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Nikon Coolpix S50c Review
by  -  5/31/2007

The Nikon Coolpix S50c is the WiFi equipped version of the Coolpix S50. The S50c sports the same slim form factor, 3 inch LCD, 7.2 megapixel resolution, 3x optical zoom, and optical Vibration Reduction. Just add an 802.11 b/g wireless radio to the S50 and you get the S50c. As far as wireless goes, Nikon just gets better with each generation. The latest generation lets you configure the wireless settings on-camera, send images to email addresses or to online storage space.

nikon coolpix s50c
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NUTS & BOLTS

Viewfinder/LCD

The large 3 inch LCD on the S50c has a 170 degree viewing angle and 230K pixels of resolution that provides a nice sharp image.  The screen does have a glossy finish, but an anti-reflective coating helps keep glare down.  Despite the large size of the screen, it’s actually visible under bright outdoor conditions.  Additionally, colors are represented accurately and the refresh rate of the screen is fast enough to provide a smooth view of your shot.

Lens/Zoom

The S50c has a typical 3x optical zoom with an equivalent 35mm range of 38-114mm.  When the camera is powered on, the lens does not protrude at all from the body (as has been standard on the Coolpix S models in the recent past).  A sliding cover protects the lens when the camera is off.  There are nine increments along the optical zoom range.

In normal focus mode, the S50c can focus on subjects between one foot and infinity.  In macro mode, you can focus as close as 4cm.  There is a focus assist lamp to help the camera focus in low-light conditions.

By default, the camera uses a multi-area (5 area) auto focus system, but you can also choose a center area AF or a manual area AF that lets you pick the focus point from 99 different areas in the frame.

Vibration Reduction

The Coolpix S50c contains optical Vibration Reduction (VR), which is Nikon’s name for optical image stabilization.  The VR system helps out in low light when you’re using slower shutter speeds (without flash) and you’re handholding the camera.  The VR system counteracts blur caused by camera movement.

Wireless 

The “c” in S50c is how Nikon lets you know that his camera is different than it’s non-wireless twin, the S50.  The wireless radio in the S50c is capable of 802.11b/g WiFi communications.  Also, for I believe the first time, you can actually configure your wireless access points directly on the camera.  Previously, you had to connect the camera to your computer to set up wireless profiles.  You can still use this software to edit wireless settings and recipient e-mail addresses since it’s easier to use your computer instead of the rotary dial to choose text.

nikon coolpix s50c
Available networks (view large image)
nikon coolpix s50c
WEP key setup on-camera (view large image)

Nikon has also improved their online service, which is now called Coolpix Connect 2.  You can send selected images as “Picture Mail” or to a “Picture Bank”.  The mail option lets you designate your recipient’s email address and then lets you choose the images (and what size) that you want to send.  The recipient receives an email with thumbnail images that can be viewed at larger sizes on the Coolpix Connect web site.  If you don’t want to send an email, you can just send your images to the “Picture Bank” for storage.

nikon coolpix s50c
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nikon coolpix s50c
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nikon coolpix s50c
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Flash 

According to the spec sheet, the S50c has a flash range, at wide angle, of 1 foot to 19 feet, 8 inches.  At telephoto, this range is 1 foot to 13 feet, 1 inch.  These numbers also are with ISO set to Auto.  I believe that 19 feet is a little optimistic, but my test shots at about 12 feet were illuminated sufficiently, although an increase ISO introduced a decent amount of graininess.  I’d give it a few more feet, but after that you’ll notice the illumination drop off.  And by the way, you can always try out Nikon’s D-Lighting feature to lighten up the dark areas after you capture a shot.

nikon coolpix s50c sample image
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nikon coolpix s50c sample image
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Shot on left is taken at about 8 feet, shot on right at 12 feet. The camera increased the sensitivity to ISO 250 on the right shot, making it look brighter, but this also introduced a lot of noise.

You can set the flash to auto, auto with red-eye reduction, always on (fill flash), disabled, and a slow sync for night portraits.

Memory Media

This camera accepts SD media and has about 13MB of internal memory

Image/Movie/Audio File Format(s)

Images are stored as JPEG files only.  Movies are captured as Quicktime files and audio clips are recorded as WAV files.

Connectivity

Besides the wireless capabilities mentioned earlier, there is a multi-connector for a USB (USB 2.0 Hi-Speed) or AV connection.

Power

The S50c is powered by an EN-EL8 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack.  The included charger charges the battery in-camera in approximately 2 hours.  Estimated battery life is around 130 shots.  Real world use will net far fewer shots.  I took 74 shots before the “battery exhausted” message popped up.  My use was pretty typical.  There weren’t actually too many flash-enabled shots and I only enabled the wireless features a couple times (enough to setup an access point and send four images).

EXPOSURE

The Coolpix S50c caters to the individual who wants an easy to use, stylish camera.  That being the case, your only exposure modes for still shots are a couple automatic modes and your typical scene modes.  There are also modes for audio and movie recording.

The auto mode on the S50c is essentially a “program auto” mode.  The camera determines exposure, but you can change settings like ISO (sensitivity), white balance, and exposure compensation.

For scene modes, you can choose from Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night landscape, Close-up, Museum, Fireworks, Copy, Backlight, and Panorama Assist.

An additional High ISO shooting mode will increase the sensitivity of the camera (up to ISO 1600) depending on brightness of the subject.

Another handy feature related to capture modes is the “one touch portrait mode” that is activated by the smiley face button on the top of the camera.  When you press this button, the camera turns on the face detection auto focus and red-eye reduction mode (as well as optimizing settings for portraits).

Movie Mode

Standard movies can be captured at 640x480 @ 30fps, 320x240 at 30 fps, and 160x120 @15fps.  You can also take movies that are well suited for PictMotion movies that are 640x480 @ 10fps.  If you’re feeling like doing a little Claymation style animation, you can enable the stop-motion mode that stitches together 640x480 still images into a movie than can be played back at 5, 10, or 15 fps.  A time-lapse movie mode takes still pictures at intervals to make a 640x480 movie with a 30fps playback.  You cannot use the optical zoom during movie capture.

Metering

Metering is handled with a 256-segment matrix.  If you use digital zoom, the metering switches to a center-weighted mode.  If you need to tweak the exposure determined by the metering system, you can adjust the exposure compensation plus or minus 2 EV at 1/3EV steps.

White Balance

The default white balance setting is (of course), auto.  You can also set a custom white balance by using a neutral target, but you can pick from several presets as well.  The presets are daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, and flash.

Sensitivity 

The camera can take shots with sensitivities up to ISO 1600.  You can choose from Auto, ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600.


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

The S50c is an ultra-slim camera that is only 0.8 inches thick.  It’s definitely pocketable and easy to slip into a pants or shirt pocket.  Construction quality is good, although mine had a rattle (which I believe was actually just the lens cover).  The body is sturdy, button operation (with the exception of the very tiny zoom rocker) is good, and the battery/memory compartment door is nowhere near falling off.

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

The top of the camera has the shutter release, power button, One Touch Portrait Mode button, and button to toggle the “Anti-Shake” mode.  In this mode, the Best Shot Selector (BSS) mode is enabled as is the VR and the ISO may also be increased.  BSS mode lets you take up to 10 images and it will automatically pick the shot that has the least blur.

nikon coolpix s50c
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The left side of the camera (if you’re facing the back of the camera) has the WiFi bump-out where you can see a blue LED that lets you know the WiFi status.

nikon coolpix s50c
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The back of the camera is dominated by the 3 inch LCD.  At the top right is a very tiny rocker switch that operates the zoom (its small size is one of my gripes with the camera).  Below that is the control cluster that consists of a clickable rotary selector dial, a mode button, a button to access playback mode, a menu button and a delete button.  The directional pad that is part of the rotary dial lets you access the self-timer, flash modes, macro mode, and exposure compensation settings.

nikon coolpix s50c
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The bottom of the camera has a tripod mount, a multi-connector jack and the battery/memory media compartment.

nikon coolpix s50c
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Included

In the box with the camera, you’ll find the battery, battery charger, USB/AV cable, strap, printer dock accessory, dock insert, printed Quick Start Guide, printed manual, and Picture Project CD-ROM.

PERFORMANCE

Usage

The Coolpix S50c is pretty fun to use (even with its sluggishness – more on that later).  Having a 3 inch screen is really nice and the rotary dial is a nice way to interact with the menu system. 

With each generation of WiFi-enabled digital camera, Nikon keeps making things better.  With their models a couple years ago, you couldn’t use them for much else other than transferring the images to your computer (if you could get it working at all).  Nikon also keeps expanding their online service (Coolpix Connect) to be more useful as well.  With the S50c, it was very straightforward to setup a wireless access point and send pictures to an email address via the Coolpix Connect 2 service.

Nikon’s feature set is also really useful.   They were one of the first manufacturers with face priority auto focus, but they’ve combined this with in-camera red-eye correction and VR to make it even more useful.  Their D-Lighting feature is useful for applying lighting corrections after you take your shot.

Image Quality

Image quality, in general, was good.  The tiny optic in the S50c was not great for resolving fine details, but the results would be perfectly acceptable for your “everyday” snapshots.  Prints at your typical sizes (4x6 and 8x10) would look very good with strong colors and sharp details.  The color reproduction was good and, as is typical, a little saturated since the typical consumer likes bright colors.

The automatic white balance did a nice job.  In my office, results from a typical point and shoot typically have a yellowish cast to them.  The S50c handled the indoor fluorescents very well.

There was a fair amount of both barrel distortion (straight lines bow away from the center) at the wide angle and pincushion distortion (straight lines curve toward the center) at the telephoto end of the zoom.

nikon coolpix s50c sample image
Pincushion distortion (view large image)
nikon coolpix s50c sample image
Barrel distortion (view large image)

Timing/Shutter Lag

Camera performance is where a lot of the good things about the S50c lose their appeal.  If you’ve read reviews of other Nikon compact cameras, you’ll see that this has been a sore point for Nikon for a while now.  The S50c is slower than average pretty much all across the board.  From the time you power on the camera until you can take your first shot is about 4 seconds.  Shutter lag, with no focus lock, is around 0.7 seconds.  If you do a partial press first, the click to capture time is around 0.2 seconds.  Cycle time (time between shots) without flash was actually not bad.  With the flash enabled, there was about a 4-5 second wait during which the LCD is actually blank and you can’t do anything with the camera.  Focus times were about average under good lighting, but in darker areas, even with the focus-assist lamp, I experience focus times up to three seconds.

Sample Images

nikon coolpix s50c sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s50c sample image
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nikon coolpix s50c sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s50c sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s50c sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)
nikon coolpix s50c sample image
(view medium image) (view large image)

Conclusion

The slow speed of the Coolpix S50c is probably the biggest downfall of this camera. If you're ok with the camera's speed, you'll be pleased with this camera. While there are no advanced manual exposure modes, the target user of this camera won't use them anyway. Instead, they can use the handy wireless features to send pictures to an online service or send them to a friend's email Inbox. The camera produces sharp images with nice strong colors under a variety of conditions. After all that, it's still slim enough for a shirt pocket. If you think you'll get a lot of use out of a wireless-enabled digital camera (and don't mind a slightly slower than average camera), then the Coolpix S50c is worth a look.

Pros

Cons