Nikon Coolpix S4 Digital Camera Review

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Testing / Performance


Color (5.34)**We tested the Nikon Coolpix S4’s color reproduction by using it to take several photographs of the industry standard GretagMacbeth color chart. We uploaded the pictures into Imatest Imaging Software, which determined the accuracy of the 24 colors as well as their saturation.  The modified chart below shows the 24 original colors from the GretagMacbeth in the inner vertical rectangle of each tile. The outer square of each tile shows the color produced by the Nikon Coolpix S4. The inner square shows the ideal, corrected for luminance.  

The difference between the ideal and produced colors is more pronounced in the following graph. The squares represent the 24 ideal colors and the circles represent the Nikon S4’s rendering. The line that connects the two shapes shows the camera’s color error, so long lines mean inaccurate colors.

Some of these lines are longer than those at an electronics store on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The Nikon Coolpix S4 produced very inaccurate colors and a terrible overall color score of 5.34 and an equally horrifying color error of 11.2. In every ISO setting, colors were extremely over-saturated. While most compact models over-saturate by 7 or 8 percent, the Nikon S4 did so by 17-19 percent. The over-saturated tones do look quite rich, but accuracy is still the goal. Most people are not looking for a pastel-like portrait of their child.    **Still Life Scene**Below is a shot of our still life scene captured with the Nikon Coolpix S4.


Click on the shot above to view a full resolution image (CAUTION: the linked file is very large!)](

Resolution / Sharpness ***(3.97)***The Nikon Coolpix S4 has a 1/2.5-inch CCD with 6.4 total megapixels. Of those, 6 of them are effective in forming pictures. We used an industry standard resolution chart to test the S4. After taking several photographs of the test chart at various focal lengths, we uploaded the files into Imatest imaging software.   


Click on the chart above to view the full resolution image](

The best results came from a shot taken at a focal length of 16.5 mm and an aperture (set by the camera) of f/3.5. This shot didn’t quite live up to our expectations of a 6-megapixel imaging sensor. The Nikon S4 read 1805 LW/PH vertically and 1363 LW/PH horizontally. The line widths per picture height (LW/PH) unit is a theoretical measurement of the number of alternating equally thick black and white lines the camera can read before blurring into oblivion. Traditional measurements of resolution on 35mm cameras were reported in terms of line pairs per picture height (LP/PH), but this unit does not account for different sizes of imaging sensors so we use LW/PH instead. The Nikon S4 performed better than the 6-megapixel Olympus SP-500 UZ, which read 1293 LW/PH vertically and 1380 LW/PH horizontally. The S4 also performed better than the 6-megapixel Konica Minolta DiMage Z6 – but only vertically. The Z6 read 1597 LW/PH vertically and 1650 horizontally. In terms of sharpness, the Nikon Coolpix S4 left images under-sharpened. The best resolution results returned 7.53 percent under-sharpening vertically and 7.88 percent under-sharpening horizontally. Overall, we had expected much more from the 6-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S4.   **Noise - Auto ISO (1.98)**Don’t expect beautifully clean images from the Nikon S4. It just won’t happen. With an overall auto ISO noise score of 1.98, there will be noise in just about every lighting situation. Even in our brightly lit studio, the camera had trouble. The low score is not because of a metering problem though; the S4 selected ISO 118 for the shots. The problem is that the automatically-designed camera only offers a truncated 50-200 ISO range when set to Auto ISO. Compound this with high noise levels at the camera’s lower sensitivities and snapshooters are destined for disappointment.    **Noise – Manual ISO (4.25)**To see how the camera fared when the ISO was manually selected, we measured the noise values at each ISO selection. The chart below shows the noise levels on the vertical axis and the four manual ISO settings on the horizontal axis.

There is a steady incline from the lowest ISO 50 to the highest ISO 400. The consistently slow rise is encouraging, but the problem is that there is plenty of noise to begin with. This resulted in a 4.25 overall manual ISO noise score, which is far better than the automatic score but still nothing to boast about.  **Low Light Performance (6.0)**The Nikon Coolpix S4 is designed to cram in a pocket for a night out clubbing or a stint at a friend’s birthday party. Because every shot isn’t going to be well lit, we tested the S4 in less than optimal conditions. We conducted tests at decreasing light levels of 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux. Photographers who choose to take pictures of the family cat in their living room after dusk with two soft lamps on will encounter 60 lux. A single 40-watt light bulb will produce 30 lux, so photographers who want a shot of their sleeping kid next to a lamp on the nightstand will have to shoot in this condition. 15 and 5 lux are very near darkness and let us know how the imaging sensor reacts to long exposures.   The illumination remains fairly consistent throughout our testing, but the amount of noise increases considerably. As the light dims, the whites fade into grays and tiny purple speckles of noise dot the images. Below is a graph showing the noise at each of the light levels. The horizontal axis shows the length of the exposure in seconds and the vertical axis shows the corresponding noise.

There is a sharp rise in noise from the quarter of a second that it took to capture the 60 lux image to the half second that captured the image at 30 lux. The noise plateaus to just under a second, then rises steadily as the shutter hangs open about 2 seconds. The Nikon Coolpix S4 performed better than most compact models and its pictures are sharp and usable in low light despite the lingering noise.  **Speed / Timing***Startup to First Shot**(7.61)*The Nikon S4 requires a little twist of the body and is shortly ready to grab its first shot. It takes the camera 2.39 seconds, which is quite average but better than anticipated for a camera that needs to be twisted to turn on.  *Shot to Shot (9.01)*The S4 has a much less impressive burst mode. At a time when many compact models can take 2 or 3 frames per second, this Coolpix takes an average of 0.84 seconds between shots – and only takes 4 shots at a time. This disappointing burst mode is coupled by the equally lackluster multi-16 mode that stitches 16 smaller shots together into a single frame. This mode should be a lot faster, but only speeds up to a shot every 0.71 seconds.  *Shutter to Shot (7.28)*There is significant shutter lag on the Nikon S4. Photographers will be disappointed with the 0.71-second lag from the shutter button to the recorded image. Subjects will be frustrated by how many retakes will be necessary to eliminate blinked eyes and fallen poses.  

Physical Tour

Front*(7.5)*With the S4’s pivoting lens mount, it's difficult to say exactly where the front of this camera is. When the camera is positioned for storage, the front is mainly flat, with a chrome strip on the left, and a textured black plastic ridge curving down from the shutter release to serve as a grip. Most of the front is sheathed in satin-finished metal. It has a vaguely pink tone to it that marketers might call "champagne" or "titanium." There's a slot between the left side of the camera and the rotating lens assembly. It's not entirely straight, with a little jog to the left near the top of the camera, apparently to accommodate the small flash wedged close to the lens. The Nikon logo appears in shiny metal on the left side of the front, with "COOLPIX S4" printed in small, gray type. On the lens assembly, in smaller type, the lens specs appear, reading, "NIKKOR 10X OPTICAL ZOOM 6.3 – 63mm F3.5." Once the user peels off the marketing department's garish decal, the camera will be a model of design restraint. In use, the camera will normally have the lens assembly tilted forward. The 10x zoom lens has a larger diameter than the lenses on typical compact cameras, so it looks more impressive and also takes up more space. The pivoting design forced Nikon to jam a very small flash very close to the lens on the pivoting assembly. A small autofocus assist lamp and self-timer lamp is also squeezed in. **Back***(7.0)*Let's not consider the back of the lens assembly when we discuss the Coolpix S4's back. When the camera is in use, the lens assembly might be turned any which way, and Nikon treats all the sides of the lens assembly (except the one with the glass on it) as gripping surfaces. The back of the main body holds the LCD and most of the controls. It's as small as many subcompact cameras, and the controls are also very small. The layout is simple: along the top, there are four buttons in a row, plus a joystick-style four-way controller. The buttons control, from left to right, LCD display information, image deletion, the menu display, and playing back images. The joystick is a stubby projection, about 1/8 of an inch high. The joystick functions as the "OK" button when it's pressed straight in to the camera. Pushing it up activates the flash sync control. Push it left calls up the self-timer, and pushing it down calls up the macro mode control. In playback mode, pushing it in activates "D-lighting," an algorithm to improve color and contrast of poorly-exposed images. There's a patch of bumps to the right of the joystick, apparently to enhance the user's grip on the camera. The 2.5-inch LCD takes up the rest of the back. **Left Side***(6.0)*The left side of the Coolpix S4 sports two Phillips-head screws on the side of the lens assembly. The rest is pretty baron.     **Right Side***(6.0)*The right side of the Coolpix S4 features a cable jack for USB and analog video output. It's under a flexible plastic door. The door seems durable enough, but it doesn't seal against dirt as well as we'd like to see. Below that, the SD memory card slot is covered by a hard plastic door which slides and pivots to open. This mechanism seems durable and unlikely to open accidentally; however, it lacks good environmental seals and may act as a pathway for dust and moisture to get into the camera. The wrist strap lug pokes out of the right side of the camera, toward the front and about halfway down the side. It's a robust piece of stamped metal, appropriate to hang the camera from. Another flexible plastic door is at the bottom of the right side. This one makes way for an external power supply cable to enter the battery compartment, the main door for which is on the bottom of the camera.   **Top***(6.0)*The top of the Coolpix S4 (or rather, the Coolpix S4’s main body) is crowded. From the left, it accommodates the speaker grill and mode switch, a hole for the microphone, a status light, the on/off button, and the shutter release. A ring around the shutter release operates the zoom in shooting mode, and image magnification in playback mode.

The mode switch offers three positions: fully automatic shooting, scene modes, and video mode. The on/off button is slightly less than flush mounted; press it to turn the camera on, and again to turn it off. **Bottom***(3.5)*The bottom of the Coolpix S4’s main body features a plastic tripod mount. Because the lens pivots, the mount can't be under the lens, where it should ideally be to simplify aligning shots on a tripod. It's also not under the camera's center of gravity, meaning that the camera could tip those flimsy tabletop tripods that eBay sellers throw in when auctioning cameras like the Coolpix S4.

The other notable feature on the bottom of the S4 is the battery compartment door. It features a nice latch to hold the door shut securely, but not very much in the way of environmental seals.


Viewfinder*(0.0)*The Coolpix S4 does not have a viewfinder; a viewfinder would not work well with a split-bodied design. **LCD Screen***(5.5)*The Coolpix S4's LCD screen is a pleasant 2.5 inches diagonally, but, at 110,000 pixels, it's about as low-resolution as we've seen recently. In playback mode, it's possible to magnify images up to 10x, which allows a fair evaluation of image sharpness, but this evaluation can only occur after the shot is taken. It would be much more useful to have an LCD that offered better views while shots are being captured. The LCD also offers a limited angle of view. It darkens, gets washed out, and solarizes as one turns it even moderately off center. **Flash***(5.5)*The Coolpix S4's flash has a number of strikes against it. It's designed as a tiny rectangle and is small enough it could hide behind a dime. A small light source creates high contrast, specular lighting that is unflattering to human skin, and accentuates pores and blemishes.

The fixed unit is positioned close to the lens. Nikon says it's effective out to approximately 10 feet. Our shots at 10 feet were a bit underexposed. The position of the flash is unfortunate too, for a couple of reasons: first, the flash will cast ugly shadows in horizontal shots, because it is next to, not above, the lens. When users shoot verticals with the Coolpix S4, they should hold the camera with the lens below the rest of the camera, so that the flash will be above the lens – that way, the shadows will fall below the subjects, not above them. It's not likely, though, that many users will hold the camera that way, because in this position it feels awkward in the hand. Second, the closer the flash is to the lens, the more likely it is to produce red-eye.The Coolpix S4 offers two strategies for red-eye reduction. The standard one is very common: the flash goes off just before the picture is taken, as well as during the exposure. The first flash should force the subject’s pupils to contract, limiting red-eye. The second method is more unusual. Software in the Coolpix S4 looks for red eyes, and retouches them automatically. In our test shots, red-eye was controlled effectively.


Lens*(7.25)*The 6.3–63mm Nikkor zoom on the Coolpix S4 is heir to the common flaw of long zoom lenses: it shows significant barrel distortion at the wide angle end of its range. We also noticed color fringing at various focal lengths.  Fortunately, it didn’t seem bad enough to mar snapshots, but it would be visible on an 8 x 10-inch print.  The lens's maximum aperture is f/3.5 throughout the 10x zoom range. The Coolpix S4 can achieve the equivalent of a minimum aperture of f/13.6 through a combination of aperture and a neutral density filter. 

Design / Layout

Model Design / Appearance*(6.0)*The Coolpix S4 reminds digital camera veterans of Nikon's earlier pivot cameras in the Coolpix 900 series, but visually, there are some significant upgrades. By going with metal and metallic finishes, Nikon has made the Coolpix S4 more elegant than its predecessors. The 900's were gray and black plastic, and frankly, pretty gawky.    The Coolpix S4 has a simple basic shape. When it's configured for storage, it's more or less a block with a slot down the middle. Nikon added curves and indentations to give it some interest and a finished look.   **Size / Portability***(7.0)*The Coolpix S4 is 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.4 inches, and weighs a bit more than 7 ounces without batteries or memory card. It's bigger than typical compact cameras, but among cameras with 10x zooms, it's remarkably small. It could fit in a coat pocket, backpack, or purse. But given its poor seals against dirt and moisture, the Coolpix S4 probably needs a carrying case. The Coolpix S4's odd lens cap seems flimsy. It looks like a typical plastic lens cap hinged with a thin ring that snaps very firmly onto the lens barrel.  

Handling Ability*(7.0)*The Nikon Coolpix S4 is fun to hold. Pivoting the lens is a novelty for most, and it may incline users to hold the camera with two hands, which will lead to steadier shots. The lens assembly has a nice divot for the user’s left hand fingers and there's no way to pivot it without holding it. Unfortunately, with the LCD consuming so much space on the non-pivoting part of the back, there's very little room for the user's right thumb (unless the user doesn't mind covering up part of the LCD). Given the precarious position of that thumb rest, using the wrist strap is pretty much a mandatory safety precaution.

The Coolpix S4 is primarily an automatic camera. There is relatively little manual control available, and many basic functions are buried in menus – out of the way of casual users. Those who want to set the ISO or use a custom white balance have to dig, and may be a little frustrated that automatic color post-processing -- "D-Lighting" -- has a direct control on the back of the camera, but no exposure parameters do.

Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(6.0)*The four-way controller on the Coolpix S4 works like a joy stick – the user tilts it slightly toward the cardinal points to navigate images or menus. Unfortunately, it can be hard to differentiate between tilting it and pressing it inward. Pressing it inward activates its "OK" button function, so it's easy to accidentally change settings. The zoom control is a small ring around the shutter release. It has a bump on the front, which makes it easy to control, despite its size. The on/off button is small and mounted slightly below flush, apparently to prevent users from accidentally turning the camera on or off. We generally prefer slide or rotary power switches – they are easier to use, and are more effective at preventing accidental shutdowns (or activations). **Menu***(7.0)*The Coolpix S4 menus appear in large type on a gray and white background. It's legible, but because the resolution of the LCD is only 110,000 pixels, it's not particularly smooth or attractive. The background is pleasant enough, but many cameras in this range superimpose menus over a live view, which allows the user to see the effects of settings as they make changes.



A separate menu comes up when the camera's mode switch is set for shooting in scene modes. Four of the scene modes offer composition aids as well. (Check the Modes section of this review for specifics). The modes are: Portrait, Landscape, Sport, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Back Light, and Panorama Assist. The Playback mode menu lists operations the Coolpix S4 can perform on saved images.  

Ease of Use*(7.0)*Nikon has made heroic efforts with the Coolpix S4 to create a camera that protects the extremely casual user from common errors. The "D-Lighting" mechanism for fixing poor exposures, and the assist programs that guide the user in pointing the camera with superimposed silhouettes of people, are prime examples of Nikon's work in this arena.

Most consumer cameras we review are easy to use in automatic mode, but difficult to use in their manual modes. The Coolpix S4 takes that axiom a step farther – manual control on the S4 isn't difficult, it's impossible. The camera offers no manual exposure settings, and it doesn't display information about aperture or shutter speed. The user who wants control is stymied. 


Auto Mode*(6.0)*The Auto mode on the Coolpix S4 controls both aperture and shutter speed. The user can either manually set ISO and white balance, or put them into Auto and let the camera do the work. Manual control options are a good thing, of course, but the Coolpix S4 should have an Auto setting that truly automates everything – one that doesn't require the user to remember to set ISO and white balance to automatic – especially since there are no manual exposure options.

Movie Mode*(4.5)*The Coolpix S4 records movies at either 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels, but at only 15 frames per second. 640 x 480 is the standard resolution for video, but 15 frames per second is about half the standard frame rate. The Coolpix S4's video looks choppy, and will disappoint those users for whom video capability is important. The lens can't be zoomed while video is being shot, though 2x of digital zoom is available. The camera's microphone picks up the noise of the focusing motor during shooting, so the video mode offers an option to focus immediately before the shot starts and freeze the focus until the shot is over. The Coolpix S4 offers time-lapse video at 640 x 480 resolution. Like the intervalometer setting, the time-lapse video control will take images at intervals from 30 seconds to 1 hour.

Drive / Burst Mode*(5.0)*According to Nikon, the Coolpix S4 clunks along at 1.3 frames per second in burst mode. That's not fast enough for action sequences. Users who want a shot of their kid blowing out candles on a cake need to get the first shot right, because the candles will be out by the time the S4 snags that second frame. This is a general drawback of compacts and ultra zoom cameras.  The Coolpix S4's speed is comparable to its competitors’.  The Coolpix S4 has the Sport composite feature, which takes 16 frames in a little over two seconds. The frames are awfully small, but getting a sequence at close to 8 frames per second is fun. It's important to keep in mind that shooting 16 full-size images in two seconds is a feature of cameras that cost $3,500 and up. **Playback Mode***(6.5)*The Coolpix S4's playback mode includes functions for viewing, printing, and editing images. The playback is compromised by the low-resolution LCD. Playback can magnify images up to 10x, which can give a pretty good idea of focus, but for sharing, the LCD image is not going to be impressive for friends or subjects. The slide show option is particularly bare-bones – each image is shown for 3 seconds. The first frames of movies are shown as if they were still photos, but the motion videos are not shown. Resized copies of images are also not shown. Competing cameras offer options for varying transitions between images, changing the amount of time images are displayed, and selecting which images are displayed. It's possible to crop images on the Coolpix S4. The user simply zooms in on a portion of the image, scrolls around to frame the cropped shot, and presses the shutter release. The cropped images are saved at whichever of the camera's standard sizes they can support, down to 160 x 120 pixels. The Coolpix S4 offers "D-Lighting," an automated feature that adjusts brightness and contrast. It works on underexposed and backlit images, though since it works on the Coolpix S4's saved JPEGs, it can degrade image quality significantly. D-Lighting does not offer any controls – the user presses the button and then takes or leaves the result. D-Lighting creates a corrected copy of the image, leaving the original intact. The Coolpix S4 is PictBridge and DPOF-compatible, allowing the user to make prints without downloading images to a computer. With PictBridge, the Coolpix S4 connects directly with a printer. With DPOF, the print order is downloaded to a commercial photo lab. It offers options to create a print order of multiple images, to set the number of copies to make of each image, and the size of prints to make.  **Custom Image Presets***(8.0)*The custom presets on the Coolpix S4 act as the core of the user-friendly interface, and offer "Assist" options that superimpose silhouettes on the LCD to indicate where to place subjects in the frame.   "Assist" modes are available for Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Portrait.  For Portrait mode, the choices for assistance include Face-priority AF, a system that can find human faces and focus on them; the regular portrait mode, which assumes the subject is centered; and then five modes that superimpose outlines of figures on the screen, with which the user should line up subjects. The five setups are: portrait left and portrait right, with the subject to one side or the other; portrait close-up, with the subject's head in the top half of the frame; Portrait couple, with two outlines, for two people; and Portrait figure, for a vertical shot of one person. Night Portrait mode offers the same five setups, but not Face-priority AF. The Landscape mode's assist features include superimposed outlines as well. There's a general one that shows a horizon line and a mountain range; one for architecture that shows a grid, to guide users who want to keep the lines straight; and Group right and Group left, for shots of people in front of a landscape. Sports assist doesn't include superimposed outlines, but it offers "Sport composite," which takes a burst of 16 images in a bit more than 2 seconds, and arranges them in four rows of four shots each, to create a single 2 megapixel image. Though each frame is small, that's an impressive burst. In general, the assist features can be useful, but are a bit goofy. The outlines work, but for many uses, being able to select a specific autofocus site would do the same thing, and would be more flexible. The outlines may be easier for camera-phobic users, which would make sense this camera is aimed at the point-and-shoot market. On the other hand, the face-priority autofocus works impressively. In a little casual use, it found a face right along the left side of the frame and focused accurately, with the lens zoomed to a moderate telephoto setting.

Control Options

Manual Control OptionsThe Coolpix S4 is fundamentally not a manual camera. There is no direct control of aperture or shutter speed, and the EV control – the control for lightening or darkening the camera's exposure settings – is buried in the menus, and available only in the "Automatic" mode, not in the scene modes. The user can set ISO, white balance, and flash mode, which are all useful controls. Unfortunately, they don't add up to much without the basics of aperture and shutter speed, particularly because the Coolpix S4 doesn't even display its aperture or shutter speed anywhere on the LCD. **Focus***Auto Focus (7.0)*The Coolpix S4’s autofocus system works accurately, snapping into focus in most settings without a lot of sawing back and forth. Zoomed all the way to 63mm, its maximum telephoto setting, the Coolpix S4 could focus relying on only its AF illuminator beam, though it did have to search a bit. Though the scene assist modes on the S4 activate specific autofocus areas, the only autofocus area choice the user can make directly is to choose Face-priority autofocus in Portrait mode. *Manual* Focus *(0.0)*The Coolpix S4 cannot be manually focused. Metering***(5.5)*The Coolpix S4 does not give the user any control over metering patterns, so it's not quite clear how the camera meters scenes. It seems to utilize Nikon’s matrix metering system, typically composed of 256-zones. In general, we found the Coolpix S4's exposures to be acceptable, akin the exposures from other cameras in automatic modes.

Exposure*(7.0)*Oddly, the user has the most latitude to influence the Coolpix S4's settings in Automatic mode, when the exposure compensation menu item is enabled. Compensation is available from 2 stops under to 2 stops over the metered exposure in 1/3-stop increments.

White Balance*(7.5)*The Coolpix S4 offers five white balance presets: Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, and Flash. Typically, a single Fluorescent preset is a poor compromise, because fluorescent lights vary so much between types. It's welcome that the Coolpix S4 offers a custom white balance setting, so the user can balance the color while shooting. The S4 also offers an Auto white balance setting, which will help casual users get consistently acceptable results.

ISO*(6.5)*The Coolpix S4 offers ISO settings from 50 to 400 as well as auto, though the manual indicates that it really should stay at 50. The auto setting will crank ISO up no further than 200, and even then the camera displays an icon warning that the captured image may be noisy.

Shutter Speed*(0.0)*The Coolpix S4 won't let the user set the shutter speed, and it doesn't reveal the speed chosen by the automatic system. The camera shows a camera shake warning at low speeds.  

Aperture*(0.0)*The Coolpix S4's lens has a maximum aperture of f/3.5, though we only know this from the spec sheet. Nowhere in-camera does the S4 reveal what it has current set its aperture to. The user can't set the aperture, either. 

Image Parameters

Picture Quality / Size Options*(6.5)*The Coolpix S4 offers five Quality/Size options for shooting images, and can also resave copies of captured images at sizes smaller than the ones they were originally taken. The S4 saves images as JPEGs only. At 6 megapixels, its maximum resolution, the S4 saves either a high-quality or a normal-quality image. High-quality images are saved with 1:4 compression, while normal-quality images are saved at 1:8. The S4 also saves 3 megapixel images at normal quality, and images at 1024 x 768 and 640 x 480 pixels, also at normal quality. The two smaller sizes are suitable for use on computer screens. The S4's playback mode offers a feature called "Small Picture," which will save down images to 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120 pixels.

Picture Effects Mode*(7.0)*The Coolpix S4 has a color options menu with five selections. They are: Standard color, for natural-looking images; Vivid color, which increases saturation; Black-and-white; Sepia, for a brown-toned monochrome image; and Cyanotype, for a blue-toned monochrome image. There is nothing eye-popping about any of the effects, though a cyanotype option in a point-and-shoot is a little unusual. The effects might be interesting to use once or twice, but to really experiment with effects like these, photographers would do better to edit full-color images on a computer.

Connectivity / Extras

Connectivity*Software **(6.5)*Nikon's PictureProject 1.5 ships with the Coolpix S4. The software has tools for organizing, editing, and printing images, as well as emailing them and sharing them via the web. PictureProject links with "InTouch," a web-based photo album sharing system.

The software's editing tools include brightness, sharpening, color saturation, a desktop version of the Coolpix S4's "D-Lighting" function, rotation, cropping, and  red-eye reduction. Oddly, it does not have a hue or color balance adjustment. PictureProject's design function creates layouts of photos in a variety of formats. The software has a logical, attractive interface, though too much screen space is taken up by inefficient layout of tools. In general, third-party products, like Adobe Photoshop Elements, offer equally attractive interfaces and much more powerful tools.  *Jacks, Ports, Plugs (7.0)*The Coolpix S4 has a USB jack, which doubles as an analog video output, compatible with either PAL or NTSC. The S4 can also accept an external power supply via its battery compartment. It does not offer external flash sync or remote control.

Direct Print Options *(6.0)*The Coolpix S4 is compatible with DPOF and PictBridge. It's possible to create print orders on the S4 that specify which images to print, how many copies of each, and what the print size should be. *Battery
**(7.0)*The Coolpix S4 accepts 2 AA batteries, in alkaline, NiMH, oxy-nickel, or lithium. We used the camera with NiMH batteries, and found that it had a shorter battery life than competing cameras.

Memory *(4.0)*The Coolpix S4 has about 13.5 megabytes of internal memory available for image storage. The internal memory is large enough to hold a handful of several large images, or more scaled-down images as a digital "brag-book." Users will probably want to purchase additional memory; the Coolpix S4 also accepts SD memory cards, a very popular and compact memory format.

Other Features*(7.0)**Image Data* - The Coolpix S4 can superimpose the shooting date and time on the image, in addition to writing EXIF data. *Blur Warning –* A shaking hand icon will pop-up on the screen, indicating that the image will be blurred.    *Best-Shot-Selector* - The Best-Shot-Selector chooses the sharpest – or best-exposed – image from among up to 10 images in a burst. Nikon recommends the system for situations when camera shake might be a problem. *Red-Eye Reduction* - In addition to a conventional red-eye reduction pre-flash, the Coolpix S4 performs digital red-eye reduction as it processes images to memory.

Self-timer - The Coolpix S4 self-timer offers a 10-second delay.

Overall Impressions

 **Value***(5.5)*For $320, it would have been tough not to like the S4 last year. A long zoom, simple to use, a few cool features... it's appealing. The problem is, $320 this year is suddenly a crowded price point for long-zoom compact cameras. Unfortunately for Nikon, several other cameras in the crowd have distinguishing advantages. The Fuji S5200 has good performance at high ISOs, the Konica Minolta Z5 has Anti Shake technology, and Kodak's EasyShare Z740 is easier to use. The S4 has none of these things; all it has over its competition is its shape and styling. They'll be important to some users, but in a discussion of value for money, function wins, and the S4 loses.


Comparisons*******Fujifilm** FinePix S5200 -*The FinePix S5200 is a near match for the S4. Both sell online for about $325, both have 10x zoom lenses, and both lack image stabilization. The S4 is a 6 megapixel camera, while the S5200 is a 5.1 megapixel – though at this level of performance, that's not a terribly significant difference. The S5200 has ISO speeds up to 1600, while the S4 only goes up to 400 – and Nikon warns the user that it's noisy anywhere above its minimum ISO of 50. The Fuji's performance is good up to ISO 800, and at 1600, it's usable in a pinch. The S5200's high ISOs allow faster shutter speeds at telephoto settings, which should limit blurring due to camera shake. And while the S4 has a larger LCD (2.5 inches instead of 1.8 on the Fuji), the Fuji model's display has marginally higher resolution. We will say though that the S4 is much more portable and attractive than the S5200, but that’s about it.    *Kodak EasyShare Z740 -*The EasyShare Z740 is another 5 megapixel 10x zoom, and again, sells for less than $350. Its shape is clunky and SLR-like, so it's not as attractive and portable as the S4. The Z740 has an ISO range of 80 to 400, not fundamentally different from the S4's 50 to 400. And since it lacks image stabilization, Z740 users are going to need tripods in all the same situations that S4 shooters do. The Z740 has much better color than the S4, and better noise scores as well. However, the real contest between the Z740 and the S4 is in ease of use. The Z740 is an extremely simple camera. Its menus combine descriptive, friendly language with equally helpful icons. When docked in one of Kodak's printers, the Z740 offers one-touch printing – it just doesn't get simpler than this. By contrast, the S4's onscreen silhouettes for lining up shots seem more gimmicky than pragmatic and beside the point. *Konica Minolta Z5 -*The Konica Minolta Z5 sells in the neighborhood of $350, and is a 12x zoom, 5 megapixel SLR-shaped camera. Unlike the S4 and the other comparisons, it has a mechanical image stabilization system – the CCD imager itself moves in response to camera shake, to cancel out movement and make for crisp, steady shots. The system works, and it's a big advantage. However, the Z5 is, like the S4, plagued with image noise. Konica Minolta tops out its ISO range at 320, lower than the S4's 400, but with this much noise it’s no great loss. The picture pretty much says it all, but to be clear, the Z5 is a funny-looking camera. If it were a tuxedo, it would be plaid, with velvet lapels. *Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 -*The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 costs almost $100 less than the S4 and has a much shorter zoom. The LZ2's lens approximates a 37 to 222mm lens, instead of the 38 to 380mm equivalent of the S4, and it's a 5 megapixel camera, while the S4 is a 6 megapixel device. Still, the LZ2 is smaller and more portable than the S4. Most importantly, the LZ2 has image stabilization – Panasonic's "Mega Optical Image Stabilization," which is very effective and useful to have, even at moderate focal lengths. If a $230 camera can have image stabilization, why not a $320 one? The LZ2 performed better on our color test than the S4, though both over-saturate colors significantly. Neither did well on our noise tests. Notably, the LZ2 has a worse LCD than the S4 – which is saying something. It's a 2-inch, 85,000 pixel model, and our reviewer didn't like it one bit. Of course, the S4 doesn't outdo its resolution by much, at 110,000 pixels. **Who It’s For***Point-and-Shooters - The Coolpix S4 is easy to use. Many features, particularly the assist features in the scene modes, are expressly for point-and-shooting. Just don't forget to set the white balance to automatic for the truly carefree experience.

*Budget Consumers - *We've seen better performance for the same money. Without image stabilization or high ISOs, the S4's long lens is a pretty limited feature, so we don't think the S4 is a truly economical way to get telephoto performance. *

***Gadget Freaks - The S4 is very shiny and sleek, but its flashiest new feature is an idiot-proof method of shooting portraits with the subject off-center. "Idiot-proof" is not the mating call of the Gadget Freak. They want image stabilization, or a GPS, or a web-compatible phone. Maybe a noise-canceling, image stabilized, GPS videophone, with a Porsche logo?  Manual Control Freaks - *The Coolpix S4 has nothing for manual control enthusiasts, let alone freaks. *Pros / Serious Hobbyists - *The Coolpix S4 lacks image quality and manual controls. It's not a good fit for this group, either.



    ConclusionThe Coolpix S4 is clearly a snapshooter’s camera, though one with an extended lens. It's not a DSLR replacement – there's no pretense that the S4 is a viable alternative to a Nikon D50 or a Canon Digital Rebel. It lacks the speed, image quality, and control of those cameras, and it doesn't offer the stuff strong ultra zoom cameras can lord over DSLRs: image stabilization and a useful video mode. The problem is, the S4 doesn't deliver, even as a compact camera. It doesn't compete well with short-zoom compacts on image quality, video quality, or manual control. With very poor noise performance at ISO 200 and 400, and no image stabilization, it's hard to make a case that the 10x zoom lens will serve snapshooters well at all. Even the LCD is a disappointment, with its low resolution. We'd like to see the S4's innovative features on a more capable camera, but we can't recommend the camera itself.

Specs / Ratings

Specs Table

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