Are super-powerful compacts really worth the money?
Announced in August this year, Nikon’s top-of-the-range Coolpix S710 is a luxury ultra-compact featuring a 14.5MP 1/1.72in sensor, a 3.6x zoom lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8-5.6, optical lens-shift image stabilisation, and a 3in 230k wide-view monitor. It has an all-aluminium body, and is available in black, titanium or silver.
The S710 has a good range of features, including full auto, program auto, shutter and aperture priority and full manual exposure, as well as smile shutter, 16 scene mode programs, auto scene selection, sound recording and a video mode. However, it lacks other useful options such as spot metering, an interval timer or any sort of adjustable colour control. One unusual feature is its 12,800 ISO maximum sensitivity, one of the highest on any digital camera, although it is limited to 3.0MP resolution. It could be useful when shooting in very low light with no flash, but the image quality at this setting is pretty terrible.
The S710 also features Nikon’s VR lens-shift image stabilisation system, and this does work very well, capturing blur-free shots at wide-angle at 1/10th of a second and full zoom at 1/25th of a second. The camera also has automatic red-eye correction, which is useful, although it can’t be turned off. It also has Nikon’s D-Lighting function, which brightens shadows in high-contrast shots, but this can only be applied in playback mode and does introduce a lot of image noise.
The S710 is relatively large for an ultra-compact, measuring 92.5 x 57.5 x 24mm, and at approximately 170g fully loaded it is quite heavy too. The simple and understated body design looks good, but slightly curved front panel and slippery finish make it hard to grip securely. There is an indented thumb grip area on the back of the camera, but it doesn’t help much. It’s hard. The rotating dial on the back is also rather fiddly.
Overall performance is rather slow, taking nearly four seconds to start up, and with a four-second delay between shots. The continuous shooting mode is also very slow and awkward to use. At full resolution it is limited to a burst of only seven shots, which it takes in about five seconds, but it doesn’t focus between shots, and worse there is no audio cue to let you know it’s taking pictures.
The autofocus system is very fast and works well in low light, a big improvement over some previous Nikon compacts.
Overall picture quality is quite good, with plenty of fine detail, but it’s not really that much better than a good 10 or 12 megapixel camera. Colour reproduction is generally accurate, but lacks depth and saturation. This is due to the cameras main problem; its extremely limited dynamic range. In high contrast shots both shadow and highlight detail are lost, and even the D-Lighting feature, applied in playback mode, does little to help. Image noise is also a problem, with noise visible at all ISO settings, and getting progressively worse as sensitivity increases.
The S710 is an impressive-looking camera with excellent build quality, but its huge resolution and high maximum ISO add little to overall picture quality. There are many better, cheaper cameras.