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Photographic tests

White balance

The S10 has five white balance presets (daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, and flash) in addition to the default automatic setting and a manual (custom) white balance option. In our tests the auto white balance struggled with dim artificial light (like most cameras), producing a strong cast (although to be fair the AWB actually did better than most compact cameras in incandescent lighting). The most annoying thing about the S10's white balance is how poorly the preview image reflects the image as it is eventually captured - all the examples below actually looked perfect on-screen (in live view and record mode).

Auto White Balance Fluo (FL1) Preset Auto White Balance Incandescent preset
Fluorescent light - Auto white balance poor,
Preset white balance average
Incandescent light - Auto white balance good,
Preset white balance average

Flash

The S10's flash does it's job fairly well, though we did find most shots a touch underexposed (easily fixed, but not ideal for the novice user). Color is pretty accurate (it is actually very, very slightly cool, but not so as you'd notice) and we found it to be very good indeed at throttling down for close up shots (as near as a couple of inches) without blowing out, which is unusual. The proximity of the flash to the lens is also a boon for close ups, but it does mean red-eye is pretty much guaranteed unless you turn on the very effective red-eye reduction mode (which combines a pre flash with software red-eye removal). The flash has a decent 5.4m / 17.8 ft range at the wide end of the zoom (auto ISO).

Click here for flash test chart

Skin tone -
Mild underexposure, slightly cool tone.

Macro

Ever since the earliest Coolpixes Nikon has offered excellent macro capabilities, a tradition continued by the S10. As is common the closest focus is only available at the wider end of the zoom, where you can down to a shooting distance of 4cm. You can actually zoom in a little at the 4cm focus point, allowing you to capture an area of between 3.5 and 5cm across. At the long end of the zoom you can't focus as close, but you can still capture a fairly small area (just over 6cm across), with a lot less distortion - pretty impressive.

In all cases there is fairly strong corner softness (curvature of field) and some visible chromatic aberration at the wide end, but for 'real world' shots you really need to be looking for problems to see them.

Movie mode

The S10 offers the now-standard 640 x 480 pixel (VGA) maximum movie size (at 30 fps), and you can drop to 320 x 160 or 160 x 120 pixels to save card space. The files are saved in QuickTime (.mov) format and - at the full VGA size - come in at around 1.0 MB per second. Quality isn't bad at all (there are some artefacts, but nothing too painful) and the electronic VR (which doesn't use the CCD-shift) does seem to smooth out some of the jerkiness even at the long end of the zoom.

As with other Coolpix cameras my only real complaint is that the sound on all movies cuts out before the end of the clip.

You can't zoom optically during filming - you can use the digital zoom but as it reduces quality I wouldn't recommend it.

Sample movie: 640 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps
File size: 8.49 MB, 8.1 secs

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie (caution: large file!)

Resolution

Resolution is similar to the other cameras in this class, and roughly in the middle of the pack if you take 6 megapixel cameras as a whole. As you move towards the very highest frequencies there is fairly strong moiré visible, but we struggled to find any evidence of it in real-world shots.

Crops

Click here for the full resolution test chart

Horizontal LPH

Absolute resolution 1200 LPH
Extinction resolution 1700 LPH *

*moiré visible

Vertical LPH

Absolute resolution 1250 LPH
Extinction resolution 1850 LPH *

*moiré visible

Distortion and other image quality issues

The S10 exhibits moderately high distortion at the wide end of the zoom - 1.3% barrel distortion (click here for test chart), which doesn't get much better until you are approaching the mid-zoom point. On a more positive note there is only the slightest measurable distortion (0.2% pincushion) at the telephoto end (click here for test chart).

Like so many cameras the S10's output is something of a mixed bag. Taken as a whole the results give few real causes for complaint; they are generally well-exposed, in focus and with accurate, natural color. Compared to most 'point and shoot' models the output is a little 'flat', and shots at longer focal lengths in particular benefit from a little contrast / saturation and sharpness boost. This is no bad thing if you're prepared to do the post-processing, but is perhaps not best suited to the presumed target market.

Looking a bit closer the compromises in producing such a small camera with such a big zoom range become more obvious. The lens shows visible distortion and suffers from fairly strong curvature of field, meaning it's impossible to get the center and corners in focus at the same time (though of course this will be a problem only if you are shooting flat things). There is some mild corner softness visible in many shots, some purple fringing and an overall lack of biting sharpness (the noise reduction at ISO 50 smears very fine low-contrast detail and the lens isn't producing world-class results).

We also found the focus at the long end of the zoom to be a little unreliable, though this is as much a problem of focus speed as it is of focus accuracy. Don't try and shoot anything that's moving at full telephoto - it'll be long gone before the S10 finds its mark. We saw occasional problems with flare, again at the long end of the zoom, and the S10, inevitably, suffers from some highlight clipping in bright, contrasty scenes, something not helped by the tendency to slightly overexpose in such situations.

To put this all into perspective many of the problems mentioned above fall firmly into the 'nit picking' category, and most (focus issues aside) won't be an issue for the typical user viewing the photographs at standard print sizes or reduced to fill a computer screen. But if you are someone who isn't happy unless your camera produces output that stands up well to close scrutiny at anything approaching a pixel level the S10 is going to disappoint.

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