Barring any earth-shattering announcements at the PMA photo convention in March, the current megapixel peak for compact digicams is close to 15, while DSLRs like the Sony A900 hit 24.6. In Nikon’s aim-and-forget Coolpix lineup, the S710 has a 14.5MP sensor, the highest in that series. Of course there’s also the ridiculous 24.5MP Nikon D3x DSLR for a mere eight grand, if you’re a fanboy of this brand! The far more affordable S710 has other notable features including a wide-angle 3.6x zoom, a 3-inch LCD screen, optical image stabilization and a top ISO of 12,800 – for under $300. In theory this sounds like God’s gift to shutterbugs, but are more megapixels what you really need or are there more important intangibles? Let’s charge the battery and find out…
Features and Design
The Nikon S710 looks like every other candy-tin shaped digicam. Fortunately, you have a choice of black, deep red and silver cases. We were sent the red model which gave it a bit of personality, but it’s still pretty nondescript. Canon Digital ELPHs and Sony T-series models, our perennial favorite industrial designs in camera land, have nothing to worry about. The S710 measures 3.6 x 2.3 x 1 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 6.4 ounces with battery and SD card. It’s easy putting this baby in your pocket, so it’s ready for some snapshots.
The front is dominated by the lens and two logos which should be toned down a bit, especially the white COOLPIX. In keeping with a trend we heartily endorse, the S710 has a wide-angle 3.6x zoom ranging from 28-101mm. While you give up a bit on the tele end, the 28mm setting lets you take wider group shots, and far more interesting landscape and architectural photos. Also on the front are a three-pinhole microphone, flash and AF-assist lamp.
On the top are the power and shutter buttons, and on the bottom is the compartment for the battery and SD card. Here too, you’ll find a small door that covers the mini USB connection for transferring images and connecting the camera to a TV.
The rear is overpowered by the 3-inch LCD, and all the other controls are moved to the far right. They’re pretty tiny, so you had better do a hands-on if you choose this one. As for the screen, it’s rated at a so-so 230K pixels. Better digicams offer 460K and 921K monitors, or enhanced technology in their 230Ks. This one smears as you change position, and looks noisy. If you want to make brightness adjustments, you have to drill slowly through the menus, a very consumer-unfriendly way to go. It also falls down on the job when hit with direct sunlight.
Nikon Coolpix S710
At the top, far right, is the wide/tele toggle switch. Surrounding the control wheel are four keys. Mode acts like the typical physical mode dial, letting you choose between auto, program, aperture and shutter priority, full manual, smile, burst, scene (16 options), scene auto selector, movie and set-up. Most are self-explanatory, but scene auto basically “guesses” what’s in front of it and adjusts the camera accordingly (portrait, landscape and so on). With smile, the camera automatically snaps a shot when it detects those pearly whites, and it works in conjunction with face priority, a nearly ubiquitous digicam feature in 2009.
Other keys include playback, menu and delete. The control dial has slightly raised metal edges, so your fingers won’t slip as you use it to scroll through the menus. A center OK button makes the changes. Press the four compass points on the dial and you can adjust macro, the self-timer, flash and exposure compensation. To give you a better idea of how cramped this arrangement is, the decal for exposure compensation appears on the right side of the camera! Talk about shoe-horning everything in…
The camera comes with a battery/charger, strap, as well as USB and A/V cables. You also get a 20-page quick-start guide and an in-depth 160-page user’s manual. The CD-ROM has a few programs such as Panorama Maker 4, as well as My PictureTown for online storage and sharing. There’s also a link to Nikon’s ViewNX editing suite, which you might want to download. It’s pretty basic, but good enough for newbies. Consider Photoshop Elements 7.0 if you want to get deeper into the game.
With the date and time set, and a 2GB SD card in place, it was time to take a load of photographs.
Performance and Use
Our shiny red Coolpix S710 has a 14.5-megapixel CCD sensor, so it captures 4252×3264 JPEGs with every click; There is no RAW option. With the battery charged, the camera comes to life in about two seconds as the lens extends and your “boot-up” completes.
We set the S710 to maximum resolution, in single shot mode with grid lines enabled. The camera has optical image stabilization to help eliminate blur; OIS engaged is the default setting. As usual, we started off in Auto, moved to the various options including manual, then shot some video clips.
As soon as we took our first shot it was pretty evident this camera – like the recently reviewed 14.7MP Canon PowerShot G10 – has some response issues. Basically, when you click the shutter, you have to wait over a second as the S710 saves the image to the card. While it does, the screen goes blank. It’s rated 1.4 fps at normal compression (14MP), and slows a bit more at the highest image setting, which mirrored our real-world results. By comparison, even the cheapest DSLR cranks off close to 3 fps. This is definitely not a camera for anyone planning to shoot fast indoor action – even cats slowly strolling blurred. We put the camera into continuous (burst) mode, and although it rapidly captured images, the flash is disabled, so it really works best outdoors. It cranks off around 4 or 5 shots before it stops to take a breather, again far less than the cheapest DSLR. It’s just a fact – point-and-shoots simply don’t have the processing power to really handle a plethora of pixels. That said, the S710 captured a nice series of an American flag snapping in a stiff wind by the beach after a big winter storm. The combination of OIS, lens quality and electronics resulted in extremely accurate colors and photos of Old Glory that were as sharp as could be. The S710 has a nine-point auto focusing system that works fairly quickly with a minimal amount of “grabbing.”
Nikon Coolpix S710
Unfortunately the LCD screen wipes out in direct sunshine, which is not a good thing when you’re at the beach taking snapshots. Trying to find the brightness adjustment in the menu was a much-too-long process. In many cases we just had to hope the subject was properly framed—this was a real shame.
As mentioned earlier, the Coolpix S710 has a maximum ISO of an absurd 12,800. There’s no way on Earth an aim-and-forget camera sensor can handle this figure – and to no surprise, the Nikon didn’t even come close. Also, if you go beyond ISO 3200, resolution drops from 14MP to 3 megapixels. In other words, there’s no reason to go there unless you like noise-filled photos. In our tests of an indoor still-life using the program mode with ISO set to daylight, the camera handled everything up to ISO 400 with little problem. Digital artifacts appeared heavily at 800 with a dramatic quality falloff at 1600. Beyond that was really a pixilated mess.
After putting the camera through its paces, it was time to make some 8.5 by 11 full-bleed prints without cropping, as well as doing some severe blow-ups to see if 14MP means anything to the average shooter. The supplied Nikon Transfer software makes it amazingly easy to transfer goodies from the camera, and a downloaded version of ViewNX took care of simple cropping chores.
Although we tend to prefer the overall richness and texture of photos taken with Canon point-and-shoots, the images of the S710 were right on the money. Colors were as lifelike as could be, with a very accurate color palette; you’ll be happy with the results. Although some will chuckle at the absurdity of a 14-megapixel camera, you won’t once you see the excellent detail. Shots of an ornate church front door showed all of curls of the wrought iron and intricate stone carvings.
People shots were also good, with face priority working well to properly expose peoples’ faces. The video clips were just OK at 640×480 pixels, but in 2009, high-def and optical zooming – not digital – should be part of the package.
Nikon Coolpix S710
In these recessionary days, forget the $379 list price; the S710 is readily available for under $299 online. At that price, or less, the camera is good for methodical photographers who compose their shots and don’t mind waiting as the S710 saves image files. Just make sure you learn how to quickly adjust the screen when you’re in bright sunshine. In burst mode, the camera does a good job capturing fast action, but stops after 4 frames. So if shooting a lot of sports is high on your to-do list, look elsewhere. The S710 is really a mixed bag, since it’s not quick enough for a huge number of spur-of-the-moment shots, and doesn’t have DSLR image quality or interchangeable lens flexibility. But what can you really expect for under $300? Of course we want everything, but like the Canon G10, the S710 is for the slow-and-steady shutterbug. In those circumstances, the results will be more than pleasing.
- Good 14MP images
- Three cheers for wide-angle lenses!
- Fairly noise-free images to 800 ISO
- Solid supplied software
- Very slow response
- Difficult to brighten screen
- Cramped control layout
- No HD video or optical zoom in movie mode