Nikon Coolpix S640 Digital Camera Review
By Sandy Berger on December 29, 2009


Introduction

Hardware Secrets Golden Award

The Nikon Coolpix S640 is touted as the fastest camera in the Coolpix range with an autofocus speed that compares favorably to digital SLRs. It also has a 28-140mm equivalent Nikkor 5x zoom lens with optical vibration reduction, a 12-megapixel sensor, and a 2.7” LCD screen. With specs like this the Coolpix S640 looks like a real winner. So we set out to find out if it would come out as a champion in our testing.

The Nikon Coolpix S640 comes in an unassuming black box, shown in Figure 1. The contents of the box are shown in Figure 2. The camera comes with a lithium-ion battery, a small wrist strap, the USB charging cable and AC adapter plug, video cables, a software disk, a User’s Guide and a Quick Start Guide. As you can see in this figure, the AC adapter has a fold-down plug. This is a feature that we always like to see since it adds to the portability of the camera’s accessories.


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Figure 1: The box.


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Figure 2: What’s included.

As you can see in Figure 3, the brick-shaped camera itself is small and very pocketable. Measuring in at 3.6” x 2.2” x 0.8” (91 x 55 x 20.5 mm) and weighing 3.9 oz (110 g) without the battery and memory card, the S640 is ultra compact. The all-metal body is strong and durable. We reviewed the black model. The S640 also comes in Champagne Silver, Velour Red, Pearl White, and Precious Pink.


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Figure 3: The Nikon Coolpix S640.

The Hardware

Figure 4 shows the top of the camera which has a round power on/off switch and a larger circular shutter-release button. Around the shutter-release button is the zoom control which can be maneuvered in either direction to control the zoom. This control can be used during the picture setup as well as in the playback mode. While we found this control quite workable, we preferred the slider-type of zoom control used in some other Nikon Coolpix cameras.


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Figure 4: The top of the camera.

The S640 is small and thin, but it is easy to handle. On the back of the camera, shown in Figure 5, you will find a nicely placed thumb rest in the upper right corner. To the left of that is the flash indicator light. Below that are the Shooting Mode button and the Playback button. Below that is a circular scroll wheel selector. This is used to make choices and, in the Playback mode, to cycle through the photos. You have quick access to the flash modes at the top of the scroll wheel. The self-timer is on the left. The exposure compensation is on the right. The macro mode is on the bottom. Choices are viewed by using the scroll wheel to scroll through the options. They are applied by pressing the OK button in the middle.

Below the scroll wheel are the MENU button and the Delete button. All of the buttons and dials on the S640 are well-placed and easy to use.

On the back of the camera you can also see the crisp and clear 2.7” LCD screen. The LCD automatically adjusts its brightness depending on the lighting. The brightness can also be set by the user. The anti-glare coating on the S640 gives the screen noticeably less glare than some previous Coolpix cameras.


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Figure 5: The back of the camera.

The camera’s necessary ports are on the side of the camera, as shown in Figure 6. With the plastic door open you can see the cable connectors. In the middle of the side is the loop for the wrist strap and at the other end is the connector cover for the optional AC adapter connection.


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Figure 6: The side of the camera.

The other side of the camera has holes for the speakers.


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Figure 7: The side of the camera.

The bottom of the S640 is shown in Figures 8 and 9. In these figures you can see the battery door which opens to reveal the battery and the SD memory card. The door itself is strong and sturdy. You can also see that the tripod port is placed nicely to the side allowing access to the battery and memory card even when the tripod camera mount is attached. If you use a tripod, this can be a very useful feature.


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Figure 8: The bottom of the camera.


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Figure 9: The bottom of the camera with battery door open.

Using the Camera

The camera’s menu system is simple and easily navigated. As shown in Figure 10, the on-screen menus are large enough to read and maneuver easily.


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Figure 10: The menu system on screen.

This Nikon Coolpix has four shooting modes. In the Auto mode the camera selects the aperture and shutter speed, but the users can control the ISO, white balance, color saturation, and exposure compensation.

In the scene mode the camera selects the setting for the appropriate shooting situations. There are pre-set scene modes for: Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-Up, Food, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Backlight, and Panorama Assist.

The Smart Portrait mode is an amazing little mode that helps you take a great portrait. When this mode is on, the camera uses a Skin Softening function to smooth out the skin and minimize blemishes on the skin. This mode will also automatically activates the Smile timer which takes the picture when the subject is smiling. Two sequential photos are taken just in case the subject is blinking. This mode also has a special Subject Tracking in which the camera automatically tracks the main subject to make sure he or she stays in focus. Although this all sounds a bit complicated, we found that everything functions automatically and this mode really does help you take good portraits.

The last mode is the Movie mode which takes video clips at 640x480 at 30 fps or 320x240 at 15 FPS. The audio is mono rather than stereo. You can take movies up to 25 minutes long as long as you have enough room on your memory card to hold them. The optical zoom is not available in the movie mode and there is no HD movie quality. Although short movies are adequate, we found that we used this camera mostly for its still camera capabilities. If you are looking for a still camera that takes exceptional movies, you will have to look elsewhere.

The camera takes excellent close-ups with the Macro shooting mode functioning as close as 0.8 in (2 cm).

Performance

Although the size and shape of the Nikon Coolpix S640 is similar to many other compact point-and-shoot cameras, this camera has some important improvements over its predecessors and its competitors.

Nikon claims the S640 is the quickest Coolpix ever - with a fast start up time and an auto focus as fast as an entry level digital SLR. We can’t confirm that it is the fastest, but we were impressed by the speed of this camera. It allowed us to snap quick photos that we would have missed with many other point-and-shoot cameras. The word that came to mind often during our testing was “responsiveness.” The S640 was both fast and responsive.

The S640 reproduces color accurately and takes sharp and clear photos. The camera includes Nikons new Vibration Reduction technology. Nikon's Motion Detection technology manages shutter speed and sensitivity to compensate for minor subject movement. The Digital Image Stabilization boosts sensitivity (up to ISO 6400) and increases shutter speeds to help further stabilize the shot. This works quite well, especially in low light where instability is especially noticeable.

This Nikon also has a great feature called Best Shot Selector. With this feature enabled, the camera will automatically take up to 10 shorts and automatically save the sharpest one.

Nikon claims the S640 will take about 270 photos on a single charge. Even though we were constantly playing with the camera’s menus and functions and taking and deleting photos, we were able to take more than 200 pictures before the battery required recharging. The AC charger charges the battery in-camera, which we found very convenient.

Photos and movies can be stored on an SD card. The camera will accommodate cards up to 16GB and also has 45MB of internal memory.

One thing you are sure to notice on this camera is the lens performance. When the camera is turned on, the lens automatically extends out of the camera body, as shown in Figure 11.


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Figure 11: The lens extended.

The wide angle starts at a 28 mm equivalent, which is excellent for a point-and-shoot camera. Although there is a very slight softening on the corners of wide-angle pictures, this was not enough to be problematic. In fact we found the wide angle shots to be a big plus for this camera, allowing the photographer to get a little added reach to their everyday shots.

The camera is good at both indoor and outdoor photography with exposures pretty accurate. Color accuracy is good. Although some might find it a bit oversaturated, we found the slightly more vibrant colors to our liking.

The auto mode produces good results and the Auto White Balance seems more accurate than most cameras in this class. Noise levels become noticeable with ISOs of 800 or higher, but this is not uncommon in a camera of this quality.

Flash settings include manual, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, and cloudy. The flash is a bit weak, but again, this is not uncommon in cameras in this class.

Specifications

Nikon Coolpix S640 digital camera main specifications are: 

Conclusions

With the S640, Nikon has raised the bar for this type of camera. The additional of a speedy auto-focus and improved image stabilization means better pictures for the average photographer. The ease of use, Smart Portrait mode, and good battery life add to the enjoyment of using the camera.

A good wide angle lens, adequate megapixels, and good zoom combine to make the Coolpix S640 a camera that does a good job across the board. It’s a camera that you can use indoors or outdoors and can take from birthday party to soccer game and be sure of always producing good solid photographs.

We set out to find out if the Nikon Coolpix S640 was a winner and we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was not just a winner, but an all-around winner.

Pros:

Cons:

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/Nikon-Coolpix-S640-Digital-Camera-Review/893


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