Nikon Coolpix S1000pj Review
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The Nikon Coolpix S1000pj is the world’s first camera with an integrated projector. A supplied remote control allows you to wirelessly operate both the projector and usual camera functions, and a simple projection stand is supplied for optimal viewing. The more conventional features include a 12-megapixel sensor, a 5x zoom lens with Vibration Reduction and a 2.7” wide viewing-angle TFT LCD monitor. The camera also features Nikon’s Scene Auto Selector, Subject Tracking and Smile Timer technologies as well as face recognition and a blink-proof mode. The Nikon Coolpix S1000pj is available in black or silver for $429.95 / £399.99 / €485.00.
Ease of Use
The difference between the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj and a regular compact becomes obvious as soon as you take a look at the camera’s front plate. That’s because the Nikon has not one, but two lenses – one for taking photos, and another one for projecting them onto a plain wall or canvas. The former is near the top-right corner when viewed front on, shielded by a sliding lens cover when the camera is turned off. The latter is in a more central position below the slimline flash unit. Below the projector lens you find four small holes for the built-in microphone.
On the top plate, there is a large shutter release surrounded by the zoom rocker, a small and recessed power button and two other controls not normally found on a camera. One of them is a button that activates the integrated projector, while the other one is a slider that you use to focus the projector lens manually.
The rest of the camera looks like a normal compact. The rear panel features a 2.7” TFT LCD screen with a resolution of approximately 230,000 dots, plus a Shooting Mode, a Playback, a Menu and a Delete button as well as a standard four-way pad with centred OK button. The flash mode, exposure compensation, macro and self-timer functions are mapped onto the Up, Right, Down and Left buttons, respectively. These controls are all quite small – we thought the engineers should have been able to make somewhat better use of the – admittedly limited – space available. The camera’s speakers, flash indicator and infrared receiver for the supplied ML-L4 remote control unit are also found in the back.
The Nikon S1000pj runs on a dedicated Lithium-ion battery, and records images as well as videos on SD / SDHC cards. SDXC media are not supported. Battery and card share a common compartment, whose door is found on the bottom of the camera. The tripod socket is located right next to the compartment door, so changing batteries or cards is not possible while the S1000pj is mounted on a tripod. On the other side of the battery/card compartment door is a connector for the optional AC adapter. The only other connection port is the A/V / USB terminal, which is found on the right-hand side of the camera (if viewed from the back).
The taking lens is a 5x zoom of the internally stacked variety, so it does not extend upon power-up or zooming. In 35mm equivalency, it spans focal lengths ranging from 28mm to 140mm. Aperture-wise it is not particularly fast; its brightness being f/3.9 at the wide end and f/5.8 at full telephoto. Like most small-sensor digicams, the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj lacks an iris diaphragm. In very strong daylight it employs a built-in neutral density filter to avoid overexposure, but this obviously has no effect on depth of field, as the physical size of the aperture does not change.
The S1000pj has Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) feature on board to prevent blurring from camera shake. You won’t notice anything unusual except you can take sharp photos at shutter speeds that are critically slow for the focal length used. Note that Nikon recommends to turn off the VR function when the camera is mounted on a tripod.
There are five shooting modes on offer, accessible via a dedicated button marked with a green camera icon. These include Auto, Scene, Smart Portrait, Subject Tracking and Movie. Somewhat confusingly – though in line with some of Nikon’s other compacts –, Auto is the mode that gives you the most control over the shooting process. No, you don’t get to set shutter speed or aperture directly – the latter would be impossible given the lack of a diaphragm anyway – but you can at least set the ISO speed manually. Other functions accessible in this mode include the flash mode, exposure compensation, macro mode, self-timer, resolution and image quality, white balance, drive mode, colour options and AF area selection.
The options for the latter include face priority, auto and manual. In the default face priority AF mode, the camera tries to find a human face within the frame and focuses on it if it detects one. If no face is detected, the camera defaults to auto area selection, meaning it will try to focus on the subject closest to the camera. If manual AF area selection is enabled, you can choose the AF point yourself from 99 available positions via the four-way buttons after hitting OK. To use these buttons for setting the flash mode, exposure compensation, macro mode or the self-timer, press OK again. Another thing you can have in Auto mode but not in the other shooting modes is a framing grid. This aids you in composition and can help you with keeping your verticals vertical and your horizon horizontal.
The camera also has sixteen pre-programmed scene modes as well as a Scene Auto Selector. The scene modes on offer include Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-up, Food, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Backlight and Panorama Assist. The accessibility and behaviour of the various shooting functions (such as flash mode or autofocus area selection) depends on which shooting mode you are in. By enabling the Scene Auto Selector, you entrust the camera with picking the right scene mode at its own discretion. In this case, it can only choose from Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, Night Landscape, Close-Up and Backlight.
In the shooting mode called Smart Portrait, the face priority and smile timer functions are activated. In other words, the camera hunts for human faces, keeps track of them, and if it detects a smile, it even fires off the shutter for you. The S1000pj can detect up to three faces, but it will always focus on the one closest to the centre of the frame and will only take a shot if a smile appears on that particular face. You have no way of telling the camera to focus on and monitor a different face within the frame. You can, however, take a picture any time you want to, by pressing the shutter release button as normal.
In Smart Portrait Mode, you can also have the camera digitally soften the skin of people automatically after capture. The level of skin softening can be specified by the user. The default is Normal, with a High and a Low option also available. Skin softening can also be turned off. Furthermore, the S1000pj has a blink-proof mode, in which two shots are taken in rapid succession, and if the subject's eyes happen to be closed in one of them, the camera discards that photo, while keeping the other one. The flash is disabled in blink-proof mode, as it cannot recycle fast enough.
Although as we have seen the Coolpix S1000pj has a Sports scene mode available, the photographer can also opt for a shooting mode called Subject Tracking when photographing subjects in motion. In this mode, the user is required to first align the subject with the AF area indicator in the middle of the frame, then press OK to tell the camera to track that subject as it moves around. During subject tracking, the camera focuses continuously and you can therefore hear the focus motor doing its job. Somewhat surprisingly, a half-press of the shutter release button still causes the camera to refocus. Once focus is locked via the half-press, the camera stops tracking the subject, so you need to depress the shutter release fully as quickly as possible to avoid the subject moving out of focus. In other words, while the concept of the Subject Tracking mode is good, the implementation is not without faults.
The Nikon Coolpix S1000pj has a rather basic movie mode. Resolution can be either VGA (640x480 pixels) or QVGA (320x240 pixels), while the frame rate can be either 30fps or 15fps. No form of HD movie recording is on offer. The optical zoom and exposure compensation are disabled while filming. Up to 2x digital zoom is available, and macro mode can be enabled or disabled before recording a clip. Focusing occurs at the beginning of the clip, after which focus remains locked until the end of recording. A single take cannot be longer than 25 minutes.
Once you've captured a photo or a movie clip, you can enter Playback mode via its dedicated button. The user can choose from a number of viewing modes, including full frame, magnified view, and index views of 4, 9 or 16 thumbnails. A calendar display is also available. In Auto Sort mode, pictures can be viewed according to the type of scene they depict in the camera's judgement. Alternatively, you can assign images to albums manually.
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Your photos can also be retouched in camera after capture, though the options are limited to a quick contrast and saturation boost, post-capture D-lighting (lightening of deep shadows), skin softening and image downsizing, as well as a few combinations of the above. Surprisingly, there is no post-capture red-eye removal function, so if you have forgotten to set the flash mode to red-eye reduction when taking the shot, you can only remove it once you have transferred the photo to a computer. You can go back from Playback to Record mode at any time by pressing either the Shooting Mode button or the shutter release.
So far the S1000pj sounds like a run-of-the-mill compact – but let us not forget that one big trick it has up its sleeve: the integrated projector! As mentioned earlier, you activate the projector by pressing its dedicated button on the top left of the camera. Then you move the device closer to, or further from, the wall or canvas in order to achieve the desired image size. Finally, adjust focus using the slider on the top of the camera. The throw distance can be set from 26cm to 2m, while the longer dimension of the projected picture can vary between ~13cm and 1m. The apparent brightness and contrast of the image obviously depends a lot on the ambient light and the distance between the camera and the wall/canvas.
The output resolution is only 640x480 pixels – so you have a 12-megapixel camera that projects a 0.3-megapixel image! That said I did not notice any obvious pixelation, but it was clear that the image quality from the S1000pj's integrated digital projector is no match for a classic 35mm slide. Not only is its resolution much lower but the projected image is also a lot less bright and the colours are far less vibrant too. Viewing a movie clip is a totally different experience though: the low resolution and the faded colours lend a decidedly retro feel to the show – it's as if you were watching an amateur film shot on a Super 8 camera in the seventies! Quite addictive I would say.
Although the Nikon Coolpix S1000pj ships with a small projector stand, it's a much better idea to mount it on a tripod instead, if / when possible. That's because pictures are projected at a slight upward angle when the camera is placed on the stand, which causes a keystoning effect. It is also recommended to use the supplied remote control unit when using the S1000pj as a projector. It will make your job a lot easier. Finally, be reminded that the projector is rather power-hungry – it will deplete a freshly charged battery in about an hour. Purchasing the separately sold AC adapter might therefore be a good idea.
The camera comes with a 172-page manual that is also downloadable as a PDF from the Nikon USA website. It is quite thorough and very well cross-referenced. Nikon also supplies a Software Suite CD that includes Nikon Transfer, Nikon View NX and Panorama Maker. The first two are standard Nikon camera / imaging applications, while the latter is used to stitch together images shot in the Panorama Assist scene mode.
In summary the Nikon S1000pj is a pretty average digital compact camera with a twist that makes it an interesting and so far unique proposition in a very crowded marketplace.