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Nikon Coolpix S6000 Review
by Andy Stanton -  7/12/2010

The Nikon Coolpix S6000 is a sleek, user-friendly compact ultrazoom camera with a surprisingly long 7x optical zoom (a 35mm equivalent lens range of 28mm to 196mm). It occupies the middle ground between standard ultracompact point-and-shoot cameras with 3x or 4x optical zoom, such as Nikon's own S4000, and compact ultrazooms with 10x optical zoom and higher, such as Nikon's S8000 which was reviewed by this website back in May.

Nikon Coolpix S6000


The S6000 is a small, lightweight camera at 3.8 inches wide, 2.2 inches high and 1 inch thick (97x55x25mm), with a weight of only 5.5 ounces (156 grams). It has a 1/2.3-inch, 14.2 megapixel sensor, probably the same sensor that is in the S8000. The S6000 comes in four colors - silver, red (the color of my review model), black and bronze - and its list price at the time of this writing is $249.95.

Nikon S6000 Test Image
Wide Angle, 28mm equivalent

Nikon S6000 Test Image
Telephoto, 196mm equivalent

Nikon packages this model with an EN-EL12 lithium-ion battery, an adaptor for plugging into a power source to recharge the battery, a USB cord for transferring files and battery recharge, an A/V cable, a wrist strap, a CD-ROM containing a 164 page User's Manual and various software programs including Nikon's ViewNX picture transfer and organizing software. The camera I received also contained a paper version of the User's Manual.

The S6000 was my constant companion during the two weeks I had it for review. We endured some of the hottest weather the Washington, D.C. area had seen in quite a while. Throughout my experience shooting with the camera, I was continually impressed with its small size, quick operation and, above all, its ability to produce accurate colors. Let's examine this interesting camera more closely.

BUILD AND DESIGN
The first thing one notices about the S6000 is its attractive, burnished metal front section. All the parts seem to be of high quality, with excellent fit and finish. The camera, while small and lightweight, feels solid. After two weeks of inhabiting my pocket it did not seem the least bit worn.

Nikon Coolpix S6000

The S6000's buttons and dials work as they should. The camera has solid, tight-fitting coverings over its A/V and HDMI ports. Its wrist strap is well designed, as it is a good size (not too small) and loops over a solid metal ring built into the side of the camera. Its battery/memory card compartment cover, while plastic, seems firmly attached to the camera body, and is closed by a sliding latch. However, on one occasion when I pulled the camera out of my pocket, I noticed that the cover had opened on its own.

The only design issue I found was that, when the camera was in use for a while, the LCD would get slightly warm. I don't know whether this is normal for Nikon cameras but I've never noticed it on any other camera I've used.

Ergonomics and Controls
The S6000 has the typical boxy shape of most small cameras. It can be used with one hand, and it has a useful thumb grip at the rear that helps, but most people will probably want to use both hands to get the sharpest possible picture. Also, the metal front of the camera is rather slippery, which makes one-handed shooting more of a problem.

Nikon Coolpix S6000

The camera's front is dominated by its lens, which retracts into the camera body when not in use. There is an auto focus assist/timer lamp next to the lens and a thin flash in the upper corner. Unfortunately, the flash is in a position where it is vulnerable to being blocked by fingers of a left hand steadying the camera. The camera's front also contains holes for the microphone.

Nikon Coolpix S6000

The sides of the S6000 are pretty barren, containing only the wrist strap ring, HDMI port and speaker pinholes.

The bottom portion of the S6000 contains a metal tripod socket, located at the far end of the camera. While placing the socket in the middle is best for proper balance on the tripod, the far end location should not be a problem here considering the light weight of the camera. The bottom also contains the A/V port, which is used for connecting the USB cable, as well as the compartment for the camera's lithium-ion battery and a memory card. As mentioned, the compartment's plastic cover, while sturdily attached, uses a sliding latch that doesn't always keep the cover securely closed.

Nikon Coolpix S6000

The top portion of the S6000 contains the on/off button and a good-sized shutter button with a wrap-around zoom lever. I prefer this type of arrangement of the zoom lever, as it makes it easy to operate the zoom just by using a forefinger, even while gripping the camera.

The camera's rear contains the 2.7-inch LCD monitor. To the right of the monitor is, from top to bottom, a flash charging indicator, a dedicated movie recording button, side-by-side buttons for scene (shooting modes) and playback, a circular controller, and side-by-side menu and delete buttons. The controller rotates, to help moving through menu items and through pictures while in playback mode. The controller can also be used to select functions - pressing up for the flash, down for close-up macros, left for self-timer and right for EV compensation. In the center of the controller is an OK button for selecting menu items.

Nikon Coolpix S6000

The S6000 has a limited number of controls, which is a good thing considering that its users are probably interested in a more simple camera, but the controls it does have are very useful and well-placed.

Menus and Modes
The S6000's menu is activated by pressing the menu button. The menu has three sections, shooting, movie, and settings. The menu items are clearly laid out but do not contain descriptions. While some menu selections are obvious, others are not, so it's a good idea to read the User's Manual.

The S6000 allows you to select the shooting mode by pressing the scene button, which offers a choice of four shooting modes: auto, scene, smart portrait and subject tracking. The S6000 also has a movie mode and a playback mode. Here are brief descriptions of the various modes:

Nikon S6000 Test Image
Standard
Nikon S6000 Test Image
Vivid
Nikon S6000 Test Image
Black and White
Nikon S6000 Test Image
Sepia
Nikon S6000 Test Image
Cyanotype

The built-in flash is tiny but does a creditable job. According to Nikon, its coverage is from 1 feet 8 inches to 16 feet (0.5 to 4.9 meters) at wide angle and 3 feet 7 inches to 11 feet (1.1 to 3.6 meters) at maximum telephoto. These figures seem reasonably accurate. The flash has five modes: auto, auto with red-eye reduction, off, fill flash (forced on) and slow sync (combined with a slow shutter speed to brighten the background). The available flash modes vary depending on the shooting mode in effect.

Display/Viewfinder
The S6000 has a 2.7-inch LCD monitor with 230,000 dots of resolution and an anti-reflection coating. It can be adjusted to five levels of brightness. The monitor can be set to display different levels of photo information and/or a framing grid. Like all small cameras released within the past year or two, the S6000 lacks a viewfinder. The LCD is reasonably fluid and does a good job, though it's hard to see in the bright sunshine. The monitor provides very accurate color reproduction, which is not always the case with LCD monitors.

PERFORMANCE
The S6000 is a quick camera in most respects. It takes no more than two seconds both to start up and shut down. However, in selecting menu items I sometimes found some degree of hesitation between selecting the item and hearing the beep that indicated my selection was in effect. I especially noted this when selecting a shooting mode (auto, scene, smart portrait or subject tracking). Otherwise I was very pleased with the responsiveness of the camera.

Shooting Performance
I found shooting performance to be very good overall. Shot-to-shot time is very quick, not more than a second or two, a bit longer with the flash activated. I was able to take ten photos as fast as my finger could press the shutter, and there was no delay to access the memory card.

The performance tables set out below show that S6000 compares well with similar long zoom compact cameras, the Fuji JZ500, the Canon SX210 IS and the Panasonic DMC ZS7. For shutter lag, with pre-focus in effect (pressing halfway down on the shutter to lock focus), the Nikon comes in fourth at 0.03 seconds, but that time is practically the same as the other three cameras. Without pre-focusing, the Nikon comes in first at a very quick 0.27 seconds, considerably faster than the others. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that shutter lag is not a problem with the S6000.

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix JZ500 0.01
Canon PowerShot SX210 IS 0.01
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 0.02
Nikon Coolpix S6000 0.03

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

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix S6000 0.27
Canon PowerShot SX210 IS 0.36
Fujifilm FinePix JZ500 0.38
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 0.39

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Canon PowerShot SX210 IS 0.8 fps
Fujifilm FinePix JZ500 3 1.4 fps
Nikon Coolpix S6000 3 1.8 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 3 1.8 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.

The performance tables also show that S6000 ties for first in continuous shooting at 1.8 frames per second. The camera has a mode for sports continuous shooting where it can shoot at four frames per second for 45 frames, though at a resolution of three megapixels.

The S6000 employs Nikon's vibration reduction (VR) system, which acts as a form of image stabilization. It uses lens shift to minimize the effect of camera shake, motion detection to adjust shutter speed and ISO, and Nikon's Best Shot Selector which automatically takes up to 10 shots while the shutter is pressed and saves the sharpest image.

The S6000 uses an EN-EL12 lithium ion rechargeable battery which is rated by Nikon to last for 210 shots. This is on the short side compared to similar cameras from Canon, Sony and Panasonic but I found Nikon's rating to be conservative, as I only charged the camera a couple of times during the two weeks I used it. Battery life will last longer if you keep the LCD monitor at a low brightness level, infrequently access the menu and rarely shoot videos. The battery is charged within the camera, either by connecting the USB cable to an adaptor that plugs into a power source, or by connecting the cable to a computer.

Lens Performance
The wide lens range of the S6000 gives it great versatility for taking close macro photos and photos of far away objects. The lens is easy to control using the zoom lever around the shutter. While the lens maintained adequate sharpness throughout its zoom range, it did not produce images as sharp as pictures I've seen from other cameras. Photos tended to be sharper at the center and a bit blurry at the edges, but not to a great degree. Vignetting was not a problem. I found very little barrel distortion at wide angle and no pincushion distortion at maximum telephoto.

Nikon S6000 Test Image
Wide Angle

Nikon S6000 Test Image
Telephoto

Occasionally I noticed chromatic aberration (purple fringing), in high contrast shots, such as trees against a blue sky. This becomes more noticeable when the picture is enlarged.

Nikon S6000 Test Image

Video Quality
The S6000 takes good looking HD videos at 1280x720 resolution at 30 frames per second, with stereo sound. Here's a video of Koi fish, Japanese carp, taken at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

Image Quality
By far the best aspect of the images produced by the S6000 are their highly accurate color. In virtually every picture I took the colors appeared to be spot on.

Nikon  S6000 Test Image

Part of the reason is the excellent auto white balance that the camera produces, both indoors and outdoors. In case you're unhappy with the auto white balance, you do have the option of using alternatives such as daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, flash and manual preset using your own white reference.

Nikon S6000 Test Image
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

The S6000 can focus as close as 3 cm for taking macro shots if the camera is at its extreme wide angle. Macro shots can also be taken by standing further away and using the camera's long zoom, if getting closer to the object is not possible or shadows will affect the image.

Nikon S6000 Test Image
Wide Angle
Nikon S6000 Test Image
Maximum Zoom

Shooting in bright sunshine was sometimes a problem due to overexposure (clipping). This is evident in most small cameras, to varying degrees. I tried using the camera's D-lighting feature, which did a good job lightening areas that were too dark, but it did not improve areas that were too bright.

Nikon S6000 Test Image
Original
Nikon S6000 Test Image
After D-Lighting

As the photos below indicate, the S6000 produces moderately sharp, clear images with low noise and good color through 200 ISO. Softness increases at 400 ISO and noise substantially increases at 800 ISO.

Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 100
Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 200
Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 400
Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 800
Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 1600
Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 3200
Nikon S6000 Test Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

Images are not much worse at 1600 ISO but at 3200 ISO images are too noisy to be used except for emergencies. Throughout, however, the S6000 maintains good color, which is consistent with my observations about the camera's dependable color accuracy.

Additional Sample Images
Nikon S6000 Test Image Nikon S6000 Test Image
Nikon S6000 Test Image Nikon S6000 Test Image
Nikon S6000 Test Image Nikon S6000 Test Image

CONCLUSIONS
I enjoyed using the Nikon Coolpix S6000. It is an attractive, small camera that is easily transportable due to its compact size. It has good build quality and operates quickly and smoothly. The menu system is easy to use once you become familiar with it.


When it comes to lens performance and image quality, the S6000 is somewhat of a mixed bag. Its long lens provides great versatility and good performance, but images are a bit soft. There is very little evidence of distortion other than occasional chromatic aberration. By far the best aspects of the camera's image quality are its accurate color and excellent auto white balance. However, overexposure can sometimes be a problem.

The Nikon Coolpix S6000 would be very useful as a vacation camera, especially for those who want the camera to make most of the decisions. I also see it as a good option for a second camera, to be carried in a pocket or purse when a larger camera would be inconvenient. It is a good, compact camera that should be very popular.

Pros:

Cons: