In the old days, before digital cameras, Nikon was the film camera of choice for photojournalists, the only camera ever mentioned in the lyrics of a number one hit song, and one of the imaging tools NASA astronauts took to the moon. At the dawn of the digital age competition was vicious and Nikon wasn't as quick to see the writing on the wall as Canon and Sony.
Nikon's pro, semi-pro, and amateur DSLRs have always been well received, but their earliest digicams looked like something out of a Star Trek movie. The first Coolpix (the CP 900) was an innovative split-bodied design that allowed the zoom lens to move independently from the camera's LCD screen. The different look of the original Coolpix digicams didn't catch on as well with the public as Canon's more traditional looking cameras. Nikon's newest digicam, the "S" for style Nikon Coolpix S620, looks pretty much like every other ultracompact digital out there.
The S620 provides about the same balance of dependably good pictures requiring little user input and dead simple ease of use that distinguish many of today's popular consumer digicams, but it's smaller, lighter, and cheaper than many of them and sports a true wide-angle zoom. The camera design mavens at Nikon clearly don't believe the megapixel wars are over – so the S620 generates gargantuan 12 megapixel images, but it's small enough (2.1x 3.5 x 0.9 inches) to drop in a shirt pocket.
The auto exposure only Coolpix S620 is the little brother to Nikon's S630, but the differences are minimal and many users will likely opt for the S620's more versatile 4x wide-angle zoom over the S630's longer 7x zoom. The S620 is available in Silver, Black, Purple and Pink (my test unit was pink). Experienced shooters won't even need to check the manual before using the camera.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The S620 is an auto exposure only digital camera with no manual exposure capability. In Auto mode the camera selects the aperture and shutter speed, but allows users to control sensitivity (ISO), white balance, color/saturation, and exposure compensation.
Nikon's nifty D-Lighting function automatically enhances underexposed images by subtly lightening darker areas without affecting properly exposed areas. Nikon's BSS (Best Shot Selector) function automatically captures 10 sequential frames and then saves the one with the sharpest focus.
The Coolpix S620 supports SD and SDHC memory cards and provides 44MB of built-in memory – enough for seven full resolution images.
Ergonomics and Controls
The S620 is tiny, but it is fairly stable in hand (although it lacks any sort of serious handgrip) and it is dependably easy to use. Dedicated controls are minimal. All are logically placed and come easily to hand for right-handed shooters.
I really liked the S620's eminently logical rotary jog dial. The S620's compass switch features the familiar control configuration (up/down, left/right, and center button). In addition, Nikon incorporates a nifty rotary collar around its periphery for super fast menu scrolling and back and forth saved image browsing/comparison.
Menus and Modes
The S620's menu system is user friendly, logical, and easily navigated – the relatively large 2.7 inch LCD screen and reasonable print size make reading the minimal menus easy. Unlike comparable digicams from other manufacturers, the S620 doesn't provide direct access (via a "func" button or "Quick Menu") to the most commonly changed/adjusted camera settings and functions like white balance, sensitivity, image size etc.
Here's a breakdown of the S620's shooting modes:
Like many current digicams, the S620 doesn't provide an optical viewfinder so the 2.7 inch LCD must manage all framing/compositional, image review, and menu access chores. The S620's LCD is sharp (230,000 dots), bright, hue accurate, relatively fluid, and the info display provides all the data the camera's target audience is likely to need.
The display gains up (automatically increases brightness) in dim lighting. Some earlier "S" models featured LCDs that were so shiny that in bright outdoor lighting they behaved like mirrors, making them essentially useless – the S620 isn't that bad, but it would definitely benefit from some LCD glare reduction technology.
The Nikon Coolpix S620 is pretty quick – it isn't always the fastest camera in its class, but it's never the slowest. Start-up time is 0.07 seconds and shutter lag (press-to-capture – pre-focused) is also 0.07 seconds. AF Acquisition (press-to-capture – no pre-focus) is a very snappy 0.28 seconds.
The S620's continuous shooting mode (which allows users to capture several images in quick succession) is 3 frames in 1.7 seconds. Overall, the S620 comes in a bit quicker than average.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.02|
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS
|Pentax Optio P70||0.05|
|Nikon Coolpix S620||0.07|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||0.22|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.23|
|Nikon Coolpix S620||0.28|
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS||0.47|
|Pentax Optio P70||0.87|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||1.15|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37
|Nikon Coolpix S620
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150
|Canon PowerShot SD970 IS||∞||1.1 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.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
With numbers like those shown above, experienced photographers shouldn't have much trouble capturing the peak moment in action shots – pre-focusing on the point where the action will occur and then tripping the shutter just before the composition comes together only works properly when shutter lag and AF lag are both fairly short. Shot to shot times were about average.
Nikon's VR (vibration reduction) optical image stabilization function automatically counters the involuntary movements of the photographer and minimizes the virtually unavoidable camera shake that causes blurry images by quickly and precisely shifting lens elements in the tiny Nikkor zoom to compensate for camera movement during exposure. Motion Detection automatically boosts shutter speed and sensitivity (ISO) to compensate for subject movement.
The S620 is powered by a Nikon EN-EL12 lithium-ion battery with 3.9 Wh of juice. Nikon claims the S620 (with a fully charged battery) is good for (according to Nikon) 250 exposures. I do a lot of shoot, review, delete, and re-shoot. I rarely keep track of exposures so I can't quibble with Nikon's numbers, but 250 exposures is noticeably fewer than most of the S620's competition. The supplied rapid charger fully charges the EN-EL12 in about 150 minutes.
The S620's built-in multi mode flash provides an acceptable selection of artificial lighting options, including Auto (fires when needed), On (fill flash), Red-Eye Reduction, Slow Sync, and Off. Nikon claims the maximum flash range is about 18 feet, but that seems a little optimistic, in my humble opinion.
The heart of the S620 is its very good f/2.7- f5.8.6/5.0mm -20.0mm (equivalent to 28mm -112mm) 4x Nikkor zoom. When the camera is powered up, the lens automatically telescopes out of the camera body. When the camera is powered down the lens is fully retracted into the camera body and a built-in lens cover slides into place to protect the front element. Center sharpness is pretty good overall, but at the wide-angle end of the zoom corners are noticeably soft. At the telephoto end of the zoom corners are still soft but not as conspicuously so.
The S620 is able to cram about 25 percent more real estate into the frame (at the 28mm end of the zoom) than most of its competition, but that slight edge is somewhat negated by higher than average noise levels indoors. Contrast is balanced and colors are hue accurate. Minimum focusing distance (in Macro mode) is 0.8 inches, or 2.0 centimeters. Zooming is smooth, silent, and quick.
Like most of its competition the S620's images are optimized for the bold, bright colors, and balanced contrast that many veteran shooters refer to as consumer color – overall color is fairly accurate with most colors relatively close to neutral. Reds are a little warm, blues are a bit bright, greens are a bit too vibrant, and (like the vast majority of point-and-shoots) purples tend toward blue – but most casual shooters (the S620's target audience) probably won't be bothered much by these minor faults.
Outdoors the S620 (like most of its competition) does a great job – image quality is dependably very good. Exposures are consistently accurate, but lots of sky in the picture will probably result in slightly overexposed images. Take a look at the "wide-angle" image – there is surprisingly little slight barrel distortion. There is some slight edge softness, but that is typical for tiny super complex digicam zooms.
Indoor image quality is also good, but as sensitivity automatically rises to overcome lower levels of ambient lighting, noise rises exponentially and color accuracy suffers a bit. Noise levels are quite reasonable up to ISO 400, but noise levels increase quickly as the sensitivity rises.
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 3200, 100% crop
ISO 6400, 100% crop
The S620's Auto White Balance setting did a pretty good job across a wide range of lighting conditions, but shoots warm under incandescent light.
Under mixed lighting (window light, fluorescent, and incandescent) in a local bike shop the S620 wobbled a bit. See the bike helmet display shots – both were taken from the same spot (with no change in camera settings) within seconds of one another.
In addition to the auto setting there are Manual, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, and Flash settings.
Additional Sample Images
During the last years of his life Magnum pro Henri Cartier-Bresson replaced his venerable Leica rangefinder with an ultracompact Contax T. Like the Contax T, the ultracompact Coolpix S620 does a remarkably good job with some of the things its predecessors were famous for – plus it's tough enough to go just about anywhere.
The Nikon Coolpix S620 is a very good digital camera, but in the final analysis, the S620 ends up right in the middle of the 12 megapixel ultracompact pack. That's not necessarily a bad thing – higher-rated comparable cameras are not substantially better.
Like most of its contemporaries, the S620 is probably not a good choice for those who like to shoot indoors or in low/dim light, but unlike many of its contemporaries the S620 features a wide-angle lens and the ability to capture stunning macro images.
The S620 will appeal to beginners, casual photographers looking for a stylish "pocket" digicam and hikers/bikers/backpackers/travelers looking for a camera that packs lots of photographic potential into a small lightweight package.
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