At one time - say the mid 1970s to mid 1980s - projecting our photographs or Super 8 films was the chief way to share holiday exploits and pictorial adventures with friends and family. In the digital age, when most of our snapshots are dumped on a hard drive and promptly forgotten, it’s debatable whether anyone has been holding out for a means of projecting them.
Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped Nikon from working its way through a couple of generations of its unique digital projector camera to arrive at the S1200pj, updating last year’s S1100pj. And, for families at least, being able to take a photograph or video then instantly display it to the kids via the nearest clutter-free wall at up to 60-inches wide does have a certain wow factor, undimmed with the passing of time.
More than just a compact camera
Although in terms of scale and portability it’s slightly broader than your average non-projecting compact, the solid feel 186g camera’s overall dimensions are roughly the size of a pack of playing cards at 107x63.4x22.6mm excluding projections. So it will still squeeze conveniently into a trouser pocket or handbag.
What may cause a little discomfort however is the price of this 14.1 effective megapixel snapper, incorporating standard issue 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor. At £399.99, you’re paying roughly £150 over and above a normal compact with otherwise the same headline spec. That's nearly enough to buy a portable projector, and stick with a normal compact camera. Because of the price, the projector has to be considered as the main reason for the Nikon’s purchase here, rather than merely viewed as a fun and funky add-on. iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch owners now have a further incentive with this latest generation model in that their devices can be hooked up directly for projection too, though the required cable costs extra, and this comes at the expense of HDMI output. Standard AV and USB 2.0 connectivity is retained.
We had the smart and sophisticated looking black S1200pj in for review, although it’s also available in shocking pink. Powering up in just over a second, which is remarkably swift for a compact, pictures are composed and reviewed in standard fashion via the perfectly adequate 3-inch back screen, which features the usual non-widescreen 4:3 aspect ratio yet a better than average resolution of 460k dots and anti reflective coating. Because of the built in projecting facility, there are two openings at the front of the S1200pj - one for the lens and the other for the projector, located slightly off the centre of the camera.
Good zoom, reduced shake
The 5x optical zoom lens equivalent to 28-140mm in 35mm terms is internally stacked so at no point does it project from the body, even when zooming in. It also features an automatically opening and closing lens cover for protection, whereas the projector’s cover has to be manually slid downwards or upwards to open and close. This is partly because this action automatically activates or deactivates said projector, removing the need for a separate button to do this and keeping operation intuitive and straightforward.
Use of the lens is backed-up with lens shift image stabilisation, though as with any pocket compact, the odd bit of blur as a result of camera shake can creep in here and there. Focus range of the camera itself is 30cm to infinity, or 3cm if opting for macro/close up mode.
A half-press of the shutter release button and the Nikon is capably quick in determining focus and exposure, the image relayed via the LCD momentarily blurring before snapping back into focus with a beep of affirmation and AF points visible on screen indicating that the photographer is good to take the shot. A maximum resolution JPEG is committed to 94MB internal memory or removable SD card. Nikon claims that around 220 shots can be squeezed out of a full charge of the supplied lithium ion rechargeable battery.
Projector brightness is a so-so 20 lumens, which means that an image can look a little indistinct when viewed on a wall in daylight, and projections are standard definition 640x480 pixels.
Optimum viewing size is from five-inches up to the aforementioned 60. To go smaller or larger, you simply step nearer or further back from the projection surface, twiddling the focus dial inset into the top plate. To get a clear view on the S1200pj’s screen doesn’t necessitate drawing the curtains entirely, but the less available light streaming in through the windows, the clearer and sharper the image certainly.
Aside from the focus wheel for the projector, most controls here will be familiar from any modern point and shoot camera, though the S1200pj omits any shooting mode dial, providing just a button marked with familiar camera icon that’s also titled ‘scene’ to press instead. Shooting video, here 1280x720 pixels, is commenced and curtailed with a thumb press of the camcorder style record button top right of the camera back.
The attendant backplate controls are playback, menu and delete, with a multi directional control pad in their midst. Ranged around this are settings for adjusting the flash options, exposure compensation, activating close up/macro focus or the self timer, either so the photographer themselves can squeeze into shot or so a low light image is protected against camera shake.
A press of the mode button and the user has access to ‘easy auto mode’, which best suited to first time users merely allows the image resolution (up to a maximum 4320x3240 pixels) to be changed if the main menu button is subsequently pressed – you can’t accidentally format the SD card in use or internal memory.
The next option along on the shooting mode toolbar offers the manual selection of 18 scenes modes, covering all points in between human portraits and those of pets. There’s also the ability to add a soft sheen or high or low key lighting effect to shots under the ‘special effects’ menu, which due to their visual blandness slightly defies the trade descriptions act.
The more regular digital filter effects like fisheye and miniature effect are selectable, but only for pre-captured images. So you can’t, for example, preview what an effect would look like before squeezing the shutter release button in the first place, as you can with, say, magic filters or art filters on Olympus compacts. The Nikon does at least let the user preview the results before applying them in playback mode, but it’s not obvious that the camera offers such creative touches if you’re not deliberately hunting for them.
As we usually find with Nikon Coolpix compacts, exposure errs on the side of underexposure if anything, and in less than ideal light colours can therefore appear rather drab and sludge like, though projecting said shots can add depth and dynamism otherwise missing on a desktop.
For low light photography without flash, an ISO range is provided that runs from ISO80 to ISO6400, again a respectable level of spec for a compact camera. But at ISO3200 and ISO6400 resolution drops down to three megapixels to limit the gritty appearance of image noise, which is a slight if not uncommon cheat.
As the camera feels fairly weight gripped in the palm, we were able to achieve sharp results shooting handheld at maximum 140mm equivalent zoom setting, though conversely at extreme 28mm equivalent wideangle we did witness some focus fall off towards the corners of the frame, which was slightly disappointing if, again, not exactly unheard of.
More than just a mere compact camera, but rather - if we’re feeling grand - a broadcast device, the Coolpix S1200pj satisfies on several levels. However, ironically, image quality isn’t its strongest point.
The price tag means that you really have got to want to use the projector to make it worthwhile. This is a pocket-sized point and shoot camera first and foremost, majoring on portability and convenience rather than DSLR-like results. However the wow factor of being able to conduct an impromptu slide show to share images remains; we just wish it was a little cheaper.