DigitalCameraReview.com
Nikon Coolpix S210 Review
by Jim Keenan -  4/17/2008

Looking over the press release for the new Nikon Coolpix S210 compact digital, words like "slim, elegant camera design," "quality-crafted aluminum body," "high performance," "ease of operation," "affordable," and "array of color options" jump out of the text.

Nikon Coolpix S210
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Slotted in price-wise at the bottom of Nikon's Style (S) series of Coolpix digitals, it's easy to see the camera delivers on the slim, aluminum-bodied, affordable, and colorful (there are up to seven body colors depending on sales region) promises by just holding the S210 in your hand. Verifying the "high performance" and "ease of operation" claims will take a little more work, so let's get going.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

The S210 features an 8.1 megapixel sensor, face detection auto focus, in-camera automatic red-eye correction, Nikon's D-Lighting post processing tool, a 2.5-inch monitor with 230,000 dot composition, and a 3x Nikon zoom lens offering a 35mm film equivalent 38 to 114mm focal range. There is a nominal ISO 64 to 2000 sensitivity range, and the S210 utilizes Nikon's new EXPEED image processing system which provides for "enhanced noise reduction and improved the signal-to-noise ratio." EXPEED debuted in Nikon's pro-grade D3 and D300 DSLRs and has since surfaced in the new D60, so its appearance in a compact digital gives cause to hope that "high performance" is more than just ad copy. "Electronic" image stabilization that does not involve ISO boosting is also on board.

There are four primary shooting modes:

One of the subject types found in the scene mode is Backlight, which will fire a fill flash to lighten the shaded side of a subject when the primary light source is from behind the subject. If you're close enough to the subject for the flash to reach, backlight can produce some nice results:

Nikon Coolpix S210
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Similarly, as noted, the S210 features Nikon's D-Lighting dynamic range enhancement tool. Great for post-processing scenes with harsh contrast to even tone and bring out detail, here's what D-Lighting can do to selectively lighten areas under heavy shade in outdoor shots.

Nikon Coolpix S210
Original Image (view large image)
Nikon Coolpix S210
With D-Lighting (view large image)

Nikon includes USB and AV cables, a wrist strap, rechargeable battery and charger, and a CD-ROM software suite with each camera. There are approximately 52 megabytes of internal memory and the camera also accepts SD memory media.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT AND FEEL

While slimmer than any compact digital I've reviewed to date, the S210 falls into the seemingly obligatory "small deck of cards" size and shape that seems to characterize the most compact digitals.

Styling and Build Quality

The S210 for this review was the Graphite Black version, and featured a dark grey brushed and matte aluminum body with bright chrome accents.

Nikon Coolpix S210
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The camera seems well built and sports some subtle contours and rounding on the edges of its otherwise slim rectangular shape.

Ergonomics and Interface

Gripping the S210 is about the same as any really compact digital – its small size allows most users to fashion a hold to suit their particular preference. Control location and the position of the lens and flash on the front of the body are not adversely affected by finger placement with either a one- or two-handed grip.

Nikon Coolpix S210
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The camera is really quite simply set up – power and shutter buttons on the top, and mode, menu, playback, delete, OK buttons, multi-select dial and monitor on the rear.

Nikon Coolpix S210
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Access to the various internal menus via menu/mode buttons or the direct application of inputs via the multi selector is fairly quick and intuitive with minimal practice. All in all, a very unintimidating camera for a first-time user.

Display/Viewfinder

The 2.5-inch monitor is adjustable over five levels of brightness and is suitable for image composition and review in good lighting, but can be difficult to use in bright light. Coverage is about 97 percent in shooting mode, and 100 percent in playback mode.

Nikon Coolpix S210
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There is no viewfinder.


PERFORMANCE

While it's the budget leader in Nikon's S series of cameras, the S210 does demonstrate some decent performance in select areas.

Timings and Shutter Lag

The S210 produced consistent .05 second shutter lag shots with focus acquired – good performance for any non-DSLR digital. Things tapered off a bit when focus needed to be acquired before shooting, with .9 to 1 second being the time frame required to acquire focus and shoot in good lighting conditions. Focus acquisition times lengthen in dim conditions, and there is no focus assist lamp, but the camera would usually acquire focus in the 1.5 second range. Starting up and shooting required about 2.7 seconds to get the first shot.

Single shot-to-shot times (shoot, write, re-acquire focus, and shoot) ran about 3.35 seconds with both a high speed SanDisk Extreme III card and a standard SanDisk – five-shot sequences in continuous shooting mode ran about six seconds with either card. The S210 does not appear to benefit from fast cards as far as in-camera write times are concerned.

Lens and Zoom

The 3x zoom on the S210 covers a focal range of 38 to 114mm (35mm equivalent) and features a maximum aperture range of f/3.1 to 5.9 – fairly fast at wide angle, but fairly slow at telephoto. The lens is also neither particularly wide nor particularly long, but it does cover the 85 to 105mm focal range many 35mm shooters favor for head and shoulder-type portraits.

Here's what the focal range looks like:

Nikon Coolpix S210
Wide-Angle (view large image)
Nikon Coolpix S210
Telephoto (view large image)

Auto Focus

The S210 provides four AF area options: face priority (the default setting, which switches to auto if the camera doesn't recognize any faces), auto (which will select the focus point from one of nine areas which contains the object closest to the camera), manual (which allows the user to designate the focus point from 99 areas), and center (which focuses on the center of the frame).

My personal preference was for center AF, which allowed me to select the subject for each image, and by continuing to hold the shutter button halfway re-compose the shot if necessary while maintaining focus before shooting.

Flash

Flash performance in the S210 was good, with the flash being ready to fire again in good lighting conditions as soon as the camera could take another shot and had acquired focus – in the vicinity of four seconds. Full discharges in pitch black conditions required about six or seven seconds between shots, but this is primarily due to the camera needing to acquire focus in a virtual absence of light: I couldn't get the camera to fire the flash (even if fully charged) unless the image was in focus, a nice touch for an entry-level compact.

Red-eye reduction worked well, but when it didn't the automatic in-camera red-eye correction fixed any shots that slipped by. Our cats got a little tired of all the bright lights going off in their faces (the S210 seems to control so-called "pet eye" equally well), but I never saw a finished shot with a hint of odd reflectivity.

Image Stabilization

The S210 has what Nikon terms Electronic Vibration Reduction (eVR) image stabilization to control blur for both moving and still images, but you'll have a hard time finding exactly what this involves via the user's manual or Nikon website. In looking at images, the system didn't seem to be bumping up ISO, and the fact that images that were nearly sharp or really blurred seemed to define the extremes of the eVR envelope (eVR had no effect on either nearly sharp or really blurred shots, working best somewhere between the two) suggested some sort of in-camera sharpening was afoot. Still, it took DCR.com editor David Rasnake speaking directly to Nikon to get to the bottom of the mystery: "Nikon's 'eVR' applies specific movement data to image processing algorithms during processing to turn blurred images into beautifully clear results." Or, as David explains in language even I can understand, "Basically, it seems to be using a gyro (like a traditional mechanical/optical IS system) to get motion data, and then applying a sharpening algorithm to compensate."

There are two settings for eVR: off (default) and auto. Even with eVR turned off, images that may benefit from eVR may be manually post-processed if they are marked with an "OK: eVR" tag when viewed in playback mode. In auto mode, eVR will operate only if the flash is off or set to slow sync, shutter speed is low, and shooting mode is single, not continuous. It also won't activate at ISO 800 or above.

Overall, while eVR is certainly preferable to ISO ramping digital image stabilization systems, its hybrid nature makes it somewhat less effective than true optical/mechanical image stabilization.

Battery Life

Nikon lists battery life for the S210 as approximately 220 shots. Not having a spare for this review, I kept the battery charged before each day in the field and didn't get an independent measure of battery performance. Carry a spare, just in case.


IMAGE QUALITY

The S210 produced very nice images in natural light or with flash illumination, certainly as good overall as any similar camera I've reviewed.

Nikon Coolpix S210
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Images at default settings in the S210 displayed pleasant and accurate color, and while there is no sharpening setting available in the camera, I was happy with the sharpness right out of the box.

Nikon Coolpix S210
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Nikon Coolpix S210
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Nikon Coolpix S210
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Nikon Coolpix S210
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Exposure, Processing and Color

The S210 uses a 256 segment center-weighted matrix metering system for all exposures with lens settings less than 2x digital zoom, and a spot metering system for 2x digital zoom and above. Since I never use digital zoom (and you probably shouldn't either), I was left to rely on the center-weighted system, which did not let me down. I didn't get a chance to shoot any surf on a sunny day, which is my usual "let's see how the camera deals with high contrast" test, but the S210 did well in a variety of lighting and subject conditions. I would expect the S210 to lose highlights in some extreme contrast situations (most cameras will), but there is easily-accessed exposure compensation available as an adjustment for such cases.

Nikon Coolpix S210
Standard (view large image)
Nikon Coolpix S210
Vivid (view large image)
Nikon Coolpix S210
Black and White (view large image)
Nikon Coolpix S210
Sepia (view large image)
Nikon Coolpix S210
Cyanotype (view large image)

There are Standard, Vivid, Black and White, Sepia, and Cyanotype color options available. I didn't see a lot of difference between Standard and Vivid and tended to leave the camera in Vivid.

White Balance

Auto white balance is the default setting and does a good job overall, although incandescent light shot with auto WB seemed a bit warm. Matching WB to specific light sources whenever possible produced good results, and there is a custom setting available.

Lens Faults

The S210 lens demonstrated barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from center of image) at wide angle, and pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward center of image) at telephoto. In both cases the defects were not extreme and I didn't really notice any impact on the "real world" shots I took, but images of subjects with straight lines can be impacted.

Nikon Coolpix S210
Wide-Angle (view large image)
Nikon Coolpix S210
Telephoto (view large image)

There was purple fringing present in high contrast boundary areas, but it became objectionable only above 100 percent enlargement in most cases (it was severe enough to be noticed at print sizes in a few sample shots). Still, I would not expect it to routinely be a factor in normal-sized images. There was also some softness in the corners and edges at wide angle and telephoto, but again, given the overall quality of the images produced by the camera, all these faults taken together aren't of significant impact.

Sensitivity and Noise

The S210 ISO sensitivity ranges from 64 to 2000, and upon close examination of the crops exhibits the typical noise progression I've come to expect in compact digitals – the first couple of settings (64, 100) are fairly indistinguishable; steady increases at 200, 400 and 800; a big jump between 800 and 1600; and a lesser falloff between 1600 and 2000.

Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 64
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Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 64, 100% Crop

Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 100
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Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 100, 100% Crop

Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 200
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Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 200, 100% Crop

Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 400
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Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 400, 100% Crop

Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 800
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Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 800, 100% Crop

Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 1600
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Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 1600, 100% Crop

Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 2000
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Nikon Coolpix S210
ISO 2000, 100% Crop

However, I was pleasantly surprised with the full image comparison, where my eye had a hard time choosing between 64, 100, 200 and 400 ISO shots; 800 was the first image that had some relatively apparent noise creeping in, but it took the 800 to 1600 jump to really make noise stand out. The S210 is very usable through 800 ISO, and its screen-size images look better than I would have expected after viewing the crops.

Additional Sample Images

Nikon Coolpix S210
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Nikon Coolpix S210
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Nikon Coolpix S210
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Nikon Coolpix S210
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Nikon Coolpix S210
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Nikon Coolpix S210
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CONCLUSIONS

While it's the low price leader of the new Nikon S series offerings, the S210 also promised "high performance" and "ease of operation." It delivers a taste of the former and loads of the latter. The camera makes no pretense of offering manual controls, yet allows a fair number of user inputs in auto mode to set image parameters such as ISO, color, white balance, exposure compensation, and AF area. The layout of the body is simple and direct, and when needed, internal menus are blessedly simple and quickly become intuitive. The camera should offer a quick and easy learning curve to the novice who picks it as their first digital, with the added bonus of being extremely thin (for a camera) as well.

Low price did not equate to low-budget shutter lag – the S210 pops off shots in most modes in .05 seconds, slowing only when flash settings mandate pre-flashes for red-eye reduction. The camera is equipped with automatic in-camera red eye correction that worked well, a flash that was generally recharged and ready to go as soon as the camera could take another shot, and offers decent ISO performance up to the 800 sensitivity level. On paper, the S210 doesn't wow you with specs – the lens isn't particularly wide or long, it's moderately fast only at wide angle, macro focus range is about 4 inches, and maximum shutter speed is 1/1000th of a second. Luckily for the folks who choose the S210, once it gets out of the box and into your hands, this thin little digital delivers some excellent results.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Nikon Coolpix S210 Specifications:

Sensor 8.0 megapixel, 1/2.5" CCD
Lens/Zoom 3x (38-114mm) zoom, f/3.1-5.9
LCD/Viewfinder 2.5", 230K-dot TFT LCD
Sensitivity ISO 64-2000
Shutter Speed Not Specified
Shooting Modes Auto, High ISO, Scene, Movie
Scene Presets Portrait, Night Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Party, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Museum, Fireworks Show
White Balance Settings Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash, White Balance Preset, Auto, Daylight, Cloudy
Metering Modes Not Specified
Focus Modes Face-Priority AF, Auto AF
Drive Modes Normal, Burst
Flash Modes Slow sync, Red-eye reduction, Red-eye reduction with slow sync, Flash cancel/ flash off
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
52 MB
File Formats JPEG, AVI
Max. Image Size 3264x2448
Max. Video Size
640x480, 30 fps
Zoom During Video Not Specified
Battery Rechargeable lithium-ion, 220 shots
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, DC input
Additional Features Electronic Vibration Reduction image stabilization, D-Lighting, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix