After schlepping around a 35mm kit with two Nikon camera bodies, several lenses, and a full sized Bogen tripod for many years, I've come to appreciate small, easily pocketable cameras like the Nikon Coolpix S8000. When our test unit arrived, I was immediately impressed and after two weeks of carrying the camera with me just about everywhere I went, my initial impressions haven't changed. The little black S8000 (the camera is also available in silver, red and brown) is about the size of an Altoids tin and provides a nice balance of usability, simplicity and snappy performance.
The tiny low-profile S8000 is a first-rate picture maker that's capable of capturing super images indoors and outdoors. The S8000's collapsible 10x zoom is like carrying a 30-300mm lens around in your shirt pocket. It's also quick enough to capture the decisive moment. Here's my bottom line (at the top of the review): if you want a compact digicam that gives up the biggest bang for your camera buck and you don't need some level of manual exposure capability - you really can't do a whole lot better than the S8000 at this point in time.
BUILD AND DESIGN
At first glance the diminutive auto-exposure only S8000 looks pretty much like every other ultra-compact digicam out there. On closer inspection this little unit seems rather elegant. It's unobtrusive, understated (at least the black version) and eminently pocketable. The S8000 is truly compact, measuring 2.3x4.1x1.1 inches and weighing in (with battery and memory media) at just 6.5 ounces.
The robustly built metal-alloy/polycarbonate body has good dust/weather/moisture seals and feels comfortingly solid. Even though the S8000 is very thin and has smooth surfaces, it is fairly stable in the hands thanks to the nicely placed wrist strap and contoured thumb rest.
Not only does the Coolpix S8000 slip easily into a standard shirt pocket or a small purse, but it carries nicely when gripped loosely in the palm of the hand with the wrist strap looped around the right hand. Areas vulnerable to loss/breakage include the plastic cover of the battery and memory media compartment (which must be locked/unlocked via a tiny slider by the user) and the soft plastic flap over the USB port.
Ergonomics and Controls
The S8000's user interface is uncomplicated and straightforward. The control layout is quite basic and sufficiently similar to other current digicams in the compact ultrazoom class to provide most users with a comforting sense of déjà vu. Buttons are logically placed and come easily to hand for right-handed shooters, but they are all rather small. The super tiny on/off button sometimes requires an extra push or two to power the camera up or down.
The S8000's user interface is logical and uncomplicated; all buttons are fairly small, but they are clearly marked, sensibly placed and easily accessed. Operation is very basic and all exposure options are minor variations on the auto exposure theme. There is no mode dial because shooters only have four options - Auto mode, Scene mode, Smart Portrait, and Movie mode. In place of the standard compass switch, the S8000 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 central portion of the rotary multi-controller functions in the familiar compass switch control configuration - up/down (flash/macro), left/right (self timer/exposure compensation), and center "OK" button. Unfortunately there is no direct access method, like Canon's "func" button for adjusting ISO and White Balance or other often changed settings; any adjustments must be accomplished via menu. There's also a dedicated "one-touch" button for starting and stopping video capture.
Menus and Modes
The S8000's two tab menu system is consistently simple, user-friendly, logical and easily navigated. The large 3.0-inch LCD and reasonable font size make reading the menus easy.
Here's a breakdown of the S8000's shooting modes:
Like most currently available digicams the S8000 doesn't provide an optical viewfinder so the LCD must be used for all framing and composition, image review and menu access chores. The S8000 may lack an optical viewfinder, but makes up for this omission by adding a large screen with what amounts to four times the 230k resolution of some of its competition. The S8000's wide-viewing angle Clear Color 3.0-inch TFT LCD is super sharp (920,000 pixels), bright, hue accurate and fluid.
The info display provides all the information 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 dial's 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 shooter's 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 S8000 shows marked improvement over its predecessors with a very good anti-glare/anti-reflection coating.
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