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Nikon Coolpix S210
8.0MP | 38-114mm (3X) ZOOM | $149

Nikon, one of the more conservative camera companies (and one of the few still around from the original 35mm revolution in the late 1940's), came to the 'ultra slim' market relatively late with the first of the 'S' (style) series compacts, the S1 in 2005. Our group test contains two of the current 'S series' cameras, one from each end of the extensive range.

The CoolPix S210 is the least expensive camera here and was originally intended as part of our budget camera test. It sits at the bottom of Nikon's 'S' series of small, metal-bodied compacts in terms of specification, price and size. And it's the small form factor of the S210, along with the lack of a truly slim camera elsewhere in Nikon's lineup that sees it reviewed here (we faced a similar quandary with the Olympus FE-360, but its Stylus/µ range meant there was a better fit for this group).The camera was launched in January '08 but remains one of the smallest cameras on the market.

  • 8.1 effective Megapixels
  • 38-114mm equiv lens with 3x Optical zoom
  • 2.5 -inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • Electronic Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 2000
  • VGA movies at up to 30fps
  • Face Priority AF and D-Lighting
  • 9-point Autofocus and Manual focus
  • 15 scene modes including Scene Auto Selector
  • In-Camera Editing
  • 52MB internal memory
  • Expeed Image Processing
  • Available in Plum, Graphite Back, Cool Blue, Brushed Bronze, Red, Pink, Silver

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Overview

The Nikon S210 comes close to matching the Casio S10 for size (or lack of it). In fact, the two cameras are so similar, both in terms of size and control layout, it's hard to completely banish the idea that they might have some kind of common ancestry. The result is a remarkably good looking and very compact camera, yet one that costs considerably less than the other cameras in this test without any external clues about where savings have been made. The LCD is one of the smaller, 2.5" examples in this group, and isn't as bright or contrasty as most, but it shares the 230,000 dot resolution of its contemporaries.

Like the Nikon L18 we reviewed as part of our budget review, the S210 has a simplified user interface but, to our eyes, a better one. There is one shooting mode that automates many of the features but, crucially, allows parameters such as White Balance to be changed if you wish - via an unthreatening and well chosen 6-option menu. Alternatively there are 15 scene modes and a Hi Sensitivity mode for taking pictures in low light. It's a good balance between simplification and retaining user-control.

The accent is still very much on the point and shoot mode of operation (Nikon insists on making even the simplest change a chore, requiring you to press 'OK' to make sure you really know what you're doing), but there are some useful features to play with, including color options, continuous shooting and Nikon's D-Lighting (applied to saved images), which helps lift shadows in contrasty shooting situations.

Key Features

The S210 is almost unbelievably small (we'd be tempted to say unbelievably small, were it not for the Casio S10), and, with its polished silver accents, quite an attractive little thing.
Nikon keeps things nice and simple on the rear panel, too. Large, clearly marked buttons make operating the camera a doddle.
The Nikon produces a 3X zoom from its slender body - not quite the conjuring trick achieved by the Casio but impressive, nonetheless. We're less delighted that it starts at a slightly zoomed-in 38mm equivalent, which will significantly reduce the camera's usefulness.
Nikon has chosen a good selection of options, so there is plenty of control over shooting settings without the menu becoming long or complicated.
The mode button brings up this screen, accessing the different modes: shooting, Hi ISO, Scene modes, Voice recording, Movie Recording and the Setup menu.

Image quality and performance

With a pricing that would have put it firmly into our budget group test the Coolpix S210 is, unsurprisingly, one of the slower cameras here. Don't let that put you off too much, however, we're not talking about a significant difference when compared to most of the rest of the group. Shot to shot times are a bit sluggish (around two seconds), so if you're in the habit of firing off photos in rapid succession the S210 might be frustrating, but focus speed, flash recycling and overall responsiveness are all perfectly acceptable. The lack of an autofocus illuminator slows down focus in very dark conditions, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the camera can focus perfectly well in the kind of dimly lit situations it's likely to find itself used in (bars, dinner parties and so on).

Moving onto image quality again there's no surprises here; at base ISO it doesn't have quite the resolution or sharpness of the best cameras in the group, but it's by no means the worst. Looked at closely (at a pixel level) the output is far from clean, even at ISO 64, and the lens is a bit soft at the edges at the wide end (with some chromatic aberration and purple fringing visible), but at more reasonable enlargement sizes (standard prints, on-screen) things are more pleasant. Like most Nikon compacts the colors are relatively highly saturated, but not so much that they look cartoonish, and contrast is just right (many compacts use way too steep tone curves).

Our only concern when shooting in daylight was that the metering sometimes produced images that were a little 'hot' (slightly overexposed), which inevitably results in unpleasant highlight clipping. You can of course counter this with some AE compensation (which does at least get its own button on the body), and to be fair it wasn't a problem for most of our shots. Flash exposure and color was generally very good, though the high ISO performance isn't great, and is only suitable for very small prints.

Nikon's relatively conservative approach to color and contrast produces images that are nicely saturated without being over cooked, and the results are very natural and produce very pleasant prints (when shooting at base ISO and presuming you're not going too far above 5x7 inches).

Occasional metering issues can cause clipping and up close the images are a touch on the soft side (and have mild fringing), but overall - for the money - there's little to complain about.

Summary

Considering that it costs considerably less than the other cameras in this group the plucky little Nikon S210 put in a surprisingly strong performance. It lacks some of the finesse, speed and high quality construction of most of the other cameras here and offers a comparatively basic feature set, but it is one of the smallest cameras in the group and it is by no means the worst performer of the nine cameras in this test. If you want something truly pocketable that won't break the bank the Coolpix S210 is a reliable, if slightly pedestrian option.

  • We like: Price, styling, ease of use, bright but natural-looking results make good prints
  • We don't like: Feels slightly flimsy, screen not very bright, limited feature set, occasional metering issues in bright weather, images quite noisy at anything over base ISO
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