Nikon Coolpix S01 £149.99
18th Dec 2012 | 10:28
A very small, simple camera to take anywhere
The compact camera market is in a state of flux at the moment, thanks to declining sales and the rise of high-spec smartphone cameras that can take photos of equal or even better quality. As such, the big camera manufacturers are pulling out all the stops in trying to find the next big trend to save the market, with Wi-Fi and app-toting cameras now hitting the shelves.
With the Nikon Coolpix S01, Nikon has one-upped the smartphones' boasts of being the ultimate take-anywhere camera.
In a body not much longer than a credit card and about as wide as a padded envelope, the Nikon S01 offers 10 megapixel resolution and 3x optical zoom, weighing only 96g/3.4oz.
Are these the most impressive specs you've seen in a compact camera? No, not by a long shot. But Nikon Coolpix S01 is all about size and portability, the convenience of having a point-and-shoot on you at all times without feeling like you're carrying a camera.
But while its size affords great versatility, the ultimate question is whether its limitation of 7.3GB of internal memory (the Nikon Coolpix S01 doesn't accept memory cards) and internal battery (good for about 190 shots) end up restricting that flexibility.
Build quality and handling
Like a prehistoric stone tool, the Nikon Coolpix S01 is pretty simple in its design. There's a playback button, shutter button and zoom toggle on top and a 2.5-inch LCD on the back. And that's it!
The central nervous system of the Nikon Coolpix S01 is the home screen, which is accessed by a small house-shaped icon on the 230,000-dot LCD screen (you can't miss it; it's the only icon there). Within this menu are Shooting, Play, Movie and Set Up options in the first frame.
But this is slightly confusing. One would think pressing the Shooting tab would bring you to your record options, but instead it takes you straight to record mode.
To set the camera's shooting options, scroll down within this main Home menu and you'll find options to set the self-timer, flash mode, special effects (sepia, high contrast monochrome and high- and low-key), exposure compensation, image size and Touch Shooting.
To make things more confusing, pressing the Play tab - as you'd expect - takes you to a slideshow of your images, which you can scroll through either by swiping your finger or by pressing a small left or right arrow at the edges of your image on display.
To access your other playback mode options you have to again press the Home icon, and once you're back in the familiar home menu, scroll down to find your playback mode options - Delete, Favorites, Filter Effects, Slide Show and Print Order - where your record mode options were previously.
And the same principle applies for setting your Movie and Set Up options. It took us a few rounds to remember this, but essentially you must press the Home button, select your activity, jump into that mode, then press the Home button again to go back and make your settings, then press your activity (such as Shooting, Movie) again to finally get started.
It all seems a bit cumbersome for a camera with such a minimalist design and spec sheet, which is aimed at people who want a small point-and-shoot handy for taking photos quickly.
That said, the build quality is fantastic. The glossy, stainless steel body feels durable, while looking chic and modern.
It does seem an oversight not to include a tripod mount, since you might occasionally want to secure the Coolpix S01 to a Gorillapod, but for a simple camera that lacks even a choice of metering modes, we're not about to complain.
The Nikon Coolpix S01 springs to life and can start taking pictures in just under two seconds. The LCD screen - through which nearly everything you do, including firing the shutter, is conducted - works surprisingly well in bright sunlight and was very responsive to the touch.
The Nikon Coolpix S01 doesn't give you the option to choose your AF mode when shooting stills (in Movie mode you can choose between Single AF and Full Time AF).
Instead, the Nikon Coolpix S01 interprets the scene and uses either of its Multi-Area or Contrast Detection AF mode options. The AF is mostly reliable, but for more creative focusing, enable Touch Shooting via the home menu.
With Touch turned on, frame your subject and press where you want the camera to focus. The Nikon Coolpix S01 will then adjust its focus on that point and take the picture.
The camera's scene modes include Back Light, Close Up, Landscape, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Portrait and Scene Auto Selector. You can't choose these scene modes for yourself - the camera makes this judgement call. But to be fair, the Nikon Coolpix S01 is pretty accurate.
Only on a few occasions when a face was slightly obscured did it fail to recognise a portrait, for instance.
We mentioned there are no metering options on the Nikon Coolpix S01, but it handles exposures pretty well. We tested it in a number of different light conditions, and the Nikon Coolpix S01 provided a nice balance of shadow and highlight detail.
The camera has no dynamic range assistance setting, like many compact cameras these days, but we found a pleasing amount of detail in areas where we didn't expect to find any.
Colours are also strong and accurate. Blue skies are blue, even with dark buildings in the foreground. Strong red elements in the frame don't spoil the colour cast of the subjects around it.
There is no white balance adjustment setting, either, but by and large the Nikon Coolpix S01's auto white balance produces pleasing skin tones and accurate whites.
One function the camera does offer is exposure compensation, +/- 2 EV in 2/3 EV steps, which did prove useful when shooting still life images beneath the canopy of a large oak tree, and shooting into the light.
There's also no ISO control on the Nikon Coolpix S01, which did prove a little frustrating. Shooting in low(ish) lighting, your options are to use the camera's built-in flash, which can be a bit harsh and produce reddish skin tones.
Or if you've turned off your Auto Flash you have to do your best to stabilise the camera (remember that missing tripod mount?) and most likely you'll get a picture with a lot of noise and blur from camera shake.
What's more, even in bright conditions, when the Nikon Coolpix S01 shoots at its base ISO 80, images still show considerable smudging of colours and fine detail when viewed at 100%.
Does this matter for your ultra-compact, take-anywhere camera? Perhaps not, but it's worth noting.
The 3x zoom (29-87mm equivalent) was rather frustrating, too. It reminded us of an airline chair. You can extend it for flexibility, but not enough to be useful to you.
Now, not everyone needs a superzoom, but we found little discernible difference between the wide and long ends of the zoom so we just kept the camera at its widest setting, treating it as a prime lens and moving closer to the subject.
The f/3.3 aperture at the wide end did give a significant advantage over the f/5.9 at the long end of the focal range.
The Nikon S01's Movie mode was actually a pleasure to use. The 720p HD standard at 30fps is perfectly adequate for a camera of this class, and delivers sharp, clear videos with strong colours.
Using the zoom (the only time the 3x zoom proved useful, actually) and the option of AF-S or AF-F gives you a little more control over the recording process.
In some respects, the Nikon Coolpix S01 is a refreshing change: it's a compact camera that doesn't inundate you with features and options you'll use once in a blue moon. It is what it is, a very simple point-and-shoot, and you can use it to capture those moments you might not normally record due to not having a camera on you at the time.
The Nikon Coolpix S01's size enables you to tuck it into a back pocket, a visor, even a sock while running, giving you the versatility to be able to shoot anywhere, any time.
It's often said that the best camera is the one you have on you, and with the Coolpix S01, Nikon is aiming to wrest that title back from the now ubiquitous smartphone.
But is that a winnable battle? And will a small but limited camera with no potential to expand its capabilities with smartphone-like apps still meet your needs in the medium to long term?
Portability is one thing, but almost anyone who takes pictures wants a little bit of control. White Balance, for instance. And ISO. And Autofocus!
We achieved nice, strong colours straight from the camera in our sample images, and very good dynamic range results. The Nikon Coolpix S01 is also a pocket camera in every sense of the word
The Nikon Coolpix S01 lacks some basic controls such as white balance and ISO settings, which may put you off. Images from the camera are noisy even in bright conditions, and the focal range is too limited.
The Nikon Coolpix S01 is certainly stylish, and its size makes it extremely portable - a pocket camera even when you don't have any pockets.
There's something refreshing about having a basic point-and-shoot camera, a simple creative tool that enables you to focus solely on composition and capturing the moment. Such is the strength of the iPhone and other smartphone cameras.
So while we're willing to overlook the lack of certain commonly used controls, we just can't overlook image quality. The Nikon Coolpix S01's tiny 1/3-inch type sensor didn't produce reliably sharp and noise-free images in our tests, and at this price point we'd probably opt for a smartphone as our carry-anywhere point-and-shoot.