Nikon Coolpix S6900 Review

November 6, 2014 | Gavin Stoker | |

Introduction

The Nikon Coolpix S6900 is billed as the ultimate compact selfie camera. The 16 megapixel Nikon S6900 features a vari-angle LCD screen, two shutter-release buttons and a built-in camera stand, while Gesture Control makes it possible to shoot photos and movies at the wave of a hand. There’‘s also built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, high-speed continuous shooting at up to 8fps and a special Glamour mode. The Nikon Coolpix S6900 costs £199.99 and is available in black or white.

Ease of Use

Announced prior to Photokina alongside Nikon’s flashier D750 DSLR – and not to be confused with the earlier S9600 – the Coolpix S6900 is a 16 effective megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor-incorporating compact coupled with a 12x optical zoom. The point-and-shooter features the relative novelty of a flip-down stand to enable ‘selfies’ when resting the camera on a tabletop, or other suitably flat surface. Despite that, the S6900 remains a portably slim model for one that additionally includes a flip-out and swivel vari-angle LCD screen. This can be fully rotated to enable viewing by the subject stood in front of the lens.

As one might have expected from a camera via which Nikon is trying to court the self-portrait obsessive, the camera comes with phone and tablet compatible Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity options on board, plus is priced at a reasonable sounding £199 as far as the UK goes. The S6900 is also unusual amongst compacts for the fact that the camera features not one but two shutter release buttons – one on the top plate as normal, with a second on the faceplate, situated just left of the lens as you’re looking at it. It transpires that there are actually three methods of firing off a still, since the 3-inch, 460K-dot resolution LCD here is also a touch screen, meaning that a shot can be captured with a tap of the display. This feature appears a tad sensitive, as we found it all too easy to accidentally fire off a shot simply when in the process of handling the camera and a finger brushing the screen.

The light sensitivity range on the S6900 is as modest as we’d expect from a sub £200 snapshot with bog standard 1/2.3-inch sensor, in stretching from ISO125 to 6400 equivalent. With Expeed C2 processor on board, power comes courtesy of the standard rechargeable lithium ion battery, replenished with the aid of USB lead. This is either hooked up to an available USB port on your computer, or to the USB equipped mains plug, which also enables the charging of battery in-camera.

Nikon Coolpix S6900
Front of the Nikon Coolpix S6900

It’s quickly apparent upon picking up and playing with the S6900 that this is an auto-everything shooter, but with enough gimmicks attached as described above to attempt to hook the casual observer. The 12x optical zoom shoehorned into its slim chassis is undoubtedly very useful for either fledgling or seasoned photographers, even if we did notice some obvious softness in the corners of frame of pictures captured at maximum wide-angle setting: here the equivalent of 25mm in 35mm film terms. Still, with focal length running up to 300mm at the telephoto end, the S6900 is very much as a jack-of-all-trades option offering a wide ranging of framing choices straight out of the pocket. The zoom lens is supported by lens shift stabilization.

So let’s more closely examine the features and functions of the camera itself. From the front, apart from the aforementioned secondary shutter release button, the black liveried camera appears almost conventional. We get a large and prominent lens taking centre stage, offering an aperture range that runs from a not especially bright, but OK for its class f/3.3 to f/6.3 at maximum telephoto end. We also get a thin sliver of a window housing the built-in flash, plus a self-timer/AF assist window top right of the lens itself. Despite the budget price the camera is not without style. It looks the part in spite of its affordability, the matt black finish lending it a more serious air than most point and shoots possess. Build wise, the camera also feels reassuringly solid in the palm in spite of its unassuming proportions and price. Official dimensions are 99.4x58x27.9mm and the camera weighs just 181g with battery and optional memory card inserted. There is also a small 30MB internal capacity out of the box (and 20GB of Nikon Cloud Storage space online).

The top plate layout of the S6900 is also very familiar, with a narrow but relatively long and clearly marked on/off button sitting between a dedicated Wi-Fi activation button and then the largest control of the lot: the shutter release button encircled by a lever for operating the spring-loaded zoom, which offers up a raised and rough-ended front lip to provide a point of purchase for the forefinger. Just to the right of the shutter release button we find a dedicated record control for Full HD 1920x1080 pixels video with stereo sound (allowing the use of the optical zoom). Like the power button this latter control is inset into the top plate to avoid accidental operation; you have to press down fully with a fingernail to activate this Full HD recording function.

Nikon Coolpix S6900
Rear of the Nikon Coolpix S6900

The Nikon is quick to respond too – for the most part at least. Press down on the power button and the lens rapidly extends to maximum wideangle setting from its formerly retracted position, the rear LCD twitching into life a mere blink-of-an-eye later. So within two seconds or so the user can be squeezing down on the shutter release in anticipation of capturing the first shot. Contrast detection AF is impressively quick for a pocket compact too, locking onto target in a fraction of a second. Writing time is a little slower however; with full resolution 16MP JPEG images committed to removable SD memory card in around four to five seconds while the screen displays a preview of the just captured image.

The back of the camera is given over entirely to the LCD screen. Given that the market for the £199 model is probably the smartphone user who will be used to a touch display as the prime means of altering settings, it’s no surprise that the top plate controls are the only physical buttons on the S6900. Perhaps because of the fact that screen size is smaller than the average smartphone at 3-inches, Nikon has thoughtfully provided large on-screen buttons within its touch display menus too.

The initial user interface is simply presented. There are buttons left and right of screen upon power up that quickly disappear from view, leaving just a square ‘display’ icon bottom right of screen via which to recall them, and so the image before your lens filling the full frame. Tap anywhere else on the screen and you end up automatically capturing an image via touch shutter control.

Nikon Coolpix S6900
Tilting LCD Screen

Having re-called the display, a self-explanatory ‘menu’ button is presented on the right hand side of the screen. A press of this brings up the shooting mode menu for stills capture, which again is fairly basic – or indeed straightforward – however you want to spin it. Within this mode we get the opportunity to determine image size and resolution, ranging from the full 16 megapixels incrementally down to a VGA 640x480 pixels. Interestingly, apart from the standard default 4;3, there is the ability to shoot in 1:1 aspect ratio within the tile-like grid of presented options, albeit with a drop to 12 megapixels as we are basically implementing a crop of the image. There is a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio option too, also 12 megapixels in size. Manually selectable ISO and colour options are also to be found within the same shooting mode menu, selections implemented with a press of an OK button bottom right of the display. Here the default setting is, naturally, ‘standard’ colour, with vivid, black and white, sepia and cyanotype being the other visual choices.

AF area mode can also be switched within the same menu – from face priority to centre weighted, subject tracking or ‘target finding’ AF. Auto focus can further be swapped between single shot AF and full time AF. Furthermore a ‘Quick Effects’ option can be activated or left dormant. The latter is something that alters the image post capture – like using an effects filter on a smartphone, for those who want to ape Instagram-type effects. As this is applied post capture, there is obviously the ability to scroll back through your shots and apply the effects to images taken several days ago, not merely those ‘in the moment’. With this effects mode selected we can choose from a pop art style effect, super vivid option, along with painting, photo illustration, high key, low key, toy camera, cross process (with red, yellow, green or blue filter), along with soft portrait, fisheye and miniature effects filters. In total there are a whopping 33 effects to choose from, so, whatever the shooting scenario, there is little chance of any amateur photographer being stuck for inspiration or ideas as regards the ‘post production’ of the image.

Video (including the ability to activate noise reduction), Wi-Fi and set up options are also navigated to and implemented via a press of the virtual menu key on the S6900, while continuous shooting of up to 8fps at full resolution can also be accessed, along with Nikon’s Best Shot Selector (BSS) feature for the uninitiated. The set up menu allows the digital zoom option to be deactivated to avoid any image artifacts, whilst sound settings fortunately allow the rather loud button sound to be switched off entirely, which one can also do for the (less intrusive) shutter if so desired. Here a blink warning can also be activated and all currently implemented camera settings reset if required.

Nikon Coolpix S6900
Integrated Stand

Moving on, and beneath the white text on cler background ‘Menu’ icon is another one denoting a familiar camera icon in pale green. Here we find the camera’s default auto capture mode setting and more besides – including scene auto selector, manually selectable scene mode options – of which there are 20 in total. These comprise the usual handful of portrait, landscape, fireworks, pet portraits and panorama options – plus a further, shorter list of special effects that appears a tighter selection of the ones that can be otherwise applied with the ‘Quick Effects’ mode selected. These add our Nikon brand favourite feature of high contrast monochrome, whereby with this black and white capture option selected we can ape the output of photographer Anton Corbjin once again.

Staying on the LCD touch screen for a moment, beneath the camera/capture icon we get another self explanatory one for playback, while over on the left hand side of the screen is a row of four further function settings. Top of these is a means of adjusting exposure compensation (+/- 2EV) with a finger swipe of a provided toolbar that neatly lets you see the effects of your adjustment in real time. Directly beneath this finger tap operated button we find one for simply switching the camera’s 2cm macro focus option on or off, and underneath this again a means of selecting the camera’s self timer options (two or ten seconds or off), which come in handy for night shooting and minimising the effects of camera shake. The final control/button in this row of four is for turning the available flash settings on or off. Here we are offered auto flash, auto with red eye reduction, fill flash (always on), and slow synchro settings.

Conspicuous by its absence here is a dedicated delete button – which is always useful to have on any camera, as not every shot we are going to take is going to be a winner. OK, so perhaps locating one on-screen may have led to accidental deletions being performed merely in the process of handling the camera, and we can first enter the menu in playback mode to delete shots – but a short cut of a hard key for this purpose at the top or side of the unit would have been very helpful.

Nikon Coolpix S6900
The Nikon Coolpix S6900 In-hand

Perhaps it’s what’s beneath the screen on the S6900 that counts though – at least in part with regards to the selling of this model, namely the flip out stand via which the camera can be propped up, either in portrait or landscape format to enable table top selfies. It’s a relatively sturdy support allowing the camera to sit nicely upright if angling it in the portrait format and flipping the screen out to one side and then twisting it to face you or your subject. The package is neatly implemented too, with the stand flipping back down and the LCD too, so that they both sit flush to the body – rather like a clamshell style mobile phone of old.

The other features to point out on the S6900 are the two input/output ports hidden under a flap at one side of the device for both HDMI and USB leads. At the bottom of the camera a screw thread for a tripod is provided directly at the mid point beneath the lens rather than the mid point of the camera itself, while the bottom edge also houses the battery compartment that is shared with the slot for optional yet essential SD card.

A battery life of 190 shots per charge for this compact Nikon is obviously fairly modest – meaning that in practical terms if you take it out for the day with you then you’ll want to stick it back on charge in the evening so that you don’t get caught short the following day. But in fairness we should set this minor grumble against the fact that the camera costs less than £200.

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