To be honest, we weren't exactly big fans of Nikon's previous Wi-Fi enabled ultracompact, the Coolpix S51c, when it rolled out last year. In Nikon's ongoing effort to make a small camera with easy-to-use wireless image transfer capabilities, the end result came off as a collection of compromises – not the least of which was the S52c's lack of Wi-Fi flexibility.
For 2008, Nikon rolled a new version of its wireless ultracompact, the 9 megapixel, 3x zoom Nikon Coolpix S52c. Even with most of the hard tech basically the same, Nikon promised big improvements in performance and Wi-Fi functionality with the latest model. So was it worth the wait?
Handling the S52c for the first time, it was interesting to note just how much of the camera's physique is lifted directly from the previous model (which was, in turn, taken largely unchanged from the S50c).
With the S51 and S52 side by side, even eagle-eyed Nikon fans would be hard pressed to pick which one is which without context clues. Out back, the similarities are further extended.
Given that the S51c (and even the S50c) already packed in a 3-inch LCD, there really wasn't much room for expansion.
Not surprisingly, then, what we disliked about the S51c's interface is still hanging around in the S52c. Specifically, the scroll wheel feels a little loose and disconnected: without much resistance, it's hard to precisely adjust parameters by scrolling.
The S52c's tiny buttons are also difficult to press, and the body's "wave" contour seems backwards to me: this is one case where I actually think an ultracompact is too thin, making it hard to securely and comfortably grip.
If the physical specs haven't changed much, though, initial impressions of the S52c's performance suggest that there's some truth to Nikon's claimed improvements beneath the camera's familiar exterior. The latest S camera remains a bit jittery in use, but focusing speed and consistency appear to be significantly improved. We'll run down the numbers in the full review, but if the S52c isn't completely polished from a user experience standpoint, things are definitely getting better nonetheless.
Optically, the S52c returns unchanged. It's really hard to expect much in the way of sharpness from a tiny periscope-style zoom, but the S52c appears to hold its own in light of the limitations of its technology.
As with the performance numbers, we'll give a thorough image quality analysis in the full review, but early impressions of the camera suggest IQ to be in the same neighborhood as what we've seen from previous-generation models in this line.
Finally, about that Wi-Fi...
With only a few days of usage under my belt, I don't want to say too much without further testing. I was disappointed early on, however, that I wasn't able to get the S52c up and running on my security-enabled home wireless network without several trips to the user manual. Connecting computers to a wireless network is pretty straightforward. So why all the complication with a camera?
Concerns about the internal wireless radio's range persist, which may call the effectiveness of the system into question for some users, and the continued lack of even a simple cellphone-style browser for navigating through hot-spot splash pages will be a turn-off for others.
It's hard to say how things will ultimately turn out for the S52c. Clearly Nikon has responded to some of the more pressing performance concerns with the previous model, but some less than seamless Wi-Fi connectivity leaves us to wonder if the flagship feature of this novel ultracompact won't ultimately continue to be a disappointment to many.
Look for our full evaluation of the Nikon Coolpix S52c next week.