Nikon Coolpix S31 £99.99
15th Jul 2013 | 11:45
Rugged waterproof compact for the whole family
Aimed at the budget end of the family market, Nikon's Coolpix S31 is the successor to its 2012 Coolpix S30 compact camera. The sensor is still the same size, at 10.1 megapixels, and the 3x optical zoom hasn't been updated, but the Nikon S31 now comes with a rechargeable lithium ion battery versus the Nikon S30's AA batteries, which is a welcome upgrade.
The rugged Nikon S31 also has better waterproof abilities - being waterproof to a depth of 5 metres (16.4ft) and for an hour, as opposed to the Nikon S30's 3 metres (9.8ft).
Available in white, yellow, blue, pink or dark brown, the Nikon S31 is vibrant and unmissable. The body shape has had a little update from the Nikon S30, and is now a little more symmetrical, with some added curves.
Billed as waterproof and shockproof, the Nikon Coolpix S31 has a minimal amount of shooting options, offering a basic experience and easy to use interface.
Shockproof to 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) - meaning you can drop it without worrying that it'll damage the camera - the Nikon S31 is also dustproof, and freezeproof down to temperatures as low as -10C (14F).
It comes with an auto shooting mode and nine scene modes, which include macro, food, mirror and underwater options. You can also chose to decorate your photos with a number of frames, or change the colour of your photos prior to shooting using the options of brighter/darker and more vivid/less vivid.
Also included in the menu system is the ability to create selective colour shots using the Highlight Colours option, which gives a simple menu prompt that enables you to select a single colour to showcase, while leaving the rest of the shot in black and white.
One interesting feature is the Shoot at Intervals mode, which when activated can shoot a photo every 30 seconds, every minute or every five minutes, which is useful for capturing time lapse movies.
There are three flash options - auto flash, flash off or always fire - and three timer options - 10 seconds, smile timer or off.
The only other shooting options available to users are the pictures sizes. There are three picture shooting sizes for photos (10 megapixels, 4 megapixels or 2 megapixels) and two shooting sizes for video (720p HD or 640p). The video function also works while in underwater mode, which is a nice touch.
Everything else on the Nikon S31 is controlled by the camera, which makes it easy for inexperienced users to take photos without having to set up the scene first. The sensitivity range of the Nikon S31 is 80-1600, and is auto selected by the camera depending on the shooting circumstances. The minimum focusing distance of the 29-87mm equivalent lens starts from approximately 30cm.
There are a few fun options during playback, including an animated slideshow, which are likely to appeal to children. There are also a few in-camera editing options such as adding a toy filter or starburst effect. The modified photos are saved separately to the original images, so you can let your children play without worrying that you'll lose the photos you really want to keep unedited.
The Nikon Coolpix S31 has a full price of £99.99 / US$119.95 / AU$132, putting it at roughly the same price point as its closest rival, the Fujifilm XP50, which also offers a 5x optical zoom, as well as 14 megapixels.
The Nikon S31's next closest rival is the Canon Powershot D20, and although the price tag is markedly higher than the Coolpix S31's, you will find a few more shooting options available on the Canon, along with a slightly higher offering of 12 megapixels and 5x optical zoom, so it may be worth a look if you're looking for something more advanced.
It's also at the same price point as the Pentax Optio LS465, which offers a 5x optical zoom and 16 megapixel sensor.
Build quality and handling
Although a little too large to fit comfortably into a tight pocket, the Nikon S31 will still happily fit in a bag or coat pocket with room to spare. The lens doesn't retract fully back into the housing, making it difficult to slide in and out of a pair of jeans without catching.
The housing is made from a solid plastic and feels tough and durable - something you'd expect from a camera advertising itself as shockproof. Even with the battery inserted, the Nikon S31 isn't too heavy, and is comfortable to hold in one hand. The only issue with doing this is that the buttons to the left side of the screen then become completely inaccessible, but they are easy to reach when holding the camera two handed.
Both the screen and the lens are protected by a layer of hard plastic, so you don't have to worry about getting sand stuck in tiny crevices if you decide to take the Nikon S31 to the beach, which is something that Nikon has actively encouraged with the waterproof function.
Most of the buttons are situated on the back, framing the 2.7-inch LCD screen. The shutter release, power button and video record button can all be found on the top of the Nikon S31. They're all relatively easy to press, although people with larger hands may struggle a little with the small size of the power button, because it's situated next to the raised hood of the flash, making it tricky to press.
The flash sits in the centre above the lens, well out of the way of any thumbs or fingers holding the camera.
On the back of the camera there are four multi-function buttons to the right of the screen, and a four-way control pad and play button to the left. The zoom is unusually operated via the control pad, using the up and down functions. The left and right buttons are marked only with arrows, and are predominantly used only to navigate the menu system.
There are very few markings on the Nikon S31 to guide users, which some people may find a little disconcerting. However, once the menu is loaded, it is extremely easy to navigate. Seasoned compact camera users may find the Nikon S31 a little lacking in options, since it's very basic.
Overall the Nikon S31 is almost foolproof to operate, enabling every member of the family to grab and take a quick shot without being bogged down in menu structures or complicated options.
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Exposure capabilities of the Nikon S31 were a little hit and miss during testing, sometimes getting it spot on and at other times coming out a little dark for the scene.
The white balance and sensitivity are determined by the camera, but both appear to work well. There were no blue casts on any of the shots, and although there was a fair amount of noise on our low light shots, that's not unexpected from a camera of this spec.
The colour output of the Nikon S31 at times seems a little lacking - especially during landscape scenes where the metering perhaps struggled with the large expanse of sky - leaving some of our photos looking a little washed out and murky. When shooting in sunlight, however, the Nikon S31 was more than capable and produced a good range of bright, vibrant colours.
We were impressed while shooting in macro mode with the Nikon S31. Advertised as being able to focus from 5cm and above, we found it was able to pick up fine detail well.
Autofocus speeds leave a little to be desired, and the Nikon S31 was downright sluggish at times, especially in low light. We also found that the shot to shot time deteriorated during low light and when using the flash - ranging from anything from two to five seconds between each shot - making the Nikon S31 feel slow as it processed images.
Nikon suggests that a fully charged battery should be able to shoot 260 images - 130 of those with flash - before needing to be recharged. In reality we found that was a more cautious estimate, and we were able to take around 300-350 shots before needing to plug in to recharge.
Although not all of those were shot with flash, it's likely that you'll be able to get a decent number of photos from the Nikon S31's battery, but it might be worth investing in a spare one if you're likely to be having a photo-heavy day.
Optical zoom performance is satisfactory, but unsurprisingly photos taken with the digital zoom lost a lot of detail at the far end of the zoom reach. We'd recommend sticking to the optical zoom for best results.
We found the 2.7-inch LCD screen somewhat difficult to view in normal daylight, and a complete wash out in bright sunlight. Colours on the screen often appeared far more muted and overexposed than on a computer, which is something to bear in mind when reviewing your shots on the camera.
Also worth looking out for is the fact that when taking underwater photos, if you're not underwater with the camera when you're composing a shot it can be very difficult to see what's on the screen, which makes framing extremely tricky.
How to use your new digital camera
While we were satisfied with the overall performance of the Nikon S31, it's not likely to win any prizes for its output. If you're looking for a rugged camera that's capable of capturing your holiday snaps, then the Nikon S31 can certainly live up to that, although it was a little frustrating to shoot with because there are so few manual controls available to be able to tweak your settings if you're not happy with the outcome of a photo.
If you're looking for a little more input in your photos then the Fuji XP50 offers more control, enabling you to adjust various settings such as the white balance and exposure compensation.
It does, however, offer value for money, being one of only a few current waterproof cameras available for such a low price. The Nikon S31 is aimed squarely at the beginner market, so if you're looking for a first camera for a younger or older family member, this is a good place to start.
Using the camera underwater was a doddle, and produced surprisingly good results. We were also impressed by the durability of the casing and housing - dropping the camera on the floor felt dangerous but didn't damage the Nikon S31 or affect its ability to take photos.
We wanted the photos that the Nikon S31 took on land to be as good as the photos it takes underwater, but in reality we were often underwhelmed. Although the Nikon S31 is capable of taking well exposed photos with a little time and patience, we found an awful lot of our photos were a bit blurry, a bit under-exposed or lacking in vibrance.
Overall, the Nikon Coolpix S31 is a basic camera, for a basic price. Although the waterproof function works well, we can't help wishing the day to day shots had a bit more punch and brightness.
However, for a family camera that you'd be happy to leave in the hands of your little ones you can't really complain about the Nikon S31 - it's easy to hold, easy to use and will withstand all the knocks, bumps and drops you and your children could put it through.
The Nikon S31 produces well exposed images.
There are some lens flare issues when shooting in direct sunlight.
When shooting during the day colours are well represented.
However, some images are not as bright as expected, especially when shooting during cloudy weather.
There is some noise on light shots.
Taken at the wide angle zoom.
This shot was taken using the optical zoom.
Here we used the digital zoom - there is a large loss of detail.
Underwater shots are crisp and clear.
Macro mode does a good job of capturing fine details.
The Nikon S31 sometimes underexposes when shooting landscape scenes.
An example of the Diorama tilt-shift feature.
Underwater shots work best when focused on something fairly close - this sea shot has lost far away details.
Image quality and resolution test - full ISO 200 image. See the cropped (100%) version below.
ISO 200, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Sensitivity and noise image - full ISO 400 image. See the cropped (100%) version below.