Nikon Coolpix S230 Review
By Mike Flacy
Nikon's S230 is a 10-Megapixel ultra-compact with a feature never before seen on a Style series camera, a 3-inch, 230,000 pixel LCD-touch screen. This size of the screen has eliminated all but two of the buttons on the back of the camera, and is responsible for all of the controls and navigation except for the shutter release and zoom control. Also featured on this camera is a Nikkor 3x optical zoom lens, Expeed image processor, Auto Scene Selector and Electronic Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilization.
The 4-way VR image stabilization is made up of several features that assist in reducing the amount of camera shake and motion blur seen in images. Nikon's electronic VR image stabilization and the motion detection adjust the ISO, up to ISO 2000, along with shutter speeds compensating for camera movement. The Best Shot Selector (BSS) takes multiple pictures (up to 10) when pressing the shutter release and saves the sharpest one.
Handling and operating the S230 is very easy via the 'pinch' technique, or with one hand thanks to the small thumb grip on the back. People with large hands will even be able to hold the camera and operate the touch screen with a single hand. With the easy access touch screen and fewer buttons for operation, Exposure Compensation becomes more difficult to control. The feature can be located on the screen's shooting menu rather than the one button access found on other Nikon models. The 3-inch touch LCD screen is very easy to see in all lighting conditions. The anti-reflection coating cuts down on glare nicely, but dulls colors a bit. Five levels of brightness allow for direct sunlight viewing and adjusting for darker settings.
Performance from the S230 is decent. The camera is able to capture its first image 2.6 seconds after turning it on. Shutter lag is very good, taking less than 1/10 of a second when the camera is pre-focused and between 5/10 and 7/10 of a second when using the autofocus. In single shot mode, the camera is somewhat slow, capturing 5 images in 15.3 seconds without the flash and 5 images in 16.3 seconds with it. There are two continuous shooting modes; one is an option in auto shooting mode, the other is the sports shooting mode. They both allow for the capture of 3, full sized, high quality images in 1.6 seconds before filling the buffer. All of our tests were completed using a 2GB RiDATA Pro 120x SD memory card, 10-Megapixel high quality, ISO Auto, Auto shooting mode, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality from our outdoor shots is above average, showing mostly good exposures and realistic colors. Our museum shot shows a well exposed subject, even though it was a very overcast day. You will also see aberrations in most of the high contrast areas throughout the image. The 3x optical zoom lens (35mm equivalent of 35-105mm) is great for landscape and portrait shots. The telephoto end is also useful for individual shots and framing, although it is not enough to get significantly closer to your subject. At the wide end of the zoom, you will find some barrel distortion and a little edge softness throughout the range.
The quality of our indoor image samples is very good. Excellent exposures and vivid colors provide a very pleasing and sharp image. ISO noise levels are very good from ISO 400 and below, but escalate quickly above 400. This comes into play when shooting with the flash as well. At ISO Auto, the flash has a range of up to 15-feet, but choosing a lower ISO setting will greatly reduce this range. Our M&M man shot shows that the flash was not powerful enough to properly illuminate the subject when shooting at mid-telephoto from just 7 feet away using ISO 80. One way to overcome this problem is to get as close to your subject as possible when using the flash. When shooting our candy dish macro sample, we found that the flash was troublesome as the camera is not able to control the output well enough to avoid blowing out the subject.
Like the S630, Nikon's Smart Portrait System is made up of 5 smaller features. Face priority allows the camera to focus and adjust exposure and white balance for up to 12 faces in the frame. D-lighting brings out details in dark areas that can result in the adjustments for the face. Camera red-eye reduction and fix greatly reduce the amount of red-eye you will see in your images. Smile mode will automatically capture an image when your subject smiles, whether you are ready or not. With Blink Proof turned on, the Smile mode will capture two images when your subject smiles and save the image when your subject's eyes are open. Using these features via the Portrait scene mode, our images show realistic colors and skin tones to go along with the excellent exposures based on the faces in the frame. Again, as with the S630, when the subject is on the move the camera has a little trouble keeping up, causing some blurry or out of focus images. There is also more image noise than we would like to see, but it can be hard to avoid due to the inability to change ISO settings in Portrait mode.
Movie mode allows you to capture video at resolutions of 640x480 or 320x240 (15 or 30 fps) with audio. When capturing video in less than perfect lighting, like in your home instead of outside on a sunny day, there is some noise evident. The built in mic does a good job of picking up sounds near the camera, but will also pick up background noises. Be careful when choosing your shooting location. Both the video and the audio play back very smoothly, making them suitable to watch via your TV or computer. Due to the large file size, almost 1MB per second of video, it is a good idea to use a large memory card or keep extras on hand to swap out.
Supplying power to the S230 is a 3.7V, 740mAh Li-Ion battery pack. During our tests, this battery allowed us to capture nearly 100 images and videos with no worries of a dead battery. You should have no problem shooting over a full day on a single charge. If taking a multiple day trip or very long outing, have a backup battery on hand. This is easy to do thanks to the included external battery charger.
Bottom Line - What really makes the Nikon Coolpix S230 stand out is the large 3-inch touch LCD screen on the back. Complimenting the screen is the new Expeed image processor, auto scene select mode, and Nikon's smart portrait system. With a MSRP of US$229.95, this is a very stylish and easy to use ultra-compact camera. If you like the camera but can live without the touch LCD screen, check out the very similar Coolpix S220 for just US$150.
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