DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix S51
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The Nikon Coolpix S51 ($229) is an ultra-compact camera with a 3X optical zoom lens, image stabilization, large 3-inch LCD display, an easy-to-use interface, and more. Its sibling, the S51c, adds built-in wireless connectivity for $50 more.
The Coolpix S51 finds itself amongst some tough competition in the ultra-compact arena. How does it perform? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The Coolpix S51 has an average bundle. Inside the box you'll find:
Like most compact cameras these days, the Coolpix S51 has built-in memory in lieu of a bundled memory card. The S51 has just 13MB of onboard memory, which holds a paltry 3 photos at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to buy a memory card right away, and I'd recommend picking up a 1GB card to start with. While buying a high speed card is never a bad idea, there's no need to go overboard with the S51.
The S51 uses the very slim EN-EL8 lithium-ion battery for power. This battery packs just 2.7 Wh of energy into its plastic shell, which is about as low as you'll find these days. Here's how that translates into battery life:
As you can see, the Coolpix S51 turns in the worst numbers of the bunch. If there was ever a camera where you want to buy a spare battery, this is it. Do note that like all the cameras on the list, the proprietary battery used by the S51 is on the expensive side ($20 a pop). Also, you can't use off-the-shelf batteries in emergencies, as you could on a camera that uses AAs. That said, you won't find any ultra-slim cameras that use AAs.
When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. The charger doesn't plug directly into the wall -- you must use a power cable. You can expect to wait around two hours for the EN-EL8 to be fully charged.
As is the case with all ultra-compact cameras, the Coolpix S51 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no clunky lens cap to worry about.
The Coolpix S51 is one of a very small group of non-Kodak cameras to support ImageLink devices. The only ImageLink device you'll probably ever see is one of Kodak's printer docks. Just be sure to attach the included adapter to the device before you put the camera on it!
The S51 is pretty light in the accessory department. In fact, the only real accessory is the EH-64 AC adapter, which is priced from $20.
Nikon Transfer in Mac OS X
Nikon doesn't include a whole lot in the way of software with the Coolpix S51. The main application is Nikon Transfer, which you can use to transfer images from the camera to your computer. Nikon Transfer gives you a thumbnail view of the photos on the camera, and there are various ways to sort through them. Once you've picked your photos, just hit "Start Transfer" and away it goes. The software not only copies the photos to the destination of your choice, but it also lets you select a second (backup) location for them. Mac users running OS X 10.5 (Leopard) should download the latest version of the software, as the one included with the camera barely runs.
And that's about all that Nikon Transfer does! If you're running Windows, you can install Kodak's EasyShare software (detailed here), which is (strangely) included on the CD. Mac users don't get that luxury, so you'll have to find something else. You can also download Nikon's ViewNX image editor for Mac and Windows at no charge (why it isn't included is beyond me). You can learn more about it by checking out the software section of my D300 review.
Panorama Maker 4.0 in Mac OS X
The only other software included with the Coolpix S51 is the latest version of ArcSoft's Panorama Maker. This lets you take photos that you've lined up side-by-side (using the camera's panorama assist feature helps with this) and stitch them together into one giant panorama. It takes very little work on your part, and the results can be impressive.
The documentation for the Coolpix S51 is divided into two parts. You'll get a fold-out quick start guide to get you up and running, plus a detailed manual for when you need more information. While not spectacular, the manuals are a little more user-friendly than most (though I could do without all the "notes" on each page).
Look and Feel
The Coolpix S51 is an ultra-compact camera made mostly of metal. The camera feels pretty solid for the most part, save for the plastic door over the memory card/battery compartment. I'm never a fan of plastic tripod mounts, either.
From an ergonomic standpoint, the S51 leaves something to be desired. The buttons on the back of the camera are tiny, there's not a lot of real estate for your fingers, and the raised power button (right next to the shutter release) is too easy to bump accidentally. The camera is also a magnet for fingerprints, with its large screen and mirrored side panels. Oh, and watch your hands -- your left one to be specific -- as it can easily end up in your photos if you're not careful.
The Coolpix S51 comes in a multitude of colors, though I think some may be exclusive to specific retailers. Colors I found include black (reviewed here), red, blue, magenta, and brown.
Now, let's take a look at how the S51 compares to the competition in terms of size and weight: