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Color accuracy is essential for producing beautiful, realistic photos. We test color accuracy by photographing a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker test chart under bright, even studio lights. We compare the colors the camera reproduces with the known colors of the test chart to give an overall color accuracy score. The ColorChecker chart contains 24 color tiles from all over the color spectrum. The image below shows how well the Nikon S510’s colors mimick the actual colors of the ColorChecker. The outside squares show the colors the S510 reproduces, the inside squares show the ideal colors of the test chart corrected for exposure, and the inner rectangles show the ideal chart colors under a perfectly even exposure.

S510-Colors.jpg

Comparing the outer squares with the inner squares, you can see that a lot of the colors match up quite well, with the exception of some yellows and blues. This is confirmed in the graph below, which shows color accuracy in a different way. The locations of the ColorChecker colors are shown as squares in the RGB color space, and the locations of the S510’s colors are shown as circles. The lines connecting the squares and circles show the extent of the color error for each color tile.

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The graph shows the S510 does a good job reproducing most colors, except for blues and yellows. However, these colors are often shifted on purpose because they can make for prettier blue skies or deeper foliage greens. Overall, the S510 has decent color accuracy, but doesn’t hold up to the stunning color reproduction found in some similar point-and-shoots by other manufacturers.

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**Resolution ***(5.35)*

We test resolution by photographing an industry-standard resolution test chart at varied focal lengths and exposure settings. We run the images through Imatest, which determines sharpness in terms of line widths per picture height (lw/ph), the number of equally-spaced, alternating black and white lines that can fit across the image frame before becoming blurred.

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*

Click to view the high resolution image*

The 8-megapixel S510 proves to be sharpest at ISO 64, f/3.7, and a focal length of 11mm. The camera resolves 1487 lw/ph horizontally with 6.1 percent oversharpening, and 1441 lw/ph vertically with 0.1 percent oversharpening. It's good the camera doesn’t oversharpen too much, but these numbers are still not very impressive. The images are also a bit blurred on the edges and are subject to slight purple fringing. The S510 improves slightly on its predecessor, the Nikon Coolpix S500, but limits your options if you plan to print or view your photos large.  

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Noise – Manual ISO(5.42)

Most digital cameras have an option of increasing sensitivity to light, called ISO speed, to allow for shots in dimly lit scenes with fast shutter speeds. The downside to increasing ISO speed is that image "noise" creeps into photos and becomes more apparent the higher the speed. Noise refers to the ugly grainy or splotchy effect that often covers digital photos taken in low light. We test noise levels by photographing our test chart under bright, even studio lights at all ISO speeds a camera offers. We run the photos through Imatest, which measures noise in terms of the percentage of image detail it drowns out.

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The S510 keeps noise levels low at ISO 64, but noise becomes apparent at any ISO speed above 200. The camera clearly applies automatic noise smoothing (which lessens noise but destroys image detail), but it also can’t keep noise levels low. Images at high ISO speeds have the worst of both worlds; high noise levels and lots of smoothing. The noise itself is overwhelmingly grainy and shows hints of color splotches behind the grains. Photos taken at ISO 1600 and 2000 have so much noise that they look like they were taken in a blizzard. You have to hunt through the snow just to see the image you were trying to capture. Keep this camera set to low ISO speeds as much as possible.

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Noise – Auto ISO (1.54)

We also measure noise levels with cameras set to Auto ISO. Under the same bright lights used in the Manual ISO test, the S510 chooses ISO 400, yielding a high amount of noise. This is disappointing, and shows you can’t always trust the Auto mode to take great photos.

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Still Life Sequences

Click to view the high resolution images

White Balance (9.00)

Good color accuracy means nothing if a camera cannot properly white balance. We test white balance accuracy by photographing the ColorChecker test chart under four types of light: flash, fluorescent, outdoor shade, and tungsten. We test the Auto white balance setting as well as the appropriate white balance presets.

Auto (7.48)

With the white balance set to Auto, the S510 is very accurate under outdoor shade and flash, but poorly accurate under fluorescent and tungsten lights. In other words, you can leave the white balance on Auto when shooting outside, but will want to use the presets indoors.

Preset (10.52)

Using the appropriate white balance presets, the camera is very accurate under all four light sources, and especially using the flash.  If you’re using Auto white balance and you get a color cast you don’t like, simply switch to the appropriate white balance preset.

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Low Light(5.20)

We showed how the S510 renders color and handles noise under bright studio lights, but how does it do in less-than-ideal shooting conditions? We test color accuracy and noise levels in low light by photographing the ColorChecker test chart at light levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. Sixty lux corresponds to the amount of light in a room lit softly by two table lamps, 30 lux corresponds to a room lit only by a 40-watt bulb, 15 lux is about as bright as a room lit only by a television, and 5 lux is very dim light that tests the limits of the sensor. All shots are taken at ISO 1600.

At ISO 1600, the S510 is able to properly expose at all light levels, but the image noise is off the charts. Almost 5 percent of the detail in each image is destroyed because of the abundant sandy noise. Color accuracy is also hurt by the high noise levels.

We also test long exposures in low light, this time at ISO 400, but the S510 can only expose up to 1 second at this ISO speed. In Night Landscape mode it can only expose as long as 4 seconds. There isn’t much room to experiment with long exposure photos on this camera.

S510-Scores-LowLight.gif

Dynamic Range (5.45)

Dynamic range is a measure of a camera’s tonal range. In other words, it tells how many shades of gray a camera can discern, which is particularly important in high contrast scenes. A wedding photo, for example, can contain both a white dress and a black tux, and a camera should be able to show detail in both in the same photo. We test dynamic range by photographing a backlit Stouffer test chart, which consists of a long row of gray rectangles, ranging from brightest white to darkest black. The more rectangles a camera can distinguish, the better its dynamic range.

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The S510 has very good dynamic range from ISO 64 to 200, but then falls off quickly at higher ISO speeds. The dynamic range at ISO 1600 and 2000 is almost useless. Overall, the S510 has average dynamic range for a digital point-and-shoot, and doesn’t improve much on its predecessor, the S500.

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Speed/Timing – All speed tests were conducted using a Kingston Ultimate 120X 2GB SD Card, with the camera set to highest resolution and best quality, unless otherwise noted.

Startup to First Shot (8.1)

The S510 takes 1.9 seconds to turn on and fire a shot. This is quite fast, allowing shooters to capture unexpected photos.

Shot-to-Shot (9.1)

The S510 has four multi-shot modes: Continuous, BSS, Multi-Shot 16, and Interval Timer shooting. In Continuous mode, the camera takes three shots 0.9 seconds apart, and then fires shots sporadically approximately every 2 seconds. In BSS mode, the camera takes 10 quick shots, but only saves the sharpest one. In Multi-16 mode, it fires 16 shots every 0.6 seconds and collages them into one photo. This is a fun mode to play around with, though rather limited.

Shutter-to-Shot (9.0)

The S510 has no measurable lag when the shutter is held down halfway and prefocused, but has a substantial lag of 0.7 seconds when not prefocused.

Processing (5.8)

The S510 takes 2.1 seconds to process one 2.4 MB full-resolution best quality photo taken at ISO 100.

Video Performance (3.42)

Bright Indoor Light – 3000 lux

With our studio lights set to precisely 3000 lux, we capture footage of our video charts to see how the S510 handles color accuracy and noise in Movie mode. Under these bright lights, the camera has significant color error, but not any more than most digital cameras. However, it does have more noise in bright light than most camera Movie modes.

Low Light – 30 lux

We also capture footage with the lights dimmed to 30 lux. Under low light, the S510’s video still has color error and even higher noise levels. The camera has a lot of trouble exposing properly in this amount of light, and shows the limits of its Movie mode.

**Resolution

**To evaluate video resolution, we capture footage of the resolution test chart under bright studio lights and run it through Imatest.  The S510’s 640 x 480 standard definition video resolved 259 lw/ph horizontally with 21 percent undersharpening, and 361 lw/ph vertically with 0 percent sharpening. The Movie mode tends to underexpose, even in bright light, and there is no way to adjust it.

Outdoor Motion

We take the cameras outside to capture footage of moving cars and pedestrians. The S510 does a good job adjusting exposure smoothly, but suffers from motion moiré, streaky highlights, visible noise, dull colors, and some jerkiness to objects moving off the frame. The video isn’t nearly as bad as we’ve seen in some other point-and-shoots this year, but it isn’t anything special. It is, however, a marked improvement over the S500.

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**

****Viewfinder ***(0.0)*

Like many point-and-shoots on the market, the S510 lacks an optical viewfinder.

**

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LCD ***(7.5)*

The Nikon Coolpix S510 has the same LCD as the S500. At 2.5-inches, the TFT screen has a resolution of 230,000 pixels, which is the current industry average. The 2.5-inch screen performs well. With an anti-reflection coating and wide view screen, users can view photos at extreme vertical and horizontal angles without solarizing effects.

Users can change a variety of LCD options, including a five-step monitor brightness adjustment. Users can also change what information is displayed on the LCD or gridlines via the Setup menu, listed under "Photo Info."

Shooting through the LCD is nearly accurate in proportions. With 98 percent coverage horizontally and vertically, users will essentially capture what they see through the monitor.

There is no live histogram, however, which is unusual. Most point-and-shoots show histogram information so users can see if the pre-captured image is properly exposed. This is especially important for shooters when relying on the LCD monitor instead of an optical viewfinder. Novice shooters most likely won’t miss the histogram, though.

The Coolpix S510 has sufficient resolution with a wide field of view, nearly-accurate LCD coverage, but more advanced point-and-shooters would miss the live histogram.

**

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Flash ***(5.75)*

The Nikon Coolpix S510 has a thin sliver of a built-in flash located almost on the axis of the lens. Located toward the center of the camera, left-handed users won’t have to worry about the placement of their fingers blocking the flash unit. The flash illuminates 1.6 to 21.3 feet when zoomed out all the way and 1.6 to 11.5 feet when zoomed in and set to Auto ISO.

Users can’t change manually change flash output, like some point-and-shoots. The following flash options are available: Auto, Off, Fill flash, Slow Sync, and Auto with Red-Eye Reduction. In the Red-Eye mode, the flash fires several pre-flashes, then applies Nikon’s In-Camera Red-Eye Fix technology for built-in editing.

Users can change the flash settings using the rotary multi-selector by pressing the north directional, which draws up the flash options. When flash is applied and the shutter button is pressed down halfway, the flash lamp turns red to indicate it is currently in operation. The flash takes about three seconds to recharge, indicated by the blinking flash lamp light.

Coverage is effective, with sufficient illumination across the reported distances, but like many point-and-shoots, the flash tends to overexpose close-range subjects.

**

S510-lens.jpg
Zoom Lens ***(7.0)*

The Nikon Coolpix S510 is fitted with a 3x Zoom-Nikkor lens, constructed of five elements in five groups. Almost every major manufacturer has a basic model with a 3x optical zoom lens. In the case of the Coolpix S510, the lens has a focal length of 5.7 to 17.1 mm, which is equivalent to 35 to 105 mm in 35 mm format. While some of Nikon’s earlier models only had electronic vibration reduction, the S510 has Nikon’s Vibration Reduction, a form of optical image stabilization that compensates for camera shake.

Users can zoom via the tiny sliver of a zoom toggle located at the right thumb rest. The lens has a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8 when zoomed out in "W" (wide) shooting, and shrinks to f/4.7 when zoomed in to "T" (telephoto) shooting. The lens extends from the body in three tiers when zooming. The lens makes a humming sound while moving through the range. 

Zooming in close to a subject can be a problem. In Macro mode, the lens autofocuses at about 6 inches away from the subject, while some comparable cameras can get in as close as 3 inches, allowing very close-up shots of objects, such as a wedding ring.

For greater zoom, users can engage the 4x digital zoom for up to 420 mm telephoto shooting. Digital zoom, however, degrades image quality. The S510's digital zoom is activated by holding down the right side of the zoom toggle once the optical zoom maximum is reached.

The camera’s zoom has effective vibration reduction to compensate for picture blur and a wide aperture that allows for plenty of light for bright pictures. Overall, the lens is decent with the exception of the limited Macro mode.

Model Design / Appearance *(7.0)*

The Nikon S510 is uniformly proportional and generally attractive. With a shiny, flat body, the Coolpix has an aesthetically pleasing layout. Overall, the Nikon Coolpix S510 is a looker.

Size / Portability (7.75)

Measuring 3.5 x 2.0 x 0.9 inches, the Nikon Coolpix S510 is small enough to fit into a pocket. The Nikon S510 blends elements from smaller, metal Nikon S-series cameras with the thickness of the Coolpix L-series cameras, but without the right hand grip. At 4.4 ounces without battery or memory card, the camera could easily be strapped to a user’s wrist for extended periods of shooting.

Handling Ability (6.25)

The Nikon Coolpix S510 doesn't handle well. While the 0.9-inch thickness adds some girth to hold onto, but it lacks a textured surface or right hand grip. There are small raised dots located where the thumb rests, but its small stature makes thumb support null. The rotary dial has raised lines that are actually fairly effective for navigation.

Lefties will have additional room to rest their thumbs next to the LCD screen and the front of the camera without covering the flash, avoiding a common problem with point-and-shoot designs. Overall, though, the camera sufficiently allows a user to shoot a few frames with comfort, but for extended shooting, users should consider a chunkier compact.

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Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size (6.75)

The control panel puts looks ahead of practicality. While the button design is aesthetically pleasing, it’s not intuitive. The buttons are extremely small, suited for dainty hands, and don’t utilized the extra space on the back of the camera. The buttons are located where they should be, but their itty bitty size hinders ease-of-use. The buttons are also not that deep, which means users will have a harder time pressing them. 

The one thing Nikon got right regarding the control panel is the rotary selector, carried over from the earlier Coolpix S500. In lieu of a four-way controller, the selector serves as both a menu navigator and four-way controller for Flash, Self-Timer, Focus, and EV compensation. The rotary dial is a successful integration into the Nikon system, but the rest of the mini buttons make it a bit too difficult to use.

Menu (7.5)

The Coolpix S510 carries over from the S500 a simple, easy-to-use menu system centered on the rotary multi-selector.

Instead of a traditional mode dial, Shooting mode access is moved inside the menu. Shooting mode, High ISO, Scene, Audio, Video, and Setup Tools are laid out in a circle,  highlighted in yellow when selected. Each tool opens another menu with gray backgrounds and black or white text. The fonts are easy to read and navigate. Users can  switch from a text-based layout to an icon-based layout, much like cell phone menus.

The Shooting menu has settings including pixel resolution, named Image mode, and White Balance with a live preview overlay. Most settings are spelled out with text and icons, except for "BSS," which stands for Best Shot Selector.

The Setup menu is standard:

  

Some users might miss the physical mode dial, traditionally located on the top of the camera, but the intuitive rotary dial and strong internal menu system gives the right amount of logical options and direct navigation.

Ease of Use (6.25)

First-time users will have a relatively easy time using the Nikon S510 right out of the box. With a thorough, simple menu system, the camera is easy to use. Some buttons are too small, but the intuitive rotary dial helps. Portability is sufficient. The inclusion of a help display, which explains settings, and live previews for white balance and color shooting  will help beginner photographers develop their skills.

Auto Mode (6.0)

The Nikon Coolpix S510 doesn’t have an Auto mode, per se. The camera defaults to a "Shooting mode," represented by a camera icon graphic, as a true Automatic mode would. But it's more like a Program mode. The S510's Auto mode gives the user access to various settings including white balance and ISO whereas many other cameras' Auto modes automate everything.

Movie Mode (6.75)

The Nikon Coolpix S510 records movies in AVI format with WAV audio. Movie mode is accessed through the Mode button and represented by a film camera icon. Movie mode defaults to TV resolution at 640 x 480 pixels at 30 frames per second (fps), but users have a full range of resolution options through the Mode button. At the highest movie quality, the camera can record up to a reported 3 minutes and 40 seconds on a 256MB memory card. Users can cut down the file size by recording at 320 x 240 at either 30 fps or a choppy 15 fps for posting to the Web. If users are e-mailing files, there is also a smaller 160 x 120-pixel resolution at 15 fps.

 

The camera records smoothly at full resolution, but autofocus is less-than-accurate, whether set to the default Single AF or switched to Full-Time AF. Digital zoom is enabled in Movie mode, but optical zoom is disabled.

There aren’t any editing tools for movie splicing or other changes after capture. Many competing point-and-shoots offer those options. Instead, the camera has two creative movie shooting modes. There is a Time-Lapse Movie function that automatically captures still pictures and splices them together for a silent move at 640 x 480 at 30 fps. There is also a Stop-Motion movie mode that records at the same resolution but a choice of 15, 10, or a minimal 5 fps.

With mediocre autofocus and no editing modes, the Movie mode on the Nikon S510 is simply an afterthought. Users who place high priority on the Movie mode in a still camera should consider higher-end compact hybrids or even smaller point-and-shoots with more built-in editing options.

Drive / Burst Mode (6.5)

A variety of burst shooting is available in the Nikon S510. The Burst modes are buried in the menu system, not in the Self-Timer button on the multi-selector where it is traditionally accessed. Users have to select the Shooting menu, then the Continuous submenu.

Users can switch from the default Single Shot mode to Continuous shooting which takes five frames in a reported 1.2 seconds. We found Continuous burst shoots slightly faster, at 0.9 seconds for up to five frames at the full resolution. Like most Burst modes, the Continuous setting disables flash to speed up the capture rate, which is something to consider when shooting in low light conditions.   

The Best Shot Selector, or BSS mode, takes a maximum of 10 frames. BSS mode then automatically selects and saves what the camera interprets as the sharpest image of the bunch. The BSS isn’t all that accurate, though. What the camera saves as the "sharpest" is still a semi-blurry photo. Because the other nine images aren’t saved, users cannot view the other images to see if there's one they'd prefer.

Multi-Shot 16 mode is a 16-frame composite that arranges multiple photos into one index-type photo. Our tests show Multi-Shot captures at about half a second between each frame. Recorded at a reduced 5-megapixel resolution, multi-shot is geared for creative fun, like MySpace profile pictures or an action sequence filmstrip.

There is also an additional Interval Timer mode that reportedly captures up to 1,800 frames automatically at intervals between 30 seconds and 60 minutes. Users can also access the Self-Timer for a 2- or 10-second delay, accessed through the multi-selector.

The Nikon Coolpix S510 has plenty of burst options, surpassing many other point-and-shoots.

Playback Mode (7.5)

Users can access Playback in two steps, like most digital cameras. First, users hit the playback-dedicated button, then the menu button, which draws up a list of the following options:

  

There aren’t many built-in editing functions, but the Playback menu does have Nikon’s signature D-Lighting compensation. D-Lighting is an all-purpose editing tool that fixes brightness and contrast. Users can see a before and after picture in a split screen view before applying the edit.

Users can also set the camera to play slide shows with duration changes, erase certain images or all photos, and lock certain photos from deletion. Other post-capture editing functions include a resizing setting to shrink the file size to as small as 160 x 120 pixels and a copy function to save pictures to the memory card or internal memory.

Custom Image Presets* (7.75)*

The Nikon Coolpix S510 has 15 Scene modes optimized for common shooting conditions. The list contains a standard scene set: Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dust/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks, Copy (similar to "Document" modes found on other cameras), Backlight, Panorama Assist, and Image mode. Users access the Scene modes though the Mode button.

The Panorama Assist mode helps make wide composite photos for landscapes or group pictures. The Panorama Assist requires the user to set the Scene mode and rotate the dial to change the arrow direction to indicate from side-to-side or top-to-bottom shooting. Once the user hits the shutter button, the camera saves the image with a live preview overlay so users can line up to the next frame. The camera doesn't automatically stitch the pictures together like some cameras do; users have to open the included Panorama Maker software for the final step.

The Image mode isn’t a scene set at all, although it is lumped with the presets. Image mode is really the Resolution menu.

Overall, the Nikon S510 has enough Scene modes to cover basic shooting conditions. Most of the modes lock out flash or focus, but users can change exposure compensation or Burst mode for most of the Scene modes.

 

Manual Control Options

Like its predecessor, the Nikon Coolpix S510 has an all-purpose Shooting mode that allows for some control over white balance, ISO, flash, and focus area. There are no pure Manual, Program, or Aperture or Shutter Priority modes.

Focus

Autofocus (7.5)

The Nikon Coolpix S510 uses a 9-area contrast type autofocus system that generally works well. The camera focuses at a range of 1.7 feet to infinity, or as close as 5.9 inches to infinity when in Macro focus mode. Users can select from the following settings in Shooting mode, then through the AF Area mode menu: Auto, Center, Manual, and Face Priority.

The Auto mode automatically selects one of the nine areas, the Center mode defaults to the center point, the Manual mode allows users to select from one of 99 focus areas, and the Face Priority can reportedly detect up to 12 faces in a scene.

When the camera detects a face in Face Priority focus mode, yellow brackets appear on the screen that turn blue when focus is locked. The Face Priority function, however, is limited. Subjects are often not detected.

The automatic focus modes work well, but the Nikon face detection could use some work to catch up to competitors’ second- and third-generation face-finding technology.

Manual Focus (0.0)

The Nikon S510 does not have true manual focus.

**ISO ***(7.75)*

The Nikon Coolpix S510 has a range of ISO sensitivity settings. Users can select from the following manual ISO settings: 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and the maximum ISO 2000. Auto ISO limits sensitivity to ISO 64 to 1000.

High ISO settings let more light into the camera for dark scenes, but at the sacrifice of image quality. Photos show visible noise, or grainy speckles that destroy picture quality, at the dedicated High ISO mode or any setting above ISO 400. In addition to high noise at high ISO settings, the camera introduces noise reduction technology that automatically smoothes over grain, which takes away detail from images and makes them look worse.

Buyers shouldn’t be dazzled by the high ISO range on the Nikon Coolpix S510. High sensitivity settings really aren’t helpful when images turn out grainy and without detail.

White Balance*(7.0)*

Users can set the white balance to Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, or Flash. Some cameras include multiple fluorescent settings, but the S510 only has one. However, there is a manual setting called "Preset Manual." Preset Manual is a guided tool that allows users to set white balance with a white card. The LCD draws up a white bordered frame and prompts the user to "measure" or "cancel," while shooting a white area for accurate manual white balance.

Auto white balance is extremely effective outside or with flash, but performs worse when indoors under fluorescent and tungsten light. The other white balance presets perform accurately. See the Testing / Performance section of this review for more details.

Exposure (7.25)

Users can manually adjust exposure, but trying to figure out how is a process. The EV compensation icon is hidden on the border of the camera’s edge. Users can access exposure by hitting the multi-selector’s east directional.  

EV compensation can be adjusted on a vertical scale up to two whole steps in 1/3 increments. There is a helpful live preview with EV compensation, but no histogram information. That means users will have to estimate correct exposure based on what it looks like on the monitor, which may be problematic in outdoor settings or if the LCD display monitor brightness has been shifted.

Nikon's D-Lighting feature, located in Playback mode, is used to fix underexposed images.

Metering (5.5)

Nikon Coolpix S510 users unfortunately can't change Metering modes. Instead of the three types of Metering modes offered on many point-and-shoots (Matrix, Average, and Spot), the Coolpix S510 simply defaults to Multi-Pattern (or Matrix) metering, which uses 256 segments in concert with the autofocus.

Shutter Speed (0.0)

The mechanical and charge-coupled electronic shutter allows for a shutter speed of 1/1500 of a second to 4 seconds for long exposure, the same range offered on the earlier model. Users cannot manually change shutter speed. Instead, shutter speed can be adjusted by selecting the preset Scene modes.

When Nikon announced the Coolpix S510 in August, the manufacturer claimed a faster shutter response time of 15 milliseconds. That seems to be an an exaggeration, however, since we found the shutter-to-shot time to come in at 0.7 seconds.

Aperture (0.0)

Like its lack of manual shutter speed, there is no manual aperture control on the Coolpix S510. Aperture is set at a maximum of f/2.8 when zoomed out in wide angle and a maximum of f/4.7 when zoomed in during telephoto shooting.

Picture Quality / Size Options (7.25)

With a 1/2.5-inch CCD sensor with 8.1 effective megapixels, the Nikon Coolpix S510 captures JPEG images at full resolution for large format prints or smaller files for e-mail or blogs. Users can select picture size in Shooting mode under the Image mode menu, which is a little misleading. Compression is also lumped into the Image mode menu. This negates having to split picture size and compression into two menus, saving the user time. However, it's not the listing other camera manufacturers employ, which may lead to some confusion. The highest quality setting is marked with a star () for an 8-megapixel resolution of 3264 x 2448 pixels at high compression.

 

Picture Effects Mode *(6.25)

The Nikon Coolpix S510 has only the basics as far as creative picture effects go. Users can shoot in different Color modes, from Standard (Natural) color to Vivid, Black-and-White, Sepia, or Cyanotype. There are options to shoot in different colors or correct pictures within the camera, but not enough leniency for someone who wants to change a pudgy dog to a slimmer one (as found in HP's slimming function) or splice movies (like found with Casio’s video editing options).

Connectivity

Software (7.0)

The Nikon S510 camera comes with a Nikon Software Suite CD-ROM for Windows Vista XP and Macintosh OS X version 10.3.9 or higher: Nikon Transfer, Apple Quicktime, my Picturetown Utility, ArcSoft Panorama Maker, and oddly enough, Kodak EasyShare.

To install these programs, users must click on the custom install button in the Install Center Window, with prompts for additional drivers. Total installation time for the Nikon S510 software is about 15 minutes. Programs do not open up immediately once installation is completed, which is a setback. Once opened, Nikon Transfer software only allows you to transfer pictures from your camera to the computer, and doesn't include editing options.

There are three drop-down tab menus in Nikon Transfer: Options, Thumbnails, and the Transfer Queue. There are six tabs in the Options menu to help users detect the details of their photos. The tabs are labeled Source, Embedded Info, Primary Destination, Backup Destination, Preferences and Promotion. Users can actually see their uploaded pictures in the Thumbnails menu, but only while the camera’s USB is connected to the computer. The Transfer menu allows users to see the transfer rate of their images.

Nikon Transfer is a hassle when you can easily upload them using the included Kodak EasyShare software, which allows users to save and edit images all in the same program.

Kodak EasyShare software is easy to use, with editing tools that work for photographers at any level. There are tips that constantly pop up to give users extra support or a spark of creativity to what they could do with their photos. The software is also directly linked to the online Kodak EasyShare Gallery site, which is convenient for ordering prints, creating cards, stickers, and other fun things with photos.

Overall, the Nikon software suite is marred with a poor transfer program. Interface and general usability are a headache. Users are better off using the included Kodak EasyShare software.

Jacks, Ports, Plugs (6.25)

The Nikon Coolpix has one AV-Out jack for connection to television sets in PAL or NTSC format, computers, or PictBridge-compatible printers via USB cables included in the box. The AV-Out port is located on the right side of the camera, concealed under a silver-colored plastic door.

Direct Print Options (5.5)

Users can directly print from the camera when connected to a PictBridge-compatible printer. Through the camera’s Print Set menu, users can tag favorite photos using the rotary dial and select up to nine prints per image.

Battery*(3.25)*

The Nikon Coolpix S510 uses the included EN-EL10 rechargeable lithium ion battery. The battery weighs half an ounce and has a reported 170 shots per charge, which is a long battery life. Users can also buy the optional AC adapter EH-62D that is compatible with the camera.

Memory (5.0)

The Nikon Coolpix S510 has 52 MB of onboard memory, which is just enough to save 13 full resolution images to the camera. That’s an upgrade from the 26 MB on the S500 model. For additional memory, users need to purchase an additional SD or SDHC memory card. Users can copy photos from the internal memory to the memory card and vice versa for easy transfer.

Other Features (3.5)

Voice Recording Mode – Users can record audio WAV files up to five hours or until the memory card fills up, whichever comes first. Accessed through the mode button, the screen lists multiple recorded files with a date information and time stamp for users who want to use the digital camera as a portable voice recorder.

Value (6.25)

At $299.95, the Nikon Coolpix S510 looks pretty ordinary when compared to other comparably-priced cameras. Good for Nikon for putting optical image stabilization and full resolution shooting at ISO 2000 on the S510, but other manufacturers offer a more advanced feature set for the same near-$300 price tag. Consumers should know they can get updated face detection, more built-in editing, touch screen LCDs, HD still output, or wireless photo transfer for the same price.

Who’s this Camera For?

Point and Shooters – As another 3x optical zoom lens camera in a portable body, the Nikon Coolpix S510 absolutely suits this segment.

Budget Consumers – At the $299 original price and about $250 online price, the Coolpix S510 isn’t the least expensive camera around. Customers can find plenty of options for less than $200.

Gadget Freaks – Technies would snub their noses at the Nikon Coolpix S510. It doesn’t serve their gadget needs like the other Nikon Wi-Fi-enabled cameras, nor is it equipped with HD output or touch screen capabilities as some competitor models are.

Manual Control Freaks – Lacking aperture and shutter control, the Coolpix S510 doesn’t suit this population well. Photographers who like to flex their creative muscles are better off buying SLRs, ultra-zoom compacts, or the less common point-and-shoot with PASM functions.

Pros / Serious Amateurs – Because of the lack of manual control and average image performance, the Nikon Coolpix S510 would not interest professional photographers.

Comparisons

Nikon Coolpix S500 – At the same original price of $299.95, the Coolpix S500 is the predecessor to the Coolpix S510. The more recent S510 touts a higher 8.1-megapixels, up from the 7.1-megapixel S500. Both carry 3x optical zoom lens with optical Vibration Reduction stabilization and sensitivity speeds of up to ISO 2000. Aside from the higher resolution, the Coolpix S510 also has an updated Expeed Processor, which Nikon claims  reduces noise at high ISOs. Testing shows both models produce significant noise at high ISO settings. The S500, however, performs worse in video than the newer S510. Essentially, there really isn’t much of a difference between the S500 and S510 performance-wise, although the S510 has more resolution and a faster processor.

sd1000.jpg
Canon PowerShot SD1000 – The 7.1-megapixel Canon SD1000, announced in February 2007, shares the same original $299 price tag as the 8.1-megapixel Nikon S510. Both cameras are fitted with 3x optical zoom lenses but differ in stabilization methods. The Canon camera does not have optical or mechanical image stabilization, while the Nikon point-and-shoot does with its lens-shifting Vibration Reduction system. Both cameras are fitted with 2.5-inch LCD screens with 230,000-pixel resolution. While the PowerShot has a threshold of ISO 1600 at full resolution, the Coolpix has a maximum of ISO 2000. Both the Canon SD1000 and Nikon S510 employ face detection systems and wide 16:9 shooting.

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC T70 – At $299.99, the Sony T70 has the same 8.1-megapixel count as the Nikon S510. Both cameras are fitted with a 3x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization. The Sony camera, however, touts a more advanced 3-inch LCD with touch screen abilities, compared to 2.5-inch non-touch screen Nikon monitor with the same 230,000-pixel resolution. Both cameras have face detection systems, although Sony T70 only reads up to eight faces while the Nikon S510 can reportedly read up to 12 faces. The Sony T70 also offers HD output for still image and more built-in retouching functions.

Fujifilm FinePix F50fd– The Fujifilm F50fd, at the same original price of $299.95, touts a noticeably higher 12-megapixels compared to the 8.1-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S510. Both cameras are fitted with a 3x optical zoom lens, but each employs a different image stabilization method. The Fuji camera utilizes CCD-shifting mechanical image stabilization, and the Nikon point-and-shoot uses lens-shifting optical image stabilization. Both the FinePix and Coolpix have face detection, but the Fuji F50fd boasts second-generation face-finding technology that detects up to 10 faces at slightly profiled angles, compared to Nikon’s maximum of 12 faces that need to face forward. The Fuji F50fd also has a slightly larger 2.7-inch LCD, versus the Nikon 2.5-inch LCD with the same 230,000-pixel resolution. The Fuji camera, however, only has ISO 1600 at full resolution, compared to the ISO 2000 maximum of the Nikon camera. The FinePix F50fd also adds IrSimple wireless photo transfer.

Olympus FE-300 – With the same original price of $299.99, the Olympus FE-300 carries more resolution at 12 megapixels, compared to the 8.1-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S510. The FE camera and the Coolpix camera are each fitted with a 3x optical zoom lens. The Olympus camera, however, features digital image stabilization, while the Nikon camera is equipped with the more desirable optical image stabilization. Both have equally-sized 2.5-inch LCDs with 230,000-pixel resolution. While the FE-300 only has a maximum ISO 1600 at full resolution, the Nikon S510 is capable of ISO 2000 shooting at full resolution. The cameras both offer face detection systems.

 

Conclusion

The Nikon Coolpix S510 makes a rather unexciting entrance into an already dense market of similar cameras with 3x optical zoom lenses and small portable bodies. The Coolpix S510 has some noteworthy qualities, including optical image stabilization and an innovative rotary dial for easy menu navigation and playback. In general, though, the camera has a bland feature set.

The S510's image performance isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great, either. While the Coolpix point-and-shoot has accurate white balance, a quick startup time, and low noise levels at low ISO speeds, it suffers from extremely high noise levels and poor dynamic range at higher ISO speeds, poor low light performance, and disappointing resolution. Simply put, the Nikon Coolpix S510 does not have much to set it apart from the slew of similar point-and-shoots available on the market. If you’ll settle for a mediocre camera, consider the S510. Otherwise, you may want to look elsewhere.

Sample Photos

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Specs Table

Meet the tester

Karen M. Cheung

Karen M. Cheung

Editor

Karen M. Cheung is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.

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