Nikon Coolpix S8200 £279
15th Oct 2011 | 11:06
Quick, compact and bursting with beginner-friendly features
The latest addition to Nikon's elegant Style range of compact cameras seeks to combine form and function, marrying a chic design with a glut of high-end features; all in an easy-to-use, compact package.
Each camera comes with its own unique traits that set them apart and cater for different types of photographers. Headlining the Nikon Coolpix S8200's feature set is a 16MP back-illuminated sensor, 14x optical zoom lens with Vibration Reduction (VR) and a Full HD movie recording mode, complete with stereo sound. These make it a versatile alternative to the rest of the travel zoom compacts on the market, albeit without the GPS functionality that's offered by some pricier rivals.
Rather than sporting a completely overhauled feature set, the Nikon Coolpix S8200 offers just a few upgrades over its predecessor, notably the higher-resolution CMOS sensor (16MP compared to the S8100's 12.1MP), bigger focal range (14x zoom compared to 10x) and a wider starting focal length of 25mm, offering more versatility than the S8100's 30mm equivalent wide setting.
The 3-inch dimensions of the LCD display we saw on the older model remains the same on the Nikon Coolpix S8200. However, the resolution has been upped a little from 921,000 to 961,000-dots.
With an equivalent focal range of 25-350mm (on a 35mm camera), the Nikon Coolpix S8200 is ideally suited to photographers who like to shoot anything and everything, with its relatively compact dimensions making it a tempting option for avid globetrotters in need of a lightweight travel-friendly alternative to a bulkier camera system.
Build quality and handling
If you're familiar with the design of the Nikon Coolpix S8100, then you'll quickly realise that Nikon's made no move to mess with its tried-and-tested formula when sculpting the S8200. With near-identical dimensions, the new model is the spitting image of its predecessor, save for tipping the scales at a bulkier 213g, compared to the S8100's 180g weight.
The top panel houses a small power button that illuminates green on powering up the camera, along with a zoom-lever-encircled shutter release and a mode dial - all of which are colour-coded to match that of the body.
You can choose from sedate silver or black, as well as a more distinctive white or - as with our review camera - a vibrant cherry red version if you're a bit more of an extrovert.
The centre of the top panel features the compact camera's stereo microphones, and on the far left you'll find the diminutive built-in pop-up flash, which sits flush to the body when not in use.
The front panel is clad in a soft-touch finish that makes the Nikon Coolpix S8200 feel very tactile, as well as improving grip.
The chunkier-than-average dimensions - although arguably still pretty compact for a camera with such a big zoom lens - coupled with a raised colour-coordinated strip on the front panel further enhance the grip.
These features, when added to the weight of the Nikon Coolpix S8200, lend a robust, well-balanced feel to the camera, and make it easier to hold steady when shooting at the telephoto end of its expansive focal range in particular.
Around the back, the 3-inch 961,000-dot LCD screen is clear and bright, featuring a wide viewing angle from all sides, plus a decent anti-reflective coating. All of this adds up to a particularly versatile screen that suffers from only minimal glare in all but the brightest of lighting conditions.
The controls are set out to the right of the LCD, with a relatively large dedicated movie button positioned right next to the textured rear thumb grip, for easy access. The four-way D-pad is well-proportioned and features a rotating wheel design, enabling you to scroll through options and images at speed. The textured surface of this wheel makes it easy to locate and turn with your thumb.
The four directional keys can be depressed for more precise navigation through menus, while they also offer time-saving shortcuts to frequently-used settings comprising flash, exposure compensation, macro AF and self-timer.
Chunky buttons surround the D-pad, calling up the Nikon Coolpix S8200's playback, main menu and delete options respectively.
Underneath, there's an off-centre metal tripod mount and the lockable spring-loaded door that protects the battery and memory card slots.
With a clear, logical menu system that's very easy to navigate, and well-placed, sensibly-sized controls, the Nikon Coolpix S8200 is both simple and speedy to operate: it's easy to start shooting with straight out of the box.
Generally, we're very impressed with the quality of the images this versatile camera can produce. With such a wide focal range on the Nikon Coolpix S8200, you get the barrel and pincushion distortion at the wide and telephoto ends that you'd expect. There's also evidence of chromatic aberration between areas of high contrast in some scenes, but these are not atypical of a high-zoom compact at this price point, so we can hardly complain.
Colours are rich without being oversaturated, and the level of detail captured by the BSI 16MP sensor is good, albeit with some (again, not unexpected) loss of sharpness at the far end of the focal range. The camera's macro mode - which enables you to focus down to 1cm from your subject - is particularly impressive, producing pleasingly punchy images with plenty of sharp detail.
Also worth a mention is the Nikon Coolpix S8200's Easy Panorama mode, which simply requires you to frame your starting shot, then hold down the shutter release while panning across the scene. The camera fires of a ream of shots in quick succession and stitches them together automatically, with excellent results in all of our tests.
All of the exposure modes on offer are geared towards avid point-and-shoot photographers: there's limited scope for adjusting settings such as the ISO, white balance and metering in Auto mode, but otherwise you simply get a comprehensive range of fully automatic scene modes and presets to cover just about every photographic situation.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Nikon Coolpix S8200's performance, however, is its speed of operation. The camera is ready to shoot almost instantly, and the autofocus system is quick and precise, with the wide coverage over the frame making it simple to track and photograph off-centre and moving subjects in particular.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon Coolpix S8200, 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 100 is capable of resolving up to around 24 (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 100, score: 24 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 22 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 3200, score: 16 (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
These graphs were produced using data generated by DXO Analyzer.
We used the Nikon Coolpix S8200 to shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using the DXO software.
Signal to noise ratio
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click hereto read the full article.
This chart indicates that the Nikon Coolpix S8200's JPEGs have a better result for dynamic range than the Samung WB700from ISO 200, but lags behind both the Canon IXUS 310 HS and Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20.
For a full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests, please click here to read the full article.
ISO comparison test
Nikon Coolpix S8200: ISO 100 (see full image)
Nikon Coolpix S8200: ISO 200 (see full image)
Nikon Coolpix S8200: ISO 400 (see full image)
Nikon Coolpix S8200: ISO 800 (see full image)
Nikon Coolpix S8200: ISO 1600 (see full image)
Nikon Coolpix S8200: ISO 3200 (see full image)
The 1cm macro autofocus mode produces vibrant close-ups packed with plenty of detail
The Nikon Coolpix S8200 captured the subtleties in the lighting in this scene superbly
The camera's Easy Panorama mode lives up to its name and produces excellent results
The big zoom lens enables you to get closer to distant subjects without having to move an inch
The Nikon Coolpix S8200 is capable of capturing very pleasing images with great colours and a good level of detail
The compact's artistic Effects options - accessed via the mode dial - includes a particularly good high-contrast black and white setting
We're glad to see that Nikon is making the most of its back-illuminated CMOS technology, which places the circuitry for the sensor behind - rather than in front - of it, increasing its sensitivity to light, which should theoretically result in a better performance under dim conditions and higher ISO sensitivities.
Performance in low light is a bit of a point of contention with this camera's predecessor, and the Nikon Coolpix S8200 fares a little better in spite of the sensor's resolution hike, but still doesn't blow the competition out of the water. Images stay pretty clean up to ISO400, then quality drops off fairly sharply. We'd use ISO1600 at a push, but 3200 is best left alone.
As a beginner-friendly, go-anywhere compact, the Nikon Coolpix S8200 excels in just about every aspect. Taking into account the blisteringly quick performance, versatile focal range, decent overall image quality, Full HD movie mode and all-encompassing set of exposure modes, you couldn't ask for much more at this price-point. GPS would have been a bonus for travellers but this would have bumped up the price and reduced the battery life.
The snappy performance, versatile zoom and decent image quality all leave a lasting impression, as does the build quality and user-friendly design.
The only thing it's lacking is GPS, and there are no manual modes to advance to once you've outgrown the point-and-shoot exposure modes.
There's plenty to like about this camera - the only thing that's really missing is any advanced manual functionality, which would increase its appeal as a long-term investment for an aspiring photographer who's keen to develop their skills. If however all you want is a robust, stylish, highly flexible camera that's simple to operate and produces beautiful images, then the Nikon Coolpix S8200 could be the one for you.