Nikon Coolpix S600 Camera Review
By Sandy Berger on August 20, 2008
Nikon boasts their Coolpix S600 as the camera with the world’s fastest start-up time and the world’s most compact design. We set out to check out these claims as well as to test the capabilities of this small point-and-shoot camera. We will look at the S600 from the view-point of the everyday photographer.
As shown in Figure 1, the Coolpix S600 comes with a rechargeable lithium ion battery, battery charger with power cable, A/V and USB interface cables, English and Spanish instruction manuals, quick start guide, and wrist strap. It has one CD entitled “Nikon’s Software Suite for Coolpix” which includes the Nikon Transfer program that allows you to transfer your photos from the camera to a PC or Mac computer, Apple QuickTime 7 for playback of videos, and Panorama Maker for stitching photos together to make panoramic views.
The Nikon S600 is enclosed in an all-metal case that is both sturdy and attractive. Although Nikon calls the color slate black, as shown in Figure 2, it is not pure black, actually appears to be more like brushed aluminum. In fact, depending on the lighting, at times the camera has a bronze-look.
At approximately 88.5 x 53 x 22.5 mm (3.5 x 2.1 x 0.9 in), we cannot argue with Nikon about this camera being the world’s most compact design. The slightly rounded edges soften the boxy-look of the camera and allow it to easily slip into a pocket. The size and shape make it fairly easy to grip for those special moments. Yet there is no handgrip area, so those with slippery fingers may want use the included wrist strap for insurance.
The Nikon Coolpix S600 has a 10 megapixel resolution producing photos that can be printed as large as the 8x10” that most home photo printers support or slightly larger. As shown in Figure 3, this camera has a large 2.7 in. high-resolution (230K pixels) LCD monitor. The monitor is bright and clear with a good wide viewing angle.
The screen is viewable in bright sunlight. When in the shooting mode you find that you need a little extra brightness, you can quickly boost the LCD brightness by holding down the Playback button for a few seconds. This is a good thing because this Nikon has no view finder, so you always have to rely on what you see on the screen for picture taking.
With almost every digital cameras today offering large megapixels counts, it becomes apparent that the lens in a digital camera is now of greater importance than megapixels. This Nikon has an excellent 4x wide-angle zoom-NIKKOR glass lens (28-112mm equiv). The wide-angle lens is a welcome surprise in a camera of this size. It is a useful feature making this Nikon a good vacation camera that can capture landscapes at their best.
The optical VR (vibration reduction) image stabilization is also a great feature. Many people think that vibration reduction is only useful for photographers with shaky hands, but in fact, it was created to reduce blur in low light settings. Taking photographs in low light means slower shutter speeds, resulting in more blur. The VR neutralizes the camera shake resulting in more stable shots and sharper images. VR can also be useful for reducing blur in action shots and it stabilizes the image on the display for easier framing of the picture.
Another feature of this Nikon is its ISO 3200 capability. As you probably know, higher ISO means better pictures in lower light. Although, as expected for a camera of this type, the amount of noise in the picture increases with the higher ISOs.
The S600 also has face-priority that automatically detects and focuses on people’s faces in the frame. It has macro shooting from as close as 3 cm (1.2”). The included Nikon's D-Lighting is also a very valuable feature since it allows for on the spot fixes inside the camera of underexposed shots or shots taken with excessive backlight. This allows you to use D-Lighting to rescue some dark shots. This is done in-camera and a copy of the picture is made leaving the original untouched. The S600 also has in-camera red-eye fix that works quite well to keep your pictures red-eye free.
This camera uses the small SD memory cards that have become popular for digital cameras. It also supports SDHC cards which allow you to purchase higher capacity memory cards. The camera comes with 45 MB of internal memory, so one of your first purchases will be a larger capacity SD card.
PictBridge support is built-into this Nikon, so if you have a PictBridge printer you can go directly from the camera to the printer. If your computer or printer has a SD memory card slot you can also remove the card from the camera and insert it into the computer or printer for immediate transfer of the photos. Otherwise you will use the camera’s included USB cable and software to move or copy your photos to the computer.
Nikon supports the enprinting of date/time right on the photograph. This feature is becoming increasingly rare, but some people love it and it provides great documentation for things like insurance photos or accident documentation.
Besides taking good photos, the S600 also records movies at either 640x480 or 320x240 at 30 frames per second. You can record 10 minute movie clips with sound. The only limitation for number of movies is the size of your memory card. The other limitation is that you can’t zoom in the movie mode.
Not surprisingly, because of the small size of the camera, all controls are on the small size, yet we had no difficulty using them. All of the controls for the Nikon S600 are on the back and/or top of the camera. The top, shown in Figure 5, has (from left to right) the power on/off button, an on/off indicator light, and a large rectangular shutter release button. The five holes on the far left are for the speaker. The three holes near the on/off button are for the built-in microphone. Although the on/off switch is slightly recessed, there is a possibility that it could be inadvertently activated.
The back of the camera, shown in Figure 6, has all the other camera controls. The zoom control is at the top. Under that is the flash indicator. A small area is left for your thumb when holding the camera. The five dots next to that area mark the flap for the USB connection which is actually on the side of the camera.
Under that area is the MODE button and a playback button marked with an arrow. Under that is a useful scroll wheel that can be used for making selections on the screen. The on-screen menu is activated by pressing the MENU button below the scroll wheel. To the right of the MENU button is the Delete button.
The scroll wheel can be pressed at the top, bottom, left, and/or right to quickly access four of the most-used camera functions. The flash is to the top, the macro function to the bottom, the self-timer to the left, and exposure compensation to the right. Each of these is marked by a white icon indicating their use. However, the exposure icon didn’t fit on the back of the camera, so it wound up on the right side. In any case, this is an intuitive way to make some of the main functionality of the camera easy to access, a feature that we highly praise.
The bottom of the camera, shown in Figure 7, has a hard plastic tripod socket and the battery/SD card compartment. Both of the tripods that we tried allowed the compartment to be opened while the camera was attached to the tripod.
Nikon’s claims about the fastest startup are accurate to a point. The camera really does startup in only 0.7 sec. But there is additional time for the shot itself to focus and be taken, so we didn’t fell that it was any faster than usual. In any case, the camera starts quickly, and certainly takes the photo quick enough to satisfy most users.
The S600 has defaults for all the camera settings that are very good. This is especially true of the auto white balance which worked well in many different lighting conditions. The camera performed extremely well in outdoor situations.
This is one of the first point-and-shoot cameras that we’ve tested that we didn’t feel compelled to change the settings to take everyday photos. The ability of this camera to take good pictures right out-of-the-box is sure to appeal to many casual photographers.
The user, however, may set many functions such as flash, exposure, white balance, ISO, color options, and macro mode. This gives more control to those who want it.
The color settings include vivid, black & white, sepia, cyanotype, and pastel. The vivid setting offered little difference from the regular color setting, but both were accurate and pleasing. The pastel setting is unique in digital cameras and produced a likable impressionistic feeling in the photos. The camera has face-priority detection that can find up to 5 faces and focuses on the closest.
Camera settings can be automatically optimized for any of the 15 different types including: Active Child, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/snow, Sunset, Dusk/dawn, Night Landscape, Close=up, Museum, Copy, Backlight, Image Mode.
The Active Child mode is an interesting one that many parents and grandparents will like. This mode frames a subject before shooting. The camera then tracks that subject as you shoot.
The Best Shot Selector is a great feature. Just select it from the menu and keep your finger pressed on the shutter release button. The camera will take 10 shots in a row and then will discard all expect the one that comes out the sharpest. If this mode were more accessible, it would be wonderful. As it is, you have to go through several clicks to turn it on and off.
The manual autofocus is wonderfully easy. After you select the manual autofocus in the menu you simple press the OK button in the middle of the dial and then use the dial to move the focus in the direction of your choice. The area of focus is shown on the screen by a small white square. This is more intuitive and easier than any other point-and-shoot camera that we have looked at.
One drawback is that the camera makes you confirm many of your choices, making you press OK to accept the choice. This means an extra click that won’t mean anything to some, but will be a big bother to others.
As you use the camera you find more interesting and useful features. For instance, if you want to just view the pictures that are stored on the camera you can simply press and hold down the play button for a few seconds and you will be able to view the photos without extending the lens. If you do that, however, you have to be sure to turn the camera off when you are finished. The green “on” light on the top of the camera will help you remember.
The Nikon rates the S600 battery for about 190 shots. If you will be taking more photos than that in one day, you will want to purchase an extra battery and keep it charged.
Nikon Coolpix S600 main specifications are:
* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.
There’s a lot to like about the S600, but it is not perfect. The small size is a big plus. You will get good color and out-of-the-box usability. You can take as much control as you like. Image quality is excellent and the camera also offers a large range that covers everything from close-up portraits to panoramic landscapes.
It’s great for outdoors and produces adequate indoor photos as well, but you may have to purchase an extra battery if you are a heavy user. There are enough features to keep you interested in the camera for quite a while. In the mean time, you will be having fun.