Nikon Coolpix S1200pj £399
12th Dec 2011 | 16:22
Nikon's new 14.1MP projector camera features iPhone & iPad compatibility
Nikon released the world's first digital camera with a built-in projector in September 2009. The Coolpix S1000pj offered an easy, retro-tuned way to share photos and video clips with your nearest and dearest, although the tech came at a cost. Its original £399 price tag and uninspiring performance dulled its potential appeal.
Nikon has shown faith in this niche market though, and 2011 sees the launch of the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj, Nikon's third compact camera to feature an incorporated projector. The £399 price remains the same, but the tech has developed a little.
The headline improvements that this new Nikon compact brings to the Coolpix projector range are a brighter, higher contrast projected image and compatibility with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Using an additional dock connector cable, you can project pictures and movies stored on your Apple device or stream content from YouTube onto your living room wall - all in 640 x 480 VGA-o-vision.
On paper, a comparison between the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj and last year's Coolpix S1100pj projector camera upgrade throws up plenty of like-for-like specifications. As with its predecessor, the S1200pj offers a 14.1MP 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor, a 5-25mm 5x optical zoom lens (giving a 35mm equivalent focal length of 28-140mm) and 30fps 720p HD video shooting. Fairly standard stuff, then.
However, the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj projector gets a 6 lumens improvement in brightness, taking it up to a level of 20 lumens. To put that loosely in context, the iPhone 4's LED is estimated at around 10 lumens (close to the original Coolpix S1000pj's output). This brightness boost means that the projected image can be seen in conditions where there's some ambient light. Not a brightly lit room by any means, though.
You'll still need your lights turned down romantically low - preferably off - if you want to place the camera 3 metres from a surface and get a watchable top-end display size of 60 inches (the Nikon Coolpix S1100pj maxed out at 47 inches).
Other slight Coolpix S1200pj functionality enhancements include a nudge in internal memory (approximately 94MB, the equivalent to 14 shots) for those desperate moments when your card fills up - and a new pet portrait scene mode.
Build quality and handling
The most significant change you'll notice with the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj comes in the handling. It's a few grams heavier than the Nikon Coolpix S1100pj, and the classiest Coolpix projector camera so far, thanks to its metal front plate and clean-edged design.
This time round, the projector is easily accessed via a simple vertical sliding cover on the front of the camera.
There's been a significant upgrade to the control set on the back of the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj, too. The S1100pj's fiddly touchscreen has been ditched, and instead you get a familiar four-way controller for changing common settings such as flash and exposure compensation, plus dedicated movie recording, scene mode and menu buttons.
The 5x zoom is still enclosed within the camera body, and although the maximum 140mm telephoto might leave you wanting occasionally, it offers a decent everyday reach. The maximum aperture of f/5.8 at full zoom is a little underwhelming, though. Despite Nikon's four "anti blur" measures built into the Coolpix S1200pj - Hybrid VR (lens-shift and electronic stabilisation), Best Shot Selector, and High ISO - we'd take a 1-stop increase in aperture any day.
As promised, the enhanced Digital Light Processing (DLP) projector makes stills and video clips more vibrant on the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj than on previous versions. The built-in speaker is predictably tinny, and the battery's only rated for up to one hour in projector mode - typical for a battery-powered pocket projector - so don't expect to kick back and enjoy Avatar any time soon.
However, once the lamp warms up, images are bright, colours are decent and contrast levels are well maintained. The projected image starts to appear dull and 'thin' once you move five or so feet from the surface you're projecting onto, but the picture's much livelier close-up.
How does it fare as a camera? Operationally, it's fine when treated as a point-and-shoot. The move away from a touchscreen is a welcome one - we've yet to see this implemented effectively in a Nikon compact - but there's still little in the way of manual controls. Changing ISO, white balance, flash settings and adding exposure compensation is about the sum of it. Even then, only the latter is available in all auto modes. There's also relatively little shooting information presented during playback as well, which can be problematic when trying to judge exposures.
The options are equally as limited when shooting movies with the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, because the results are pretty good without the need for manual intervention.
Full-time autofocus (AF) is offered, and in decent light there are only slight dropouts in focus as you zoom. Single AF is recommended for quieter filming locations, since the stereo microphones can pick up clicking and whirring sounds from the S1200pj's autofocus system and capture them on video (the focus motor is noisy, even when shooting stills).
The zoom is smooth, but tends to drift beyond the point where you stop adjusting the zoom ring - you'll need to bear this in mind when you're framing start and stop points.
Sensitivity runs from ISO 80-6400. There's also an Auto ISO setting and a two-tier Fixed Range Auto option, where you can restrict the camera to choosing from either ISO 80-200 or ISO 80-400. The reason that ISO 200 tops out the former setting becomes clear when you start analysing results at 100%. As you'd expect, ISO 80 and 100 offer sharply defined images. At even ISO 200, noise and softening is noticeable, and at ISO 400 edges deteriorate, textures start to look processed and fine detail becomes lost.
Image quality and resolution
The Nikon Coolpix S1200pj shows average results for signal to noise ratio across the sensitivity scale, comparable to other compact cameras that include a similar 14 megapixel 1/2.3-in sensor. Dynamic range results also show that the S1200pj is capable of capturing a good amount of shadow and highlight detail up to ISO 1600.
Both signal to noise ratio and dynamic range results show that while the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj compares well with other compact cameras with a similar specification you are paying a hefty premium for the addition of the projector.
As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here to read the full article.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 80, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 100, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: n/a (see full image)
ISO 6400, score: n/a (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using the DXO software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
Signal to noise ratio
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
JPEG images from the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj are a little below those from the Nikon Coolpix S4150, Samsung ST95, up to around ISO 400 where it takes a step up and is slightly better than the Canon PowerShot A3200.
This chart indicates that the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj's JPEGs just have the edge over the Samsung ST95 from ISO 200 and show a good, but not outstanding dynamic range performance throughout the sensitivity range. Its performance is consistently better than that of the Nikon Coolpix S4150.
For a full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests, please click here to read the full article.
DETAIL: The Nikon Coolpix S1200pj's 5-20mm lens is capable of resolving a respectable level of detail, but to make the most of it you need to stick to the two lowest ISO settings of 80 and 100. Even a moderate increase to ISO 200 brings a noticeable drop in definition.
FILTER: As well as choosing one of the six different effects that can be applied in Special Effects shooting mode, the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj enables you to apply a digital filter or creative effect to pictures you've already taken. Here's an example of the Soft filter.
RETOUCH: The Quick Retouch option enables you to create copies of pictures in which contrast and saturation are automatically adjusted. In the original shot, taken at ISO 400, the car was oversaturated. Quick Retouch has brought it down to a more acceptable level, as well as opening up detail in the tyres and road.
D-LIGHTING: There is some occasional purple fringing along high-contrast edges, but for the most part it's well controlled. To rectify some underexposure in this shot, we applied in-camera D-Lighting to open up the shadows a little.
COLOUR:Macro mode enables you to focus on subjects that are only 3cm from the front of the lens, enabling you to achieve frame-filling results with small details. Colour is accurate, even at higher ISO settings, with Auto White Balance proving reliable.
LANDSCAPE: The wider end of the Nikkor zoom captures a 28mm equivalent view, which is useful for landscapes and group portraits. The lens rapidly zips through its full range with a tweak of the zoom ring, although achieving precise and subtle adjustments is more frustrating.
WELL EXPOSED: The Nikon Coolpix S1200pj's dynamic range is good up to ISO 1600. Pictures are generally well exposed, and compensation can be applied from -2 to +2 in 1/3 stop increments. The rear monitor changes brightness to give you real time feedback as you do so.
WIDE ANGLE: Nikon Coolpix S1200pj at 5mm (28mm equivalent).
TELEPHOTO: Nikon Coolpix S1200pj at 25mm (140mm equivalent).
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 80 image. See the cropped (zoomed to 100%) versions below.
The Nikon Coolpix S1200pj takes the practicality of a projector camera a step further, and the usefulness and entertainment value that comes with the built-in projector shouldn't be underestimated. Kids love it, as do the big kids in the TechRadar office.
However, it's an expensive compact camera for the level of underlying specification you're getting. Similar features and performance can be found for less - even in Nikon's own range. Take the Nikon Coolpix S4150, for instance. This 14MP compact camera also boasts a 5x zoom and 720p movie shooting, but will only set you back around £140. Our bench tests show that, while the pictures it produces don't have the same level of dynamic range as those from the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj, the overall quality of the images is on a par.
The projector is fun, and the camera's easy to use. Nikon's automatic shooting modes, including Smart Portrait, make it a simple process to take generally pleasing pictures.
Although focus is sprightly, shot-to-shot times are lacklustre. The short battery life (220 shots) and five hour battery charging time means you'll probably want to factor in the cost of an additional battery, too.
If you want a posh point-and-shoot and projector package, your options are somewhat limited. The Nikon Coolpix S1200pj's launch price is £349-£399, and you're paying a premium for its all-in-one convenience. Alternatively, you could spend in the region of £150 for a 20 lumens pico projector and shop around for a well-specced, sub-£200 compact instead.