Nikon Coolpix S6400 £199.99
24th Dec 2012 | 17:15
Stylish touchscreen compact packs in features
On paper, the Nikon Coolpix S6400 would appear to have just about everything you want from a digital compact camera of its class. With a 12x optical zoom, 3-inch 460,000-dot touchscreen, 16 megapixel backlit CMOS sensor, Full HD video recording, a host of direct controls, 20 scene modes, small, lightweight body and a modest price tag, what more could you ask for from a compact camera?
Good image quality. That, of course, is what it comes down to. It's easy for manufacturers to cram cameras with scene modes and even more advanced functionality that trickles down from the DSLR ranges. But can its sensor and AF and metering systems work in harmony to produce images you'll be happy with?
Along with the features mentioned above, the Nikon Coolpix S6400 offers an Intelligent Control AF System in which the camera analyses your subject and determines the best focus method.
It also has a Lens Shift vibration reduction system, 7fps continuous shooting, 10cm minimum focusing distance and an ISO range of 125 to 3200. The Nikon Coolpix S6400 spec list also includes 3D shooting, as well as 180- and 360-degree panorama modes.
All of that in a blue, purple, red, silver or black body. Overall, the Nikon Coolpix S6400's key improvements over its predecessor, the Nikon Coolpix S6300, include its 3-inch LCD display (vs 2.7-inch on the S6300), 460,000-dot resolution screen (vs 230,000 dots) and 12x zoom (vs 10x).
The Nikon Coolpix S6400 also weighs slightly less than the S6300 - 150g (5.3oz) rather than 160g (5.6 oz) - and has a faster aperture of f/3.1-6.2 instead of f/3.2-6.4.
The Nikon Coolpix S6400 has a full retail price of £199.99/AU$290/US$249.95.
Build and handling
Nikon has certainly emphasised style in its current crop of Coolpix cameras, and the Nikon S6400 is no exception. Slim and sleek, its rounded magnesium alloy body suggests quality construction, and the camera feels strong and robust. It's quite simply very nice to look at.
The button layout is decidedly minimalist. On top of the camera you'll find the power and shutter buttons, with a zoom toggle surrounding the latter. Directly below the shutter button - at the top of the back of the camera - is a one-touch movie record button. In the bottom-right corner of the LCD screen are the Scene and playback buttons.
The Coolpix S6400 slides comfortably into your back pocket, whether you're wearing combat trousers or skinny jeans, making it very portable and a great take-anywhere candidate.
A tripod mount on the bottom of the camera is handy for longer exposures, and it's worth noting that the doors to the memory card/battery compartment on the bottom and the HDMI/AV port on the top-right side of the camera both feel strong and secure, unlike other cameras we've seen in this class.
The Nikon Coolpix S6400 springs to life in less than two seconds, and is ready to start taking pictures.
Most of your activity will be conducted via the Scene menu button. This takes you to the main hub where you have four options: Auto Mode, Scene Selection, Special Effects and Smart Portrait.
The scene modes are what you'd expect, and within the Special effects menu you can choose from Soft Focus, Sepia, High Contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key, Pop, Super Vivid, two Toy Camera effects, Cross Process and Selective Color.
Shooting in Auto Mode, the first thing we noticed is the Nikon Coolpix S6400's excellent colour reproduction. Colours were strong and accurate, especially the sky. The Nikon S6400 handles skies very well, producing rich blues even when shot against dark foreground interest.
Within Auto Mode you can press the Menu button on the side of your touchscreen, which brings you into the main hub for making adjustments to controls such as ISO, white balance, image mode and AF, as well as enabling touch shooting and setting a range of different movie options.
You can also enable a Quick Effects option, which delivers a Yes or No pop-up every time you take a picture, asking if you would like to apply one of the 19 different filter effects to your image.
Selecting 'yes' elicits a visual menu of thumbnails of your image displaying each different effect. Simply press the one you want (they're what you'd expect - toy camera, mono, cross-process and the like) and the Nikon Coolpix S6400 will process your original image and a second file with the effect applied.
It's a great extra feature, and being able to record both versions of the image is a nice touch, should you change your mind later when viewing images on the computer.
However, unless you plan to use Quick Effects after most of your shots, waiting for the pop-up menu to appear, then declining and waiting to be able to shoot again (you can't circumvent this by pressing the shutter) gets a bit tedious.
The Nikon Coolpix S6400 produces realistic colours when using its Auto White Balance, and we tried it in everything from bright sun to low, mixed lighting.
All the white balance options were pretty accurate, with a slight exception being the Incandescent and Fluorescent settings, which give a slightly warmer, orange-ish colour cast to images.
Noise is also well controlled. Images shot at the lower end of the ISO scale were flawless, and only at around ISO 800 did we notice some smudging of fine details when viewed at 100%. Images at ISO 3200 were visibly noisy, but certainly not unusable.
The metering system seems to have a slight bias towards highlights, which helps produce those strong, rich colours, but the flip side of this is you also get strong shadows in high-contrast scenes.
The AF option - Center or Target-finding AF - might seem limited on paper compared to some other compact cameras in this class, but we found it flawless. The Target finding AF option never let us down in tests, and picked out the elements we wanted in focus.
Only in Macro mode does the AF seem a bit unreliable and unable to focus on the subject.
It should be said, too, that the bright, 3-inch touchscreen LCD is a delight to use. Simple menus and buttons enable you to work quickly. The screen is easy to see even in bright sunlight, and it might be one of the better touchscreens we've used on a compact camera.
We did have a few small niggles, though - the first being battery power. The camera's predecessor, the Nikon Coolpix S6300, managed 230 shots from a charged batter, but the S6400 can shoot just 160. We found this to be about accurate. We had to charge the battery after a mere afternoon of shooting.
It could also be easier to delete images. The Nikon Coolpix S01, for instance, has a nice feature in playback mode where you can simply press and hold down on one of your images and the trash icon will pop up asking if you'd like to delete the image.
No such thing here. To delete images, you have to go into playback mode, then press the Menu button within playback, then press the Delete button, then choose whether to delete the current image, all images, or to make a selection. It's a bit cumbersome.
Lastly, let's look at the video recording. The Nikon Coolpix S6400 offers a number of handy features for filmmakers, such as a wind noise reduction option and a Record Pause function that enables you to pause filming and then continue later with the same video file.
You also have full use of the 12x zoom while filming. Together, these features offered a lot of flexibility in our tests, and videos were fun and easy to make. The quality was also superb.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon S6400, 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 125 the Nikon S6400 is capable of resolving up to around 22 (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, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 125, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
The signal to noise ratio in JPEG images from the Nikon S6400 is lower than in images from the Nikon S6300 and Panasonic FS45 throughout the entire sensitivity range. It starts off worse than the Sony W690, too, before overtaking it at ISO 800 and above.
JPEG dynamic range
The Nikon S6400 performs better in terms of dynamic range, this time showing stronger results than thePanasonic FS45 throughout the entire sensitivity range, and beating the Sony W690 from ISO 800 and above. The Nikon S6300 still has a greater dynamic range, however.
Using the digital zoom
Taken with art filters
Backlighting mode off
Backlighting mode on
With Selective Color engaged
Selective Color again
Taken with the Soft Focus special effect
Toy Camera effect
At the telephoto end of the zoom
The same image, at the wide end of the zoom range
Sensitivity and noise images
Full ISO 125 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
For £199.99/AU$290/US$249.95 the Nikon Coolpix S6400 is around the top of its price bracket for this type of camera, but then it's hard to find many bad things to say about it.
The Nikon S6400 does a number of things pretty well and offers a lot of flexibility from its wide range of creative filters to its responsive touchscreen, accurate AF system on down to the all-important thing: image quality.
The touchscreen is really fantastic to use. Swiping through images in playback mode is wildly preferable to furiously clicking a button, and by the end of the day we were using touch shooting exclusively. The range of filter effects added to the fun. In short, we like the Nikon S6400's options.
Some of the menu systems could use a rethink, though. Particularly the method for deleting photos, which requires several unnecessary steps. And our biggest complaint would have to be the compact camera's short battery life. You'll need a second battery if you plan to shoot for more than an afternoon.
The Nikon Coolpix S6400 is one of the more expensive compact cameras of its class on the market, but its speed, image quality and range of options help justify its position.
If you're looking for a fun, carry-everywhere camera, whether that's for a beach holiday or a children's birthday party, the Nikon Coolpix S6400 won't let you down. Just make sure you have a spare battery.