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This camera is far from perfect, but a few conveniences make it a decent choice for light-duty photography. The S3300 is available now in silver, black, pink, purple, and red.

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Box Photo

• Nikon Coolpix S3300 digital camera

• wrist strap

• wall socket adapter

• rechargeable battery

• composite video cable

• USB cable

• "Quick Start Guide"

• software CD-ROM

• reference manual CD-ROM

The flimsy lens barrel protrudes far from the body but collapses all the way down when not in use, making this camera is very pocketable one. Lens action is rather imprecise however, and takes a long time to "come back to life" after a shot has been captured. Still, that's more of an indicator of slow processing.

Without an electronic or optical viewfinder, your only method of framing is with the 2.7-inch LCD monitor on the rear panel. Unfortunately, it's a very cheap display. Viewing angle is as narrow as can be, and previews aren't reproduced accurately compared to the final image. Certain shots may appear more washed out, for example, due to the monitor's poor contrast ratio. Brightness can also be an issue, though only in direct sunlight.

The flash emitter is almost too far off to the right of the front panel, in a dangerous place for carelessly arranged finger tips. The bulb is on the weaker side too, maxing out at under 15 feet. We do appreciate the inclusion of both slow sync and red-eye reduction, and the associated controls couldn't be simpler.

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Flash Photo

The only output terminal is located under a rubber port cover at the center of the bottom panel, in a located that was clearly chosen for engineering necessity rather than convenience. This is a microUSB terminal, and these are still on the rare side in stores. It's possible to output composite video from here, or connect to a PC. This port is also responsible for battery charging, via either the included wall socket adapter or the charge from a connected computer.

The S3300 had a number of surprises in store for us, both good and bad. We were shocked by the amazingly accurate white balance system, which was nearly perfect in both automatic and custom modes. However the cheap lens is prone to very severe chromatic aberration.

The S3300 is not sharp at all. Edges of the frame are downright blurry, and the center of the frame is falsified by artificial edge enhancement. This is highly obvious in the sample widget below.

Some of the zones were able to fool our tests, we did–on very rare occasions–register levels of detail in excess of 2000 MTF50s, but we also recorded levels below 1000 MTF50s with regularity. More on how we test sharpness.

Science Section 1 Images

We're guessing the an identical or similar image stabilizer used in the S3300 was also used in the more expensive S9300. Scores were nearly equal, with a 21% increase in detail with the system turned on. For even better stabilization in this price range, look to the Canon A2400 IS or the Casio EX-S200.

Color accuracy is above average, with a raw error value of only 2.77 in our test. Saturation was also pretty close, coming in at around 105%. The worst scores were relegated partially to blue shades, but also reds and yellows, so human flesh tones may be rendered in an unnatural way. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Still, this is a better score than most of the competition, including this camera's more expensive cousin: the S9300. Only the 200-dollar Canon A2400 was more accurate.

Five color modes are programmed into the S3300, they are Standard, Vivid, Black and White, Sepia, and Cyanotype. We only tested the first two for accuracy, and were surprised to learn the Vivid setting only worsens accuracy by a miniscule amount. Usually vivid shooting modes are way off.

This was a weird one.

Let's not understate anything: the Nikon S3300 has the most accurate automatic and custom white balance we've ever seen, from any camera, ever. This model scored so well that we actually had to update some of the behind-the-scenes calculations we use to arrive at scores and rate cameras. Under tricky incandescent light, the automatic white balance is more accurate than many cameras' custom setting under simple daylight. Whatever Nikon has done here left us absolutely blown away.

We'll use our raw figures to put this all in perspective. Previously, the highest unweighted score we've awarded for white balance was 15 points. The S3300, if left unadjusted, would've averaged 61 points. This is a ridiculously accurate white balance system.

Noise reduction software smooths away unwanted image noise very thoroughly at low ISOs, however noise becomes increasingly problematic as we move up the ISO scale. Detected noise rates averaged only 0.36% at ISO 80, but by 1600 spiked all the way up to 2.77%. Therefore, if you plan to do all your shooting outside, the S3300 should be fine, but don't consider this camera a strong low light performer. More on how we test noise.

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Full resolution sensitivity options extend from ISO 80 to 1600. If light is really a problem, it's possible to unlock ISO 3200 with a menu option, though this limits resolution to 4 megapixels.

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The specs claim this camera uses a real glass lens, but we would've guessed plastic if we didn't know better. The S3300 falls victim to some of the worst chromatic aberration we've ever seen. High contrast edges are consistently bordered by thick, dark yellow or blue fringes. This is a very cheap lens.

Barrel and pincushion distortions are corrected in software before the final image is outputted, resulting in very strong distortion scores across the board. This is especially true at the middle focal length, which suffers from almost no detectable distortion at all.

Trailing is not a problem for the S3300's videos, however smoothness isn't perfect and both artifacting and frequency interference are very severe. In the sample below, notice how the green LCD display flickers and pops with interference. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Details are somewhat sharp for a compact camera. Horizontal sharpness came in at 450 lw/ph, while vertical was a little bit better at 475. This is a relatively strong result, surpassing the Canon 2400 IS and most other competitors. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Sensitivity is quite poor while recording videos. We were unable to gather 50 IRE of image data with ambient illumination at or below 45 lux. We award no points at lighting conditions above this, and therefore did not test 46 lux and above.

Usability is strictly average. The menu system is decently–but not perfectly–designed, automatic functionality is there but requires some knowledge, and the software is a little sluggish overall.

The so-called "Auto mode" is actually what we would normally consider Program Auto, and although we appreciate the extra flexibility, it may be confusing to rank novices. Smart Portrait is the closest thing to a fully automatic mode, but this setting is really geared exclusively toward portrait photography, leaving out all other potential subjects.

All buttons on the rear panel are small and of only mediocre quality. Legibility may also be a problem for some, the labels are etched into the buttons and aren't colored, so you may need to squint or tilt the camera to figure out what you're doing. This is especially true in darker environments. The layout is fairly simple though, anyone who's handled a camera in the past should have no trouble making the transition.

An extensive list of scene modes may be accessed from the appropriate button on the rear panel. These include Landscape, Sports, Beach, Snow, Sunset, and many more. On a separate position in the same menu, a few digital filters are available, including Soft, Nostalgic sepia, High-contrast monochrome, High key, Low key, and Selective color.

Menu design isn't perfect. This is a tab-based system, but they're arranged vertically, so quick navigation with the zoom lever isn't possible. All navigation is therefore accomplished exclusively with the tiny directional pad. The interface isn't very responsive either, swapping tabs or modes causes a half-second lag. That's no so bad if you never adjust any settings, but users interested in detail may eventually become annoyed by the delay.

The S3300 ships with an unhelpful printed "Quick Start Guide," which we ignored in favor of the full manual contained on an included CD-ROM. The longer manual was very thorough, and we never came across a necessary bit of information that wasn't available somewhere.

Despite the flat, featureless form factor of the S3300, handling could actually be a lot worse. There's room to rest the thumb on the rear panel, without worrying about accidental button presses, and the shutter release is in a decent spot for use without craning the finger.

Handling Photo 1

Sadly the front panel is smooth and slippery. Not even the raised Nikon logo gave us something to hold onto. Overall balance is fine though, given the light weight of the small lens barrel.

Handling Photo 2

All buttons on the rear panel are small and of only mediocre quality. Legibility may also be a problem for some, the labels are etched into the buttons and aren't colored, so you may need to squint or tilt the camera to figure out what you're doing. This is especially true in darker environments. The layout is fairly simple though, anyone who's handled a camera in the past should have no trouble making the transition.

Buttons Photo 1

Topside, the shutter release button isn't bad, and actually boasts a decent stroke and good tactile feedback. The zoom lever protrudes sufficiently from the button to give your fingertip something to latch onto.

Buttons Photo 2

Without an electronic or optical viewfinder, your only method of framing is with the 2.7-inch LCD monitor on the rear panel. Unfortunately, it's a very cheap display. Viewing angle is as narrow as can be, and previews aren't reproduced accurately compared to the final image. Certain shots may appear more washed out, for example, due to the monitor's poor contrast ratio. Brightness can also be an issue, though only in direct sunlight.

We're guessing the an identical or similar image stabilizer used in the S3300 was also used in the more expensive S9300. Scores were nearly equal, with a 21% increase in detail with the system turned on. For even better stabilization in this price range, look to the Canon A2400 IS or the Casio EX-S200.

All shooting modes are accessed from the appropriate button on the rear panel, even though the labeling suggests this is primarily a scene mode selector. Here it's possible to select from one of four shooting modes: auto, scene, filter, or smart portrait.

At the default aspect ratio there are five available shooting resolutions in various sizes. For extra high quality shots, a setting called "16M*" improves JPEG compression ratio. There's also a single 16:9 resolution for native playback on an HDTV.

The S3300's continuous shooting results are faster than the worst cameras in the category, but still not very quick overall. In full resolution and at the lowest ISO level, the camera is capable of only 1.3 frames per second. That result gets worse as ISO sensitivity increases but, oddly, doesn't improve very much as resolution decreases. You're stuck with 1.3 frames per second or less no matter what.

The self-timer is also very basic. Only 2-second and 10-second countdowns are available. No other customization or drive options exist.

Cost-cutting efforts mean extra features are few and far between. This is a simple camera with no frills. Even video shooting is limited to the absolute basics.

An extensive list of scene modes may be accessed from the appropriate button on the rear panel. These include Landscape, Sports, Beach, Snow, Sunset, and many more. On a separate position in the same menu, a few digital filters are available, including Soft, Nostalgic sepia, High-contrast monochrome, High key, Low key, and Selective color.

Although the selection is limited, video options get their own tab in the menu. Here you'll be able to select from 720p, 480p, or 240p recording options. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Zoom

Zoom is unlocked while a recording is in progress, however this is inferior digital zoom only. Optical zoom must be set before a recording starts, or not at all.

Focus

Autofocus actually gets some extra flexibility. Users may manually choose from single or full-time continous AF during video, an option we don't always see in ultracompacts.

The last option available for video recording is wind cut. This feature attempts to eliminate the static or "snowy" sound of wind passing across the microphone, but it sometimes works at the expense of legitimate audio signals.

The Coolpix S3300 isn't a great camera, even for only $140. The cheap lens produces some of the most distracting chromatic aberration we've seen, and overall resolution is poor as a result. Shot to shot speed is also quite slow, ruling out action or sports photography, and noise reduction is highly destructive above the minimum ISO.

We will admit this camera does have a few advantages. The slim, flat design fits very easily into the pocket, even more so than most compacts. Color accuracy is also above average, handling isn't terrible either, we appreciate the well placed thumb rest on the rear panel, though the front plate is too slippery. White balance accuracy is literally the best we've seen from any camera ever, a surprising revelation, though this is largely undone by the camera's other drawbacks.

There are certain situations for which the S3300 may be useful, or certain situations you should try to find if, say, you received the camera as a gift. You'll want to stick with bright daylight, and restrict your shooting to ISO 100 and maybe 200. It would also be wise to ignore the rule of thirds and keep your subjects directly centered, to avoid problems with fringing. If necessary, you can always crop the shots later. There's no reason to manually white balance, since you will see slight benefits only under incandescent lighting, which you shouldn't be using anyway.

For $200 you can step up to better options like the Canon A4000 IS. So although we could certainly recommend better cameras for the money, our real recommendation is to save up just a tiny bit more.

Meet the tester

Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews

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