Nikon Coolpix S3000 £99
22nd Jul 2010 | 15:10
This budget snapper looks great, but could be easier to use
Nikon Coolpix S3000: Overview
It's easy to dismiss the Nikon Coolpix S3000 as just another point and clicker when, in many ways, it's quite a sophisticated little camera.
It's an upgrade of the Nikon Coolpix S220, a deservedly popular compact offering a 10-megapixel sensor and a 3x optical zoom.
The new Nikon Coolpix S3000 features a 12-megapixel sensor a useful 4x optical zoom, all for under £100. Styling wise, the Nikon Coolpix S3000 is very attractive.
It's not much bigger than a mobile phone and comes in seven colours, which range from the stylish to the garish – black, blue, red, orange, green silver and, er, pink. This, in itself, isn't a big deal anymore, but the finish is excellent and our review model looked really classy.
Probably the biggest selling point of the Nikon Coolpix S3000, however, is the reasonably wide-angle lens with 4x zoom. With a focal length of 4.9-19.6mm, the Nikon Coolpix S3000 comes in handy when shooting landscapes or other scenes where you want to cram in as much detail as possible.
Certainly, the Nikon Coolpix S3000 needs as much help as it can get to stand out in the insanely competitive, sub-£150 compact market.
It's up against some stiff competition, principally the well-regarded Canon PowerShot A490 (now available for a piffling £80). So what new things does the Nikon bring to this very overcrowded party?
Nikon Coolpix S3000: Features
Apart from the headline improvement of a larger, 12MP sensor and 4x, wide-angle zoom lens, the Nikon Coolpix S3000 offers a 2.7-inch rear screen with simple, easy to use menus and a variety of smart portrait modes.
Face-priority AF is standard these days, but there are also some more unusual widgets such as Smile Timer, Blink Proof and Blink Warning.
These are nice to have, but hardly killer apps, and smack of 'new bullet points for the press release' rather than genuine innovations.
Most people know not to blink excessively or close their eyes when being photographed and it's quicker to take the shot again than delve into the Nikon's menu and turn these widgets on. It's not immediatly obvious how to first get to the portrait modes, either (via the top left scene button on the back).
Rather more useful on a daily basis is the Electronic Vibration Reduction, where the image processor automatically compensates when it detects blur. It's worth turning on as this is a very light camera and you have to make a conscious effort to hold it steady.
There's also motion detection, whereby the camera detects camera shake and subject movement with shooting, and automatically compensates by increasing shutter speed and ISO sensitivity. Blur is reduced to a level equal to a roughly two-step increase in shutter speed.
In terms of usability, the the Nikon Coolpix S3000 is okay, but there are some niggles. The menus are simple enough to read and navigate, and the shutter release/zoom lever nice and chunky.
It's a shame, then, that the rear Mode dial feels cramped and not all obvious. The flash, Exposure Compensation, Macro and Timer settings are adjusted by the outer, touch-sensitive ring, but the icons are tiny – so tiny that many less-experienced photographers might not even realise they're there. Give the camera to someone with poor eyesight and you can see the potential problem…
Nikon Coolpix S3000: Image quality
Still-image performance is reasonable for the money, with a few caveats. The 12-megapixel sensor delivers large and detailed images.
In terms of other aspects of image performance, it's more of a mixed bag. Colours are generally accurate and rich, but the smaller sensor does mean noise is quite noticeable at higher ISO settings (see the next page).
But the biggest issue we noticed was a tendency to overexpose in brighter sunlight. Certainly, it's easy enough to reduce exposure compensation to deal with this, but we wonder how many of the 'point and click' target market will actually bother (or have the confidence) to do this.
OVER-EXPOSED:Bright sunlight seems to confuse the little Nikon and overexposure and blown out details are the result
At the same time, we noticed some underexposure while shooting landscape shots on a blustery, changeable day – all of which suggests that the metering system on the Nikon Coolpix S3000 is rather basic and built down to a price.
WIDE ANGLE:The wide angle lens is very handy when shooting landscapes or city scenes
You sometimes need to change AF settings to get consistent results too, and again, we worry that the target market may not have the confidence or inclination to do this.
These quibbles aside, we were generally happy with the image performance considering the Nikon Coolpix S3000 costs under a hundred quid.
Lens performance is fine for the money and, as mentioned, the wide-angle flexibility and 4x zoom comes in handy when shooting landscapes and cityscapes.
LANDSCAPE:The camera can be tempermental, but get the exposure right and you're rewarded with surprisingly good images for a sub-£100 compact
As is often the case with compacts in this price bracket, advanced exposure adjustments are limited. The camera lacks a PASM dial, but it's easy enough to adjust ISO and white balance via the menus, and Exposure Compensation can be adjusted via the rear Mode dial (once you've located the tiny, silvery icon).
PORTRAIT:Skin tones are accurate and warm, without looking artificial. The numerous portrait mode options are useful (if you need them)
As mentioned, ISO performance is fine up to ISO 800, then image quality really begins to deteroriate, but no more so than on any other sub-£100 compact.
If you want HD video, you'll need to get the Nikon Coolpix's bigger brother, the S4000, because the S3000 only shoots in basic movie mode.
Nikon Coolpix S3000: ISO tests
We tested the Nikon Coolpix S3000 at every ISO setting. Here are the results.
Nikon Coolpix S3000: Verdict
First impressions of the Nikon Coolpix S3000 are good, and the price is keen, but delve deeper and you notice a few drawbacks.
This is a very smart and slim camera, and feels so light in the pocket that we kept mistaking it for our phone.
As a cheap, well-made point and clicker, it delivers good results, and there are some handy features thrown, such as vibration reduction, motion detection and a bewildering range of portrait modes.
That wide, 4x zoom lens is also very handy when shooting groups or landscapes.
While the 12MP sensor delivers large and detailed images, the metering system gets confused more often than we'd like, with a tendency to overexpose in sunlight.
The layout of the camera isn't immediately obvious and it's easy to miss key settings like exposure compensation and the aforementioned portrait modes.
The Nikon Coolpix S3000 is a nice little camera but not a massive step-up from the S220.
Its usability and image performance issues, while hardly deal breakers, mean that it's probably wiser to save up another £20 and get the Nikon Coolpix S4000, with HD video and touchscreen controls.
Or just get the Canon PowerShot A490, which remains the overall better camera, despite the Nikon's wide lens and bigger sensor.