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Nikon Coolpix S7c Digital Camera Review
by  -  1/19/2007

The Nikon Coolpix S7c was announced back in August, along with the S9 and S10.  The S7c stood out from its brethren because it looked different and Nikon was really working the “style” edge just a bit more with this camera, announcing limited edition cases ready for the holiday buying season.  Besides its nice looks, the camera takes 7.1 megapixel images, has a 3x optical zoom, electronic vibration reduction and a very large 3 inch LCD.  If that’s not enough, Nikon tossed in a wireless radio and a year subscription to T-Mobile Hotspots so you can send pictures to your friends via the Coolpix Connect service.

nikon coolpix s7c
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In the Box 

Along with the camera, you’ll find a cradle, dock insert, wrist strap, USB cable, A/V cable, AC adapter, lithium-ion rechargeable battery, and Picture Project CD-ROM.

Camera Design 

As one of Nikon’s Style cameras, the S7c gets an ultra-slim, all metal body with a nice glossy gray (almost charcoal) finish.  Silver/chrome accents and controls add to the appeal, along with the huge 3 inch LCD on the back.

On the front of the camera, you’ll see the built-in flash, lens and focus assist/self timer lamp.

The back of the camera is dominated by the 3 inch, 230K pixel screen.  There is a button to toggle between capture and playback mode, a button to access the mode menu, a button to access the camera menu and a delete button.  The S7c also has a rotating control wheel mounted on top of a 5-way control pad.  The wheel allows easy scrolling through images and settings.  You can press up to control the flash, left to control the timer mode, and down to use the macro mode.

nikon coolpix s7c
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Along the slim top of the camera, you will see the “One Touch Portrait Button” that, with one touch, will turn on the face priority AF and portrait mode.  Also, you will find the very small power button, shutter release and small zoom control.

nikon coolpix s7c
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The bottom of the camera has the tripod mount, multi-connector, and battery/memory media compartment.

nikon coolpix s7c
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On the left side of the camera (when looking from the back of the camera), there’s a little “hump” that contains the wireless radio, including a blue status LED that flashes while WiFi is in operation.

Camera Features 

One of the highlight features of this camera is that it is wireless enabled (802.11b/g).  This isn’t Nikon’s first camera to include wireless ability, but it is the first to use their new Coolpix Connect service.  On this camera, and in Nikon wireless cameras in the past, you’ve been able to transfer images to your computer either all at once, only ones you’ve selected, or you can shoot and transfer the image immediately.  Also, like before, you need to connect the camera to the computer via USB and use the Wireless Camera Setup utility to add wireless profiles to your camera.  With the introduction of the Coolpix Connect service, you can now email your pictures to recipients of your choice.  If you have a wireless connection, you can add a recipient email address and send pictures.  The pictures are sent to the Coolpix Connect service which then sends out an email to your recipient.  The recipient can view the image on the Coolpix Connect website.  The S7c also comes with a year subscription that will allow you to use the S7c at any T-Mobile Hotspot.  The upside to this, besides being able to walk into just about any Starbucks to send pictures, is that you don’t need to setup wireless profiles on the camera to use the T-Mobile wireless access point.

The maximum resolution of the S7c is 7.1 megapixels.  This equates to images of 3072x3204 pixels.  There are two compression settings at the max resolution, High and Normal.  If you’d like to take smaller pictures, you can choose from 2592 x 1944, 2048 x 1536, 1024 x 768, and 640 x 480.  Full resolution images take about 2MB of storage space.

While the camera is labeled with “VR”, which stands for Vibration Reduction – Nikon’s optical image stabilization system – the S7c doesn’t actually have optical image stabilization.  Instead, it uses “electronic” VR.  To reduce blur from camera shake, a gyro collects data about the movement of the camera and that data is used during image processing in camera to “fix” blur.

Another neat feature that Nikon uses to combat blur is the Best Shot Selector (BSS).  In this mode, the camera can take 10 shots, right after one another, and it picks the least blurry image to save from the set.  On the S7c, Nikon has provided one touch access (by pressing Ok button) to a shooting mode that uses BSS and electronic VR during capture.

The lens of the S7c is protected by a guillotine-style cover while powered off.  The lens is also “fixed”, in that it doesn’t extend at all from the body.  The zoom mechanism is internal to the camera.  The lens provides a 3x optical zoom with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 35-105mm.  The aperture number ranges from f/2.8-5.0.

The 3 inch LCD has 230K pixels of resolution, providing a bright image with good resolution.  It’s also very viewable at wide viewing angles.  The screen has a high enough refresh rate that the display moves very smoothly.  I really enjoyed the LCD.

There are many modes for capturing movies.  The most memory-hogging mode is the 640x480 movies at 30 frames per second.  Moving down the list from there are smaller sizes and lower frame-rate movies.  There is a specific movie mode that is well-suited for creating PictMotion movies (for display on camera).  There is a time-lapse movie mode that will join 640x480 still images taken at a specified interval into a 30fps movie.  Finally, there is a stop-motion movie mode that joins together still images into a 30fps movie so that you can make your own Claymation film.  Also note that optical zoom is not available during movie capture.  You can enable a full-time AF and the electronic VR for a bit of stabilization during movie capture.

The camera has 14MB of internal memory, but also accepts Secure Digital (SD) memory cards for more storage.

The camera is powered by a lithium-ion battery (EN-EL8) which takes about 2 hours to charge.  The battery is charged in-camera, with or without the cradle.  According to the spec sheet, the S7c is good for 200 shots on a single charge, by CIPA standards.  Battery life was about average.  You can probably expect around 150 shots on a charge.  If you use the wireless features often, the radio will drain the battery much faster.

Like most ultra-slim, stylish cameras, the S7c is truly a point and shoot camera.  There are no manual exposure modes, although you can modify the white balance, sensitivity (ISO), and exposure compensation.  It also has a nice complement of scene modes.  Using their “one touch” button gives you single-press access to the portrait mode.  You can also access the scene modes by using the mode button.  Four of the scene modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sport, and Night Portrait) have what Nikon calls “Scene Assist”.  When you select one of these modes, you are given an additional prompt that better defines your shooting condition.  For example, when you select Portrait mode, the camera prompts you to pick portrait, portrait left, portrait right, portrait close-sup, portrait couple, and so on.  Once your selection is made a mostly transparent overlay appears on the LCD to help you compose your shot for best results.  The S7c also has a Hi ISO mode for taking pictures at higher ISO values.

The contrast detection AF works well under most conditions.  A focus assist light really helps in low light conditions.  Frankly, I don’t know why camera manufacturers would leave this seemingly simple feature out in the first place.  Anyway, the lens can focus on items as close as 30cm in normal mode.  If you switch to macro mode, you can get as close as 4cm. 

The camera uses a center focus mode by default.  If you need a bit more flexibility, you can switch the camera to a focus mode where you select the focus point manually.  In this mode, you can use the directional pad to move an indicator into one of 99 areas in the center of the frame.

The camera has a 10 second and 3 second self-timer for when you want to get in the picture too.  In addition to taking single shots, the camera can be set in continuous mode, multi-shot 16, and interval timer shooting.  In continuous mode, the camera takes 7 shots at about 1.4 frames per second.  In multi-shot 16 mode, each time the shutter is pressed, the camera takes 16 lower resolution shots at about 1.6 frames per second and combines them into one “Normal (2592)” image.  With interval shooting, the camera can take up to 1800 frames automatically at the interval that you set.

The built-in flash works reasonably well.  You can set the flash to auto, auto with red-eye reduction, fill flash, slow sync, and disabled.  The flash has a range of 12 inches to 24.5 feet at wide angle.  A telephoto, the range is 12 inches to 13 feet.

Camera Performance and Image Quality 

The S7c performs well.  Start up time is under 2 seconds.  Shutter lag is also very respectable.  With the flash disabled and a full press of the button, the lag is about 0.4-0.5 seconds.  If you do a partial press of the shutter to give the camera a chance to get a focus lock and calculate exposure then the shutter lag is only about 0.1 seconds.  In either case, if you use the flash, you can expect to add about 0.1-0.2 seconds to this count.  The cycle time (time between shots) is also very good at less than 2 seconds.  When I measured this, I was using the flash and it cycled very quickly.  However, the flash cycle time is a lot more dependent on battery condition.  As the battery runs out of juice flash cycle time can take a little longer. 

The ergonomics of the camera are about what you would expect in an ultra-slim camera.  For added grip stability, there is a little textured imprint where you can rest your right thumb on the back of the camera.  The rotary control dial is a nice touch, but the directional pad underneath can be a bit hard to press.  Many people will not like the zoom control, which is a pretty tiny lever on the top of the camera, but I can’t come up with a better place to put the control.  You could put it on the back of the camera, but then you’d lose the thumb resting space. I actually prefer it on top of the camera.

I was pretty impressed with the flash performance of the camera.  The spec sheet claims a range of 24.5 feet when shooting at the widest angle lens position.  This is pretty impressive for such a small camera, but this is under ideal conditions when the camera is allowed to boost the sensitivity.  If you keep the sensitivity set to ISO 50, the effective range is much less. The flash easily illuminated an average size room.  In shots where there are people relatively close to the camera, the room may be under-exposed behind them since the camera does a nice job of metering on the face.


Indoor, flash shot (view large image)

Auto focus performance was accurate and typically very quick.  A focus assist light helped out in low light conditions to give the camera enough contrast to determine the correct focus.  When not shooting in macro mode, the focus happens at the time of the shot or at the time of a partial press of the shutter.  In macro mode, it sounds like the camera is attempting to focus all the time (continuous AF).  During movie capture, you can also use a continuous AF so a moving subject stays in focus.

It takes just over 2 seconds to travel through the optical zoom range.  There are seven “stops” along the way if you just tap the zoom control.  You cannot use the optical zoom during movie capture, which is kind of a disappointment, especially in a camera with a lens that doesn’t protrude.

Image quality was very good overall.  Colors were reproduced accurately and were well saturated.  The automatic white balance did a good job in some tough mixed lighting that I tried, with just the slightest color cast that wasn’t really noticeable until I corrected it in some software.  Details were sharp in pictures where noise reduction or blur correction was not necessary.  Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) was well controlled at both ends of the zoom range.  I did see it, but only when looking very closely at a pretty high magnification.  Barrel distortion, which makes straight lines bulge outward, at the wide angle setting, was noticeable but about average.  Pincushion distortion, when straight lines bow in towards the middle of the frame at the telephoto end of the zoom, was pretty noticeable and slightly above average.

As far as sensitivity, the S7c starts at ISO 50 and goes up to ISO 1600.  Noise levels at ISO 50 and 100 are very good – graininess is not visible.  At ISO 200 (and even ISO 400), some noise is visible, but will only be so with large sized prints.  From there, quite a bit of detail is lost to noise at ISO 800 and 1600.


Shot from which ISO samples below came from

Additional Sample Images

nikon coolpix s7c sample image
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nikon coolpix s7c sample image
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nikon coolpix s7c sample image
Macro, 100% crop (view medium image) (view large image)

 

Specifications 

Conclusion

Overall, I was pleased with the Nikon Coolpix S7c.  The image quality was very good and the wireless features worked well.  The camera is also very stylish and thin - you’re sure to turn some heads.  If the looks aren't enough, then just flash the large 3 inch screen and that should just about do it.

The camera includes a lot of great Nikon features, like their face priority AF, D-Lighting, and some nice scene assist modes.  The Coolpix Connect service makes this camera more useful over wireless networks than previous WiFi-enabled Nikon cameras.

The Nikon Coolpix S7c is perfectly suited to the “gadget freak” that is looking for an ultra-compact camera and wants to take advantage of the wireless capabilities of the camera.  The camera’s style will also appeal to a broader cross section of users.

Pros

Cons