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(Pocket-lint) - The Nikon S3100 is a slender 5x zoom compact camera that’s an ideal point-and-shoot for the style-conscious. But is the budget Coolpix S3100 a true winner?

Nikon’s latest line of “Style” Coolpix compacts ranges from the lower-spec S2500 up through to the S9100. The S3100, reviewed here, is towards the bottom end of this spectrum - with the onus on style, small size and simple point-and-shoot operation.

The Nikon Coolpix S3100 is a slender 18.4mm-wide and has a 5x optical zoom lens (26-130mm equivalent) that extends from the camera body when it’s turned on. The camera looks eye-catching and is available in a series of bright colours including blue, yellow and red, plus the usual neutral black or silver. The S3100 can shoot 14-megapixel images from ISO 80 through to ISO 3200 and there’s even the ability to capture 720p HD movies too.

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On the rear of the camera is a 230k-dot, 2.7-inch LCD that dominates most space, with the majority of controls aligned to the right of this. The screen itself doesn’t have an especially large angle of view however - tilt it too steeply and the exposure and contrast go awry and won’t appear accurately to your eyes.

Control-wise and the S3100 makes it easy to quickly jump between Auto shooting, Scene selection, Smart Portrait and Subject Tracking modes using the one-touch Scene button on the rear of the camera. Macro (Close-up), Exposure Compensation, Flash and Self Timer controls feature around the directional d-pad and more hidden options, including AF Area and Colour Options, are accessible by pressing the Menu button.

The Scene modes are fairly exhaustive, with 18 various options and an Auto-selector available, though it’s the Colour Options that are more fun - offering the likes of in-camera Black & White, Cyanotype and Sepia toning. There’s also Nikon’s Smart Portrait system that features Smile Timer (shot won’t be taken until subject smile), is Blink Proof (warning when the subject’s caught on the blink) and has a Skin Softening feature (that smoothes out the face but not the crucial areas such as eyes, nose and mouth).

The one-touch movie button on the rear of the camera does have a 2-3 second delay before movie begins to be recorded and, when capture does begin, you’ll need to be prepared for an automatic crop cutting the top and bottom of the image off (as per 16:9 HD ratio). Although it’s possible to set the zoom length prior to capture, the optical zoom cannot operate during capture, instead only a digital magnification is available and that’s very much at the expense of final quality. It is nice to have an HD movie mode, but don’t expect bags of functionality here.  

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The S3100’s autofocus system is relatively good in decent lighting conditions. Although really close-up focusing isn’t possible, the camera is good at identifying areas to latch onto and Face Detection is swift and accurate. Focus is final however, as there’s no manual adjustment or fine-tuning available. An AF-assist lamp projects a red light to assist with focus in darker conditions or at night, and a well-placed flash is useful for night portraits and the like.

At £116 from a number of online retailers, the Coolpix S3100 is well priced for those seeking a budget point-and-shoot.

If you’re looking for a camera that takes sharp, detailed and clean images for critical work then, frankly, the Nikon Coolpix S3100 won’t satisfy your needs. Although images are acceptable for the day-to-day snaps of your mates and the like, there are a number of issues: namely that there’s image noise throughout the full ISO range and processing artefacts are fairly obtrusive. However, if you’re not using full size images then these unwanted elements will be far less noticeable. At the higher end of the ISO range image details are significantly softened and colour becomes noticeably muted. Also 14-megapixels is well above and beyond the resolution that’s needed at this level - a lower resolution would have helped improve image quality and kept file sizes down too.

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To recap

If you want a slender, good-looking compact to slip into your bag or pocket then the Nikon Coolpix S3100 makes perfect sense. However, the image quality leaves plenty to be desired and certainly isn’t for critical work. But for those on a budget the S3100 delivers a fairly decent point-and-shoot solution

Writing by William Perceval.