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Nikon Coolpix S8000 Review
by Howard Creech -  5/10/2010

After schlepping around a 35mm kit with two Nikon camera bodies, several lenses, and a full sized Bogen tripod for many years, I've come to appreciate small, easily pocketable cameras like the Nikon Coolpix S8000. When our test unit arrived, I was immediately impressed and after two weeks of carrying the camera with me just about everywhere I went, my initial impressions haven't changed. The little black S8000 (the camera is also available in silver, red and brown) is about the size of an Altoids tin and provides a nice balance of usability, simplicity and snappy performance.

Nikon S8000


The tiny low-profile S8000 is a first-rate picture maker that's capable of capturing super images indoors and outdoors. The S8000's collapsible 10x zoom is like carrying a 30-300mm lens around in your shirt pocket. It's also quick enough to capture the decisive moment. Here's my bottom line (at the top of the review): if you want a compact digicam that gives up the biggest bang for your camera buck and you don't need some level of manual exposure capability - you really can't do a whole lot better than the S8000 at this point in time.


BUILD AND DESIGN
At first glance the diminutive auto-exposure only S8000 looks pretty much like every other ultra-compact digicam out there. On closer inspection this little unit seems rather elegant. It's unobtrusive, understated (at least the black version) and eminently pocketable. The S8000 is truly compact, measuring 2.3x4.1x1.1 inches and weighing in (with battery and memory media) at just 6.5 ounces.

Nikon S8000

The robustly built metal-alloy/polycarbonate body has good dust/weather/moisture seals and feels comfortingly solid. Even though the S8000 is very thin and has smooth surfaces, it is fairly stable in the hands thanks to the nicely placed wrist strap and contoured thumb rest.

Nikon S8000

Not only does the Coolpix S8000 slip easily into a standard shirt pocket or a small purse, but it carries nicely when gripped loosely in the palm of the hand with the wrist strap looped around the right hand. Areas vulnerable to loss/breakage include the plastic cover of the battery and memory media compartment (which must be locked/unlocked via a tiny slider by the user) and the soft plastic flap over the USB port.

Ergonomics and Controls
The S8000's user interface is uncomplicated and straightforward. The control layout is quite basic and sufficiently similar to other current digicams in the compact ultrazoom class to provide most users with a comforting sense of déjà vu. Buttons are logically placed and come easily to hand for right-handed shooters, but they are all rather small. The super tiny on/off button sometimes requires an extra push or two to power the camera up or down.

Nikon S8000

Nikon S8000

The S8000's user interface is logical and uncomplicated; all buttons are fairly small, but they are clearly marked, sensibly placed and easily accessed. Operation is very basic and all exposure options are minor variations on the auto exposure theme. There is no mode dial because shooters only have four options - Auto mode, Scene mode, Smart Portrait, and Movie mode. In place of the standard compass switch, the S8000 features what is essentially a rotary jog dial (which Nikon calls the rotary multi-controller) for super fast menu scrolling and back and forth saved image comparison.

The central portion of the rotary multi-controller functions in the familiar compass switch control configuration - up/down (flash/macro), left/right (self timer/exposure compensation), and center "OK" button. Unfortunately there is no direct access method, like Canon's "func" button for adjusting ISO and White Balance or other often changed settings; any adjustments must be accomplished via menu. There's also a dedicated "one-touch" button for starting and stopping video capture.

Menus and Modes
The S8000's two tab menu system is consistently simple, user-friendly, logical and easily navigated. The large 3.0-inch LCD and reasonable font size make reading the menus easy.

Here's a breakdown of the S8000's shooting modes:

Display/Viewfinder
Like most currently available digicams the S8000 doesn't provide an optical viewfinder so the LCD must be used for all framing and composition, image review and menu access chores. The S8000 may lack an optical viewfinder, but makes up for this omission by adding a large screen with what amounts to four times the 230k resolution of some of its competition. The S8000's wide-viewing angle Clear Color 3.0-inch TFT LCD is super sharp (920,000 pixels), bright, hue accurate and fluid.

Nikon S8000

The info display provides all the information the camera's target audience is likely to need, but in review mode this information remains on the screen for approximately five seconds before allowing the image to be seen without the info overlay - defeating the nifty rotary jog dial's ability to compare saved images by jogging back and forth between them. The LCD gains up (automatically increases brightness) in dim lighting and can be adjusted to the individual shooter's preferences. Some earlier "S" models featured LCDs that were so shiny that they behaved like mirrors, making them essentially useless in bright outdoor lighting - the S8000 shows marked improvement over its predecessors with a very good anti-glare/anti-reflection coating.

PERFORMANCE
Nikon's Coolpix models seem to have been getting faster since the introduction of the nifty little S640 last year. The S8000 has the fastest start up time of any camera in its class, but there's a problem: the camera starts up almost instantly, but users then must then wait 3 or 4 seconds before the camera can do anything including menu access, zooming, review and image capture.

Shooting Performance
The Nikon S8000 may not be the fastest pony in the corral, but then this isn't a horse race - it is a camera test. The S8000 is fast enough for this shooter's needs and I'm always looking to capture the decisive moment. Usually, I test speed by seeing if the camera can freeze skateboarders and BMXers in mid-air. We've had so much rain recently, though, that a trip to the Louisville Extreme Park wasn't an option. The S8000 should be fast enough for just about anything (youth soccer, T-ball, etc.) its target audience is likely to shoot.

Nikon S8000

In addition to being as quick or quicker than most of its competition, the S8000 consistently produces sharply focused and properly exposed images even in lighting that would challenge most compact point-and-shoots. Nikon claims the S8000's contrast detection auto focus system is as speedy as many entry level DSLRs, which are generally driven by inherently quicker phase detection AF systems. The Nikon S8000 seems very quick in the AF department, locking on the subject in about 0.2 second (according to Nikon) without regard to lighting conditions or where in the zoom range the lens is set.

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 0.01
Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS 0.02
Nikon Coolpix S8000 0.05
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2 0.05

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2 0.26
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 0.26
Nikon Coolpix S8000 0.26
Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS 0.43

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX1 10 11.4 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2 3 1.6 fps
Nikon Coolpix S8000 10 1.2 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" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

The S8000 efficiently manages camera shake via the camera's three step Image Stabilization system. That includes Nikon's standard Vibration Reduction technology, which works by quickly and precisely shifting lens elements in the 10x Nikkor zoom to compensate for camera movement during exposure. Nikon's VR system is coupled with Digital Image Stabilization which boosts sensitivity (up to ISO 6400) and punches up shutter speeds to help further counter shooter instability, especially in low light. Nikon's Motion Detection technology automatically (when enabled) manages shutter speed and sensitivity to compensate for minor subject movement during exposure. The S8000's VR system provides only two options: on or off. In addition, the S8000's Subject Tracking scene mode finds, tracks, and adjusts focus, making it easier to capture moving subjects.

The S8000's multi-mode pop-up flash provides a tiny bit more distance from the lens than the built-in flash units of most of the S8000's competitors to help avoid the dreaded red-eye. The flash is very small and a bit on the weak side, but it provides an adequate selection of artificial lighting options, including Auto (fires when needed), On (fill flash), Red-Eye Reduction, and Off. Flash coverage is even and the S8000's flash images are natural-looking.

Nikon S8000 Test Image

The S8000 is powered by a 3.7V, 1050mAh Nikon EN-EL12 lithium-ion battery. Nikon claims the S8000 (with a fully charged battery) is good for about 200 exposures. I do a lot of shoot, review, delete, and re-shoot so I don't really keep track of exposures, but I only charged the battery twice while I had the camera. A supplied charger accessory charges the battery in-camera. Full time VR didn't seem to reduce the battery-life by too much, but using the S8000 heavily in video mode (like I did at our recent Asian Fest) will burn through battery power like the space shuttle burns through rocket fuel on lift-off. The S8000 can also be charged via USB with a PC or laptop.

The S8000 provides 32MB of internal memory (about 5 full-res images) and stores images to SD/SDHC memory media up to 16GB. The memory card slot is shared with the battery compartment.

Lens Performance
When the Coolpix S8000 is powered up, the lens automatically telescopes out of the camera body. When the camera is powered down, the lens is fully retracted into the camera body and a built-in iris style lens cover protects the front element. Not so long ago, most ultra-compact digicams sported 3x zooms, so the S8000's 5.4-54mm f3.5-f/5.6 (30-300mm equivalent) zoom is the star of the show - that's not too surprising given the tiny form factor of this camera. The S8000's 10x zoom allows shooters to cover everything from moderate wide-angle landscapes to up-close macro images.

The f/3.5 maximum aperture is a bit slow for shooting indoors, but should be more than fast enough for outdoor shooting in decent light. The S8000's diminutive profile and extra lens reach make this camera almost ideal for candid/street shooters. Center sharpness is pretty good overall, but at the wide-angle end of the zoom corners are slightly soft. I didn't notice any vignetting (dark corners) and both barrel distortion (straight lines bowing out from the center) and pincushion distortion (straight lines bowing in toward the center) seem well corrected. Contrast is balanced and colors are hue accurate. Chromatic aberration is remarkably well-controlled, but some very minor color fringing is present, especially in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds. Minimum focusing distance (in macro mode) is 0.4 inches. Zooming is smooth, silent, and fairly quick.

Nikon S8000 Test Image
Wide Angle
Nikon S8000 Test Image
Telephoto

Video Quality
The Nikon Coolpix S8000's movie mode is arguably the best video capture system in its class. This includes a dedicated one-touch video record button driven HD video (1280x720 at 30 fps) mode with stereo sound and a mini HDMI port (purchasers will have to pay separately for the proprietary connection cable) for hooking the camera up to a flat panel TV. Video shooters can't use the optical zoom (although the optical zoom can be set to whatever length is desired prior to recording) during video capture.

The video that accompanies this review was shot in a very dimly lit auditorium with the zoom set to between 80-100mm (equivalent). Recorded movement is clean and smooth, not jerky. The costumes of the Cambodian dancers were very colorful and the colors are recorded accurately. The sound seemed a bit tinny, but that could be as much the fault of the auditorium's acoustics or the quality of the recorded Cambodian music as the responsibility of the S8000's tiny stereo microphones.

Image Quality
Like most compact point-and-shoots, image files produced by the S8000's are optimized for the bold, bright colors and balanced contrast that many veteran shooters refer to as consumer color. Recorded color is accurate but noticeably more intense than real life colors. Reds are very warm, blues are bold and bright, and greens/yellows/oranges are vibrant.

Nikon S8000 Test Image

Outdoors, the S8000 does a great job. Image quality is dependably excellent and noticeably better than the average for cameras in this class. Exposures are consistently accurate, but lots of sky in the image often results in slightly overexposed images and the sky turning from blue to white. The bottom line is that the S8000's color interpolation, while a bit more intense than neutral, is consistently and dependably accurate. The colors I saw on my monitor when I reviewed the images were the colors I saw when I shot the picture.

The S8000's Auto White Balance is dependably accurate over a wide range of lighting conditions. In fact, it's the best auto WB mode I've seen in a camera in this price class - roughly equal to Canon's "G" series digicams. The S8000's Auto WB mode handled indoor color with assurance. In addition to the auto setting there are user selected Manual, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, and Flash settings available.

Nikon S8000 Test Image
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

Indoor image quality is excellent, on par with much more expensive digicams, but as sensitivity (automatically) rises to overcome lower levels of ambient lighting, noise rises exponentially and color intensity (saturation) suffers a bit. Noise levels are quite reasonable up to ISO 400, but they increase substantially after ISO 800. All the sample images that accompany this review were recorded at the 14 megapixel fine JPEG setting.

Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 100
Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 200
Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 400
Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 800
Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 1600
Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 3200
Nikon S8000 Test Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

Additional Sample Images
Nikon S8000 Test Image Nikon S8000 Test Image
Nikon S8000 Test Image Nikon S8000 Test Image
Nikon S8000 Test Image Nikon S8000 Test Image

CONCLUSIONS
The Nikon Coolpix S8000 is clearly targeted toward casual photographers and snap-shooters rather than photography enthusiasts. The S80000 is the spitting image of what consumers expect from the latest pocket picture rocket - it is a super compact, conservatively styled, auto-exposure-only camera that provides all the most popular bells and whistles that casual photographers have come to expect. It's so simple to operate that even absolute beginners can capture impressive images.


But the S8000 has a secret alter ego - Nikon's robustly built little Coolpix S8000 has some pro potential. It generates good quality images, renders colors accurately, and offers a very nice 10x Nikkor zoom. The S8000 also features a hi-res 920,000 pixel 3.0-inch LCD, HD video that rivals the output of a camcorder, Nikon's first rate Vibration Reduction (optical image stabilization) and 224 segment matrix metering systems, and the ultra-quick AF.

Some users may feel that its lack of manual exposure options compromise the camera's creative usability. User input into the exposure process is pretty much limited to lighter/darker tweaking via the exposure compensation mode. As it is, the Nikon Coolpix S8000 would be an almost ideal choice to replace an aging first digital camera, an excellent choice as a family camera, and a very good choice for travelers who want a small tough, easy to use digicam.

Pros:

Cons: