It's probably unfair to judge a camera like the Nikon Coolpix S6300 too harshly. It's a cheap, near-disposable compact digital camera—typically around $130 from reputable online merchants, despite its $199.95 MSRP. Its optical zoom and physical controls give it an edge over even the best smartphones, and it provides more features than we'd expect, like seven continuous shooting modes and eight different movie formats. The trouble is that sometimes, image quality isn't always there to back the goods. It struggles in low light, it tends to overexpose, and it performs poorly at its 10x zoom. The Coolpix S6300 is available in black, silver, blue, and red.
Controlling photographers will want something less automated than the S6300.
If you've used one cheap compact digital camera, you've used them all. Anyone should be able to pick up and use the S6300 without difficulty; whether they'll enjoy it is another story. The Coolpix S6300 is about as simple as they come. There's a full auto mode, some scene and special effects options, and that's pretty much it. It's dead simple to use. The main menu is brief and mostly to the point, though visually outdated. All you can really do with this camera is, well, point... and shoot. You can zoom, alter the flash, use a self-timer, or adjust exposure by plus or minus two stops, but beyond that it's a fully automatic affair.
Buttons are easy to feel, even in the dark. Happily, shutter lag is minimal, but the camera is slow to process files and the underwhelming screen makes it difficult to properly review shots in-camera. It's tiny enough to easily fit in a tight jeans pocket, but it's not terribly comfortable to hold. The body is glossy and slick, and the braille-style rear thumb grip doesn't really give you much traction.
Don't expect more than a limited array of bells and whistles in this low-end price bracket.
At this sub-$200 point, you should know what to expect: a slippery, tiny little soap bar with a few buttons, maybe a dial, and uninspiring image quality. The Coolpix S6300 doesn't do much to counter that expectation, aside from its ambitious 10x zoom and a couple of fun extra features. It has a total of 19 scene modes ranging from traditional options like portrait and landscape to more esoteric choices like fireworks, panorama, and 3D. The latter isn't true 3D, but simulates it with two angled photos that replicate the positioning of the human eyes. The images must be played back on a 3D-compatible HDTV or monitor. Finally, the unsure shooter can try the "Scene auto selector" mode, which tries to intelligently pick the appropriate scene mode by analyzing the subject.
The Coolpix also offers six art filters, basic in-camera editing, seven different quality and size options, a whopping seven continuous shooting modes, and a memo recorder so you can remember details about your photos. A subject tracking mode is built to keep a moving target in focus, though testing showed that the software got confused pretty easily. Lastly, there are five video compression and resolution options (the highest being 1080P), though the only controls available to you when shooting video are exposure compensation, white balance, and color mode. The full-time autofocus for video recording sounds great, but it's slow and not very reliable (particularly in dim lighting).
The S6300 is afraid of the dark.
It's not a speed demon, and the buffer is weak, but if your subject is moving the S6300 can get the shot if your timing is good. Overall though, despite the 16-megapixel sensor and the 10x zoom range, image quality is decidedly mediocre. Sharpness is best at full wide angle, but it's never great. At the long end of the 10x zoom range, image stabilization is poor and high-contrast objects sometimes take on annoying purple or cyan fringing. In bright light, focus is fairly fast and reliable, but a tendency toward overexposure can ruin many shots. In low-light, quality suffers due to aggressive internal software that removes grain from images—and detail right along with it—resulting in ugly, muddled pictures. The solution? Don't rise above ISO 800 if you can help it. The other problem users will have in low light is focus. Not only will this Coolpix frequently fail to find focus in dim light, but it will also sometimes claim to have found focus when clearly it hasn't. Both issues are troubling, but the latter is the sorest disappointment
Video is actually pretty good in bright light, but when it gets dim or shooters zoom in, things get grim. By the time you get to the maximum 10x zoom position (250mm film equivalent), sharpness is pretty dire across the entire frame. The performance in terms of color accuracy is disappointing too, with some oddball test results; its "Vivid" color mode is actually more accurate than its "Standard" mode. Neither color mode is very good, accuracy-wise, though we've seen worse. In fact, the same could be said for this camera's performance in an overall sense.
Let's start with the outside. The S6300's body feels cheap. It feels like plastic, coated in a glossy paint that scratches easily, and generally feels toy-like. The buttons are pleasingly tactile, but we're not optimistic about their durability. How about that LCD? At 2.7 inches it's on the smaller side these days, and its 230,000-dot resolution is half (or less) of what some of its competitors offer.
The internals are hardly any better. The 10x zoom is generous for a camera in this class and price range, but the sad fact is that image quality gets progressively worse the more you zoom in. At full zoom, there's hardly any resolution to speak of and the vibration reduction system can't always keep up. Sure, there are more features than we'd expect overall, but when performance and image quality don't back it all up, what's the use? It's nice to have eight different movie formats at your disposal, and in bright light we were pleased with the S6300's video. But unfortunately, videos shot in dim light are just as underwhelming as photos shot in the same conditions. Seven continuous shooting modes are totally rad, but what's with the 6-shot buffer?
You can do worse than the S6300 if you're shopping for an inexpensive compact camera, but that's more of an indictment of the class than an endorsement of this particular model. And you can definitely do a lot better. The superior Canon ELPH 110 HS (our Best Value P&S of the Year) has already dipped into the same street pricing bracket this holiday season, making it a far more tempting option if $130 is your upper limit. If you can't get your mitts on the Canon, we can see S6300 making a good stocking-stuffer for a young niece or grandson. For yourself, or anyone else, you should probably shop around.
The S6300 held up all right in testing, delivering results that were more or less what you'd expect for a model in this price range. Much of the time, and in broad light and wide angle especially, it was fast-acting and sharp, but tests quickly revealed its weak spots. It struggled violently at its full zoom and in dim light situations, which means it can't qualitatively stand behind some of the features it boasts.
Don't count on this camera capturing the money shot when subjects are far or lights are dim.
Focus is good in bright light—not the fastest we've seen, even in this class, but good enough—but in low light it becomes quite unreliable. Not only will it frequently fail to find focus (producing a red focus box on the screen), it will also often claim to have found focus when it clearly hasn't.
Generally speaking, the S6300 is pretty atrocious in dim light. Though colors remain reasonably vibrant even at the highest ISO settings, aggressive noise reduction and poor sensor performance combine to produce muddled images with little discernible detail. There is also visible blotching in solid color areas, giving the shots an ugly look even when sharpness and detail retention aren't taken into consideration.
The S6300 boasts a 16-megapixel sensor and 10x zoom range, but sharpness is best at full wide angle and it relies heavily on the in-camera oversharpening. Chromatic aberrations are a real problem too, leaving any high-contrast object with annoying purple or cyan fringing. The 10x zoom is certainly useful, but sadly image quality is the worst at the long end of the range. In bright light, a tendency toward overexposure often ruined images while low-light shooting suffered from over-aggressive noise reduction.
Our tests detail the S6300's performance at specific focal lengths.
At its widest focal length, the Coolpix S6300 produces pretty sharp results, albeit with moderate-to-strong in-camera software sharpening applied (up to 35% above "normal"). As you zoom in toward middle focal lengths, resolution figures start to drop pretty sharply. The edges in particular are awful, though the center holds up fairly well. By the time you get to the maximum 10x zoom position (250mm film equivalent), sharpness is pretty dire across the entire frame. This is probably due to a combination of compromised lens design, diffraction, and in-camera distortion correction, which tends to lower resolution in the corners.
Meet the tester
Ben is an experienced industry journalist who formerly served as Senior Editor of News and Features at Reviewed. He now contributes as a freelance writer and editor. Most recently hailing from the vast wilds of the American southwest, he is an avid photographer who is deeply disturbed by the lack of wide open landscapes in Boston.
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