Nikon Coolpix S8100 £236
18th Feb 2011 | 09:26
The 12.1Mp S8100 is a good looking compact camera with a back-lit CMOS sensor that should keep image noise down
Nikon Coolpix S8100: Overview
Although it's not stuffed to overflowing with technology, the Nikon Coolpix S8100 has all the essentials, plus a few features that help you get decent shots in tricky situations, notably in low light and fast action situations.
It is in many respects very similar to the Coolpix S8000, but the S8100 has a back-lit CMOS sensor with 12.1MP in place of the S8000's 14MP CCD sensor. The benefit of the back-lit sensor (and the drop in pixel count) is that the images should have less noise.
Like the S8000, the S8100 has a lens with an equivalent focal length of 30-300mm, not quite as wide as some might like, but a usefully long telephoto optic at the opposite end of the zoom range. Camera shake is an issue with long lenses and low light, but the S8100 has both optical vibration reduction and electronic vibration reduction (VR) to help counter the problem.
In addition, the S8100's Motion Detection technology enables the camera to detect camera shake and subject movement, and automatically increase the speed and ISO sensitivity to reduce blurring.
As with most modern compact cameras, the Coolpix S8100 doesn't have a viewfinder, but its 3-inch LCD screen has 921,000 dots just like Nikon's DSLRs, plus a wide viewing angle and an anti-glare coating.
Automatic shooting modes are the order of the day and the S8100 has a total of 16 scene modes, plus a Scene Auto Selector mode in which the camera is claimed to automatically identify the scene and adjusts the settings accordingly. Exposure control is limited to exposure compensation to ±2EV.
In Night Portrait mode, the camera automatically combines a sequence of images, with and without flash, to produce a correctly exposed portrait against a natural looking background. Similarly, in Backlit mode the camera merges a series of consecutively shot images to produce a single high dynamic range (HDR) picture. Meanwhile in Night Landscape mode, the S8100 takes a sequence of 5 shots with a fast shutter speed and combines them into one single, sharp image.
Thanks to its CMOS sensor and EXPEED C2 processing engine the S8100 is capable of shooting up to five full resolution images at up to 10fps. And helpfully for those occasions when the decisive moment happens more quickly than expected, up to two images can be recorded before the shutter release is fully depressed. If 10fps isn't fast enough, the S8100 can also record at 120fps at a resolution of 1 million pixels (1280x960) in its Sports Continuous mode.
No camera is complete without full HD video capability these days and the S8100 is no exception, it has a dedicated button to activate recording and a built-in stereo mic.
Nikon Coolpix S8100: Build quality and handling
Sitting at the top of Nikon's Coolpix S (for Style) series, the S8100 is certainly a good-looking, stylish camera that is small enough to slip in a jacket pocket. It also feels well built, has a reassuring weight to it and is comfortable to use either one or two handed.
The controls are also responsive and its nice to have the option to use button pressed or the scroll wheel to navigate the menus and make selections.
The first few times that raised the S8100 to turn on and take a shot I mistook the bright red spot on the video activation button (which works whatever shooting mode is selected) for a light and thought that the camera had powered up accidentally. After a little use I got used to it though.
With a fairly limited number of controls, you might expect the S8100's menus to be lengthy, but they are mercifully short and easy to navigate. In fact, the camera as a whole is very easy to get to grips with. The only feature that eluded me for a while was the option to create black and white images in-camera.
After a few moments, I discovered that this is accessed via the exposure compensation control on the back of the camera. In fully automatic mode or continuous shooting mode, pressing this button provides access to three creative controls; a hue, saturation and exposure compensation slider. Setting the saturation to its lowest point results in monochrome images.
I found the S8100's LCD screen provides a clear view of the scene being composed in most conditions apart from bright sunshine, when reflections become an issue – though the S8100 is not alone in this.
You can expect to be taking images within around 2 sec with the S8100 as it starts-up pretty smartly. In reasonable light it also manages to focus pretty quickly and there's no discernable shutter lag. As is often the case with compact camera AF systems, the S8100 focus slows down a little in low light. It also isn't really fast enough to use with moving subjects, even in Subject tracking mode.
All things considered, however, the Coolpix S8100 is a very nicely camera to shoot with.
Nikon Coolpix S8100: Performance
Even at the highest selectable sensitivity setting, ISO 3200, chroma noise isn't a major issue in images from the S8100, but the impact of its removal is clear when images are viewed at 100% on the computer screen. Details are soft and images have a painterly texture, while areas of even toned shadow have a slight mottling of colour. There's a significant improvement when stepping down from ISO 1600 to ISO 800.
When sized for making prints, high sensitivity images from the Coolpix S8100 lack some of the sharp detail of lower resolution images, and there is sometimes discolouration of the shadows, but on the whole the results are good. It's best to keep prints below A4 in size, but in some cases A3 prints are possible.
Images taken at the lower sensitivity settings can make A3 prints to be proud of and the level of detail is remarkably high. Generally, the images of real world scenes are better than the shots of our resolution chart might suggest is possible.
The S8100's image combining Night Portrait mode can produce very pleasant low light shots and is ideal for dinner parties and the like, but its essential that the subject and camera remain still (though hand-holding is fine) in order to avoid ghosting. It's an idea to warn the subject that three flashes are required to make the single final image, because otherwise they tend to assume its all over after the first or second burst of light and move off.
Images form the Coolpix S8100 are bright and vivid, without being excessively saturated. The camera's auto white balance system doesn't remove the whole colour cast associated with some lighting conditions, so it does a good job of preserving the atmosphere of a wide range of situations.
On a frosty, but sunny morning the shade areas of images taken with the auto white balance option selected look a little too blue, while in contrast those taken using the daylight setting look a bit warmer than I remember the scene. Both sets of images can be quickly and easily adjusted to taste using an image editing software package.
There is a choice of evaluative and centre-weighted metering available on the S8100, but I found there few occasions when I needed to move away from the general purpose evaluative option. It coped well with most situations I encountered during this test and only needed any adjustment of the exposure via the compensation facility on a few occasions.
Nikon Coolpix S8100: Resolution
As part of our tests of the Nikon Coolpix S8100, we shot our resolution chart across the camera's sensitivty range
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 160 the S8100 is capable of resolving up to 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files. Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 160: 20 (Click here for full-res image)
ISO 200: 20 (Click here for full-res image)
ISO 400: 20 (Click here for full-res image)
ISO 800: 18 (Click here for full-res image)
ISO 1600: 18 (Click here for full-res image)
ISO 3200: 16 (Click here for full-res image)
Nikon Coolpix S8100: Image quality
ISO 160 (Click here for full-res version)
ISO 200 (Click here for full-res version)
ISO 400 (Click here for full-res version)
ISO 800 (Click here for full-res version)
ISO 1600 (Click here for full-res version)
ISO 3200 (Click here for full-res version)
At 5.4mm (equivalent to 30mm in 35mm format) (Click here for full-res version)
At 54mm (equivalent to 300mm in 35mm format) (Click here for full-res version)
Plenty of detail in this shot taken at ISO 160 (Click here for full-res version)
ISO 3200 (Click here for full-res version)
ISO 160 using the macro focus facility (Click here for full-res version)
Nikon Coolpix S8100: Our conclusion
Nikon's Coolpix S8100 is a great little camera that's perfect for slipping into a pocket ready for taking any snapshots that present themselves. In good light outdoors it can also be relied upon to take images that can be turned in to very decent A3 prints, so you won't regret not taking your DSLR on a long hike or bike ride.
It would be fantastic if Nikon could produce a similar sized camera with greater exposure control via aperture and shutter priority options (or even manual exposure mode) for advanced users.
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