With the Nikon Coolpix S550 first reaching consumers in February 2008, it was a bit surprising to see the S560 announced in August with a September release date. Surprising unless the S550 was a somewhat stopgap measure to get a Nikon 10 megapixel S-series Coolpix to market – previously, the Nikon's "Style" lineup jumped from 8 megapixels in the S540 to 12.1 in the S700, with nothing in between.
The S550 featured Nikon's new EXPEED processor, but the 2.5 inch LCD and electronic image stabilization were not cutting edge features. Whatever the reason for what seems to be a quick refresh of the S550 platform, let's see what the new Nikon Coolpix S560 brings to the table.
The S560 retains an EXPEED processor and the same pixel count of the older camera, but whether the processor and/or sensor have benefited from additional development time is unclear. The 5x optical zoom is back, but the 35mm film equivalent focal length has changed slightly to 34.8 to 174mm (versus 36-180mm in the S550). Here's what that zoom range looks like:
Other upgrades include optical image stabilization, a reduced resolution ISO 3200 setting to supplement the nominal 64 to 1600 ISO range, and a larger 2.7 inch LCD monitor. A new Scene Auto Selector feature allows the camera to select a shooting mode from six scene modes or auto, and there's also Nikon's automatic in-camera red-eye fix, face priority AF, and the D-Lighting shadow/highlight balancing tool (which is available for post-processing images in the camera). Here's D-Lighting applied to a shot:
Whereas the original S550 used Nikon's Electronic Vibration Reduction stabilization technology – which combined motion data with a processor to function to sharpen blurred images – the S560 gets full Nikon Vibration Reduction. The S560's upgrade to optical image stabilization provides for "faster framing on the monitor and smoother action when using the movie mode."
The S560 provides about 44MB of internal memory, and the camera accepts SD/SDHC external memory media. Nikon includes a li-ion battery and charger, USB and A/V cables, a wrist strap, and a software CD-ROM with each camera.
There are five primary shooting modes:
Giving the S560 credit for a full five shooting modes might be a bit generous, as the scene auto selector option is really only another way to shoot in auto or one of a select few scene modes.
For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.
Styling and Build Quality
The S560 is typical for cameras in this class, resembling a small deck of cards or pack of cigarettes.
The rectangular metal body has gently rounded edges and a shallow contour on the camera back housing the controls. The body is smooth and use of the wrist strap is a good idea; build quality is good – the camera has a solid feel to it.
Ergonomics and Interface
The S560 has a cross-shaped multi selector with a central OK button instead of the rotary multi selector found on many Nikon compacts. I prefer the S560 design, which virtually eliminates overshooting an intended icon or feature on a menu that an overzealous input to the rotary selector would occasion.
Users can access flash, exposure compensation, macro, and self-timer functions via the external controls on the multi selector, but shooting functions such as white balance, image quality and size, ISO sensitivity, and color options require use of internal menus.
Removing the memory card from the camera was a bother due to the design of the battery/card door – it hinges open but sits in close proximity to the card, making it difficult to grip the card. I had to use tweezers for extraction purposes. Hopefully the review camera was atypical and the rest of the S560 fleet pops the card further out of its slot so the user can grab it with fingers only – if not, I'd suggest Nikon rethink their design in this area.
The 2.7 inch LCD monitor is of 230,000 dot composition, adjustable for five levels of brightness. Coverage is listed at 97 percent for shooting and 100 percent for playback. As with most monitors on cameras in this class, use for photo composition in bright outdoor light can be difficult. The monitor is fine for image review/post processing in good lighting conditions.
There is no optical viewfinder.
One of my all-time favorite Nikon compact digitals is the S500, with its quick start-up and focus acquisition times, and lightning fast shutter lag. Hopefully the S560 will have inherited some of those speed genes from its little brother.
Timings and Shutter Lag
Power up on the S560 ran about 0.9 seconds and I was able to power up, acquire focus, and capture a shot in about 1.5 seconds. Focus acquisition in good light took about 0.6 seconds, and shutter lag came in at about 0.04 seconds – all pretty good times. Single shot-to-shot times (shoot, write, acquire focus, shoot) ran about 2.5 seconds, and these times were consistent with both 60x and 133x (20MB/sec) cards.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.02|
|Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
|Nikon Coolpix S560||0.04|
|Canon PowerShot A1000 IS||0.04|
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||0.05|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.23|
|Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||0.42|
|Canon PowerShot A1000 IS||0.46|
|Nikon Coolpix S560||0.61|
Nikon rates the S560 for a continuous shooting rate of about 1.2 fps for 7 shots at the 10 megapixel "normal" image quality setting. Shooting at highest quality as we usually do for our test, however, we got five shots in 7.4 seconds at full resolution (for a framerate of 0.7 fps) before the buffer needed a break to catch up. Suffice it to say continuous shooting rates at full resolution are not an S560 strong point.
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||3||2.5 fps|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||10||1.6 fps|
|Canon PowerShot SD880 IS||∞||1.4 fps|
|Canon PowerShot A1000 IS||5||1.4 fps|
|Nikon Coolpix S560||5||0.7 fps|
Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.), as tested in our studio. "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
There are four AF area options available in the S560: face priority (the default) which will focus on a face it detects (or the closest face in the event of multiple faces); auto, which selects the closest subject from nine focus areas; manual, in which the user selects one of 99 focus areas; and center, with the camera focusing on the center of the frame. Single (default) or continuous AF modes may be designated by the user – single focuses when the shutter button is pressed halfway and locks at this position during shooting; continuous focuses continuously until focus is acquired and locked.
There is an AF assist illuminator, but its range is limited to about 6.3 feet at wide angle and 3.6 feet at telephoto. AF assist is not available with certain scene modes.
Lens and Zoom
The S560's 5x zoom covers a 35mm film equivalent focal length range from 34.8 to 174mm, and maximum apertures vary from a somewhat disappointing f/3.5 at wide angle to f/5.6 at telephoto. That 174mm on the telephoto end provides a modest "get closer" ability on distant objects, but the wide angle end is really not very wide. Wide angle or telephoto fans will probably look elsewhere to fill their particular areas of interest, but for general shooting the S560 will fill most needs.
Nikon says the lens will focus from two feet to infinity in normal operation, and as close as 3.9 inches in macro mode (with the lens set at wide angle). Two feet seems to be about right at full telephoto, but that figure gradually works its way down to what seems like 10 inches or so as the lens zooms out to wide angle. The macro figure isn't as close as many competitors in this area – you can get full frame shots of fairly large objects (2-3 inches), but really small subjects like a dime will just not fill the frame without cropping. In the shots that follow, the 174mm telephoto isn't long enough to get really close to a preening Osprey from about 100 feet away, but 62mm is more than enough to fill the frame with Max in his home.
Note also that there is a 4x digital zoom option that may be disabled via internal menu.
Nikon rates the S560 flash range at about 11 feet at wide angle and seven feet for telephoto with ISO set to auto. Color rendition was good and auto ISO can range from 64 to 800, but when I shot flash with ISO set to 64 for best image quality the range was decidedly shorter.
Nikon also doesn't list a flash recycle time for the S560, but with a fully charged battery, auto ISO, and wide angle on a nearby subject the camera flash was ready as soon as the camera had completed writing the previous shot – perhaps two seconds. A complete discharge (ISO 64, telephoto, virtually pitch black conditions) recycle time seemed to be in the six second range – it's hard to get an accurate time on the recycle period because the flash lamp only flashes to indicate recycling if you push the shutter button halfway and it will continue to flash if the button is held down even after recycling is complete. Recycle times with nearly depleted batteries ran about four seconds and 10 seconds, respectively, for partial and full discharges.
The S560 features "optical VR image stabilization" per Nikon USA's website; optical stabilization denotes movement of lens elements to compensate for camera shake in order to achieve sharper images. However, the user's manual indicates stabilization for still pictures is via "image-sensor shift," more commonly known as mechanical stabilization. In any event, the S560's stabilization is not the result of the camera ramping up the ISO to maintain high shutter speeds, and that's a good thing.
Despite attributing "smoother action" in movie mode to "optical" stabilization, the S560 offers "electronic VR" for movies and the manual is mum on that technology. We delved into eVR with the Nikon S210 review and DCR editor David Rasnake was able to twist Nikon's arm and get them to dispense the following: "'eVR' applies specific movement data to image processing algorithms during processing to turn blurred images into beautifully clear results." David likened this to the camera "basically using a gyro (like a traditional mechanical system) to get motion data, and then applying a sharpening algorithm to compensate."
Nikon rates the S560 battery for 160 shots, and this seems a ballpark figure. Carry a couple of spares for all-day shooting sessions. A nearly depleted battery takes a couple of hours on the charger to get back to full power.
If you've read any of my reviews it's no secret I really like avoiding auto ISO settings in order to keep the ISO in the better image quality range whenever possible. The S560's optimal ISO 64 sensitivity is about 1/3 EV less than the ISO 80 and 100 sensitivities that are the starting points for many cameras in this class, and that translates into slower shutter speeds at all light levels. With the telephoto end of the S560 out there at 174mm, hand holding steadily at ISO 64 in falling light levels can become a chore, even with stabilization. This isn't an indictment of the S560, just an observation after I botched a bunch of late afternoon shots at the San Diego Wild Animal Park due to camera shake.
If you dispense with operator error the S560 will make you very happy with its image quality.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
The S560 offers matrix, center weighted and spot metering options for exposure calculation, with matrix the default setting. I used matrix for the shots in this review, and it proved suitable for a wide variety of lighting conditions, including some really tough late afternoon water shots in the direction of the sun. Like most cameras in this class, the S560 can lose some highlights in high contrast images, but overall it performed quite well with difficult exposure situations.
Among the scene modes in the S560 is one for backlight, which proved to offer some improvement in the shaded areas of the image with minimal impact on the highlights.
Colors in the S560 were pleasing and generally accurate, with little to choose from between the Standard and Vivid options available to the user.
A bit off the beaten path of color variations found in this class of camera are the Cyanotype and Pastel options.
The S560 also offers a couple of interesting post processing features – a "list by date" feature that groups images according to the date they were captured and an "auto sort" option that groups images into folders according to their type (smile, landscape, movie, portraits, dusk to dawn, retouched copies, food, close ups, other scenes). There is also a "favorite pictures" option that allows the user to designate shots and thus create a custom slide show for playback without going through every image on the memory card.
Auto WB worked well for virtually any light source encountered, with the exception of our old friend incandescent, which produced an overly warm image.
The camera also provides preset daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy and flash WB settings, as well as a custom setting that can be user-tailored to existing conditions.
My recent review of the Canon SD880 IS found a lens that was one of the better performers I've encountered in this class of camera, and I'll now add the S560 to that list.
There is some barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from center of image) at the wide angle end of the zoom, but the telephoto end looks to be free of pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward center of image). Nikon has equipped the S560 with a Distortion Control (DC) setting that may be user enabled to "correct distortion at frame peripheries." The images below were set up to put the straight vertical line of the house wall at the edge of the frame and shot at wide angle to bring the S560's barrel distortion into play. The shot without DC enabled shows the curving associated with barrel distortion; the second shot (DC enabled) has corrected the curve into a straight line that is the accurate representation of the wall. Using DC results in slightly smaller file sizes – the non DC shot was 4.34MB, versus 4.20MB for the one with DC – but the slight data loss seems well worth the image improvement. DC is disabled as a default setting, but it's probably a feature S560 shooters will want to enable.
The lens also exhibits some softening at the edges and corners, and perhaps a hint of light falloff in the corners at wide angle (none of which appear to be measurably impacted by DC), but these are characteristics common to most lenses in the class and the S560 is not a bad performer in this regard.
Finally, there is some chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in some high-contrast boundary areas, but it takes a sharp eye and someone who knows what they're looking for to spot it in 100 percent crops. Overall, this lens is an excellent all-around performer.
Sensitivity and Noise
No surprises here – 100 percent crops at ISO 64 and 100 are pretty hard to tell apart, and ISO 200 is good but starting to show some noise. ISO 400 shows a more dramatic increase in noise, and 800 appears to have triggered some extra noise reduction in the camera, as both noise and detail have been smoothed over. Even with the apparent ramping up of noise reduction at 800, ISO 1600 and 2000 each take another downturn.
The full frame shots look pretty decent across the board, with a much less apparent degradation of quality due to noise even through 1600. Although it's not shown here, ISO 3200 still sticks out as being a setting of last resort, but at least it's there if you need it. Overall, performance is on a par with all the other cameras in the class not carrying a Fuji Super CCD sensor.
Additional Sample Images
The S560 may have come on the market relatively quickly after its predecessor, but my time with the camera has proven it to be a solid performer. Image quality and color are very good, focus acquisition time is good, and shutter lag times are very good; ISO performance is on a par with virtually all the competition. Nikon has set up the S560 for the user who doesn't want to be overly involved with image capturing – there are some user-defined settings available in certain shooting modes, but the camera lacks true manual controls and no one will mistake it for anything but the auto shooter that it is.
Continuous shooting rates are disappointing, and the wide angle maximum aperture of f/3.5 lags behind the f/2.8 that seems to show up on many competitors. Removing the memory card is an awkward exercise for my average fingers due to the proximity of the chamber door. However, these are relatively minor annoyances on a camera that does so many other things quite well. If you're in the market for a 10 megapixel compact, the Nikon Coolpix S560 is worthy of your consideration.
|Sensor||10.0 megapixel (effective), 1/2.33" CCD|
|Lens/Zoom||5x (34.8-174mm) zoom, f/3.5-5.6|
|LCD/Viewfinder||2.7", 230K-dot TFT LCD|
|Sensitivity||ISO 64-2000 (ISO 3200 at reduced resolution)
|Shutter Speed||4-1/2000 seconds
|Shooting Modes||Auto, Scene, Auto Scene Selector, Smile, Movie
|Scene Presets||Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Backlight, Panorama Assist
|White Balance Settings||Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash, Preset Manual, Auto, Daylight, Cloudy|
|Metering Modes||Matrix, Center-Weighted, Spot
|Focus Modes||Auto, Center, Manual, Face Priority
|Drive Modes||Single, Continuous, Best Shot Selector, Multi-Shot 16, Interval
|Flash Modes||Auto, Slow Sync, Red-eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced Off
|Self Timer Settings
||10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
|Memory Formats||SD, SDHC
|File Formats||JPEG, AVI
|Max. Image Size||3648x2736|
|Max. Video Size
||640x480, 30 fps
|Zoom During Video||No
|Battery||Rechargeable lithium-ion, 160 shots|
|Connections||USB 2.0, AV output, DC input|
|Additional Features||Vibration Reduction image stabilization, D-Lighting, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix|
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