Nikon Coolpix S3300 Review
The Nikon Coolpix S3300 is an affordable compact with some unfortunate drawbacks.
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Nikon’s S3300 is an affordable alternative to the rest of the company’s extensive Coolpix lineup. Debuting in February of this year as a replacement for the S3100, the S3300 has received upgrades to optical zoom, megapixel count, and image stabilization, all while retaining that coveted 140-dollar price point.
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.
Design & Usability
The S3300's design emphasizes slimness, portability, and a sleek modernism; it's a shame the sluggish menu is antithetical.
The slim design makes the S3300 highly convenient as a portable, secondary camera, but we were annoyed by the cheap, cost-cutting 2.7-inch LCD. Without an electronic or optical viewfinder, your only method of framing is with this 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, and the monitor also struggles in direct sunlight.
Though the S3300 is flat and rather featureless, handling could be much 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. Sadly, the front panel is smooth and slippery and all of the buttons on the rear panel feel cheap and small. Legibility may also be a problem for some, as the colorless labels are etched into the buttons, so you may need to squint or tilt the camera to figure out what you’re doing.
Finally, the tab-based menu design isn’t perfect, since all navigation is accomplished exclusively with the tiny directional pad. The interface isn’t very responsive either—swapping tabs or modes causes a half-second lag.
Nikon skimped on extra features in order to keep costs low.
Cost-cutting efforts mean extra features are few and far between. This is a simple camera. Even video shooting is limited to the absolute basics. 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—a result that gets worse as ISO sensitivity increases. The self-timer is also very basic; only 2-second and 10-second countdowns are available.
An extensive list of scene modes may be accessed from the appropriate button on the rear panel. These include Landscape, Sports, Snow, 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. 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. Autofocus actually gets some extra flexibility, allowing users to manually select single or full-time continous AF during video, an option we don’t always see in ultracompacts.
The S3300 had a number of surprises in store for us, both good and bad.
Color accuracy is above average, though, and the S3300 offers five color modes: Standard, Vivid, Black White, Sepia, and Cyanotype. Rewinding though, 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. Whatever Nikon has done here has absolutely blown us away.
In terms of noise, the S3300's reduction software smooths away unwanted image noise very thoroughly at low ISOs, but noise becomes increasingly problematic as we move up the ISO scale. If you plan to do all your shooting outside, the S3300 should be fine, but don’t consider this camera if you're searching for a strong low light performer. One further complication is the aggressiveness of the noise reduction. This software has a tendency to smudge details, affecting edges even at the minimum ISO.
The Coolpix S3300 isn’t a great camera, even for only $140.
The S3300 has major drawbacks: its 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 quite slow, ruling out action or sports shooting, and noise reduction is very destructive above the minimum ISO.
The S3300 is slim and pocketable, though. Its color fidelity is above average and its white balance accuracy is literally the best we’ve seen from any camera ever, a surprising revelation, but these advantages are largely undone by the camera’s other drawbacks.
In any case, there are certain situations for which the S3300 may be useful—so if you received this camera as a gift, don't fret. 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 set 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. we could certainly recommend better cameras for the money, our real recommendation is to save up a tiny bit more and just buy a better product.
Like many point-and-shoots in this price range, the $139 Nikon S3300 has its ups and downs in terms of performance. While its color accuracy was better than what we were expecting (based on previous Nikon Coolpix outings), the standard lens is of very poor quality, which makes certain aspects of its performance—namely, sharpness and video compression—stand out in a bad way, drastically reducing this camera's value. Here's why:
Detail resolution is artificially enhanced at the center of the frame, and poor everywhere else.
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. Some of the zones were able to fool our tests, and we did—on very rare occasions—register an MTF50 in excess of 2000 LW/PH, but we also recorded levels below 1000 LW/PH with regularity.
We’re guessing that the S3300 uses an identical or similar image stabilizer as 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.
Motion is fair, but compression artifacts are distracting.
Trailing is not a problem for the S3300’s videos, however smoothness isn’t perfect and both artifacting and frequency interference are very severe. Further, 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.
On the other hand, details were 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.
Color Accuracy & White Balance
Color accuracy and white balance scores serve as highlights in this camera's overall performance.
The S3300's 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.
As for white balance performance, 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.