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Nikon Coolpix S60
10.0MP | 33-165mm (5X) ZOOM | $330

At the other end of Nikon's S-series from the S210, the Coolpix S60 is considerably larger, more feature-packed and expensive than its little blue sibling. It takes the styling of the S52 (and its predecessors) but replaces the controls on the rear of the camera with a large touch-screen. This ambitious move allows focusing simply by touching the relevant point on the screen, and means that even basic controls are transferred to the screen rather than hard buttons (it also allows for some novel features, such as the ability to 'draw' directly onto saved photos).

The S60 includes an HDMI output connector, though only its still images are available at HD resolution. It also includes 'Smile shutter' mode and a whole host of this season's 'must-have' features and gimmicks. On the much more practical side of things, it offers the genuinely useful image stabilization feature and an impressive 5x zoom range (using a non-extending folded zoom that's very similar to that used on the Fujifilm Z200fd).

  • 10.0 effective Megapixels
  • 33-165mm equiv lens with 5x Optical zoom and up to 4x Digital Zoom
  • 3.5 -inch touch-screen LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • Touch subject - lock Autofocus and Exposure
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200
  • VGA movies at up to 30fps
  • Face Priority AF, Smile timer, Blink warning and D-Lighting
  • 17 scene modes including Scene Auto Selector
  • In-Camera Retouching including Paint Function
  • 20MB internal memory
  • HD Output
  • Available in Espresso Black, Arctic White, Burgundy, Champagne Pink,
    Platinum Bronze and Crimson Red

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Overview

The Nikon CoolPix S60 stands out in this group of cameras. Not only is it the largest, but it's also one of the more distinctively styled. Rather than being a angular box or rounded-off cuboid, it's a smooth flowing shape (an 'altered wave,' apparently). This shape, combined with a deep shiny finish, makes the camera look quite attractive. There's a small rectangular cover that slides away to uncover the lens when the camera is powered-up but, other than that, all there is to notice is the large rear screen and the lack of exterior buttons. The screen is 3.5 inches, measured diagonally, but because it's in the 16:9 aspect ratio, as much as 25% of the screen is rarely used (due to the camera's native image ratio being 4:3, or 12:9, if you prefer to think about it that way). And, because it still made up of the same 230,000 dots as the majority of other cameras in this group, its effective resolution is noticeably lower than the competition.

And that screen is touch-sensitive - acting as the main interface between camera an operator - leaving only the power and shutter to be controlled by hard buttons. Which in itself isn't a problem. Except that the screen isn't so much touch-sensitive as touch-grudgingly-accepting; often failing to respond to the first touch or taking long enough to do so that you think it hasn't. And, to compound this rather fundamental drawback, the interface requires at least four screen presses to change a simple setting such as exposure compensation. Some of which won't always be registered.

Key Features

The S60 is the least slim camera of the bunch, though the wave shape that flows across its front disguises this additional depth to some extent.
The lens is just about the only external feature of the S60. There's also a power button and shutter button. All other controls are dealt with via the camera's touch screen. The result is a very minimalist exterior. The lens' specifications are identical to the one fitted to the FujiFilm Z200fd.
As with many touch-screen cameras, many of the shooting settings are arranged in bars down the side of the screen (and there is plenty of room, since the aspect ratio of a full-resolution captured image does not fit well to the 16:9 screen). Unusually, zooming is also controlled via the touch-screen (making it painfully unresponsive compared to a conventional lever).
The menu is accessed via the 'Home' button at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. This, after a delay, brings up this mode/menu selection page.
And here is the menu (accessed by pressing the Home 'button' and then the menu 'button'). You'll notice that it includes several commonly changed image settings, such as exposure compensation and White Balance. Which is a problem, since the camera won't always register all the 'button' presses required to get here.

Image quality and performance

Thanks to the unresponsive touch screen, using the S60 can be a frustrating affair if you want to move beyond the simplest point and shoot operation (and we mean that quite literally, since even the zoom keys are on-screen). The camera part of the performance is average, with fast focus and middle of the road shot to shot times of around 2.5 seconds. But the fact that the touch screen often fails to notice you've pressed it (or takes long enough to respond that you think it has) makes even simple tasks take longer than they should.

This kind of thing isn't a problem for cameras that offer physical controls for important stuff like zooming, nor is it as much of a problem when using the 'set once forget' setup options (my satnav is very similar, but I only need to use the screen once, before I set off). But when even the most basic settings - those used all the time when shooting - are controlled by the touch screen it really needs to be a bit more responsive. I'm sure you'd get used to it eventually, but, really, should you have to?

From an image quality point of view the S60 produces no surprises; up close (at 100%) it's a bit messy; a bit soft, a bit over processed and with the 5x folded zoom lens probably taking a hefty share of the blame. Stepping back a little and looking at the overall picture when viewed at a more sensible magnification or in a print, and there's little to complain about; the color is vivid without looking unnatural and the tone curve seems well matched to the sensor's capabilities (though a tendency to overexpose slightly means there is a touch of highlight clipping in bright conditions).

Flash exposure and low light focus are consistently good, though the S60 defaults to ISO 400 when the flash is on, which produces rather soft results (we'd recommend reducing it to ISO 100 for 'across the table' shots in the evening). High ISO performance is pretty dire, with noise reduction removing all the detail and leaving a soft, mushy mess, and it's fair to say in general that the S60 is a camera that only really shines outdoors in decent light.

Like all the cameras in the group the S60's output doesn't look that nice up close, but is more than adequate for most print and on-screen uses. Tonal reproduction at base ISO is pretty natural looking, though the lens isn't optically brilliant and you can see noise reduction and over sharpening even in good light. Not great, not terrible, just average. At higher ISO settings the S60 is one of the least impressive cameras in this group.

We noticed a slight tendency to over expose bright scenes (a common problem with compacts, for some reason), which can cause highlight clipping. If we owned this camera we suspect it'd be stuck on -0.3 EV exposure compensation at all times.

The lens isn't fantastic, but it has a useful range and is consistent from wide to tele, with only the very widest setting showing serious edge softness.

Summary

The Coolpix S60 won few friends here thanks to Nikon's brave/stupid decision to fill the entire rear of the camera with a wide touch sensitive screen - not in itself a problem if the screen responds to being touched reliably, which this one simply doesn't. It's a pity because the S60 is a well specified and nicely designed/built camera with some really cool features and an image quality that - whilst not the best in the group - is perfectly good for snapshots and has pleasant, natural color without too much contrast. You can't help thinking that this was a camera designed by a marketing department in a hurry to get some sexy new features into Nikon's rather lackluster Coolpix range, and that maybe they should stick to what they know and what they're good at, rather than trying to push the envelope.

  • We like: Styling, build quality, neat features, zoom range, decent image quality at lower ISOs, flash performance
  • We don't like: User interface and painfully unresponsive touch screen, slippery body that's hard to hold and puts lens under your finger, high ISO image quality.
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