- Tough and versatile
- Easy to use
- Lots of noise at high ISO
- No manul exposure
- Weak flash
With a low-profile design, the compact Nikon Coolpix S640 seems to lend itself to street photography. In fact, it calls to mind the approach of post World War I photographers like Robert Doisneau. Doisneau embraced the portability and flexibility of the relatively new 35mm still camera medium and shot everything with a handheld Leica rangefinder. He photographed his subjects where he found them – in the streets of Paris.
Doisneau’s diminutive Leica was the mini-cam of his era and if he were working today, I believe he would be amazed at the immediacy, flexibility, capability, and ease of use of today’s ultra-compact digital cameras like the new Nikon Coolpix S640.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The brick-shaped Coolpix S640 looks pretty much like every other ultra-compact shirt-pocket digicam out there, but under the hood this camera conceals some important improvements over its predecessors. Nikon claims the S640 is the quickest Coolpix ever – with the fastest start up time of any currently available Point and Shoot (in its class) and with auto focus as snappy as many entry level DSLRs.
The robustly built metal-alloy/polycarbonate bodied S640 is an auto exposure only digital camera with no manual exposure capability. The S640 is tiny (3.6×2.2×0.8 inches and weighing just 3.9oz) making it close to perfect for capturing candid people shots and a natural choice for street photography – it’s responsive, unobtrusive, and eminently pocketable. The S640 is available in black, white, red, or pink.
Ergonomics and Controls
Even though the S640 is thin, tiny, and has smooth surfaces, it is fairly stable in the hands thanks to the nicely placed wrist strap and contoured thumb rest. The S640 is too small for any sort of handgrip, but Nikon could have added a thin finger rail along the right front edge of the camera to improve handling and security.
Dedicated controls are limited, but all buttons/knobs/switches/etc. are logically placed and come easily to hand (for right-handed shooters). In place of the standard compass switch, the S640 features what is essentially a rotary jog dial (which Nikon calls the rotary multi-controller) for super fast menu scrolling and back and forth saved image comparison.
The rotary multi-controller also functions in the familiar compass switch control configuration – up/down (flash/macro), left/right (self timer/exposure compensation), and center “OK” button.
Menus and Modes
The S640’s menu system is straightforward – it’s consistently simple, user-friendly, logical, and easily navigated. The relatively large 2.7 inch LCD and reasonable font size make reading and using the nominal menus easy. One minor complaint – unlike comparable digicams from several other manufacturers, the S640 doesn’t provide direct access (via a “func” or “quick menu” button) to the most commonly changed/adjusted camera settings and functions like white balance, sensitivity, etc.
Here’s a breakdown of the S640’s shooting modes:
- Auto: Point-and-shoot mode with limited user input – In Auto mode (which is actually closer to Program mode) the camera selects the aperture and shutter speed, but allows users to control sensitivity (ISO), white balance, color/saturation, and exposure compensation.
- Scene mode: Scene Auto Selector (which automatically selects the most appropriate Scene mode for the shooting situation), Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-Up, Food, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Backlight, and Panorama Assist.
- Smart Portrait mode: Specialized portrait mode which automatically turns on the Skin Softening function, smoothing out skin texture and minimizing blemishes. The Smart Portrait mode also activates the Smile timer which trips the shutter when the priority subject smiles, Nikon’s Blink Proof function which automatically captures two sequential exposures and then saves the one in which the subject’s eyes are open, and Subject Tracking in which the camera locks focus on and automatically tracks the movement of the primary subject to assure sharp focus and rapid response when the “decisive moment” occurs. Subject Tracking continues to function even if the subject briefly exits the frame.
- Movie: AVI Motion JPEG video clips at 640×480 at 30 fps or 320×240 at 15 fps with monaural audio. Video clip duration is limited to available memory (up to 25 minutes).
Smart Portrait Mode
Like most currently available compact point and shoots, the S640 doesn’t provide an optical viewfinder so the LCD must be used for all framing and composition, image review, and menu access. The S640’s wide-viewing angle Clear Color LCD is relatively sharp (230,000 pixels), fairly bright, hue accurate, and reasonably fluid. The info display provides all the data the camera’s target audience is likely to need, but in review mode this information remains on the screen for approximately five seconds before allowing the image to be seen without the info overlay – defeating the nifty rotary jog dials ability to compare saved images by jogging back and forth between them.
The LCD gains up (automatically increases brightness) in dim lighting and can be adjusted to the individual shooters preferences. Some earlier “S” models featured LCDs that were so shiny that they behaved like mirrors, making them essentially useless in bright outdoor lighting – the S640 shows marked improvement over its predecessors with an excellent anti-glare/anti-reflection coating.