Monday, June 20, 2011

Why I'm Not Buying The CoolPix S60 Camera!

The Good: Light, Generally good focus, Generally intuitive controls
The Bad: Difficult to get a decent picture, Odd button positions, Not a great number of options.
The Basics: A disappointment for a serious photographer, the Nikon Coolpix S60 camera has a lot of flash, but little functionality to recommend it.

I am not one for taking pictures, but my dad has had a lifelong obsession with photography and my wife often uses our workspace for her photostudio as I type away at my reviews. She has an old camera which has emotional baggage and technical glitches, so more often than not, she uses my Fuji Finepix camera (reviewed here!). As a serious photographer, she needs something better (which is something I'm working on providing her!).

So, today while out looking at cameras, I made a point of checking out the Nikon Coolpix S60 digital camera. After two hours of rigorous testing of the S60, I made a choice that I could have made within five minutes of first picking this camera up; we weren't about to purchase it. It is important to note right from the outset that my partner is a serious photographer and my few forays into photography have left me with a pretty decent grasp of what is required out of a camera and what the results of our photography ought to be. The whole digital revolution with in-home photostudios is not something I rail about, nor do I especially miss film. But there is a powerful difference between serious photography and the Myspace style of instant photography popularized by social networking sites and cameraphones.

The Nikon Coolpix S60 is a glorified cameraphone without the telephone.

First, the basics: the Coolpix S60 is a digital camera and it is a small, light one. In fact, it easily fits in a pocketbook as it is 3 13/16" wide, 2 3/8" tall and only 7/8" thick! This would make it a great camera for tourists if only it were a better camera! The entire back panel of the camera is a touchscreen LCD screen, which makes the analogy to a cameraphone an easy one. The "view details" provides a sufficient level of photogeek information for buyers, so my review shall focus mostly on my experiences with the camera and why it is such an easy "not recommend" for us.

The Coolpix S60 comes in several color options from a metallic raspberry to black to a tan color. This makes it easily a stylish accessory, but no better a product for taking photographs with. With the different color shells, though, it does seem to be trying to squeeze into the same conceptual niche of style whereby new cellphones are released with no significant functional changes, but different color shells. This is supposed to be stylish, slick and fashionable. These are not words great photographers often associate with their cameras. For that, we'd want words like "functional," "durable," and "programmable." With my experiences with the Coolpix S60, the camera failed two of the three of those (I wasn't about to subject it to something where it could get broken and I could not get a refund!).

What Nikon does right with this: the Coolpix S60 comes with everything needed to make the camera work and get ones pictures off the camera. PC users will find the software to upload and manipulate the images one takes on this camera easy-to-use and included in a cd-rom that comes with the camera. The camera also comes with a USB cable to connect the camera to one's computer (there is a USB port on the camera's right side, when holding the camera and looking at the back of it), a strap that loops onto a loop that comes off the camera right below the USB port, there is a lithium-ion battery, a stylus, and battery charger. At its worst, Nikon includes everything needed to actually use this camera right in the box. What it doesn't include is a tripod, which seems to be the most necessary accessory for this particular camera.

Using the camera is fairly easy. There is an on/off button atop the camera that boots up the camera within fifteen seconds of being depressed. Here is the first functional problem with the Coolpix S60; the on/off button is right next to the shutter control (the button one hits to actually take the photograph) and they feel similar, especially when one is moving quickly. Yes, that means that during one's period of adjusting to using this camera there is a better than fair chance that when they attempt to take a photograph, they will instead turn the camera off.

When the camera is on, the back panel lights up as a touchscreen and the pictures may be taken by simply looking at the back of the camera and pressing the button on the top of the camera. Physically pressing the button on top is the only way to take pictures I found - there are no controls on the touchscreen that take pictures so there is no risk while one is programming the camera that it will take unwanted photographs.

Here is the crux of my problem with the Coolpix S60 digital camera: it takes blurry pictures. Granted that there is a period of adjustment while one learns how to use a new camera and that every camera has its quirks, but in the two hours we used the S60, we did not get a single picture - save a series where we used a tripod - where the images were not blurred. This is not only unfortunate, but it is unforgivable for a camera in this price range and a serious design flaw. I attribute it to the camera's lightness and the resistance on the shutter control. My dad trained me to breathe while taking photographs and I had been trained to breathe while firing rifles and pistols, so I understand the principles of breath control while taking pictures. The resistance the shutter control has, at least on new S60s is so significant that when one tries to take a photograph, the image blurs because the camera moves. Even after two hours of pretty constant picture-taking, the S60 did not yield a decent photograph. Ironically, because of the small touchscreen, there were five pictures - in the middle of the photosession, not at the end, which is where one would expect clear pictures if user error were the main contributing factor - where the images appeared clear on the screen, but when the images were uploaded to my computer, my partner and I found the images had enough blur to them that they were unusable.

The fact that the pictures were blurry is somewhat ironic considering that one of the elements of the Coolpix S60 that initially impressed me was the speed of the autofocus and light adjustment. Automatically, the camera will focus with only a few millisecond's delay even when whipping the camera around fairly fast. As soon as I stopped, it seemed like the autofocus was always adjusting and over ninety-five percent of the time, it focused on the object or person I wanted to take the photograph of.

There was a slightly greater lag time when it came to the light adjustment. The camera automatically adjusts to different lighting scenarios, most notably the change between indoor (artificial fluorescent) and outdoor (sun) light. The light adjustment tries to prevent washout and keep colors looking as close to how they do in reality. Herein lies another problem with the Coolpix S60; the touchpad screen was quick to show color adjustment from changes in lighting conditions very quickly, However, when one takes the photograph, I quickly discovered the colors in the final picture seldom matched the colors on the screen before the picture was taken or reality. This was an especially problematic camera for getting whites to render well. In almost all conditions, especially indoors with fluorescent lighting, the camera shifted whites to a more yellow color, so everything looked as if it were nicotine stained. This is a terrible deficiency and not one that was solved by changing the lighting conditions (i.e. flash type) on the camera.

As far as that goes, the controls on the Coolpix S60 are generally intuitive. On the camera, one may zoom in - the zoom is only five times closer, so this is not like a telephoto lens and there is no way to attach a better lens to this camera - and manually adjust the type of flash used. This includes such things as red eye adjustment, a manual use of flash (overriding the camera's sense of proper lighting) or flash off for situations where one does not wish to draw attention to themselves and their photography. All of these controls are easily accessed using menus that pop up when one hits the "Disp" (display) button on the screen with the stylus or one's finger.

But the controls are less intuitive at other moments in problematic ways. When deleting photographs from the Coolpix S60, I did not find a way to wipe the entire memory at once. Instead, I had to go through image by image and delete them. This is time consuming and annoying and while there might be a way to mass execute one's unwanted pictures, it was not intuitive and by the time I wanted to wipe a whole card, I knew I was not going to be keeping this camera. As a result, it seemed foolish for me to check the manual. The point here is that the ease of operation is not always easy.

As for the durability, this seems generally durable, but my testing was not rigorous enough to speak fairly on that. The camera does have a one-year warranty, but I suspect my usage of the camera would have been so low that it would have expired before I ever cashed in on said warranty.

As for programmability, this too was not intuitive. There is a way to program the camera to take photographs on a timer, but the options on the touch screen were, again, not intuitive. When I went through the process, I was able to get the autotimer to run and take a (blurry) picture, but it was a series of steps that did not have options as quick as the flash adjustment to make.

The Coolpix S60 takes .avi movies up to thirty seconds long and those were fair, but not terribly exciting for me.

The Coolpix S60 looks good hanging from tourists' belts, but it doesn't take the ideal photographs, especially under conditions tourists are likely to be in.

For other camera and camera product reviews, please check out my takes on:
Nikon P5000 Digital Camera
Nikon L16 Digital Camera
Canon UL-BPS511 battery


For other electronics reviews, visit my index page on the subject!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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