Can a return to an old casing, invigorate the Coolpix S4? We take a look and find out.
The Coolpix S4 harks back to the original Coolpix swivel body design and anyone who remembers the Coolpix 900 will remember the groundbreaking handling characteristics afforded by the separate but articulated lens and body design; incidentally a design also used by Agfa early digital models such as the Agfa ePhoto 1280.
The S4 is a svelte swivelling compact machine, which, as befits a more modern machine than that early 900 forebear, features a healthy dose of modern technology. A 6MP CCD kicks things off providing plenty of resolution for prints up to and over A3.
A 10x zoom lens gives a 38mm-380mm (in 35mm format) zoom range with 4x digital zoom thrown in too providing a theoretical maximum zoom ratio of 1520mm, and a shot of the moon is included here at that zoom setting to give an idea of its capability when using digital zoom.
Other funky stuff includes no less than 16-subject (or rather Scene modes for Nikon's) program modes offering a one-stop shop for almost every shooting situation including parties, fireworks and portraits. Two levels of control firstly provide a Scene shooting mode position via a top plate switch, where a previously selected (in a menu) scene mode is activated. The second level of control is actually just another level of full-auto shooting, a simple point and shoot mode if you will.
Menus change to reflect the mode you're in, making control in each respective shooting mode a cinch. The S4 has a couple of neat features also rolled out onto other Coolpix's (such as the P2 I tested here recently) and include that Face Priority AF where the camera tracks a face for a portrait ensuring it is always sharp. Frame Assist also provides simple framing options with outlines to help get the composition right for each shot too.
Other kit such as in-camera redeye reduction and D-Lighting, another in camera edit that brings out detail in shadows and highlights respectively, depending on under or over exposure problems, but all without affecting the properly exposed parts of the image.
Handling is simple, as befits this basic model. The swivel design may take time to get used to but you soon learn to get grips with it and it throws wonderful framing opportunities open, as it is so versatile to use. Shooting controls are spaced across the camera's top plate (a flash is built into the lens housing alongside the front optics) including the small zoom control with built-in shutter button and the on/off button.
The back plate houses then large 2.5-inch colour screen, a small joystick style navigation button, which is frankly a tad too fiddly to use. Four other buttons ranged across the top of the screen include the menu activation, delete and playback button. Images are stored on SD/MMC external memory cards
Image quality is unfortunately where the S4 trips up most. Nikon have included the usual sophisticated elements within the camera: 256-segment metering, check. Exposure compensation, check. Contrast detect TTL AF with auto, multi-area AF, check.
But a limited ISO range (only up to ISO400), excessive noise within images and what I believe to be over compression of the JPEG files combine to drop Nikon's usually good image quality to just below that; fair.
For those nostalgic for the swivel bodied Coolpix's of old, the S4 might float your boat. Anyone wanting more manual control or a more compact design and for that matter, better image quality, the S4 may sink it instead. Perhaps the S4 is just a firmware upgrade away from better images, but the competition is so stiff for digital cameras of this ilk, particularly in terms of image quality, the S4 could do better at this price.