Design and Handling

At one time 'unusual' digital camera designs were dime a dozen, but these days it's a considerably rarer thing (especially from any of the major players). The S10's twisting body is by no means a new design - Nikon has been producing similar models since the days of the hugely successful E900 series back in the late 90's - and it has some real benefits. You get the advantage of a fully tilting screen (with a full 270-degree movement) and a big lens without the bulk (more specifically, you can fold the camera 'flat' and pop it in your pocket). Of course the design is not without drawbacks; the large screen doesn't leave a lot of room for anything else on the rear of the camera - the S10 is impossible to hold without putting your thumb on the screen - and the flash is very, very close to the lens.

As befits what is essentially a glorified 'point and shoot' model there isn't a lot in the way of external control, though flash, macro and self-timer modes get their own buttons (using the joystick controller).

Build quality is excellent, and the (nearly) all-metal construction has a lovely finish. It's fairly well-balanced too, which helps keep things steady when shooting at longer focal lengths.


In its desire to produce the sleekest, slimmest possible camera Nikon has made some unfortunate handling compromises. The large screen and lack of finger grip on the front make the S10 about as easy to hold safely in one hand as a live fish, and it really doesn't inspire confidence. This is one area where the old E9XX series beat the S10 into the ground.

If you support the left side of the camera with your other hand things improve slightly, but it is nigh-on impossible to use the camera without covering half the screen with your thumb.

Key body elements

Most of the S10's controls located above the screen and on the top plate, which is home to the main power switch, shutter release and zoom rocker switch (both of which are - for my hands - in slightly awkward positions).
The 2.5-inch screen is very good - with 230,000 pixels it's very sharp, and it's very bright too - and it has a wider than normal viewing angle. Above the screen are four buttons (delete, menu, mode, play/record) and the small multi-directional joystick, which is used to navigate menus. In record mode the joystick also gives direct access to flash, macro and self-timer modes.
The S10's big selling point is its 10x (38-380mm equiv.) zoom lens. Next to the lens is the small flash unit. On top of the lens housing are two buttons; one toggles the VR on and off, the other is a quick 'portrait mode' button (which basically switches on the face detection AF mode) The S10 ships with a removable flip-out lens cap.
The lens can be rotated through 270-degrees relative to the camera body - click on the thumbnail to see a montage showing the lens in several positions.
The rechargeable Li-Ion battery (good for 300 shots / CIPA standard) and SD card slot sit under a fairly sturdy door on the base of the camera. The tripod bush, because of the unique body design, is in the center of the camera (in other words not directly below the lens).

Controls & Menus

Like most recent Nikon compacts the S10 has a the user interface seemingly designed to actively discourage users from changing too many settings, with long-winded menus and controls that require numerous button presses to change the most basic parameters. Of course the S10 is to all intents and purposes a true 'point and shoot' camera, and there is, possibly, an argument for saying it makes sense to keep things simple, but if, for example, you like to use AE compensation regularly, you will find the menu-based interface frustrating.

To speed things up Nikon has included - hidden away in the setup menu - an option to replace all menus with a single page of icons, which is fine as long as you take the time to learn what the icons mean, but it doesn't make using the controls much quicker.

The basic record screen is fairly packed with information. You can't control the amount of info displayed (it's either on or off), but there is a grid option for those of us who struggle with straight horizons. Disappointingly there's no exposure information at all; this may be a 'point and shoot' camera, but I'd still like the option to see the shutter speed that's been chosen. The S10 doesn't have a mode dial, but it does have a mode button, pressing which brings up this sort of 'virtual' mode dial. In record (shooting) mode you get four options; auto, scene, movie and voice recording.
A complaint we've had about Coolpix cameras for many generations now is the long-winded approach to changing things like flash mode. Rather than each press of the flash (or macro) button cycling through the options, it brings up this mini menu, so just turning on macro mode, for example, requires a minimum of three button presses. The S10 has Nikon's well-established face detection AF system (activated by a button on the lens barrel). It's not as fast, nor as effective as the hard-wired systems used by Fuji and Canon in their latest compacts, but it does work, most of the time. The button is actually a 'one touch portrait' button that not only turns on face detect AF, but the very effective red-eye removal system too.
There are a few basic color options available. The two page record menu gives you control over a range of basic shooting options, including metering pattern, burst mode, Best Shot Selector, white balance and AE compensation (which is a good five button presses away, so is hardly suited to quick shooting).
As we've come to expect from Coolpix cameras there are lots of scene and advanced scene modes. In the scene modes you get control over image size/quality and AE compensation. In playback mode you get the usual options for viewing images full screen, with some shooting information (shown here), but no histogram (and no exposure information).
As usual you can zoom into (magnify) images - up to 10x), or view 4,9 or 16 images on a single page as thumbnails. There is also an option to view thumbnails organized by date. One new option gradually appearing on all Coolpixes is an enhancement of the standard slideshow function called 'Pictmotion' (provided by muvee). This allows you to combine images (with fairly professional looking transitions and dissolves) with music and save the resultant movie for playback on the screen or - with the supplied (Windows-only) software - on screen. You can even upload your own music if you don't like the ringtone-like selection supplied. Neat.
The two page playback menu has options for managing saved images, producing slide shows, applying Nikon's 'D-Lighting' (contrast masking, to brighten up shadows) and resizing. The setup menu (accessed by turning the main mode dial to SETUP) has basic camera settings such as date and time, welcome screen and card formatting.