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Housed in a svelte 0.8-inch thin aluminum-alloy body, the 5.1-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S1 has a lens that doesn’t protrude, giving it a smooth face. The pictures look smooth, too.
Unlike most compact point-and-shoot cameras, the S1 lacks an optical viewfinder. Instead, you’ll find an oversized 2.5-inch LCD. The menus are large and easy to read, and Help messages offer brief explanations of most features. Conveniently arranged buttons put most controls at the tip of your thumb, but the option to toggle the information display on and off is buried in a menu.
The Coolpix S1 has three modes: Auto, Scene, and Movie. Manual controls are limited to white balance (including custom white balance), exposure compensation, and ISO (which ranges from 50 to 400). There’s no histogram to help you judge exposure, not even in Playback mode. There are 13 scene modes and four “assist” modes, which offer framing guides to help keep your subject in focus. The scene modes range from the typical Portrait and Landscape to Fireworks, Panorama, and Underwater (designed for use with the optional underwater housing).
The 3x optical zoom is a bit slow, with a maximum aperture of f3.0 at the wide end and f5.4 at the long end. You can focus to 1.6 inches in Macro mode. Shutter speed tops out at 1/350 second, slow compared to most cameras that go to 1/1000 or 1/2000 second.
The Coolpix S1 offers a number of innovative features. Face-Priority AF automatically focuses on the subject’s face in Portrait mode (it performs well, but requires a lot of light). You can apply a D-Lighting feature to an image in Playback mode and the camera will save a copy of the image with enhanced contrast. A blur warning gives you the option of deleting a blurred image before you save it, and a Best Shot Selector option takes up to ten pictures and automatically keeps the image with the sharpest focus or the best exposure.
Startup time is only a couple of seconds, but you’ll pause five or six seconds between shots while the camera writes to memory. Continuous mode takes a picture about once every two seconds, and I fired off 22 before the camera began to stutter.
The S1 takes very good pictures, with accurate, vibrant, saturated colors. Detail was good, and noise was low for a camera in this class.
Movie mode lets you capture VGA-quality movies (640 by 480 pixels), but only at 15 frames per second. You can also record voice memos up to 20 seconds long. Audio was decent, but video quality is poor.
You’ll need the included docking station to transfer pictures to your computer or to attach the camera to a TV for viewing. It’s not required for recharging, but if you’re taking your camera on the road, you’ll need to haul and keep track of it, plus its power brick, cord, and a USB cable.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
The Coolpix S1 lacks some features enthusiasts might expect, but point-and-shooters who need a bit of guidance will like its easy operation and excellent color.
|Clarity—Artifacts, Noise||Very Good|
Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable
|Zoom/Focal Length||3.0x Optical (35mm to 105mm)|
|Size (wxhxd)||3.5 inches x 2.3 inches x 0.8 inches|
[ Robert Ellis is a photography enthusiast with a growing collection of digital cameras. He is a frequent contributor to Macworld and maintains the blog Futurosity.]Nikon Coolpix S1