Nikon Coolpix S70 Review
by Adam Crawford -  12/11/2009

Nikon has released a few different touch screen point and shoot digital cameras, but the Coolpix S70 is their first with an OLED screen (288k dot resolution, 3.5 inch touch panel OLED) instead of the typical liquid crystal display. Being that the S70 has only one button on the entire body (an optional shutter button on the top), it relies exclusively on hand gestures to control every other feature. These include swiping gestures to scroll through images, pinching motions to zoom in and out of images, and the touch screen shutter that captures an image with a touch of the screen.

Nikon Coolpix S70

The feature set also includes 720p (1280x720) HD video capture at 30 fps, an effective 12.1 megapixel CCD image sensor, NIKKOR optics with a 5x optical zoom, Touch Shutter and Autofocus, Vibration Reduction image stabilization (a combination of optical and electronic methods), macro shooting, and active D-Lighting to improve detail in high-contrast and dark areas of an image.

The real headline-grabber, though, is still that OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) monitor for playback, framing, and control of the camera. According to Nikon, it "offers the benefits of vivid color reproduction, sharp contrast and the absence of afterimages."

An OLED draws much less power than an LCD, especially because it doesn't need to be backlit, and is designed to offer more dynamic range, deeper blacks, and weigh less than a traditional LCD. This adds up to a display that is smaller, brighter, and holds a better tonal range. All in all, it is supposed to give you a better image on screen and save you some battery life in the process.

A lot of comparisons can be drawn to the Nikon Coolpix S60, the S70's predecessor, because of its slim profile, touch panel LCD, 5x optical zoom, and touch auto focus. Much has been retained from the first generation, but the S70 differs in resolution from the S60's 10 megapixel sensor to the S70's 12.1 megapixels, Touch Shutter, OLED monitor and a sliding lens cover that starts the camera up.

Nikon Coolpix S70

Both the S60 and S70 have an internal lens that does not extend. They share almost the exact same dimensions (S70 has a 0.8 inch depth, and the S60 has a depth of 0.9 inches), but weighs less (S70 weighs 4.9 oz., while the S60 is 5.1 oz.).

The Coolpix S70 sports your classic boxy point-and-shoot look and feel, and features a rubberized front panel for your hand's grip. A chrome-like finish wraps around the edges of the aluminum alloy camera body. With only a few changes that can be made to exposure like ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation, the S70 is almost entirely automatic.

Ergonomics and Controls
Nikon left only a shutter button and the sliding cover over the lens to make all other controls digital. With the lack of buttons, the S70 relies entirely on the touch screen OLED for menus and control over shooting options.

Nikon Coolpix S70

The camera is small, measuring 2.4x3.8x0.8 inches, but has a weighty feel to it because of its metal construction. Although there is a rubberized (faux-leather like) right front panel for handholding the S70, it will go mostly unused because of the large OLED on the back is mainly designed for four finger holding, instead of a hand rest for your trigger finger.

Nikon Coolpix S70

Menus and Modes
The OLED monitor seems expansive, as it is larger than most LCD screens, with the exception of other touch screen digital cameras. Everything is controlled via the back monitor, including all settings, playback, shooting mode, etc. There are four shooting mode options that can all be selected by clicking on the green camera icon on the top left of the screen, or via the Home button in the bottom right:

The menu system of the S70 is attractive and easy to navigate, though you're not likely to use them heavily since this is such an automatic digital camera. The easiest way to change the camera settings is in the Auto mode, where there are several boxes surrounding the monitor that help you change different settings. For example, there is the Green Button in the corner to change the shooting modes with a Playback button under it to review your images. There is also a mock zoom lever icon that operates zoom function which to be honest, is extremely sluggish and unresponsive.

One unique feature of the Coolpix S70 allows the user to adjust image brightness by use of slider bars in different Scene modes such as Portrait and Night Landscape.

Overall, the menus are laid out logically and are easy to understand, even for a first-time user, although it may take a few minutes with the camera to get used to the Touch Shutter.

At the beginning of this review I mentioned the benefits of the OLED technology utilized by the S70, such as power saving and better image playback. For the most part, the S70's monitor somewhat achieves this.

Nikon Coolpix S70 Nikon Coolpix S70

It is 3.5 inches in a wide 16:9 aspect ratio, but still plays back images in the standard 4:3 aspect ratio. After using the camera and checking out the images I captured, I could not, at all, tell the difference between it and your standard LCD screen. This may be because the 288k dot resolution is a little low. I ran into a few instances when an image appeared to be in focus on review, then later when I uploaded it to a computer screen, was obviously blurry. A boost in resolution may have helped me distinguish whether or not my images were properly focused.

I also found the functionality of the touch display to be unreliable. I say this because I had trouble occasionally enacting certain functions, such as changing the shooting mode, and I found myself pressing more than a few times on the same spot before it would work. It left me wanting the haptic feedback of the Samsung TL225's touch monitor that I reviewed last month.

As far as framing and playback of the images are concerned, it's easy to frame them up, but playback is a little stilted as well. When you are using the swiping action, used for when you want to peruse through your different images, it didn't work every time I swiped. This might be a result of oils left by the human hand. My overall impression of the display is that Nikon should be commended for adding this new technology, but should have offered more in terms of resolution and touch control.

The Nikon S70 is a snapshot camera, with nothing much in terms of control. It is a camera that relies heavily on the use of the touch screen for all operations, big or small, and shouldn't be looked at to push the limits of speed or fast processing

While the OLED display does work well in various lighting conditions, including overcast and sunny days, the low resolution of the monitor makes it only comparable to higher resolution LCDs. It's important to bring up the touch screen in terms of performance, because you have to rely heavily on it to get anything done, and that is what really bogs it down. With the mere lack of buttons, there is no way of getting around using the touch screen, which can make the S70 frustrating when you are using it out in the field.

Conversely, when we are talking pure numbers, especially when it comes to performance, the S70 is a middle-of-the-road performer. Probably the fastest thing about the S70 is its start up time. The camera is powered up by slipping down the lens cover. It takes something like a half to one second to fire up the OLED monitor.

Shooting Performance
The raw numbers from the S70's lab test still reflect it to be a moderate performer, both in the field and a controlled environment. Shutter lag good, in fact, only second to its competition, rifling in at .02 seconds. It handily beats the Samsung TL225. AF acquisition was as sluggish in the field as it was in the lab, with lab results at about 0.67 seconds, reflecting for me in the field less than a second to a few seconds to get a sharp image in low-light conditions. Continuous shooting mode, which gives you two images at the speed of 1.5 fps, is also moderate.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture,  pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 0.01
Nikon Coolpix S70 0.02
Canon PowerShot SD940 IS 0.03
Samsung TL225 0.04

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 0.27
Canon PowerShot SD940 IS 0.34
Samsung TL225 0.41
Nikon Coolpix S70 0.67

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 3 2.2 fps
Nikon Coolpix S70 2
1.5 fps
Samsung TL225 7 1.0 fps
Canon PowerShot SD940 IS
0.9 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

There are three auto focus options: Touch Shutter, Touch AF/AE, and Subject Tracking. Touch Shutter is an automatic shooting option that lets you touch any part of the screen to lock focus and capture an image without having to do a half shutter press like most cameras to get pre-focused. This can be bad or good - good in the sense that it cuts down on shooting time, but bad since the image sometimes came out blurry, especially in macro mode.

Touch AF/AE was pretty cool, and offered the most control over shooting. With Touch AF/AE you touch the OLED on your subject anywhere in the frame and the S70 will focus on that element. Once focused, you have to press the shutter. Tracking does its job, too. You can select a moving element, such as flying flag or a boat steaming in the background to keep an eye on its focus, and then press the shutter.

I also used the different versions of flash control: Auto, Auto with red-eye control, fill flash, off, and slow sync, and they were effective for the most part. At the wide-angle of the focal range you can fire flash up to 11 feet, and extended to telephoto, the flash is effective up to 8 feet.

The battery life of the Nikon S70, according to CIPA standards, is 200 shots before you need to recharge the Li-ion EN-EL12 battery. With one day of field shooting taking probably less than 200 shots, I didn't run the battery down very much. It seems that the OLED does in fact improve battery life compared to a regular LCD.

Lens Performance
The Coolpix S70 gets a 5x optical zoom, which is 28-140mm with a maximum aperture range of f/3.9-5.8. When shooting at wide angle you can see a noticeably prevalent barrel distortion in the center of the frame, which appears circular.

Nikon Coolpix S70

When I shot at the telephoto 140mm, I didn't find a problem with pincushion distortion, which can sometimes happen at an extended focal length. Also, I couldn't find any evidence of chromatic aberration like purple fringing at wide-angle or in contrasty images.

Nikon Coolpix S70
Nikon Coolpix S70
Wide angle

Video Quality
The Nikon S70 has an okay movie mode, recording at resolutions up to 720p HD. Video at the highest setting is pretty good compared with other compacts and pocket camcorders I have used.

The S70 has different resolutions for video capture, including 640x480 at both 30 or 15 fps, and 320x240 at 30 or 15 fps.

Image Quality
The images right out of the box are somewhat saturated, especially reds, blues, and yellows. Unlike other point-and-shoots, the S70 has no real control over different color options, leaving you with a default setting for all shooting. This would be all well and good if the saturation issue wasn't there.

Since you can't control metering at all, you have to rely on the S70 to properly expose every frame, which can often lead to over-exposed images in contrasty scenes. Although we found that the camera didn't always reproduce colors faithfully, images out of the camera are sharply focused.

The camera's white balance can be changed manually in auto mode, giving you options of preset manual, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, and flash. The daylight and incandescent worked well, especially daylight for outside work, and Incandescent for indoor shots.

Auto white balance under our studio incandescent lights was predictably poor. As you can see in the image from our lab test, the image is very warm. The same is true for fieldwork, especially in poorly lit scenarios, where auto white balance would sometimes overexpose sky details and foreground elements.

Nikon Coolpix S70
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

ISO performance was relatively good from ISO 80 to about ISO 400. Once I hit 800, it image quality declined as a lot of grain was introduced to my images. This isn't unusual of a small sensor with high pixel density.

Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 80
Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 80, 100% crop
Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 100, 100% crop
Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 200
Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 400
Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 800
Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 800, 100% crop
Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 1600
Nikon Coolpix S70
ISO 1600, 100% crop

Additional Sample Images
Nikon Coolpix S70 Nikon Coolpix S70
Nikon Coolpix S70 Nikon Coolpix S70
Nikon Coolpix S70

There are plenty of features we liked about the Nikon S70, including the Touch Shutter, 720p HD video capture, great image sharpness, compact and sleek design, and power conserving OLED with great functionality any lighting condition. But these positives just don't outweigh some of its issues, like lack of manual control, price tag, over-exposed images, and a somewhat unreliable touch screen that isn't supplemented with physical buttons.

It is a great idea, in theory, to throw in an OLED instead of a common LCD as a touch viewfinder/display. It certainly out-performs a standard LCD in bright sunlight, but it doesn't really shine against the competition because its resolution is only average.

What the Coolpix S70 offers is minimal user input and a touch-only interface. There's a certain audience for that kind of camera, and the S70 isn't necessarily a bad choice for that demographic. An expansive touch display and faux-leather grip scream style, and the technology has a lot of potential. But for your $250-300, you'd be much better served by a camera that's more focused on practical usability.