Is Nikon’s HD long-zoom compact a bit too easy to use?

Long-zoom compact cameras, also often called travel cameras, are a big growth area of the digital camera market. Nearly all of the main manufacturers now produce compact cameras with zoom lenses of 10x magnification or greater, models such as Panasonic’s TZ8 (£210) and TZ10 (£270), Samsung’s WB650 (£240), the Canon SX210 IS (£240), Olympus mju 9000 (£240) and Ricoh CX3 (£300) and Fujifilm’s new F300 EXR (£329, review coming soon) are all big sellers. Increasingly these cameras are being equipped with other advanced features such as manual exposure options, high-speed shooting, HD video recording, built-in GPS or travel guides being added as the brands vie for a bigger share of the market. As a result these travel cameras are becoming ever more complicated and ever more expensive, factors which may discourage many potential buyers.


Nikon has been something of a late entrant into this particular sector, but has recently introduced a long-zoom compact of its own that should go some way towards redressing the balance. The Coolpix S8000 features an optically stabilised flush-folding 10x zoom lens equivalent to 30-300mm, a 14.2-megapixel CCD sensor, a three-inch high resolution monitor and HD video recording with stereo audio, but with an easy-to-use fully automatic operation and in a body which Nikon claims is the thinnest 10x zoom camera in the world, all for a wallet-friendly price of less than £190.


The S8000 is a nice looking camera too. It has a mostly plastic body with a metal facia, and is available in three colours; brown, black and the light bronze colour shown here. The build quality is up to Nikon’s usual high standard, and the camera feels solid and substantial in the hand, despite its relatively low weight of 183g including battery and memory card. It measures 103 x 57 x 27.3mm at its thickest section, not much bigger than some ultra-compacts, and the unusual rounded ridge around the lens gives it a distinctive appearance. It has few protruding parts and slips easily into a pocket.

Despite its slim profile the S8000 handles well. The square shape is easy to grip, and there is a good indented and textured thumbgrip on the back, which also doubles as a speaker grille. The controls are very basic, following the pattern of Nikon’s simpler compacts. There are buttons for shooting, video and playback modes, a delete button, a menu button and a four-way D-pad which also has four secondary functions.


The S8000 has only four main shooting modes, selected by pressing the green Shooting Mode button and using the D-pad to choose between Auto, a Scene mode with 16 fairly typical scene programs, a Smart Portrait mode which includes the Smile Timer option and blink detection, and a Tracking AF mode which includes face priority tracking. Menu options can be displayed and a list or as icons.


The main shooing menu is very brief, with just seven entries; image size, white balance, ISO setting, drive mode, autofocus mode and metering mode. There are only two metering options, matrix or centre-weighted, with no spot metering available. There are four AF modes; auto, face priority, manual area selection and centre, with single or continuous AF available. Drive modes include single, continuous, Nikon’s useful Best Shot Selector, which picks the sharpest of a sequence of shots, and the somewhat less useful Multi-shot 16, which shoots a sequence of 16 low-res shots and then presents then as a grid in a single image. Also available is the Sports Continuous mode, which can shoot up to 45 frames at 3fps, but only at 3MP resolution.


The S8000 has a few simple but useful features in playback mode too, including the options to apply D-Lighting for high-contrast shots, Skin Softening for portrait shots, and a three-level Quick Retouch feature which increases contrast and saturation. All of these produce good results, and can improve some lacklustre images.


The monitor is worthy of special mention. It has a 7.5cm (3.0 inch) screen with an exceptionally high resolution of 921,000 dots. It also has a very wide angle of view in all directions, and a good anti-glare surface, which I’d be delighted to test in full sunlight if only we had any.


Also of note is the S8000’s video recording mode. It shoots at a maximum resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels at 30fps, recording in MPEG- AVC/H.264 format. Audio is recorded in AAC stereo via two microphones on the top of the camera. Video quality is very good for a compact camera. The stereo separation isn’t brilliant as you can imagine, but sound quality is definitely better than average.

he S8000 boasts Nikon’s EXPEED processor, which gives it quite creditable performance. It was able to start up and take a photo in less than two seconds, or a shot with flash in just under two and a half seconds, which is very quick. Shot-to-shot time in single shot mode is approximately 1.9 seconds, while in standard continuous mode it can manage approximately 1.2 seconds, although annoyingly there’s no audio cue when it takes a picture in this mode.


The autofocus system is very good in normal lighting conditions, and while it does slow down somewhat in lower light it never hunts and nearly always gets a lock. It has a good AF assist lamp with a range of at least three metres, and will focus reliably in most lighting conditions. The flash is also very good, fulfilling its claimed 5.5m range at wide angle, but is also well metered for close range shots.


The S8000 has optical image stabilisation, essential for a long zoom lens. Due to the camera’s all-auto operation it’s hard to measure accurately, but it produced sharp pictures at moderate zoom at shutter speeds as slow as 1/8th of a second. Combined with the Best Shot Selector it’s easy to get sharp results even in quite low light.


Image quality is on the whole very good. The Nikon ED lens is particularly good, producing distortion-free results at wide angle, with excellent edge-to-edge sharpness with minimal chromatic aberration. The level of detail is about average for a high-spec 14MP camera, with relatively low image compression producing high quality files of around 4.5-5.5MB. Colour reproduction is quite natural, producing plenty of detail without over-saturating. Dynamic range is better than expected, with good shadow and highlight detail, improved still further by applying D-Lighting in playback.


Noise control is also very good, with minimal noise at 400 and 800 ISO, and printable results even at 1600. The maximum 3200 ISO is a bit of a mess as it nearly always is, but even then the results are usable for small images.


”’Verdict”’

While it may lack all of the contemporary bells and whistles, the Nikon Coolpix S8000 is a solidly made and well designed camera that offers a wide range of easy-to-use high-end features and produces reliably good results in a wide range of situations. It is a superb all-rounder and excellent value for money.

”Over the next few pages we show a range of test shots. On this page the full size image at the minimum and maximum ISO settings have been reduced to let you see the full image, and a series of full resolution crops have taken from original images at a range of ISO settings to show the overall image quality. These pictures were taken indoors using shaded natural light. ”


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This is the full frame at minimum ISO.


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The image is noise free at 100 ISO, with good detail and smooth colour.


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Image quality is slightly rougher at 200 ISO, but still very good.


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Noise is visible but well controlled at 400 ISO, but there are some blotches on the red channel.


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Noise is still well controlled at 800 ISO.


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There is more colour distortion at 1600 ISO, but the results are still better than average.


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3200 ISO is really only there for emergencies.


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This is the full frame at maximum ISO.


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”A range of general test shots are shown over the next two pages. In some cases, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it to show the overall image quality. Some other pictures may be clicked to view the original full-size image. ”


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Here’s the usual detail test shot of the West Window of Exeter Cathedral, for you to compare with other cameras. See below for a full res crop, or click to see the whole picture. File size 5.4MB.


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The level of fine detail is good, but about average for a high-end 14MP camera.


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The Nikon ED lens is very good, producing virtually no optical distortion at wide angle.


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Centre sharpness is very good.


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Corner sharpness is also very good, although there is a bit of chromatic aberration at the very edge of the frame.


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”Here are some general test shots to help evaluate the camera’s overall image quality, including dynamic range, colour rendition and the zoom range of the lens. Some pictures may be clicked to download the full size original image.”


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The wide angle is equivalent to 30mm.


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The telephoto end is equivalent to 300mm.


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Dynamic range is better than average for a 14MP small-sensor camera, with some shadow and highlight detail.


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Applying D-Lighting in playback mode improves shadow detail without introducing a lot of noise.


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In standard auto mode colour rendition is very natural.


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Applying Quick Retouch in playback enhances contrast and saturation.


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Author: Cliff Smith Go to Source