14.5 megapixels is a lot to put in a compact camera. Do you really need that many and can the Nikon sensor cope? Nikon think so with the launch of the S710, a 14.5-megapixel compact camera.



The S710 is a sturdy, solidly built digital camera that is slightly bigger and squarer than your average compact snapper. Coming in Urban Black or Titanium Silver (where do they get these names from?), the S710 sports that big resolution sensor, a 3.6x zoom lens and a 3-inch LCD screen on the rear.

In the hand and like the S610 (it's the same housing), the camera is comfortable to hold however the controls are fiddly. At the top the lens zoom lever is too small but it fires the lens in and out very quickly so zooming from one end to the other of the zoom range is fast, around a second to go from 28mm to the 101mm end.

Four small buttons surround the rotating multi-selector, which can also be used in four-way jog button style. Rotating it breezes quickly through animated menu options for various camera functions while tilting it can also scroll menus or images in playback, pick functions such as the self-timer, macro or flash settings.

A central OK button activates modes or as you’ve guessed, starts features such as the Active Child tracking mode, where the camera’s AF will follow a child (it works on adults too) allowing you to fire the shutter at the appropriate point.

The screen’s wide viewing angle is excellent however an issue remains … the 230,000-dot resolution. When spread across the relatively large 3 inches of space, this resolution starts to look very course indeed and with other makers’ compacts being introduced with superb, 460,000-dot LCDs, such as Panasonic’s LX3, this is certainly an area that will need looking at for the next iteration "S" series Nikon models.

Get past the design and what's the camera like to use? With the S710 Nikon has, like its other cameras, created a host of technologies that promise to reduce blur. Lens-shift VR (Vibration Reduction) works to reduce the effect of camera shake, while a high ISO (up to 12,800) light sensitivity reduces the risk of blurred images with fast-moving subjects or in low-light. Motion detection compensates for subject movement with Best Shot Selector (BSS) automatically selecting the sharpest of up to 10 sequential shots.

As with other cameras, the technology really works to improve the pictures you take and overall we are very impressed with the performance be it indoors or outdoors. Our test pictures we took had very little blur to them that wasn't intentional.

The S710’s relatively benign surface disguises a set of clever features that run alongside that Active Child mode. The Scene Auto Selector is a first for Nikon compacts and when selected (using the circular menu system, activated by pressing the Mode button) the camera will quickly "look" at the scene and pick an appropriate scene mode. It works well and refreshingly quickly to boot: the 710 claws back marks here.

The same circular menu also allows selection of the Smile shooting mode. Here the camera automatically monitors faces within the frame, a framing box appears on the screen and when the person smiles, the camera fires the shutter: you have to do nothing but ensure the framing is correct. It even works with multiple faces and it’s reasonably fast too. The camera’s self timer lamp blinks indicating a face has been detected and that it’s lurking in wait for the elusive smile. And if the subject blinks, the camera detects that too giving you another chance of re-shooting the picture.

There are 17 "normal" scene modes to choose between as well and these run the usual gamut of landscape and portrait modes, (and from which the Scene Auto Selector chooses) so the usual array.

As you might expect images with a 14.5-megapixel 1/1.72-in CCD, can be massive. At the highest settings file sizes are 4352 x 3264 pixels and come in around 5MB a piece. Given that you only get 42MB on-board it’s fair to say you'll need to buy a large memory card from the get go.

Surprisingly picture quality was considerably better than we expected, especially for a 14.5-megapixel camera with the image containing a massive amount of detail. Colours are vivid, while the large size means you can crop effectively without loosing detail and at a number of different settings both inside and out we were very happy with the camera's performance.

Verdict

A solid sturdy camera that is capable of taking great pics suffers only slightly from some fiddly controls and a menu system that requires you to do some digging to get the most out of it.



However the real question here is whether you need a 14.5-megapixel camera? The downsides include large files to store, while the upside is that you'll be able to crop to your heart’s content. If you aren't good at manually framing the image, this might be your answer otherwise it could be easily seen as overkill.

We were fully expecting the camera's sensor to be over-worked as it tried to cope with 14.5-megapixels, however the S710 comes up trumps.