Every time I tried to describe the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj to someone, my words fell flat. "It's a projector camera. A camera with a projector inside." It seems straightforward, but people didn't fully grasp the concept until I turned the camera on and projected an image onto a wall. Every time I did, the camera got a lot of "oohing" and "aahing."
That's the trouble with describing the effectiveness of a projector camera in a review. I can photograph the camera in action, I can show you a video of the projector working, but it doesn't quite add up to the same experience as seeing the projected images with your own eyes.
Bear with us - the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj is very much a novelty, but it's an interesting innovation. If you have $400 or so waiting to be spent on a new piece of inessential technology, then a projector camera is a good candidate. We can't let the Nikon S1000pj slide by without putting it under the microscope, though. Read on for a detailed look at its performance, image quality, and usability.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Nikon Coolpix S1000pj, bearing a 12.1 megapixel 1/2.3-inch type CCD sensor, strikes a familiar profile. It's a basic black box with metallic accents along the edges. The 5x optical zoom Nikkor lens is tucked in the right corner of the camera body, making room for a less-familiar feature: the projector lens front and center.
Overall, it's a striking design. The lines are clean and modern. The camera body is matte black with a brushed aluminum panel below the projector lens. A small plastic lens cover slides from the camera lens when the unit is turned on, keeping the optics safe inside a coat pocket or purse.
Ergonomics and Controls
Holding the S1000pj, you'll feel the added weight of the projector. Loaded with a rechargeable battery, it's slim enough for a coat pocket but heavy enough that you won't forget it's there. The camera is comfortable in the hand, although the front panel doesn't offer enough of a grip for single-handed shooting. Six small, raised dots on the back panel offer a slight grip for a thumbrest. It's not terribly ergonomic, but I didn't have much trouble handling the camera while shooting.
The on/off switch on top of the S1000pj is recessed slightly and requires a firm press to operate. The projector on/off switch is on the left, just at the place where your left index finger naturally falls when shooting with two hands. The button is also recessed, although I accidentally triggered it on a couple of occasions. Centered on top of the camera is a sliding switch that focuses a projected image. The layout is intuitive, and without using the camera manual I was able to operate the projector right out of the box. A zoom ring encircles the shutter button on the top right.
On the back panel is a 2.7-inch LCD of a sufficient 230k-dot resolution. A squared-off compass switch offers directional controls for navigating menus as well as shortcuts to flash, EV compensation, macro mode, and self-timer settings. Two buttons above the four-way control offer access to playback and shooting modes. The image erase and menu button are below the four-way control.
The S1000pj also includes a remote control. It can be used during slideshow projection to move between images or zoom in and out of a projected image. The remote can also be used to wirelessly fire the shutter. Nikon recommends the use of a tripod for this function. They've also included a small plastic stand that can sit on flat surfaces and angles the S1000pj backward by a few degrees for hands-off projecting on a wall.
Menus and Modes
Nikon's point-and-shoots use one main menu screen to access settings for ISO, white balance, and AF area mode. Pressing the menu button brings up these options, and selecting an option like white balance will display a list of different settings and a live view of how each setting will look. The interface is intuitive and logically laid-out.
Those who stick with auto white balance and ISO settings won't have any trouble using the S1000pj. If you're finicky and like to tweak those settings often, then you might find it slightly cumbersome as opposed to using a quick menu or shortcut button to access often-used controls.
Shooting modes are switched by pressing the green camera icon and include:
The S1000pj is very much an automatic camera. Auto mode offers some degree of flexibility as users can change ISO and white balance themselves, although you're limited in all modes to default metering.
Like most monitors this size, the 2.7-inch LCD is relatively sharp and bright, although it is difficult to use in direct sunlight. However, I didn't struggle much while shooting on a bright morning. Also, the camera lacks an optical viewfinder.
The projector displays images in VGA 640 x 480 resolution. We'll go into greater detail about projection quality in the performance section that follows.
The Coolpix S1000pj performed as well as most other similarly-sized compact point-and-shoots. While on the heavy side, it never weighed my purse down. Style is prioritized over ergonomics, which seems right for the S1000pj's intended audience. Overall, the S1000pj is easy to use, like many other Coolpix cameras I've handled.
The biggest catch-22 I encountered was bringing the camera to a party or bar, the natural habitat for the S1000pj. While images in broad daylight were sharp and color accurate, I had much more trouble getting clear images in dim places without flash. That's not surprising for this class of camera - I wouldn't expect any point-and-shoot to get a clear image in near-dark - but it is something to consider since the S1000pj is very much a "party camera."
The projector performance was better than I expected. The darker the room, the better the projected image looked, and projecting onto a white surface is best. Even in our office, with the lights turned off and a few window shades open, the projected images still looked good. Near-dark or completely dark is best, but you're still able to see basic forms and colors of images even if you can't kill the lights in your makeshift theater. Nikon lists the projector can be used as close as 10 inches from a wall or as far as six and a half feet. Take a look at our video walkthrough to see the projector in action.
The Coolpix S1000pj is a good performer in terms of speed. It came in on top of the pack in our shutter lag test. AF acquisition in the studio test was a good 0.43 seconds. In the field, the camera felt reasonably fast. In dim light, AF acquisition slowed slightly, approaching a second in most difficult conditions. The S1000pj captured four images at about 1.0 fps before the camera paused to clear the buffer. That's not bad for a pocket point-and-shoot that isn't exactly built for speed.
|Nikon Coolpix S1000pj||0.01|
|Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS||0.02|
|Sony Cyber-shot S2100||0.02|
|Olympus Stylus 7010||0.03|
|Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS||0.43|
|Nikon Coolpix S1000pj||0.43|
|Olympus Stylus 7010||0.45|
|Sony Cyber-shot S2100||0.68|
|Olympus Stylus 7010||2||1.7 fps
|Nikon Coolpix S1000pj||4||1.0 fps
|Sony Cyber-shot S2100||∞||1.0 fps
|Canon PowerShot SD1400 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" denote the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Staying mostly within center auto focus mode, I rarely had a problem finding focus even in relatively dark conditions. Nikon equipped the S1000pj with image stabilization in spades - namely, their 5-way Vibration Reduction system. A key part of the system is optical image stabilization. I got clear, usable images at shutter speeds at around 1/10 second. As you'd expect, anything slower was too much for the optical stabilization system to overcome. Enacting the "Hybrid" stabilization applies a combination of optical stabilization and digital processing techniques. It's hard to say how effective the technique was; it seemed to clear up some fine detail in a few test shots, but the images were still (as Nikon admits is possible) somewhat grainy.
Flash range is listed at 1 to 11 feet at wide angle, and 1 to 8 feet telephoto. That measured up to my own findings. The flash recharged and was ready to fire after a full discharge in seconds.
The rechargeable Lithium-ion battery used by the S1000pj is rated to about 220 shots. That number was right on par with my images. Although, I used the flash sparingly and projected images for a minute or two at a time. Heavier use of flash and projector would drain the battery quicker.
For a small lens tucked into the corner, the S1000pj's optics do a nice job. Details at the center of the frame are sharp. Moving toward the corners of the image below, you'll see some noticeable softening. Chromatic aberration seems to be under control at the center of images too, although it becomes apparent in high contrast areas near the image's edges.
The S1000pj carries a 5x optical zoom lens with an equivalent range of 28-140mm - a nice wide angle. Maximum aperture ranges from f/3.9 at wide angle to f/5.8 at telephoto.
Barrel distortion (lines bowing outward in an image) seems to be well-controlled at wide angle. There wasn't evidence of pincushion distortion (lines bowing inward) at telephoto either.
The Coolpix S1000pj records video in standard 640 x 480 definition. The video I recorded in mid-day sunlight of passing cars is acceptable, although grainier than I would have liked. Shooting video of a train with the sun setting to the right proved more challenging. Glare that reflected from the hood of a car threw a nasty blue vertical line across the image, and the video was once again grainy.
Don't count on the S1000pj for recording high-quality video of vacations or other events. It's a shame that it's not stronger since the S1000pj is designed to project recorded video.
Exposure was somewhat inconsistent under mixed lighting, but for the most part, the S1000pj's evaluative-only metering worked well. The LCD offers a full-time live view as the camera calculates exposure and chooses a white balance setting. As long as ISO sensitivity is kept to 200 or below, fine details are recorded nicely. Options to manually set color, saturation, or sharpness are absent, although you'll find a "vivid" processing mode along with black and white, cyanotype, and sepia under the shooting menu.
When dark situations demanded use of flash, the S1000pj's unit worked successfully. Skin tones looked natural and weren't washed out. Flash modes include an automatic red eye reduction setting. That's the mode used automatically by the "party/indoor" scene setting, which I found useful in places like a dark concert hall.
Colors were generally reproduced faithfully. Cloudy skies and mixed lighting sometimes flattened out colors, especially reds, although I don't think it will be enough to bother most users.
Auto white balance performed well indoors and outdoors, although it produced a very orange look to scenes with tungsten lighting. The S1000pj offers several white balance modes including a manual mode.
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light
Before looking at our studio samples, I expected to see plenty of noise at close inspection from ISO 400 and above. The studio results backed me up. Though the reduced thumbnail images look good through ISO 400, pixel peepers will find noise and evidence of noise-reduction in the 100% crops.
ISO 80, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Shots at ISO 800 and 1600 look smoothed-over and colors have been somewhat flattened. The camera's noise-reduction system seems to be at work as early as ISO 200. Relying on the full range of ISO settings in auto ISO mode will result in grainy, smoothed-over images indoors and in poor lighting. Nikon does provide two fixed-range ISO settings, ISO 80-200 and ISO 80-400, to address the problem The camera has an ISO 3200 setting at a reduced 3 megapixel resolution.
The Nikon S1000pj was created for a specific set of photographers: the party-goer, proud parent, and all-around show-off are most likely to find this camera appealing. Based on my experience using the S1000pj, I'd say that if you fit into one of the categories above, you won't be disappointed. Just don't expect it to outperform other basic Nikon point-and-shoots or to project images in bright rooms or against dark surfaces with stunning results. And do expect to use flash when indoor lighting is dim.
If it's "oohing" and "aahing" you're after, the S1000pj will deliver. It will capture outdoor snapshots nicely and brightly-lit interior images fairly well. Performance slips in dim light indoors and outdoors as noise levels climb and noise-reduction smooths out fine detail. But that's expected for a camera of this size.
The bottom line is that you could spend as much (or maybe even less) on a camera that takes better images in low light. You could find a camera at a lower price point that offers greater control over image quality or features a much bigger zoom range. But you won't have a built-in projector. If that's a sacrifice you don't want to make, the S1000pj is your best (well, only) option.