The Nikon Coolpix SQ breaks from the usual mould of digital cameras from Nikon. For starters it comes with a docking station. Secondly it's square in shape and thirdly the lens can be rotated by 90 degrees in both directions.
On the outset this gives you a slim camera (82x82x25.5mm) that is easily pocketable. The 1.5”screen features in the centre of this design and relevant buttons are placed around it. A jog wheel on the top of the camera offers the chance to switch between setup, preview, manual mode, auto mode and scene and everything else is operated via on-screen menus.
Because of the design, Nikon has dispensed with the optical viewfinder and while this shows their belief that people who use digital cameras, just don't use these things anymore it would have been nice to include one if the user wanted to save battery power.
The docking station allows easy connection to a PC and the ability to charge the cameras Lithium-Ion battery. However, without it you can't download the images to a PC, an annoying element if you are out around a friends house and want to share your images, but don't happen to have the docking station. The station itself offers nothing else bar the charging and downloading of imaging and it seems strange that Nikon has made the user rely so heavily upon it.
A 1/2.7” CCD sensor gives an effective pixel rate of 3.34 million pixels and images can be saved on to a 16Mb Compact Flash card in four different sizes depending on your needs; 2016x1512, 1600x1200, 1024x768, 640x480. The camera also offers 3x optical and 4x digital zoom via the Nikkor f5.6-16.8 lens and is the equivalent of a 37-111mm lens on a 35mm camera.
For those looking for pre-programmed scene selections the Nikon SQ has 15 in total; Portrait, Party/Indoor, Night portrait, Sports, Beach/Snow, Landscape, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night landscape, Close-up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Back Light and Panorama assist and this will pretty much sort you out for any situation you come across.
Images on the whole were okay, but nothing special. The macro mode surprised us and allowed us to get a very good sharp image, while other shots seemed to lack colour strength and detail. The camera even had trouble with bright sunshine (see Tower of London shot). In a night-time party shot, while the camera performed well in reducing noise, the colours were again pale and the anti-red didn't seem to work. Couple that with a sometimes slow focusing time and it doesn't look good for the Nikon Coolpix SQ.
Nikon has tried to be clever with this camera. To a point it works - you can take pictures without people realising, but then it soon runs into trouble. Rotate the lens back towards you and you obscure half the LCD for example. Yes there are plenty of pre-programmed scene selections and this is really good for the newcomer who doesn’t want to be fussed with the finer details, but then the picture quality is so erratic giving brilliant shots one minute and only average images the next when you get the results. This camera is capable of producing good results when it wants to (see flower) but getting there is a tough job.