Nikon's Coolpix cameras have been in the limelight with high-profile advertising sandwiching Hollyoaks on the TV. The Coolpix S3000 is one such camera, a compact and highly affordable camera offering a wide range of colour choices, designed to appeal to those wanting a simple point and shoot.
It measures 94.3 x 55.9 x 19.0mm, so really is small enough to slip into just about any pocket on any occasion, and at 116g, is certainly light enough too. Despite its position at the foot of the Coolpix table, it demonstrates the sort of good build quality that you'd expect from a company like Nikon and has a metal body, rather than the plastic you'll find elsewhere.
In the hand we found it a little small, so would probably suit ladies by nature of its smaller dimensions. The small dimensions mean grip can be a problem and we found that we covered the screen in fingerprints whilst using the camera. The front-mounted flash also suffers from its location as there is always a chance you will put your finger over it.
The controls are relatively conventional, with the top plate offering the zoom toggle encircling the shutter button and an on/off button which neatly contains an LED, so you know you've turned it on. The recessed position of the on/off switch might make it tricky for those with fat fingers.
The remainder of the controls lie to the right-hand side of the 2.7-inch display which features an anti-glare coating so performs reasonably in bright conditions. Centred around a four-way controller with central ok button and flanked by four more buttons, finding your way in to the menus and changing the shooting settings is easy enough.
The shortcuts on the four-way controller are the standard flash, exposure compensation, macro focus, and self timer. Thankfully you can access all these settings in any shooting mode (except video capture) meaning it is easy to tweak the exposure without having to fiddle around, something that will benefit this camera's performance.
Shooting mode is access via its own button which opens up and on-screen menu with five options: auto, scene (including scene auto selector), smart portrait, subject tracking and finally movie capture mode. Using the four-way controller you can easily move through the list, select what you want and get back to snapping with minimal fuss.
Other controls offer playback and delete and finally the main menu. Within the main menu there are two areas, the first is the context-sensitive shooting menu, the second are the main camera settings, that once you've set the camera up you'll probably not need to tinker with.
By context-sensitive we mean the content of the menu changes based on the options that are available to you. As with other compacts, the auto scene selector mode knocks out all your options (except those on the shortcut buttons) so you can only change the photo resolution.
Out of the auto scene mode you get more choices, with the standard Auto mode offering a good range of shooting tweaks, notably you can opt for continuous shooting or Best Shot Selector, or select the ISO setting from 80 to 3200. You can also limit the auto ISO range, a feature we always like, meaning you can restrict it to the cleaner 80-400, or 80-800, rather than the standard 80-1600.
Smart portrait pulls together a host of features designed to get better people photos, including skin smoothing, blink detection, face focus/detection and smile timer, which grabs a shot when your subject smiles. It's questionable whether these features add anything photographically as taking a straight shot in Auto mode will often get you the result you want anyway.
Subject tracking mode lets you select your target and then tracks it as it moves around. We've always like this feature in cameras as it will let you not only track a moving subject (like a child or animal), but can also be used to pick a focal point so you can recompose your picture easily around it. This also steps around any focusing vagaries you might encounter.
Keeping shooting options to the minimal and distinctive makes the Coolpix S3000 an easy-to-use point and shoot. It doesn't baffle users with lots of options so there is every chance they'll actually use what is on offer, rather than just sticking to the relatively safe Auto mode.
You also get video capture, although this doesn't venture into HD resolutions, the video is good quality 640 x 480 resolution at 30fps. You can zoom whilst shooting video, although the mono mic is quite sensitive and prone to picking up hand movements on the camera body and getting thwarted by wind and environmental noise.
Press the on button and the camera powers on, extending the 4x zoom lens in around 2 seconds and capturing a shot in just under 4 seconds. The lens offers a range of 27-108mm (in 35mm terms), so isn't the widest angle on a compact, and at F/3.2 isn't especially adept at lower light photography, but that's in fitting with this camera's price point.
The battery slots into the bottom of the camera along with the SD card. The supplied USB cable will not only retrieve images from the card but also charge the battery in-camera, saving the need for a separate battery charger. A wall socket power pack is provided so you can plug the camera straight into the wall to charge.
When it comes to image quality, the S3000 gives average quality shots from the 14-megapixel sensor, befitting its point and shoot status. Reds look noticeably over-saturated; this adds some vibrancy to shots, but the resultant images can be a little unnatural.
The camera lacks some of the neat technologies that offer a wider dynamic range in some cameras. As a result, tricky skies often over-expose, or the foreground under-exposes giving you your lovely sky. Some cameras offer a flat middle ground, so at least you get some interesting shots out of the Nikon, often at the expense of shadow detail. But there is a tendency of over-expose in bright conditions, so using the exposure compensation to wrangle this under control is a must.
There is evidence of fringing in high contrast shots, and shots don't hold up under close scrutiny where there is a general lack of detail, but that's not uncommon in point and shoot cameras at the affordable end of the scale and neither is the noise that starts to encroach on shots from about ISO 400 upwards. The lens shows some distortion at the wide angle, but it isn't too dramatic.
The price is right and the build quality is surprisingly good for a camera you can collect for under £100, but the performance doesn't step up much to make it really attractive. A few more pounds and some bargains can be had for some features you might want, like the ability to capture HD video.
Despite the averaging image quality, the Nikon Coolpix S3000 is a neat little compact camera. The dimensions will appeal to those who want something they can easily tuck away, but some might find it too small for their hands.