The ultra-compact Nikon Coolpix S640 is a near perfect general-purpose camera that's especially useful for candid people shots and street photography. The S640 is a fast, responsive, unobtrusive, and eminently pocketable auto exposure only point-and-shoot digicam.
I recently tested the Nikon S620 (one of the S640's predecessors) and the S640 shows some impressive and well thought out improvements over the previous generations. Nikon claims the S640 is, across the board, the quickest Coolpix ever - with the fastest start up time of any currently available point and shoot plus auto focus as snappy as many entry level DSLRs.
I liked the S620, especially in bright outdoor lighting, but its performance in dim/low light wasn't anything to write home about. That is not a failing unique to the S620 - compact digicams, as a class, don't do to well in low light. In addition to being quicker than its predecessor (and its competition), the S640 consistently and dependably produces sharply focused and properly exposed images even in lighting that would stymie most other point and shoots.
The Coolpix S640 accomplishes this remarkable feat by utilizing the camera's triple threat Image Stabilization system to compensate for subject and camera movement during exposure. Factor in Nikon's nifty BSS (Best Shot Selector) mode that captures, in rapid sequence, up to 10 shots of the subject (and automatically saves the best frame) - and even in dismal lighting the S640 shines. Not only is the S640 a very good "street" camera it also turns out to be a very good indoor/bar/party camera.
Other S640 features include 12 megapixel resolution, a very good wide-angle 5x Nikkor zoom (the S620 had a 4x zoom), a 2.7 inch wide-viewing angle Clear Color LCD with an excellent anti-glare/anti-reflection coating, Nikon's "Smart Portrait" system with skin softening function, a suite of face detection AF functions with subject tracking, a new auto lock-on capability, a Smile Timer (which automatically trips the shutter when the priority subject smiles), in-camera Red-Eye Fix which automatically corrects red-eye before saving the image to memory, Macro shooting at 0.8 in., 16 scene modes and Auto Scene Selector (the camera determines what type of picture is being taken and automatically selects the appropriate scene mode), D-Lighting, and 2 movie modes.
The S640 is robustly constructed, comfortable to hold (although it lacks any sort of handgrip) and very easy to use. The menu system is user friendly and easily navigated. All controls are clearly marked and reasonably placed (for right-handed shooters). The S640 (like its predecessors) offers reliably excellent pictures with little user input and dead simple ease of use as many of today's popular auto-exposure only digicams, but it's smaller and lighter than most of them and sports a true wide-angle zoom.
Want to read more about the nifty little Coolpix S640? Stay tuned - our full review is on the way. As always, we'll take a look at the S640's performance in our lab tests as well as in the field.