Nikon Coolpix S800c Review
Design & Features
Despite its Android underpinnings, the Coolpix S800c looks about the same as your typical compact ultra zoom. It's sleek, mostly metal, and generally well put-together. The only real weak spot is one I've complained about many times before, and that's the plastic door over the memory card / battery compartment. Given its touch interface, it shouldn't be surprising to hear the S800c is light on buttons. The back of the camera has the three standard Android buttons (back, home, and menu), though I wish they were back-lit. The top of the camera has the power and shutter release buttons, as well as the zoom controller. Everything else is handled on the camera's large OLED display.
|Images courtesy of Nikon USA|
The Coolpix S800c is available in matte black or glossy white.
The Coolpix S800c is indeed a compact camera, and one that'll travel in your pockets with ease. Here's how it compares to the same group of compact ultra zooms that I listed earlier:
The Coolpix S800c is pretty much straight down the middle in terms of both bulk and weight.
It's tour time! Since the S800c doesn't have much in the line of buttons, this will be quick.
If I'm not mistaken, the Coolpix S800c has the same lens as the more traditional Coolpix S6300. This F3.2-5.8, 10X optical zoom lens has a focal range of 4.5 - 45.0 mm, which is equivalent to 25 - 250 mm. That maximum aperture range isn't great (not very "fast", in photo terminology), but it's typical for this type of camera. The lens is not threaded, so conversion lenses and filters are not available.
The S800c has optical image stabilization of the lens-shift variety, which Nikon calls Vibration Reduction. This will reduce the risk of blurry photos, and it also smooths out your videos. There's a "hybrid" VR option available, which adds electronic shake reduction into the mix, though processing times will increase, and images will be noisier.
To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's built-in flash. Despite its small size, the flash packs a generous punch, with a working range of 0.5 - 5.6 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 3.1 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). As with all compact ultra zooms, an external flash is not supported.
Other items of note on the front of the camera include the stereo microphones, and the AF-assist lamp. While I'm not 100% sure, I believe that the panel next to the flash is the GPS antenna.
It's pretty much "all screen" on the back of the Coolpix S800c. This 3.5" touchscreen OLED display has 819,000 pixels, so everything is super-sharp. OLED displays also offer more vibrant colors and better viewing angles than their LCD counterparts. One thing that's less impressive is outdoor visibility -- LCDs typically do that better. Low light viewing could've been better.
The only other thing to see in this view of the camera are the three standard Android buttons: back, home, and menu. I wish these were 1) centered, 2) spaced further apart, and 3) back-lit. They do the job, though.
The only things to see here are the power and shutter release buttons, as well as the zoom controller. If you quickly press the power button, the camera will enter standby mode, which will allow you to wake up the S800c without having to boot up Android. Once the standby time has expired (it's an hour by default), the camera will shut off. You can shut it off yourself by holding down the power button.
The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.4 seconds. I counted eighteen steps in the S800c's 10X zoom range.
Nothing to see here! The lens is at the wide-angle position here.
On the right side of the camera you'll find mini-HDMI and USB output ports. HDMI is the only way in which you can connect the camera to a television -- composite video is not supported.
The lens is in the full telephoto position here.
On the bottom of the S800c you'll find a metal tripod mount (not seen here) and the battery/memory card compartment. The plastic door over this compartment is very flimsy.
The included EN-EL12 battery can be seen at right.
Sorry about the quality of the screenshots -- they're photos of the display, rather than the usual frame grabs
Before I start talking about the "camera" parts of the Coolpix S800c I want to go over what makes it unique: Android. For the tech geeks out there, here are some quick specs:
- The processor is a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 design, though the manufacturer is unknown
- The camera has 512MB of memory (plus 4GB of storage)
- As mentioned earlier, the camera has a 3.5" capacitative touchscreen OLED display with 819,000 pixels
- The S800c runs Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread), which is a little "stale" in 2012
- Wireless protocols include 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1
The Samsung Galaxy Camera's specs are considerably more impressive, but it also costs a lot more.
You can turn on the camera in two different ways. If you press the power button, the lens will extend instantly and you can start taking photos a second later. The camera is in a sort of "dumb mode" for about thirty seconds, while the Android OS boots up. The only thing you can do during this time is take a few photos. You can't review them, enter the menu system, or jump over to Android. You'll know that the camera is fully booted when the icons on the screen change colors. If you want to go straight to Android, you can also turn on the camera by holding down the Home button.
The camera goes into "standby mode" after being idle for a few minutes (or when you press the power button). In this mode you can quickly go back to shooting, without having to wait for Android to boot up.
|Looks like any other Android homescreen, aside from the playback/movie buttons on the right side (with the app drawer in the middle)||Apps like Instagram work just fine, though photos are limited to 8 Megapixel|
The main Android screen should look very familiar to anyone who has used an Android-based smartphone. You've got your grid of icons that can be spread across multiple home screens. You can install pretty much any Android app that you desire, whether it's Facebook, Instagram, Google Maps, or Angry Birds Star Wars. Certain apps, such as Chrome, will not work, probably due to the old version of Android being used. The S800c's dual-core processor made things pretty snappy. Well, except for gaming, which is a little sluggish.
The screen isn't terribly large (especially coming from the monster screen on my phone), which makes typing a challenge (you might want to try installing SwiftKey). Also, unlike most phones, the S800c does not have haptic feedback, so you can't "feel" when you type.
Using the camera in Android is the same as it is on a smartphone. One caveat, though: while the Coolpix S800c is a 16 Megapixel camera, apps can only capture 8 Megapixel images. Sharing photos is a snap (no pun intended): you can do it from Nikon's playback app, or the standard Gallery app.
The Smartphone side of the application used to pull photos off of the camera over Wi-Fi
Another way to share photos is to tether your camera with your Android-based smartphone. First, you'll need to download Connect to S800c for Android or iOS. Once that's done, you'll need to pair the two devices, which takes about a minute. After that you just start the app on each end, wait for the connection to be established, and you're set. The Connect to S800c really does just one thing: let you download photos from the camera to your phone or tablet. It can't control the camera in any other way (a remote shutter would've been great).
There were two issues I ran into related to Android (aside from the aforementioned poor battery life). The first is that Wi-Fi reception is poor and sometimes unreliable. The camera often couldn't find Wi-Fi networks that I had no problems with on my other devices. On several occasions the camera couldn't obtain an IP address, and I could replicate that on multiple networks. The final issue was that the camera often lost the connection to the Wi-Fi network when it went into standby mode (which Nikon said they fixed in a firmware update). Toggling Wi-Fi off and on usually resolved that issue for me.
The camera says this is photo 3 out of 114, which is far from the truth
The other problem was related to image playback. When using Nikon's playback app, photos that I had just taken were not shown. If I went into the standard Android gallery app they were visible, and rebooting the camera often brought them back into the Nikon app. Another issue was how photos were organized. The photo above is number 3 out of 114, when in reality it was one of the most recent photos I took (and should be like 110). A few times the order of photos was totally messed up, for no apparent reason.
While I like the idea of having Android in a camera, I think Nikon still has some bugs to work out on the Coolpix S800c.
This is what you'll see when composing photos on the camera. While a composition grid is available, a histogram is not.
So that brings us to the camera side of the Coolpix S800c. Despite its relatively high price and fancy operating system, the S800c is actually quite stripped when it comes to camera features. Yes, it has face/smile/face detection, HDR, and a panorama mode, but if you're after Nikon's Active D-Lighting feature or manual exposure controls, look elsewhere. In the screenshot above you can see what's available while shooting: exposure compensation, macro mode, self-timer, and flash. For everything else, you'll have to press the menu button (see below for details on that).
The S800c's version of a mode dial
If you tap the green box on the lower-right corner of the composition screen you'll see the menu shown above. The options here include:
- Easy Auto: point-and-shoot with automatic scene selection; some menu options locked up
- Auto: still automatic, minus the scene selection; all menu options available
- Scene: choose from portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach, snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, food, fireworks, black & white copy, backlighting, easy panorama, and pet portrait
- Special effects: select from soft, nostalgic sepia, high-contrast monochrome, high key, and low key
- Smart Portrait: the camera detects faces and takes pictures when someone smiles; blink detection and skin softening features are also available
- Movie mode: record Full HD video with stereo sound; more on this later
Two scene modes that I want to quickly mention are backlighting and easy panorama. Backlighting uses the HDR technique to improve overall image contrast. The camera takes two photos (HDR typically involves 3 or more photos), each at a different exposure. These photos are combined into one, with better shadow and highlight detail than you'd get otherwise. Here's a quick example:
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
While the first thing you may notice is that things get a bit darker inside, the real changes can be found just aside the windows. Notice how the clipped highlights on the van and the street disappear in the HDR image -- nice. The S800c shoots its HDR sequence quickly, so you probably won't need a tripod. It does take several seconds for the image to be processed, though.
The easy panorama feature lets you create 180 or 360 degree images simply by panning the camera from one side to the other. Here's a 180 degree panorama for you:
The S800c stitched things together pretty nicely. Unfortunately, the quality isn't great and the resolution is relatively low. Easy panorama will work for web viewing, but not much else.
The rest of the camera options can be found in the shooting menu, which is where you'll set the image size, touch functionality (the camera supports touch focus and shutter, naturally), ISO sensitivity, burst mode, and white balance. The only manual control on the camera is for white balance -- a "preset" option lets you use a white or gray card to get accurate color in unusual lighting.
From the shooting menu you can also access the setup menu. Here are the items of interest there:
- Vibration Reduction: choose from standard or hybrid image stabilization, or turn it off entirely; do note that hybrid VR may reduce image quality
- Shutdown timer: how long the camera waits before turning off while it's in standby mode (the choices are 1 - 12 hours, or off); when the camera shuts off, all unsaved data is lost
- Blink warning: the camera will display a warning screen if one of your subjects had their eyes closed when a photo is taken
- GPS options: as I've mentioned, the S800c has a built-in GPS, which records the longitude and latitude of where a photo was taken; these options let you turn the GPS on and off, set the clock, or read assisted GPS (A-GPS) from a memory card (you download this data from Nikon's website)
The GPS feature worked pretty well. Once turned on, it took about 30 seconds for the camera to figure out where I was (in a fairly open area). Initial versions of the S800c had a rather nasty bug that put the wrong location data into photos, but that's been rectified by firmware updates. The one thing that baffled me was that the camera doesn't actually display the location when you view an image in playback mode. You'd think with the power of Android at their disposal, Nikon could display a map, or at least the coordinates!
Now let's talk about movies. The S800c records Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames/second with stereo sound. You can keeping recording until the file size reaches 4GB, or the time elapsed reaches 29 minutes -- whichever comes first. At either of the two 1080p settings (high or normal, recorded at 14 and 12 Mbps, respectively), you'll hit the time limit first. You can also record at 1280 x 720 or 640 x 480, both at 30 frames/second. Do note that since there's no dedicated movie recording button on the camera, you must switch into that mode if you want to take videos.
The optical zoom lens can be used while you're recording a movie, and the lens moves slowly so the motor noise isn't picked up by the microphone. Continuous (full-time) autofocus is available, so your subject will stay sharp as they move around the frame. You can use the VR (image stabilization) function, as well.
As you might've guessed, there are no manual controls in movie mode on the Coolpix S800c. The only real option is a wind filter, which comes in handy when recording movies outdoors.
The S800c can also record movies at frame rates other than the standard 30 fps. Choose from 15 fps (at 1080p), 60 fps (at 720p), 120 fps (at 640 x 480), or 240 fps (at 320 x 240). Movies taken at 15 fps will appear to move twice as quickly when played at normal speed, while the opposite is true when the frame rate is 60, 120, or 240 fps.
Here's a sample for you, taken at the highest quality setting. For the record, the wind filter was turned off.
The video quality is decent, though the camera seemed to struggle a bit with the fast motion. Videos with slower-moving subjects looked good.
The Coolpix S800c has the standard Nikon playback mode (more-or-less). The interesting features here include:
- Quick Retouch: enhances contrast and saturation, with three levels to choose from
- D-Lighting: brighten dark areas in a photo
- Filter effects: apply digital filters, such as vivid color, selective color, cross screen, and miniature effect to photos you've taken
- Skin softening: remove blemishes and wrinkles from people pictures
- Image sharing: press the button with the two arrows (shown below) and you can send your photos to just about any destination (depends on what apps you have installed)
Two things you won't find: redeye reduction and movie editing. That said, since the images and videos are stored in the Android file system, third party apps can be used to add features like those, and much more.
Note the icons on the right for Wi-Fi and sharing
As you'd expect on a device like this, you can swipe from photo to photo, without delay. You can also pinch to zoom in, and use your finger to move the image around. If you want to see thumbnails, reverse the pinch-to-zoom gesture.
The Coolpix S800c tells you absolutely nothing about the photos you've taken. You'll have to find another app to do that, or just use your PC. As I mentioned earlier, the S800c can get a little weird with photo organization at times.