Nikon Coolpix S210 Digital Camera
At a Glance
Another inexpensive, superslim pocket camera in the entry-level point-and-shoot class, the 8-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S210 isn't short on good looks. The S210 is available in an array of understated brushed-metallic colors. Priced at $180, this 0.7-inch-wide camera fits easily in the palm of your hand. It lacks a viewfinder but devotes about two-thirds of its back to a bright, 2.5-inch-diagonal LCD, leaving enough space for a fairly secure grip.
The 3x optical zoom S210 has a small, molded ridge on its back, which helps the camera rest comfortably in your hand. Unfortunately, this design left my forefinger positioned squarely over the on/off button, meaning that I frequently turned the camera off instead of pressing the nearby shutter.
Once I got past that glitch, however, I found the layout and labeling of the remaining buttons quite simple. The zoom bar is conveniently located near the shutter, and the function buttons and toggle button are arrayed beneath it. The toggle button controls EV+/-, the self-timer, the macro, and the flash. Surrounding the toggle button are four dedicated buttons for the camera's menu, modes, photo deletion, and stored photo viewing.
Like many other Nikon point-and-shoots, the S210 was extremely easy to use, even without reading the manual. Reaching some settings, such as video and scene modes, took a few button presses, however, which may slow users down a bit. A dedicated video button would have been nice. As for scene modes, the Coolpix S210 has an array of the usual suspects: portraits, landscape, party, sports, macro, and fireworks. The noteworthy addition is its handy panorama assist mode. Backlight mode was quite effective, too, once I knew that I needed a bit of fill flash (for example, to capture a shot of a black cat lying in the sun) that auto mode wasn't quite smart enough to provide.
The menu system holds autofocus mode settings including center, automatic, face priority, and spot. The S210 also offers a burst mode that performs fairly well, along with a neat feature that fires off 16 consecutive shots and places them in a single frame--a fun novelty for sports and motion tracking. A feature called Best Shot Selector cranks out ten shots while you hold down the trigger, and then saves the sharpest frame that you've recorded. Other cool features include an interval timer that you can use to capture a sequence of images at a preselected rate, and a time-lapse movie function--also with several timing options. In the time-lapse mode, you can leave the camera trained on your windowsill and watch seedlings sprout. Videos made with the Coolpix were generally satisfactory, though the focus was a bit shaky, even in broad daylight. I appreciated having the option to zoom while filming, a feature absent in many cameras.
Nikon's Electronic VR Image Stabilization compensates somewhat for camera's susceptibility to shake and blur, but the setting produced rather poor results in my tests. Because the camera doesn't provide optical image stabilization--unlike, for example, its older sibling, the Coolpix S500--the results looked as though the camera had simply applied a sharpening filter to the images, ham-handedly oversharpening them. In dim settings, it's better to use a tripod and not expect miracles from software-based image stabilization. To combat blur, S210 also offers a High Sensitivity mode with ISOs of up to 2000. In our jury tests, the S210 earned an image quality score of Good, performing well in our flash exposure tests but unimpressively in our sharpness tests.
Battery life is decent; in our lab tests, the S210 fired off 283 shots on a single charge of its rechargeable lithium ion battery. That's in line with many other compact cameras we've tested.
Considering how simple this camera is to use and how comfortable it is to tote along, I was disappointed that noise was a problem in my test shots starting at ISOs as low as 200. Shutter delay was another frustration; the S210 performs just a bit slower than other cameras in its class, resulting in missed opportunities (often) and blurred images (occasionally).
All the same, for under $200, with its cool time-lapse features, a slim frame, and commendable ease of use, the Coolpix S210 could be just the ticket as an entry-level, all-purpose camera.