DigitalCameraReview.com
Nikon Coolpix S50 Review
by Jim Keenan -  5/22/2007

When Nikon introduced eight new Coolpix point and shoot digital cameras with a February 2007 press release, a quick perusal of the individual models showed an interesting mix of features spread amongst the various models. The P5000 was definitely the alpha wolf of this pack, with 10 megapixels and a full set of manual controls to complement its suite of auto and programmed functions. While the Coolpix S50 may not have quite the bark and bite of the P5000, its image and color quality will have you howling for joy.

nikon coolpix s50
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This new member of Nikon’s Coolpix “Style” series features a 7.2 megapixel sensor and 3x Nikon optical zoom lens that provides a 35mm film equivalent focal length range of 38 to 114mm. Nikon has also packaged in 15 scene options, optical Vibration Reduction, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, Face-Priority auto focus (AF) and their excellent “D-Lighting” image correction function in addition to the standard “auto” mode. But the big news with the S50 is the monitor – big as in a 3 inch LCD with 230,000 dot composition. The S50 packs all this into a matte-black metal body about the size of a deck of playing cards and set off with chrome highlights. Build quality looks excellent.

If you're looking for a WiFi enabled version of the S50, the Coolpix S50c is the one you want to look at.

A CLOSER LOOK 

The S50 is clearly aimed at photographers who are content to let the camera do virtually all the work. There is the capability to set fixed ISO sensitivities and some camera inputs with regard to image quality, color, exposure, etc., but the major role of the S50 shooter is to compose and press the shutter button. The camera does quite well in “auto” mode (the shots below), so minimizing photographer involvement is not necessarily a bad thing.

nikon coolpix s50 sample image
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nikon coolpix s50 sample image
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nikon coolpix s50 sample image
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nikon coolpix s50 sample image
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nikon coolpix s50 sample image
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nikon coolpix s50 sample image
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Nikon provides a rechargeable EN-EL8 battery and charger, an AV/USB cable, camera strap, printer dock accessory and insert, and Nikon Picture Project CD with each camera.

The camera has approximately 13MB of internal memory and accepts SD/SDHC memory cards.

Camera dimensions are about 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.8 inches with a shooting weight (battery and memory card installed) of about 4.875 ounces.

The S50 can capture JPEG still images at the following pixel sizes: 7M (high or normal quality), 5M, 3M, 1024 x 768, 640 x 480 or 3,072 x 1,728 (16:9).

Movies are captured in QuickTime format at 640 x 480 pixels in either 30 or 10 frames per second; 320 x 240 pixels at 30 fps, or 160 x 120 pixels at 15 fps. There are also time-lapse and stop-action movie options available. Movie file size is limited only by available memory.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT 

The front of the S50 houses the built-in flash, self-timer lamp/AF-assist illuminator and the 3x optical Nikon zoom lens. The zoom function is internal – the lens does not protrude from the camera body during use. I found myself partially blocking the lens with a finger when shooting in the vertical format a couple of times, but finding a comfortable vertical grip that doesn’t impede the lens becomes quickly second nature.

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The camera back is dominated by the 3 inch monitor; also found here are the menu, delete, shooting/playback, mode and zoom buttons, the rotary multi selector, speaker, and indicator/flash lamp.

nikon coolpix s50
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A power switch, power-on lamp, shutter release button, microphone, anti-shake and one-touch portrait/D-Lighting button are located on the camera top.

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The memory card slot and battery chamber, multi connector and threaded tripod socket are found on the camera bottom.

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SHOOTING WITH THE COOLPIX S50 

Auto Mode 

The S50 “auto” mode, which Nikon recommends for “first time users of digital cameras”, comes with default settings of auto ISO, normal color, 7M pixels and normal image quality, and Vibration Reduction enabled.  There are a number of options available in “auto” mode, including but not limited to, macro, exposure compensation, white balance, ISO sensitivity, color options and AF area. In this regard, “auto” is operating more like a “programmed auto” setting, where the camera handles all the exposure parameters, but the shooter can input settings if desired.

Except where otherwise noted, all images captured by the S50 to illustrate this review were done at 7M and high quality settings. As a practical matter, I noticed little, if any, change in image quality going from normal to high at the 7M pixel setting.

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Normal quality (view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s50 sample image
High quality (view medium image) (view large image)

Scene Options 

The S50 offers 15 “scene” options where camera settings are automatically optimized for the selected subject type: portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close up, museum, fireworks show, copy, back light and panorama assist.

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"copy" mode (view medium image) (view large image)
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Landscape mode (view medium image) (view large image)

Exposure Compensation 

+/- 2 EV of exposure compensation is available in 1/3 EV increments. 

Light Metering 

256 segment matrix metering is the default setting; the S50 goes to center-weighted metering if the digital zoom is enabled. 

Focus/Macro Focus 

The S50 will focus from 1 foot to infinity in normal mode, and as close as 1.6 inches at the middle zoom position with macro focus enabled. The middle zoom position is identified by a visual mark on the zoom indicator along with a color change when the lens is zoomed to maximize macro performance.

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Macro (view medium image) (view large image)

nikon coolpix s50 sample image
Macro (view medium image) (view large image)

Monitor 

The 3 inch monitor is adjustable for 5 levels of brightness and is a joy to use for picture editing and/or composition in good lighting conditions. In bright daylight, subjects with little contrast are a challenge for composition, although the larger monitor helps somewhat in this regard. There is no optical viewfinder. 

Flash 

Flash performance appeared to meet stated performance parameters, ranging from 1 foot to nearly 20 feet at wide angle, and 1 foot to 13 feet at telephoto length. 

Color 

Color reproduction by the S50 was very accurate at the default “normal” setting under natural or flash lighting. Switching to “vivid” color produced little change, although reds seemed to shift slightly toward orange. The S50 can also capture still images in black & white, sepia, and cyanotype tones.

nikon coolpix s50 sample image
Normal color (view medium image) (view large image)
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nikon coolpix s50 sample image
B&W color (view medium image) (view large image)
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ISO 

ISO sensitivities of 100, 200, 400, 800 or 1600 may be manually set for shooting in “auto” mode. “Auto” ISO will range from 100 to 800 with flash disabled. ISO settings for the various scene options are automatically established by the camera. 

As a practical matter, shots at 100 and 200 ISO were fairly equal, with noise beginning to be more apparent at 400 ISO. 800 ISO was, as expected, a good bit worse than 400, but the jump from 800 to 1600 demonstrated the single greatest deterioration in noise between any two settings.


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

White Balance 

The S50 has auto, pre-set (custom), daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy and flash settings available for white balance. Performance at the default “auto” setting was excellent for cloudy, daylight and flash use.

Battery Performance 

Nikon projects a battery life of approximately 130 shots. My experience seemed to approach this level, but serious shooters should plan to carry several spares as the S50 will not accept alternate batteries such as AA or AAAs.

Shutter Performance 

The S50 powers up in about 1.5 seconds and the shutter has a speed range of 4 seconds to 1/2000th of a second.  For single captures in good lighting conditions the camera needs about .5 seconds to acquire focus and shutter lag appears to be about .5 seconds as well.

Nikon claims a continuous shooting rate of 1.6 frames per second at the 7 mega pixel “normal” quality default setting – I got 13 shots in 9.9 seconds at the “high” quality setting. One caveat when shooting in continuous mode – the exposure and focus are calculated for the first image and used for all subsequent captures, so moving subjects may well change exposure and lose some sharpness of focus as their relative position to the camera changes.

Lens Performance 

To my eye the Nikon 3x optical zoom appeared quite uniformly sharp across the frame at the telephoto end, with some slight softening at the edges at wide angle. This softening is such that images are not likely to be impacted for virtually all viewers. There is some barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center of the image) at the wide end, but zooming to about the 1/3 mark pretty much corrects that fault. Some sharp-eyed viewers may notice “bent” lines in fully wide angle shots. There is chromatic aberration (purple fringing) present in high contrast boundary areas, but it is readily visible only at extreme magnifications that would probably be beyond most typical uses of the image. Overall lens performance is very good. 

MISCELLANEOUS 

The S50 has a handy “one touch portrait mode” button on the camera top that allows you to transition instantly to the face-priority auto focus setting without need to use the internal camera menu.

The camera also features a “best shot selector” mode that is recommended for taking photos in dark conditions where camera shake may be a problem. “BSS” takes up to 10 photos while the shutter button is depressed then compares all images and saves the best one. The camera also has an “anti shake” mode to help with image sharpness, but this works in part by raising the ISO to permit fast shutter speeds with the attendant increase in noise. “Anti Shake” is best left a means of last resort.

In addition to the 3x optical zoom, the S50 has a 4x digital zoom. I usually disable digital zooms so that I don’t inadvertently zoom into the digital range and degrade images, but the S50 has no disable feature. However, Nikon has provided the next best thing – the S50 digital zoom pauses for about a second before allowing you to zoom into the digital range, and the zoom indicator changes color when in digital zoom. You’ll have to really not be paying attention to get into digital zoom accidentally with the S50.

The S50 is also PictBridge compliant, which allows the camera to connect directly to a PictBridge printer without need to connect to a computer.

The camera has a rotary multi selector that allows the shooter to scroll through menus or pictures under review rather than by pressing the selector. It takes a little getting used to, but the rotary scrolling feature is much quicker than the traditional means, particularly for reviewing large numbers of images in-camera.

nikon coolpix s50 sample image
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nikon coolpix s50 sample image
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nikon coolpix s50 sample image
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CONCLUSION 

The Nikon Coolpix S50 produces very good image and color fidelity in a stylish compact digital camera, and the big 3 inch monitor makes smaller monitors seem obsolete by comparison. While lacking manual controls, the S50 offers new photographers a user-friendly device whose overall performance can only enhance the confidence of novice shooters. At the same time, more experienced shooters who need a reliable, no-frills camera with some quality creative features won’t be barking up the wrong tree if they choose the S50.

PROS

CONS