's important buttons are tiny, and the four-way controller/command dial combo is awkward at first. There's not a whole lot of room for your thumb on the back of the camera, either.

Now here's how the S7c compares to the other ultra-compact cameras in its class.

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD430 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 7.4 cu in. 130 g
Canon PowerShot SD630 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.3 cu in. 145 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z700 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.2 cu in. 112 g
Fujifilm FinePix V10 3.3 x 2.5 x 0.9 in. 7.4 cu in. 156 g
HP Photosmart R967 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 9.1 cu in. 170 g
Kodak EasyShare One (6MP) 4.1 x 2.5 x 1.0 in. 10.3 cu in. 224 g
Nikon Coolpix S6 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.5 cu in. 140 g
Nikon Coolpix S7c 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.5 cu in. 140 g
Nikon Coolpix S9 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 7 cu in. 115 g
Olympus SP-700 3.8 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 8.4 cu in. 140 g
Olympus Stylus 730 3.8 x 2.4 x 0.8 in. 7.3 cu in. 130 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX50 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 9 cu in. 151 g
Pentax Optio T20 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.8 cu in. 135 g
Samsung NV3 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.7 in. 5.7 cu in. 142 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N2 3.8 x 2.4 x 0.9 in. 8.2 cu in. 151 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T50 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.9 cu in. 130 g

The first thing to note here is that the S6 and S7c have the same dimensions and weight. Otherwise, the S7c's numbers are right in the middle of the pack. It won't fit into an Altoids tin, but it will slip into any of your pockets with ease.

Okay, enough about that, let's move on to the camera tour now!

For whatever reason, the S7c's lens has slightly different specifications than the one on the Coolpix S6. Both lenses are 3X, 35 - 105 mm with the difference being the maximum aperture range. The "old" lens was F3.0 - F5.4, while the "new" one is F2.8 - F5.0. That's good news, since lower numbers mean more light hitting the sensor. This lens uses "folded optics" technology, which is why the camera is so thin. Basically light comes into the front lens element, hits a prism, and presumably heads left through the remaining elements, finally hitting the CCD.

As I mentioned at the start of the review, despite the "VR" label on the camera, the S7c has only a digital image sharpening feature that's applied after the shot is taken. More on this later.

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 S7c's flash. While the flash on the S6 was quite weak, the one on the S7c is a lot better, probably due to its more sensitive CCD. The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 7.5 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 4.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO), which are excellent numbers for an ultra-compact. You cannot attach an external flash to the Coolpix S7c.

The Coolpix S7c has the same "gi-normous" 3-inch LCD as the S6 before it. The display has 230,000 pixels, so everything's nice and sharp. Nikon likes to brag about the wide viewing angle of this LCD, and they're not joking: it's really good. Outdoor visibility is very good as well -- I had no trouble seeing what was on the screen in bright light. In dimly lit rooms the screen brightens automatically so you can still see what you're looking at (though the view will be grainy, naturally).

As you probably noticed, there's no optical viewfinder on the Coolpix S7c. Heck, there's not even any room for one (not to mention room for your thumb). Whether this is a bad thing is up to you. I can tell you that no other camera with an LCD this large has a viewfinder, though.


Virtual mode dial in record mode... ... and in playback 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 on the dial in record mode include:

Option Function
Auto mode For everyday shooting
High Sensitivity mode Boosts the ISO in order to get a sharper photo; see below
Scene mode You pick the situation and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close up, museum, fireworks show, copy, backlight, panorama assist; more below
Voice recording See below
Movie mode More on this later
Setup mode More on this later as well
Wireless functions Enters wireless transfer mode; see below

The virtual mode dial could be improved in two ways. Either put all the items into one dial (like a "real" mode dial), or add the wireless option to the playback dial. Right now it seems more confusing than it need be.

Scene menu Help for a scene

Like its predecessor, the Coolpix S7c is a point-and-shoot camera with no real manual exposure controls. You will, however, find numerous scene modes, including four "assist" modes that go way beyond your typical scene mode, offering framing guidelines and more.

One scene mode that's new to the S7c is a high sensitivity mode, which seems to be all the rage these days. This boosts the ISO as high as necessary (up to 1600) in order to get a blur-free photo. Boosting the ISO has big downside though, as the image quality markedly declines. Noise reduction really smudges details, making the resulting image look more like a watercolor painting than a photograph (example). I'd avoid this mode and just adjust the ISO manually, as needed.

The voice recording mode lets you record audio until you run out of memory or five hours has elapsed -- whichever comes first. There are two quality levels to choose from: regular and high.

Choosing a wireless network The wireless menu

When you turn the virtual mode dial to the Wireless position the camera will search for available networks. When that's done a list will be displayed, and you select a network. While non-encrypted networks work automatically with the camera, you will need to enter a WEP/WPA key if the network is secured. You can do this on the camera, but it's a much more pleasant experience if you use the software on your computer that I described earlier.

I had quite a bit of trouble with the wireless features on the Coolpix S7c, and I'm still trying to get a camera that works as promised. The first S7c that I received from Nikon had miserable wireless reception, but if it could connect to a network (which wasn't easy, believe me), everything worked. The second camera had great wireless reception, but it didn't work with T-Mobile Hotspots like it should (more on this below). I will be exchanging my camera for a third one hoping that it will work as advertised.

[Update 2/8/07: The T-Mobile issue turned out to be a problem with their network, and not the S7c. The problem has been resolved and this feature works as promised.]

Anyhow, once you've chosen a Wi-Fi network, you'll hit the main wireless menu:

The Coolpix Connect feature is the "big" new feature on the S7c. This lets you e-mail photos to friends and family using almost any Wi-Fi access point. It also works with all T-Mobile Hotspots in the US straight out of the box -- free of charge until Fall 2007. After that time you will need to subscribe to that service in order to use their network (it's about $5/month).

The graphics below illustrate how the Coolpix Connect feature works:


You can choose to look through all photos or just those taken on a certain date

Pick the photos that you want to send (you can't send movies)

Choose your recipient(s) or enter a new one

Finally, choose the size of the photos

After doing all that, the camera connects to the wireless network and sends the photos. The Coolpix Connect feature doesn't actually e-mail the photos directly to your recipient. Rather, they get an e-mail that looks something like this:

If your recipient wants to view larger versions of the photos then they'll need to click on the link in the e-mail, which takes you to a website:

On the website you can finally download the photos, or view them in a slideshow. You can send a thank-you note to the sender, or opt-out from future e-mails (I find this last one humorous).

The other wireless features are all about sending photos directly to your Mac or PC. The Shoot & Transfer feature sends a photo to your computer as soon as they are taken -- they go right into PictureProject. You can even insert photos into a slideshow that is already running, which I think is pretty cool.

Another thing you can do is view what's on the camera from your computer (wirelessly of course). You can pick the photos you want and then transfer them over to your computer. For those who are wondering: no, you can't take actually control the camera and take pictures from your computer.

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. While the dial portion works okay, the four-way controller part feels too stiff: you really have to press hard to make something happen. You'll use this controller for menu navigation, reviewing photos, and also for:


You'll see this often if you try to use eVR in playback mode

And that brings us to the electronic vibration reduction feature on the Coolpix S7c. This is not an optical system of any kind -- it's simply a sharpening filter that's run after the photo is taken. By default it comes on "as needed", which wasn't very often in my experience. You can also activate it on a photo in playback mode, but more often than not, the camera wouldn't let me do it -- even on photos that were obviously blurry.

There's also an anti-shake mode, which combines three of the S7c's features: eVR, high sensitivity mode, and Best Shot Selector (which I'll cover later).

On the top of the Coolpix S7c you'll see that wave design I was talking about earlier. You'll also see the speaker and microphone, several tiny buttons, and an absolutely terribly zoom controller.


The camera only found one or two faces

The gray 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. While Nikon was the first out of the gate with a face detection autofocus feature, it's definitely not the best one out there. Using my "test scene" the camera found two faces (at most), while most other cameras found five or six.

In playback mode this button activates Nikon's handy D-Lighting feature. This brightens up dark areas of your photos, and it works quite well. Here's an example:


Straight out of the camera


Same photo after applying D-Lighting

The catch (and there always is a catch) is that D-Lighting tends to increase the noise in your photos.

That tiny zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.7 seconds. I counted a measly seven steps in the S7c's 3X zoom range. You will also use the "zoom in" half of the controller for activating the in-camera help system. I'll tell you more about that later.

The only thing to see on this side of the Coolpix S7c is the Wi-Fi indicator. A blue light blinks as the camera is connecting to a network, and it remains on once connected.

Here's the other side of the S7c, taken at a high angle so you don't see my camera reflected in the mirrored panel.

On the bottom of the Coolpix S7c you'll find a plastic tripod mount, the dock connector, and the battery/memory card compartment. The dock connector is what mates the camera with the included camera dock or an optional IMAGELINK photo printer. You can also plug the AC adapter directly into this port.

The door that covers the battery / memory card slot is of decent quality. Do note that you cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The included EN-EL8 battery is shown at right.

Using the Nikon Coolpix S7c

Record Mode

If you have the quick startup feature turned on, you'll wait about 1.4 seconds for the Coolpix S7c to get ready for shooting. That's not bad at all.


No live histogram to be found

Focus performance varied greatly depending on the amount of light in the room. In decent lighting the S7c was quick to focus, taking between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds at wide-angle, and just a little longer at telephoto. Low light is where the camera falls short in big way: it has a terrible time focusing, even with its AF-assist lamp. This is NOT a good camera for those of you shooting in less-than-ideal lighting.

I did not find shutter lag to be much of a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.

Shot-to-shot times were about average, with a typical delay of two seconds between each shot (with the flash off, of course). If the electronic VR feature is on and thinks your photo needs sharpening, this will lock up the S7c for five additional seconds.

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

There are just a few image size and quality options available on the Coolpix S7c. They include:

Resolution Quality # images on 14MB built-in memory # images on 512MB SD card (optional)
7M
3072 x 2304
High 4 140
Normal 8 280
5M
2592 x 1944
Normal 11 380
3M
2048 x 1536
Normal 17 600
PC Screen
1024 x 768
Normal 59 2080
TV Screen
640 x 480
Normal 112 3980

See why you'll need to buy that memory card right away?

There's no support for the RAW or TIFF image formats on the Coolpix S7c, 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 S7c 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 only manual control on the S7c is for white balance. Using the preset option, you can shoot a white or gray card for accurate color even under the most unusual lighting. If you're only going to get one manual control, this is a good one to have.

With a high speed memory card, the camera can keep shooting continuously for quite a while. The frame rate of 1.3 frames/second isn't worth writing home about, though. The LCD has a brief blackout between shots, but it's not too bad.

The multi-shot 16 feature takes sixteen photos in a row and compiles them into a single collage-style image. The interval timer option lets you do time-lapse photography with your S7c. 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). Using the AC adapter is strongly recommended.

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, which you access with the virtual mode dial.

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

The Coolpix S7c did a pretty nice job with our macro test subject. The subject has a nice smooth look to it, with minimal noise. The only little complaint I have is that the red cloak is a little on the orange side. But overall, good results.

The S7c lets you get as close to your subject as 4 cm in macro mode. To do that you need to put the lens in its "sweet spot", which is right in the middle of the focal range.

The night shot didn't turn out terribly well. Why? The issue here is that since the S7c lacks any shutter speed controls, you have to let the camera figure out the details for you in one of the scene modes. Unfortunately it didn't use a slow enough shutter speed, and the selected ISO (400) makes things very noisy. If you take photos like this, it's best to pass on the S7c and find a camera with some kind of 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.

Unfortunately, the Coolpix S7c has all three "bad things" in our distortion test. You've got moderate barrel distortion, vignetting (dark corners), and blurry edges -- all of which are noticeable in real world photos. More on that in a sec.

The S7c 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, the camera couldn't get rid of it in my testing, which gives you results similar to those from other ultra-compact cameras.

Here's that ISO test I promised you a few paragraphs up. This test is performed 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

ISO 1600

The results are very nice at ISO 50 and 100, as you'd expect. We start to pick up a bit of noise at ISO 200, but its not enough to prevent you from making fairly large prints. Things get a bit worse at ISO 400, limiting you to smaller sized prints, but the S7c is competitive with other cameras in its class at this point. Things go downhill rapidly at ISO 800, with significant smudging from noise reduction, and let's not even talk about ISO 1600. These are for desperation only!

The Coolpix S7c has basically inherited the same image quality traits (both good and bad) from its predecessor, the Coolpix S6. That means you get well-exposed, colorful images, with low noise levels and minimal purple fringing. Unfortunately, that also means that you get significant blurring around the edges of the frame, noticeable vignetting, and an overall soft appearance to photos (this shot is a wonderful example of all three). The S7c's poor lens is really being pushed to the limits, and it shows. All ultra-compact cameras have some issues like this, but the S7c is definitely worse than average. These things won't matter too much if you're primarily making small prints, but large prints and on-screen viewing will show the negatives that I just mentioned.

As always, don't just take my words as gospel. Have a look at our photo gallery and decide for yourself if the S7c's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The Coolpix S7c 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 12 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.

For longer movies you can lower the resolution or the frame rate (or both). You can drop the resolution 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 are a few other interesting movie features worth a mention. The Pictmotion mode records up to a minute of video at 320 x 240 (15 fps), which Nikon says is perfect for the Pictmotion feature that I'll tell you about in a minute. The time-lapse movie mode works a lot like the interval shooting feature that I mentioned in the previous section, except that you get a VGA-sized silent movie instead of individual images. Finally, the S7c has a stop-motion movie mode, which lets you take a bunch of shots (up to 1800) and then assemble them into a silent VGA movie -- so if you want to make your own "Nightmare Before Christmas", here's your chance.

As is usually the case, you cannot use the optical zoom while recording your movie. You can, however, use up to 2X worth of digital zoom. The camera can focus before you start recording or continuously, though the noise from the latter may be picked up by the microphone. The electronic vibration feature can be used here as well.

Like other recent Nikon cameras that I've tested, there appears to be a audio/video sync issue in the movie mode. Check out our sample movie below to see what I mean.


Click to play movie (12.5 MB, 640 x 480, QuickTime format)
Can't view them? Download QuickTime
.

Playback Mode

The Coolpix S7c has a pretty nice 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. 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 S7c 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.

While the S7c supports in-camera resizing and cropping, I can't seem to find a way to rotate images. Both the D-Lighting and eVR features can be found here, and I described both of these earlier in the review.

There are two ways to navigate your photos by date. You can just pick the date in via a menu option, or you can bring up the calendar shown above.

A copy function lets you move photos from the internal memory to a memory card and vice versa. I also like how you can delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all of them,

Unfortunately the S7c 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 S7c tries to be the ultimate ultra-compact camera. Offering a 7.1 Megapixel CCD, 3X Nikkor lens, a huge 3-inch LCD, Wi-Fi, and the two gimmicks du jour (face detection and high sensitivity mode), it does just about everything. Unfortunately, it doesn't do them terribly well. The S7c is mediocre at best, especially with the tough competition out there. While the S7c has some nice features, there are better cameras out there for the money.

The Coolpix S7c looks almost identical to its predecessor, the S6. It has a graphite-colored metal body with a unique "wave design ". The camera has a conventional 3X zoom lens with a 35 - 105 mm focal range, though the folded optics design used here (and on many other cameras in this class) really hurts image quality -- but more on that later. The camera is fairly easy to hold, but the "micro buttons" on the top of it are just terrible. You can't miss the LCD on the S7c -- it's huge. Three inches in size and packing 230,000 pixels, the LCD is a sight to behold. It's sharp, and has a wide viewing angle. Visibility was good in both dimly lit rooms and bright outdoor light. As you might expect, there's no optical viewfinder on the camera. The S7c is one of the few non-Kodak cameras to have an IMAGELINK port on the bottom, which mates the camera to its dock and/or power cable. The dock is, unfortunately, required for USB or A/V output. To make matters worse, the S7c does not support the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol. The camera can also be used with Kodak's printer docks.

The S7c is chock full of point-and-shoot features. You've got your scene modes (including Nikon's trademark "assist modes"), Best Shot Selector, D-Lighting, and face detection. I wasn't terribly impressed with the face detection feature -- other cameras do it better. D-Lighting works as promised, though. If you read the intro to this review then you already know about the deceptive labeling on the camera. Despite what it says on the box and on the camera, the camera does not have "real" Vibration Reduction -- it's only a post-shot sharpening filter. This feature didn't impress me much anyway -- the camera chooses when it can be applied, and quite often it wouldn't let you use it when a photo needed it. If you like fancy slideshows, then you'll enjoy the Pictmotion feature, which supports transitions and background music. The camera also has a VGA movie mode that records at 30 frames/second, though it suffers from the same A/V sync issues that the Coolpix L5 and S10 did. The interval shooting and stop-motion features are a nice bonus.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest selling points for the Coolpix S7c is its Wi-Fi support. You can e-mail photos wirelessly from almost any Wi-Fi network, and the camera is able to connect to the thousands of T-Mobile Hotspot locations right out of the box. On your home network you can transfer photos and movies to your Mac or PC wirelessly -- even as you're shooting. The whole process (especially e-mailing) is on the clunky side, though. You can also print wirelessly, to either a printer attached to your computer or via the optional PD-10 wireless printer adapter. The Wi-Fi feature does put a pretty significant strain on the battery, so don't expect to get anywhere near the 200 shot per charge number if you use it frequently.

Camera performance was mixed. The S7c starts up in about 1.4 seconds, which is average. Focus times were snappy when the lighting was good, but in low light the camera really struggled, despite having an AF-assist lamp. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were average, except if the eVR feature is doing its thing (just do yourself a favor and turn that feature off). The camera's continuous shooting mode wasn't terribly exciting, shooting at about 1.3 frames/second. Battery life was average (with Wi-Fi turned off) for an ultra-compact.

Most people buy a camera for the quality of the photos it takes, and the S7c is a letdown in this area. On the positive side, it takes well-exposed photos with pleasing colors, low noise levels, and minimal purple fringing. The bad news the camera suffers from above average barrel distortion, significant blurring around the edges of the frame, and noticeable vignetting. These are the same issues that plagued the Coolpix S6 as well. It's disappointing to see a company like Nikon make a less-than-stellar lens like this. As with nearly all ultra-compacts, the S7c has a redeye problem, and its built-in removal tool did not help.

A few last critiques to slip in before I wrap things up. The camera has no manual controls (save for white balance), and the poor night shot is a direct result of that. And finally, I'm not a fan of the plastic tripod mount or the fact that you can't swap memory cards while the camera is on one.

At the end of the day, my job is to help people spend their hard-earned money wisely on a digital camera. While it has much to offer, the S7c falls short of the competition -- mostly due to sub-par photo quality -- but for plenty of other reasons as well. If you must have Wi-Fi then I suppose the camera is worth a look, but for just about everyone else I'd recommend looking at one of the other cameras listed below.

What I liked:

What I didn't care for:

If you must have Wi-Fi, then the Canon PowerShot SD430, Kodak EasyShare One (6MP), and Nikon Coolpix P3 are the only game in town. Otherwise you should also consider these cameras: the Canon PowerShot SD630, Casio Exilim EX-Z700, Fuji FinePix V10, HP Photosmart R967, Olympus SP-700 and Stylus 730, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX50, Pentax Optio T20, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N2 and DSC-T50.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix S7c and its competitors before you buy!

[Conclusion updated 2/8/07]

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our photo gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read more reviews of the S7c at Trusted Reviews 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 for technical support.

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