DigitalCameraReview.com
Nikon Coolpix S600 Review
by Jim Keenan -  4/25/2008

One of four Coolpix S-series digitals announced in January 2008, the Nikon Coolpix S600 takes its place as the most expensive Nikon "style" camera and features "an astonishingly fast start-up time, advanced functions, outstanding photographic performance and a slim and stylish body." Other excerpts from the press release claim the camera has the "fastest start-up time for any camera in its class," allows shooters to take "stunningly sharp photos, faster and easier than ever before," and boasts "extraordinary speed."

Nikon Coolpix S600
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There seems to be a pattern developing here. Let's see if speed thrills.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

The S600 features a 10 megapixel sensor, 2.7-inch LCD monitor, optical Vibration Reduction (VR – Nikonspeak for image stabilization), ISO sensitivity to 3200, a 4x optical zoom lens that provides a 28-112mm focal range, automatic in-camera red-eye correction, face-priority auto focus, and Nikon's shadow/highlight balancing D-Lighting tool. The camera has Nikon's new EXPEED processor technology, and there are approximately 45MB of internal memory. The camera also accepts SD memory cards. Nikon includes a USB cable, A/V cable, wrist strap, rechargeable battery and charger, and CD-ROM software with each camera.

There are four primary shooting modes:

Nikon was one of the first to adopt a dynamic range in its compact camera range, and the D-Lighting function, selectable only as a in-camera post-shot effect in the case of the S600, does a nice job with contrast control and shadow detail enhancement. Here are original and post-processed images using the D-Lighting tool:

Nikon Coolpix S600
Original image (view large image)
Nikon Coolpix S600
With D-Lighting (view large image)

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

Like all current S-series models, the S600 fits the "small deck of cards" template so common to compact digitals.

Styling and Build Quality

The rectangular metal body of the S600 has gently rounded edges and a subtle contour on the back of its otherwise standard shape.

Nikon Coolpix S600
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Build quality appears good, with the camera's brushed and matte grey finish complemented by bright and matte silver accents.

Nikon Coolpix S600
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Ergonomics and Interface

The camera's small size makes it easy to form a grip, either one or two-handed, without interfering with camera systems such as the flash or self-timer/AF assist lamp.

Nikon Coolpix S600
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Control layout is simple and becomes quickly intuitive, with all controls residing along the right rear of the camera body or on the top. User modifiable settings such as flash, macro, self-timer and exposure compensation may be accessed quickly from the rotary multi selector on the camera back.

Display/Viewfinder

The S600's 2.7-inch monitor is of 230,000 dot composition, and like most monitors in this class is viable for image composition or review in good light.

Nikon Coolpix S600
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Adjustable for five levels of brightness, the monitor can be difficult to use in bright outdoor light; monitor coverage is about 100 percent for shooting or review.

There is no viewfinder.


PERFORMANCE

After reading the S600 press release I was looking forward to seeing just what the camera had in its performance bag of tricks. Unfortunately, this proved to be a somewhat mixed bag of goods.

Timing and Shutter Lag

The S600 turns on in .7 seconds per Nikon, but I had a live image on the monitor in less than that time – more like .5 seconds. However, I found the shutter button didn't come to life until about two seconds had passed, which made that the earliest I could try to acquire focus. You can start composing a shot quickly with the S600, but then you have to wait before you can take the shot. I remembered (fondly) the performance of the Nikon S500 – power on in about .6 seconds, another .4 or .5 to acquire focus, and near instantaneous shutter firing. It's too bad Nikon didn't put some of those parts into the S600.

Focus acquisition times ran about .5 seconds in good light, a bit longer in dim conditions (there is an AF assist lamp). After the initial acquisition, if your next shot is at about the same distance focus acquisition time drops.

Shutter lag was a disappointing .15 seconds in the best of circumstances – I reviewed this camera alongside its S210 sibling (which produced an excellent .05 shutter lag), and I literally had to force myself to hold the S600 steady after pushing the shutter button and waiting for the shot to be taken. With the S210 it was push and move on because the shot was taken.

Single shot-to-shot times (shoot, write, acquire focus, and shoot) were about 2.6 seconds with both a SanDisk ExtremeIII card and a standard SanDisk; the camera took seven images in five seconds with either card in continuous shooting mode, so it appears the S600 did not benefit from improved in-camera write speeds with a high speed card.

Lens and Zoom

The S600's 4x optical zoom ranges from 28 to 112mm, with a fairly fast f/2.7 maximum aperture at wide angle, and a fairly slow f/5.8 at telephoto. There is a 4x digital zoom, which may be enabled via internal menu (default setting is off). The 28mm wide angle end is handy for capturing sweeping vistas or getting close to large subjects. Here's what the focal length range looks like:

Nikon Coolpix S600
Wide-Angle (view large image)
Nikon Coolpix S600
Telephoto (view large image)

Auto Focus

The S600 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 among 99 areas; and center, which focuses on the center of the frame.

My personal preference was for center-area 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 S600 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 3 seconds. Full discharges in pitch black conditions required about five 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.

Red-eye reduction worked well, but when it didn't, the automatic in-camera red eye correction fixed any shots that slipped by.

Nikon Coolpix S600
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Nikon Coolpix S600
(view large image)

While red-eye was never a problem, the S600 didn't seem quite as adept in handling so-called "pet-eye," the green or yellow reflections often seen in the eyes of cats and dogs.

Image Stabilization

Unlike the recently reviewed Nikon Coolpix S210, the S600 has true optical VR, rather than Nikon's processing-based electronic VR system. VR is available in all shooting modes (the default setting is on), but Nikon recommends turning VR off if the camera is mounted on a tripod.

Battery Life

Nikon rates the S600 battery for about 190 shots. I went out with a fully charged battery each day and have no independent evaluation on the Nikon figure, but the S600 sounds like a good candidate for a couple of spare batteries for day-long shootings.


IMAGE QUALITY

The S600 produced nice quality images at default settings that are on a par with any camera I've tested in this class.

Nikon Coolpix S600
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Images captured by the S600 tended to be accurate and pleasant with regard to color across a range of lighting conditions, due in part to a good auto WB function (see below).

Nikon Coolpix S600
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Nikon Coolpix S600
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Nikon Coolpix S600
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Nikon Coolpix S600
(view large image)

Exposure, Processing and Color

The S600 allows the user to select matrix or center-weighted metering options, with matrix the default setting. Matrix worked well across a range of lighting conditions. I didn't get a chance to shoot surf on a sunny day, which is my usual high contrast metering test, but I would suspect the S600 might lose some highlights in extremely high contrast situations. Exposure compensation is quickly and easily available in the S600 to deal with extreme situations.

Standard color (the default setting) was pleasant and accurate, but there are vivid, black & white, sepia, cyanotype, and pastel options available. I didn't see a lot of difference between standard and vivid, so I tended to leave the camera in vivid. Here's what the various color options look like:

Nikon Coolpix S600
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)
Nikon Coolpix S210
Pastel (view large image)

White Balance

Auto WB is the default setting and worked well with every light combination I tried – outdoor, flash, incandescent, and fluorescent. It's always good to try and match WB to your particular lighting conditions with either a custom setting or camera presets, but my experience with the S600 would leave me very tempted to just leave the default setting in place.

Lens Faults

There is some barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from center of image) at the wide end of the lens.

Nikon Coolpix S600
(view large image)

Chromatic aberration/purple fringing only becomes a factor at 200-percent enlargements and over in most images, but there were instances of images with fringing apparent at levels that would probably impact normal-sized prints. The barrel distortion was not readily apparent in most images, but could be apparent in close scrutiny of images with straight lines in their composition. Overall, lens shortcomings were on the relatively minor side and not uncommon for cameras in this class.

Sensitivity and Noise

The S600 features a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 3200, with noise performance that at first appears typical for cameras in this class.

Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 100
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Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 100, 100% crop

Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 200
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Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 200, 100% crop

Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 400
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Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 400, 100% crop

Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 800
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Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 800, 100% crop

Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 1600
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Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 1600, 100% crop

Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 3200
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Nikon Coolpix S600
ISO 3200, 100% crop

When viewing cropped images, 100 and 200 are quite good and hard to tell apart, 400 picks up a hint more noise and there is a more noticeable, albeit slight jump in noise from 400 to 800, but 800 is still not bad at all. There is a larger gap between 800 and 1600, but unlike most compact digitals, my eye tells me the biggest jump in noise is from 1600 to 3200 – it's been my general experience that the largest apparent increase in noise tends to come between the next to the last ISO increase (the 800 to 1600 step on the S600), not the last.

The full size images are not bad across the entire range – and better, I think, than their cropped views would suggest at the 1600 and 3200 sensitivity levels. Overall, I'd place the S600 a bit above most competitors in this class for noise performance, but not on a par with devices (the Fuji SuperCCD cameras, for instance) that are known for excellent high ISO performance.

Additional Sample Images

Nikon Coolpix S600
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Nikon Coolpix S600
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Nikon Coolpix S600
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Nikon Coolpix S600
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Nikon Coolpix S600
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Nikon Coolpix S600
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CONCLUSIONS

With all the emphasis in Nikon's S600 press release about fast performance, and a good shutter lag response from its low cost sibling, the S210, I was prepared to be impressed by the S600. Unfortunately, I'm still waiting. For some reason, the S600 didn't get the excellent shutter lag performance of the cheaper S210 (and the now-discontinued S500 remains my personal favorite compact digital for shutter lag), so it's not like Nikon doesn't have the means to provide a good shutter response in this class of camera. Frankly, the shutter lag takes the luster off an otherwise fairly capable camera, especially when you realize Nikon can (and has) done better.

There's still a lot to like with the S600 – good color and image quality, optical VR, good ISO performance, a novice-friendly layout, and a wider than usual 28mm lens to capture sweeping vistas or big subjects up close. It would just be more likeable with a dose of S500 genes in the bloodstream, or at least an S210 shutter lag transfusion.

Pros:

Cons:

 

 

Nikon Coolpix S600 Specifications:

Sensor 10.0 megapixel, 1/2.33" CCD
Lens/Zoom 4x (28-112mm) zoom, f/2.7-5.8
LCD/Viewfinder 2.7", 230K-dot TFT LCD
Sensitivity ISO 100-3200
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
45 MB
File Formats JPEG, AVI
Max. Image Size 3648x2736
Max. Video Size
640x480, 30 fps
Zoom During Video Not Specified
Battery Rechargeable lithium-ion, 190 shots
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, DC input
Additional Features Optical Vibration Reduction image stabilization, D-Lighting, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix