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Nikon Coolpix S6 Wireless - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 13/06/2006
Rating: Above Average

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Introduction: Announced on the 21st of Febuary 2006, the Nikon Coolpix S6 is an ultra-compact 6 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens and a large 3" screen. The camera even has built in Wi-Fi support so that you can transfer photos wirelessly to your computer. The 3x optical zoom Nikkor lens is equivalent to 35 - 105mm on a 35mm camera. The Nikon Coolpix S6 is available from around £233, this makes it good value for money for an ultra-compact digital camera with built in wireless support. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy metal body and is available in silver or black (and possibly white). The S6 can record video in 640 x 480 resolution at 30fps with sound. The body measures:Approx. 100.5 x 60 x 21 mm (without protruding parts), and weighs approx. 140g. excluding battery and memory card. The Nikon Coolpix S6 is the "bigger brother" to the Nikon Coolpix S5 - the S5 features a smaller body, a smaller 2.5" screen, and lacks the built in wireless support.

Nikon have this to say about the camera:

"The stylish wave-surface design of the COOLPIX S6 means it is as easy in the hand as it is on the eye. With a generous 6.0 megapixel resolution and precision 3x optical Zoom-Nikkor lens, you can capture moments in superb colour and detail, then let Pictmotion play them back as a slide show in combination with music and special effects. The large 3.0-inch high-resolution LCD monitor has an impressive 170-degree viewing angle, which makes it easier to share your pictures and slideshows. Built in Wi-Fi means you are free to snap away and transfer pictures straight to your computer or compatible printer without the bother of cables. With these cameras you’re ready to capture the moment and relive your special moments with anyone, anywhere, anytime."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix FZ3)


Front - Camera off.


Front view - camera on, flash, lens, focus assist lamp.


Back / right: On the right is the strap loop. On the back is the 3" screen, Photo / Play button, Mode button, Menu button, Delete button, 4-way controller / scroll wheel and central OK button.


Top: One-touch portrait - Face-Focus mode, Speaker, Microphone, Small on/off button, Shutter release, small zoom control.


Bottom - Plastic tripod mount, battery / memory card compartment, docking station socket.


Right: Wi-Fi logo, Blue LED, Lens in detail.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison, compared to the 7.1x optical zoom, 6 megapixel Ricoh Caplio R4.


Screen size comparison, compared to the 2.8" wide-screen on the L55W.


Screen size comparison, compared to the 2.5" screen on the Ricoh Caplio R4.

Specifications / Features:

  • 6 megapixel CCD sensor
  • 3x Optical Zoom-Nikkor ED Glass Lens (35 - 105mm)
  • Store images on Secure Digital (SD) memory cards
  • Bright 3.0 inch LCD - 230,000 pixels
  • Movie mode: Records 640 x 480 at 30fps with sound
  • ISO: Auto/80/100/200/400
  • Built-in WiFi-Enabled
  • 20mb built in memory
  • ~4cm macro mode

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Battery Charger,
  • Lithium-ion Battery Pack
  • Docking station
  • AV Cable,
  • USB Connection Cable,
  • AC Adapter
  • Strap,
  • CD-ROM

Average box contents - There is limited memory provided with the camera. Some kind of case would be useful. It's nice to see the inclusion of a docking station.

Battery usage: Battery life seemed good, I was able to take over 210 photos between charge before the camera displayed "please replace the batteries". Nikon rate battery life as 200 shots when tested to CIPA standards. If this isn't long enough for you, then you will need to purchase a second battery.

Camera Operation and Options: The Photo / Play button switches the camera mode between photo mode and playback mode. The m / mode button switches mode giving you the following options in Photo mode: Shooting, Scene, Portrait, Landscape, Sport, Night Portrait, Voice Recording, Movie, Wireless LAN. The following modes are available in playback: Play, Pictmotion by muvee*, Calendar, List by Date, and Audio playback. * Pictmotion blends images, music and visual styles for all-new in-camera entertainment - this is quite a neat slideshow feature.

Photo mode/menus: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode (macro mode) Shooting menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen has a high resolution of 230,000 pixels, and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate. There is no live histogram available but the screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: There is no optical viewfinder.

The shooting menu: This gives you fairly quick access to the most commonly used features such as image size, white balance, exposure compensation, ISO, focus area mode etc. The most interesting features here are BSS / "Best Shot Selector" - when switched on, the camera takes three photos and keeps the sharpest - this can help avoid blurred photos, however it isn't always successful. There are also colour options, such as standard, vivid, black and white, seipa and cyanotype. Continuous shooting options give you the choice of single, continuous, multi-shot 16, and interval timer shooting.

Shooting mode button menu Setup Menu

Scene modes: (available in scene mode) This has the usual scene modes, plus the addition on Back light, and Panorama assist.

Setup menu: (shown on the right, above) If you don't like the text menus you can change them to show icons. The camera features date imprint, and built in Blur-warning, this will tell you every time you take a blurry photo and ask you if you're sure you want to keep it. The setup menu can also tell you the firmware version and mac address of the digital camera's wireless feature. The setup menu is grey and yellow, just like every other menu on this camera.

Playback (Review) mode options:

Playback mode Playback D-Lighting Mode

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is very quick. The zoom is quick up to 10x. Fairly limited information is shown about the images. There isn't much you can do in playback mode, apart from D-Lighting. I couldn't find a red-eye fix option for example - the camera's built in red-eye fix works as soon as the photo is taken, and will colour red-eye in with black or dark brown, if successful it will get rid of red-eye, alternatively it might colour other red-things in brown or black. During my testing it seemed to ignore all of the red-eye and instead colours in another part of my eye (the red where sleep normally forms). This could quickly become annoying if it can't be switched off.

Playback mode menu Playback Menu

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of pictures will fit in the provided memory:

Image Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality
High
Normal
6mp (2816)
6
13
3mp (2048)
NA
25
PC (1024)
NA
85
TV (640)
N/A
182

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, and you can't fit very many photos in the provided memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended. There is a limited amount of choices regarding image size, compression, and there is no choice regarding aspect ratio, it would be nice to see a 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratio.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to be away from a computer for a long time (such as when going on holiday) then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in. This camera takes only secure digital memory. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Nikon Coolpix S6:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £8.10, 512mb: £10.99, 1gb (1000mb): £22.89, 2gb (2000mb): £49.22
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is fairly quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in around 1.5 seconds, it takes roughly 2.5 seconds to switch on, focus and take the photo, this is a not very fast, but it's not very slow either. Focusing is quick in average light at around 0.4 - 0.5 seconds set to wide angle, but slower when using the focus assist lamp. Shutter response is fairly quick at around 0.1 - 0.2 seconds. Shot to shot time is average at around 2.0 seconds between shots (with review switched on), with flash switched on this shot to shot time is around 3.2 seconds. High speed continuous shooting allows you to take continuous shots at roughly 2 frames per second (with flash off). Playback mode is fairly quick, and its easy to zoom upto 10x on your last shot and check for blur with the zoom control. Moving from picture to picture is very quick, especially using the scroll wheel, however it shows you a blurred version first and then shows you a sharper version a second later. Moving around the different menu options is rapid. The screen updates in photo mode are generally very quick and smooth.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, although the camera does have quite a lot of options and features. The controls on the back of the camera are fairly easy to use - the menus are responsive and easy to read, and the scroll wheel is a very nice method of choosing your mode or scrolling through photos. The menus can become slightly confusing simply due to the fact that there are SO many different menus, plus you also have the choice of viewing the menus as text (as shown above) or as icons. The camera is very thin, although the camera is fairly tall and wide for an ultra-compact. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly, although I do have reservations about all the menus appearing as a dull grey colour - perhaps if the setup menu and other menus were clearly different colours it would make it easier to see which menu you are using. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple - once you realise they're all hidden in the m / mode button. There don't seem to be any manual controls, other than custom white balance. The camera gives you numerous scene modes to enable you to take photos in different situations, including a Face-priority focus mode, this finds the face in the picture and focuses on the person.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position and in easy reach for using the camera with one hand (apart from the Face-priority focus / D-Lighting button). There seems to be a good amount of buttons for a mainly automatic point and shoot digital camera. The buttons feel okay, although the on/off power button is far too small and quite difficult to use, the zoom control is also on the small size, and the shutter release is better, but still on the small side. The buttons are labelled fairly well (albeit with small symbols and text). I thought the camera felt okay ergonomically, there is very little in the way of a handgrip, and I often had some blurred photos when using the 3x optical zoom lens, possibly due to the small size and lack of grip. Ideally to get a more steady shot you could hold the camera closer to your face, however the large screen and lack of optical viewfinder could make this more difficult. All of the compartments and covers seem well positioned and are easy to open.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Nikon Coolpix S6 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO58) Group photo (ISO50)

Inside: The camera has quite good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - although there is A LOT of red-eye in this photo and the group photo. The built in red-eye reduction appears to have been completely unsuccessful in removing the red-eye in these photos. The flash is quite weak and doesn't go very far so doesn't cope very well with larger group photos. On AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept at the quite low in these photos. The camera did a fairly good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light, thanks to the focus assist lamp. Colour is quite well saturated.

ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 50, 100, 200, 400).

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 6 megapixel, Samsung Digimax i6.

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Nikon Coolpix S6 on the left, Samsung Digimax i6 on the right. The 6 megapixel Samsung was picked as a comparison due to the same ISO range of ISO50 - ISO400. The colour difference is due to automatic white balance / different lighting conditions.

Nikon Coolpix S6 Samsung Digimax i6
ISO50 - Actual Pixels ISO50 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels

Noise is low at ISO50 on the Coolpix S6, and still fairly low at ISO100. At ISO200 it becomes noticable but acceptable, and at ISO400 noise is quite high. Compared to the Samsung Digimax i6 noise is slightly lower and seems more uniform. The results are generally quite good for a 6 megapixel digital camera.

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO50) Cornwall Beach (ISO50)

Outside: The camera has quite rich, saturated colours, with good contrast. There was fairly good detail, although images were soft - especially in the corners and left and right edges of photos. There was noticable vignetting in the beach photo above and a number of other photos taken on an extremely bright sunny day. The quality was set to maximum to minimise any jpeg artefacts.

Zoom: This camera has a 3x optical zoom lens and a built in 4x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the optical and digital zoom is capable of.

Wide-angle 3x Optical Telephoto Full Optical + Digital Zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas as well as the lighter areas - exposure in other photos was generally good. Purple fringing is low in the wide angle and 3x optical zoom photo. Vignetting can be seen in the wide-angle photo.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is very quiet in operation. The lens gives average control over how you frame your subject with at 6 steps between wide and telephoto zoom.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was difficult to detect in the majority of normal photos.

Macro: the macro mode allows you to be roughly 4 or 5cm away from from the subject, this is with the lens zoomed in about half way. The camera helps you find the "sweet spot" with a green arrow on the zoom bar. The camera does a good job toning down the flash however best results are achieved using manual white balance and more natural lighting.

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO50)

The custom white balance helps get better colours in the macro mode - the closest the camera can get to the subject is about average at around 5cm. Noise seems low in this photo and detail and colour is very good.

Video mode: The camera features a high resolution VGA 640 x 480 video mode at 30 fps with sound. Video quality and length seemed quite good even in low light.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is hit and miss with this camera, it can produce some excellent colours, and very good macro photos, with low noise at ISO 50, however, outside on bright sunny days, when you would expect the camera to be performing it's best, it sometimes seems to be performing it's worst, with noticable vignetting in corners, generally soft images, soft corners, and soft sides down the left and the right. The camera also disappoints when it comes to the huge amount of red-eye in photos - this is the worst I've seen for a very long time, and the built in red-eye reduction doesn't seem to do anything to fix it. Purple fringing was quite low. Exposure seemed good inside and outside. The camera was generally competent at focusing thanks to the focus assist lamp. I did notice some barrel and pincushion distortion. There is a below range of image sizes, and compression options, and no choice regarding aspect ratio. Auto white balance seemed to be good. The camera doesn't give you very many options to customise images - there are no sharpness or contrast controls for example. The cameras size also seems to make it easy to end up with blurry pictures, especially when using the 3x optical zoom. (6.5/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is compact and is very stylish, however grip isn't one of the cameras strong points. Some of the buttons are overly small, especially the power button. The camera is fairly easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a fairly good layout of buttons and controls. There is a good choice of features and options although the majority are aimed at beginners, such as the numerous scene modes, however there is manual white balance. The camera speed is generally good (not amazing, not terrible, somewhere in the middle), with a good switch on time, good focusing time, good shutter response, and a good continous shooting mode. The screen size and resolution is very good at 3" with 230,000 pixels, and the quality appears good. Battery life is quite good. The video mode is quite decent at 640 x 480 at 30fps with sound. The camera has a lot of built in features that to some may seem like gimmicks, but to other may seem excellent, such as D-Lighting, Wireless support, Pictmotion by muvee, Face-priority focus etc, I'll let you decide whether these are useful features or not. The blur warning and best shot selector mode are useful ways of avoiding blur and can occassionally come in handy. Battery life was good despite the small battery, and large screen. (7.5/10)

Value for Money: The Nikon Coolpix S6 at around £233, is good value for money, as one of the cheaper ultra compact digital camera with built in wireless support, however if you don't intend to use the wireless features or can't get it to work, then better value can be found in other ultra compact digital cameras without wireless support. Alternative compact ultra zoom digital cameras with built in wireless support include the Canon Digital IXUS Wireless / SD430, Nikon Coolpix P2, Kodak Easyshare One, and Kodak Easyshare One 6mp. (7.5/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Nikon Coolpix S6 is a very stylish, slim 6 megapixel digital camera with a 3x optical zoom lens and a huge 3" screen on the back. The digital camera is one of few to include Wi-Fi support for wireless transfer of photos. The camera has a lot of features built in that aim to produce a better image, such as Face-priority focus, D-lighting, Red-eye reduction, Blur-warning, etc. However all of this is useless if the lens isn't capable of acquiring a sharp clean image. In this case, the Nikon Coolpix S6 is noticably let down by the lens, as it produces vignetting, distortion, soft corners, and soft edges, so no matter how much post-processing goes on, the image quality will always be a weak point of this camera. Add to that, the very high red-eye in indoor photos, that isn't removed by the built in red-eye reduction, and the image quality problems start mounting up. Overall image quality is very hit and miss, one photo will come out looking great, (particularly macro photos), whereas another photo will come out looking awful (the worst photos were left out of the gallery). If image quality was up there with the rest of the cameras features and abilities then this would be recommended, however, as it stands with image quality so hit and miss, it's very difficult to recommend this camera.

Nikon Coolpix S6 Rating: Above Average (7/10)
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What I like:

  • Very large 3" screen
  • Very stylish shiney slim body
  • Clever, easy to use scroll wheel on the back of the camera
  • Very good macro mode
  • Face-priority focus - some people may find this useful
  • D-lighting - lightens shadow areas
  • Good value for money
  • Low purple fringing
  • Blur warning, Best Shot Selector (BSS) can be useful in avoiding blurry photos

What I don't like:

  • Disappointing image quality
  • Vignetting in top corners
  • Soft corners and sides on images
  • Very small power button
  • Susceptable to blurry photos when using the full 3x optical zoom - would benefit from image stabilisation
  • Lots of red-eye

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Nikon Coolpix S6 Sample Photo Gallery.

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