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Nikon Coolpix S600 Review
Date: March 24, 2008
The Nikon Coolpix S600 is a digital camera
targeted to point-and-shoot photographers. It
has 10-megapixel resolution on a 1/2.33 in. CCD
image sensor, and a 5-20mm (28-112mm, 35 mm
equivalent) 4.0x optical Wide-angle Zoom-Nikkor lens, with
a maximum aperture of F2.8(W)-F5.8(T). The lens is optically image stabilized using Nikon's excellent Vibration Reduction (VR) technology.
We find the overall image quality of the Nikon
S600 to be good at ISO 100 with good detail and low noise for a digital camera in this category. As is usual with cameras in this category, images at higher ISOs suffer from noise and detail loss.
|4.0x Wide-anle Optical Zoom
(28mm, 35mm equivalent)
(112mm, 35mm equivalent)
In the pictures above, we show the coverage
for 28mm (equiv.) and then 112mm (equiv). It takes about 1 sec.
to zoom from wide-angle to telephoto (I counted
13 steps). I love the wide-angle starting focal length which captures satisfyingly wide landscapes and large group shots.
At the default Color Options setting of Standard, I find the pictures are already sharp with vivid colours. You can further select Vivid Color for even brighter colours.
Nikon S600 has Programmed Auto mode which allows you to choose some of the most
important exposure settings, such as ISO, exposure
compensation and white balance. There are also 14 easy-to-use Scene Modes to help obtain the best exposure in common challenging situations.
5.0mm, Programmed Auto, Multi-Pattern
1/5 sec., F2.7, ISO 100, AWB,
D-Lighting processed in-camera
Macro can be as close as 3 cm (1.2 in.). You engage macro by pressing the DOWN ARROW and select Macro ON. You can use a little of the zoom to frame your picture; a green Flower and green zoom indicator indicate focus lock. You do not want to zoom past the zoom indicator in Macro mode.
We used D-Lighting in the macro picture above to brighten the face which was in shadows. The camera did a great job!
AF is fast and works very well. It is instant in good lighting, but can take up to 2 sec. in low-light.
In extreme low-light, the AF Illuminator automatically kicks in
(if you've set it ON in the Menu) to
help achieve focus when you half-press the shutter release button.
Best Shot Selector (Menu - Continuous - BSS - ON) is one of Nikon's most practical feature to use when
you need to ensure you get a tack sharp picture. It works by
taking 10 shots in a row (as long as you keep
your finger pressed on the shutter release button)
and then discarding all except the one that comes
out the sharpest.
The Nikon S600 provides four AF modes:
- Face priority mode automatically detects a face and focuses on it; great for portraits.
AF mode selects the subject with the most contrast out
of 9 AF areas; for general photography.
- Manual AF Area mode allows you to
select from 99 focus areas; great for off-centre subjects, especially in macro photography. I use this as my default mode.
- Center-focus area mode focuses at the center of the screen; for when your subject is smack in the middle of the screen.
Here is an example of Manual AF area. Once
you set this option in the menu, it stays out
of the way until you call for it (so there is no reason not to leave it as the default AF mode). Nikon has implemented
a very intuitive way to do that: anytime you wish
to invoke manual AF area mode, simply press the
OK button and use the arrow keys to move the AF
area around the screen to one of 99 possible positions.
When you're done, press OK to set it at its new
position. Some cameras make you go thru hoops
to do what the Nikon S600 does so intuitively.
As you can notice in the picture above right,
the 4 angle brackets denote the extent of the (11 across x 9 down
selectable focus areas.
There are two metering modes: 256-Segment
Matrix (i.e. Multi-Pattern) and Center-weighted Average. There is no histogram, live or Playback.
||AF locked on face
up to 5 faces and focuses on the closest. Once a face or faces have been detected in Face-Priority AF, the camera saves these locations in the picture you take. Then, in Playback, you can press Tele to zoom in to the face which was focused on during shooting. If there are multiple faces that were detected by the Face-Priority AF in the scene, the camera first zooms in on the face focused on during shooting, then you can use the Rotary Multi Selector to jump from face to face. This is a quick way to ascertain whether your shot (i.e. the face) is sharp or not.
The picture on the left shows auto white
balance (AWB) indoors under artificial tungsten
light. I find it quite acceptable. The Nikon S600 allows WB to
be set manually via the Menu: Preset WB allows
us to obtain accurate colours (picture on the right). AWB works
well in natural light.
You can set the ISO on the Nikon S600 from 100
to 3200. The 100%
crops above (area delimited by the white square)
demonstrate that noise at ISO 100 is under
control. Noise starts to be visible at
ISO 200 and increases quickly as the ISOs go higher.
As you can see from the pictures above, the photo at ISO 100 is slightly under-exposed. This is because the slowest shutter speed is 1 sec. at f/2.7 in Program Auto mode and that is not enough in normal room lighting condition (two tungsten lamps).
Like most other consumer digital cameras, the Nikon S600 is therefore a great outdoors camera [see our Nikon S600 Photo Gallery] but will find it challenging indoors for non-flash photos. Images from ISO 1600 to 3200 exhibit too much noise and loss of detail for clean large prints, but might be acceptable for 4x6 in. size prints and for Web display. For indoors shot, we recommend the use of the flash so as to keep the ISO as low as possible. Or, you can use a low ISO and run the slightly under-exposed picture thru D-Lighting.
Note that ISO 3200 is only available in manual ISO mode. Auto ISO ranges from 100 to 800, and High Sensitivity (Hi-ISO) ranges from 100 to 2000.
|5.0mm, Program AE, Multi-Pattern
1/20 sec., F2.7, ISO 100
CA is minimal in everyday shots. In the high
contrast shot above, the corner delimited by the
red square in the middle, and reproduced at 100%
crop at bottom right, shows minimal purple fringing,
not enough to be concerned with.
|5.0mm, Programmed Auto, Multi-Pattern, 1/1.3
sec., F2.7, ISO 400
Preset (manual) WB, Macro, Self-timer 2 sec.,
Tripod Used, 100% Crop
The Nikon S600's slowest shutter speed goes
down to 1 sec. in Program Auto mode, and 4 sec. in Night Landscape mode. This allows
some night photography, though we would have preferred
longer shutter speeds. Generally, with CCD image
sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent
at slow shutter speeds.
I take an extreme low-light indoors shot. Again, light
is from two regular household tungsten bulbs on
the ceiling. To obtain a long exposure, I place
Bamm-Bamm under my desk in the shadows. I obtain
focus lock easily since the Nikon S600 has an
effective AF-assist Illuminator. Some experimenting
and I find that I need to up the ISO all the way to ISO 400 to obtain a correct exposure.
[I could not use the 4 sec, of Night Landscape scene mode because Macro mode is not permitted in that scene mode.] To ensure sharp focus, I place the AF area
frame on Bamm-Bamm's eyes.
The noise reduction works well (though the presence of noise at this high ISO is also quite visible).
Another practical feature of the Nikon digital cameras is
D-Lighting, which allows you to "rescue" images
that come out too dark (see the Macro picture above). You can do that in-camera
and a copy of the picture is made (leaving the original untouched). This is not without price: depending
on your subject matter, rescued images can exhibit
more noise. Nevertheless, it works admirably well most of the time and, interestingly, D-Lighting is finding its way from Nikon's consumer point-and-shoot digicams to its newest DSLRs.
When turned on, VR allows you to
handhold the camera at slower shutter speeds than
you would normally be able to, thus reducing the effects of camera shake and the resulting blurred images.
As the two above handheld images show, the VR
technology in the S600 is quite effective. The pictures above were taken at a slow speed of about 1/4 sec. to demonstrate the effect of using VR.
VR gains from 2 to 3 stops of exposure. So, depending on the focal length you are using and based on the rule of thumb of using a shutter speed which is the reciprocal of the focal length, I would recommend not using a shutter speed slower than 1/8 sec. at wide-angle and 1/30 sec. at full tele.
The Nikon Coolpix S600 delivers good image quality at low ISOs for a digital camera in this category. VR is effective in helping to reduce blur. Using a high ISO means you might be able to take low-light pictures but the noise issue and loss of image detail will limit pictures taken at high ISOs to small prints and for Web display only. Though the Nikon S600 is a Point-and-Shoot camera, it has a number of practical features that both beginners and advanced photographers will find practical in helping them get the picture.
The pictures in the Nikon Coolpix S600 Photo
Gallery page provide a good sample of what
the camera is capable of. I have provided samples
at 800x600 pixels (compressed to Quality 60/100
in Photoshop Elements) as well as the 3648x2736
pixels original size (click on the image for the
No camera is perfect or always capture only sharp images with no defects. We have included images that we believe are representative of what you will get in actual use. If we expect a picture to come out sharp and it does not, we include it. If the camera's manufacturer makes a claim and we find the opposite, we include it. Do not single out one picture to form a judgment of the camera's image quality; take all the pictures in the set as a whole and we believe you'll get a pretty accurate impression of the kind of images you can expect with this camera. Take our style of photography also into consideration: we shoot mainly in P mode, dial in an exposure compensation when we deem it necessary, use program shift if available and necessary, avoid the use of a tripod unless absolutely necessary and we have the time to set it up. Your style of photography may [will] differ (e.g. you may favour the use of a tripod and have the the time and luxury to adjust exposure settings carefully) and so may obtain markedly different results.
You can safely assume that most macro shots
and slow shutter speed shots required the use
of a tripod. Any image that is adjusted for levels
in Photoshop has "_adjusted" or some other description appended
to the file name (though the original sized image
is, of course, not adjusted).
I have defaulted the image size to 800x600 pixels.
For those who have their monitor resolution set
to 1024x728 pixels, everything should snugly fit
and you should not have to scroll to see the whole
image. If your monitor is set to 800x600 pixels
resolution, start the slide show and then scroll
to the right to position the image within your
screen width. Then, press F11 (if you are using
Internet Explorer) to switch to full screen mode,
and the image should fill your screen nicely.
Press F11 again at any time to switch your monitor
display back to normal mode.
To return to this page from the Photo Gallery,
click on the animated graphics of the camera.
Please open and download the original size version
only if you need to and only once
to your hard drive -- and save me some precious