2010 Budget Camera Shootout Review

Nikon Coolpix S3000

The Coolpix S3000 is the smallest and lightest camera in our test, and the only one that comes in lime green. The step-up model, the Coolpix S4000, offers a high resolution touchscreen LCD display for $50 more. I haven't been a fan of most Nikon point-and-shoot cameras, mainly due to mediocre image quality.


The S3000's bundle is run-of-the-mill for this class. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 12.0 effective Megapixel Coolpix S3000 digital camera
  • EN-EL10 lithium-ion battery
  • Charging AC adapter
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Nikon Software Suite CD-ROM
  • 24 page basic manual + full manual on CD-ROM

The Coolpix S3000 has the most memory of any of the cameras in this test. Even with 47MB worth of onboard memory, the camera still only holds 11 photos taken at the highest image quality setting. Thus, you'll still want to pick up an SD or SDHC card right away. As with all the cameras in this test, a 2GB card is fine, with no need to spend extra dollars on a high speed model.

The camera uses the EN-EL10 rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which allows the camera to take up to 220 shots on a single charge. That places the S3000 near the bottom of the pack in terms of battery life. Like a couple of other cameras in this comparison, you charge the battery while it's inside the camera, using an AC-to-USB adapter. It takes just over two hours to fully charge the battery. You can also charge it using your computer's USB port, or via an optional external charger.

Two of the three available accessories relate to power. You've got the MH-63 external battery charger (priced from $22), the EH-62D AC adapter ($22), and also a leather camera case (priced from $17).

Nikon's software suite comes in several parts:

  • Nikon Transfer: Used for transferring photos from the camera to your Mac or PC. It can also save photos to a backup location, or upload them to myPicturetown (Nikon's photo sharing service)
  • ViewNX: A basic photo organizing product with limited editing capabilities
  • Panorama Maker: combines several photos into a single panoramic image

This is becoming a familiar refrain as this comparison progresses: Nikon includes a basic printed manual in the box, which is just enough to get you up and running. For more details, you'll need to load up the full manual, which is on a CD-ROM disc. The quality of the manuals themselves are decent by consumer electronic standards. Documentation for the included software is installed right onto your computer's hard drive.

Look and Feel

The Coolpix S3000 is an ultra-thin camera made mostly of metal. Weak points should sound familiar by now: the door over the battery/memory card slot is flimsy (though not as bad as some), and the tripod mount is plastic. The control layout is pretty standard, though I wish the zoom controller was a bit larger. I did find that my thumb sat on top of a number of buttons, so be careful. The A/V + USB port is strangely located on the bottom of the camera, right next to the battery/memory compartment.

You'll find the S3000 in a whopping six colors: plum, black, blue, silver, green, and orange.

The Coolpix S3000 features an F3.2-5.9, 4X optical zoom lens. The focal length of the lens is 4.9 - 19.6 mm, which is equivalent to 27 - 108 mm. The S3000 does not have optical image stabilization, but it does have what Nikon calls Electronic Vibration Reduction (VR). Nikon doesn't really say how eVR works, other than to say images may be grainy when the feature is turned on. It's only available with both the flash and continuous shooting turned off.

To the upper-left of the lens is the S3000's built-in flash. This is one of the more powerful flashes in the group, with a working range of 0.5 - 4.5 m at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 2.4 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). You cannot attach an external flash to the Coolpix S3000.

Other items on the front include the camera's microphone (lower-right) and AF-assist/self-timer lamp (upper-right).

On the back of the camera you'll find a 2.7" LCD display with 230,000 pixels. The screen is sharp and fairly bright, with a nice refresh rate, but I found it very hard to see what was on the screen when viewing it from slightly above or below. Both outdoor and low light visibility were average in this group of budget cameras.

That button with the camera on it switches between the various shooting modes on the S3000. They include auto, scene, Smart Portrait, subject tracking, and movie mode. Here are descriptions of some of those:

  • Scene auto selector: chooses a scene mode for you
  • Panorama assist: helps you line up photos side-by-side, for later stitching into a single image
  • Smart portrait: combines face detection with skin softening, a "smile timer", and blink detection
  • Subject tracking: follows a moving subject as they move around the frame

The other buttons in the area are for entering playback mode, the menu system, or for deleting a photo. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, as well as for adjusting the flash, self-timer, exposure compensation, and macro setting.

The only things to see on the top of hte Coolpix S3000 are the power and shutter release buttons, as well as the zoom controller. As you can see, the zoom controller barely protrudes from the front of the camera, though I didn't have any trouble operating it. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.3 seconds. I counted a mere nine steps in the 4X zoom range.

Nothing to see on this side of of the S3000. The lens is at the wide-angle position here.

There's nothing on the other side of the camera, either. The lens is at full telephoto in this photo.

On the bottom of the Coolpix S3000 is a plastic tripod mount, the strangely placed USB + video out port, and the battery/memory card compartment. The door over this compartment is fairly flimsy, though not as bad as some of the other cameras in the group. You should be able to access the memory card while the camera is on a tripod.

The included EN-EL10 battery can be seen at right.


Shooting menu Help screen for one of the menu options

The S3000 has a nice feature set for a low-cost camera. Nearly all of the options are accessed with the Mode button, or via the menu system. The menu system is attractive and easy-to-navigate, though it seems a bit slow. You can get a help screen for any of the menu options by pressing the zoom controller.

Here are some of the notable options in the menu system:

  • Custom white balance: in addition to the usual presets, the S3000 also lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color in mixed lighting conditions
  • ISO sensitivity: the S3000 is somewhat unique in having a fixed range auto mode; you can select a range of 80-400 or 80-800
  • Color options: take a photo with vivid color, or switch to black and white, sepia, or cyanotype
  • AF area modes: the camera has a face priority mode, which can find up to 12 faces in a scene; the S3000 did just "okay" in our test, finding just 3 of the 6 faces in the scene; the manual AF area mode lets you select one of 99 areas in the scene on which to focus
  • Electronic VR: does some kind of digital trickery to reduce image blur caused by camera shake; no substitute for the real thing, though
  • Motion detection: boosts the ISO sensitivity to reduce image blur caused by subject movement; may result in noisy photos
  • Quick retouch: enhance both contrast and color saturation in playback mode, with three levels to choose from
  • D-Lighting: brighten dark areas of a photo in playback mode
  • Skin softening: remove blemishes from your people pictures

The Coolpix S3000 has a standard VGA movie mode. You can record videos at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with monaural sound until the file size hits 2GB, or 29 minutes have elapsed. At the VGA setting, you'll hit the file size limit first, in about 23 minutes. A lower resolution (320 x 240) option is also available.

You cannot use the optical zoom while recording a movie. The digital zoom is available, though it will degrade the quality of your video. For reducing blur, the electronic VR system is available. Finally, the S3000 can focus continuously while recording a movie, though this noise will be picked up by the microphone.

Here's a sample video for you. The Coolpix S3000's video quality is average.

Click to play movie (640 x 480, 30 frames/sec, 12.1 MB, AVI format)

Performance and Photo Quality

The Coolpix S3000 takes just 1.2 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting.

While the S3000 focused relatively quickly at wide-angle, things were a lot slower at the tele end of things. Wide-angle focus times ranged from 0.3 - 0.5 seconds, while telephoto delays hover around a full second. On several occasions, the S3000 couldn't lock focus at all at the telephoto end of the lens, and that was in good light. Low light focusing is just fair, with the flashing red square showing up fairly often. If the camera does succeed at locking focus in these situations, it's after a 1-2 second delay.

While shutter lag wasn't noticeable at fast shutter speeds, it's definitely present at slower speeds, in which case you might want to use the flash.

Shot-to-shot delays were minimal with the flash turned off, lasting just over a second. With the flash, you'll wait around three seconds before you can take another photo.

You can review and delete the last photo you took by pressing the -- get ready -- delete photo button.

The Coolpix S3000 has three different continuous shooting modes:

  • Standard continuous: takes an unlimited number of photos at 1 frame/second; the LCD keeps up fairly well with the action
  • Best Shot Selector: a classic Nikon feature which takes up to ten photos in a row, saving only the sharpest one
  • Multi-shot 16: takes sixteen photos in a row at 30 frames/second and combines them into a single 5 Megapixel collage

How does the Coolpix S3000 do in terms of photo quality? Let's take a look (and don't forget that you can compare the photos between all eight cameras later in this review).

The Coolpix S3000's rendition of our macro test shot is fairly good. The colors are nice and saturated, and the figurine is sharp. There is a little bit of noise reduction detail smudging here, but not enough to concern me. Macro mode on the S3000 works a bit differently than on the other cameras. In order to get to the minimum focus distance of 8 cm, you need to position the lens in its "sweet spot", which is near the 2X position. You know you're there because the little macro flower on the LCD turns green.

The two previous cameras illustrated how useful even some manual exposure control can be when it comes to low light photography. The S3000 doesn't have a feature like that, so you're at the mercy of the camera's scene modes. That means you have no control over white balance, exposure, or ISO sensitivity. As you can see, the S3000 did a poor job with our night scene. The photo is too dark, the color is off, and noise levels are elevated. The bottom line is that if you take photos like this, you're going to want another camera.

The Coolpix S3000 did not fare well in our flash test photo. As you can see, there's some serious redeye in the photo, despite having the flash set to "redeye reduction", which uses a digital removal system if it detects anything. If you end up with redeye in your photos, you'll have to fix it on your computer, since there's no removal tool in playback mode.

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the S3000's lens (check out this photo to see what that does to your real world photos). While there's some vignetting in the test chart, I didn't see much of it in my "regular" photos. Surprisingly, blurry corners weren't really an issue on the S3000.

It's test scene time! Below are crops taken at each of the sensitivities offered on the Coolpix S3000. Let's see how it performed:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

The first three crops look pretty clean, though they have a bit of a "fuzzy" appearance. You start to see some detail loss at ISO 400, but it won't keep you from making a midsize or perhaps larger print. While it's not going to win any awards, the Coolpix S3000 is still usable for small prints at ISO 800. On the other hand, the ISO 1600 and 3200 sensitivities should be avoided.

The S3000's real world image quality was good, though not best-in-class (due to -- you guessed it -- noise reduction). The camera's metering system did a good job with exposure, though you won't avoid the highlight clipping that comes along with compact cameras. Colors looked very good -- no complaints there. Image sharpness varies quite a bit. Some parts are nice and sharp, but fine details and low contrast areas suffer the effects of noise reduction -- namely, detail smudging and mottling. I think this photo is a great illustration of both of those problems. In terms of "noise", the S3000 performs better than average, as you saw in the previous test. Purple fringing levels were low.

You can examine the Coolpix S3000's real world photos for yourself by looking at its gallery.

Final Thoughts

The Nikon Coolpix S3000 is fairly average camera. It takes good quality photos (and does better than average at high sensitivity), has lots of point-and-shoot features, and comes in a slim, lightweight package. It's far from perfect, though: battery life is below average, redeye is a problem, the LCD's viewing angle is poor, and noise reduction is more aggressive than I would've liked (among other things). The S3000 is super-compact, with decent build quality -- save for its plastic tripod mount. The placement of the USB+A/V port on the bottom of the camera is a bit peculiar, as well. The S3000 features an F3.2-5.9, 4X optical zoom lens with a focal range of 27 - 108 mm. The camera does not have optical image stabilization, instead relying on Nikon's Electronic Vibration Reduction to reduce blur (though these things never work as well as the real thing). On the back of the camera is a 2.7" LCD display with average outdoor and low light visibility. I found the viewing angle of the LCD to be fairly poor -- it's hard to see unless you're looking right at it.

Though not a default setting, the camera offers a Scene Auto Selector mode, which does just as its name implies. There are plenty of other scene modes as well, plus a Smart Portrait mode which combines face, smile, and blink detection with the skin retouching feature that's all the rage this year. Manual controls are limited to white balance. You'll select all these options via a simple, easy-to-navigate (but sluggish) menu system, complete with help screens. There are both "Quick Retouch" and D-Lighting (shadow brightening) options in playback mode, but you can't remove redeye at that point. The S3000 has a standard VGA movie mode, with average video quality.

Camera performance is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the S3000 starts up in 1.2 seconds, and focuses quickly when the lens is at the wide-angle position. Both telephoto and low light focusing were slow, with the camera often giving up entirely. There was a bit of shutter lag at slow shutter speeds. The camera can shoot continuously at 1 frame/second until your memory card is full. Battery life was below average. Photo quality results were also mixed. Exposure and color are both pleasing, with the occasional highlight clipping that one expects on a compact camera. Sharpness is a mixed bag: some areas are fine, but fine details are smudged by noise reduction. The S3000 performs a bit better than average in terms of noise compared to the rest of the group, with ISO 800 being usable for small prints. The camera did not handle our night test photo very well, illustrating where some manual shutter speed control would've come in handy. Redeye was definitely a problem, even with the camera's digital removal system (which is supposed to get rid of it when a photo is taken).

While not the best camera in this group, the Coolpix S3000 is still worth considering.

Buy it Now