Nikon Coolpix S1100pj Review
The Nikon Coolpix S1100pj is the world's second camera with an integrated projector, replacing last year's S1000PJ model. The new S1100pj features a 40 percent brighter 14-lumen internal projector complete with a built-in stand. Other improvements include a touch screen interface that allows you to focus and take a picture or video simply by touching the relevant area on the screen, slide show function that plays photos with music, and one-touch HD 720p movie recording with easy projection playback. The 14.1-megapixel Coolpix S1100pj also has a 5x zoom lens with Vibration Reduction and a 3 inch touch-sensitive LCD monitor with 460k dots. The Nikon Coolpix S1100pj is available in black, silver, green and purple priced at $349.95 / €414.00 / £349.99.
Ease of Use
The difference between the Nikon Coolpix S1100pj and a regular compact camera becomes obvious as soon as you take a look at the front of the camera. That's because the S1100pj 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 in 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.
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, encircled by a dial that you use to focus the projector lens manually.
The rest of the S1100pj looks more like a normal compact. The rear panel features a 3-inch touchscreen TFT LCD screen with a resolution of 460k dots, a big improvement on the size and resolution of the S1100pj's screen, plus Movie Record, Shooting Mode and Playback buttons. The camera's speakers, flash indicator and infrared receiver for the supplied ML-L4 remote control unit are also found on the back.
The S1100pj's user interface relies mostly on the 3.5 inch touchscreen, sharing a lot in common with the Coolpix S80 that we recently reviewed. The screen's much-improved resolution of 460,000 dots is fitting for a 3 inch display. In practice, we found the touchscreen control system to be effective in terms of both speed and sensitivity, although we still sometimes found ourselves in a menu we had not wished to enter, while at other times we had to push a "button" repeatedly until it did what we wanted it to do.
The Nikon S1100pj runs on a dedicated Lithium-ion battery, and records images as well as videos on SD / SDHC / SDXC cards. The battery and card share a common compartment, whose door is found on the bottom of the camera. The number of images that can be captured on a single charge is a rather average 220, though the actual figure may vary with the amount of flash and zoom usage.
The rudimentary but still effective built-in stand for projection is a new addition to the S1100pj, tilting the camera back and keeping it stable on a level surface. The tripod socket is located right next to the stand and battery compartment, so changing batteries or cards is not possible while the S1100pj is mounted on a tripod. 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 S1100pj's shooting lens is identical to its predecessor's - 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 S1100pj 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 S1100pj 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 four main shooting modes on the Nikon Coolpix S1100pj, accessible via a dedicated button marked with a green camera icon, which include Easy Auto, Auto, Scene, and Smart Portrait. Somewhat confusingly, Auto is the mode that gives you the most control over the shooting process. 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 set the ISO speed manually, which is something you cannot do in the other modes. Functions and features accessible in this mode include the self-timer, flash mode, image quality setting, exposure compensation, touch shooting, macro, drive mode, white balance, and zoom. All of these functions have clearly labelled virtual buttons, which you can operate at a touch of a finger.
The Easy Auto mode is similar to Auto, but with less user control options provided. 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 Smart Portrait mode, 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 S1100pj 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 S1100pj 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.
The Nikon Coolpix S1100pj features an improved 720p HD video mode. The video features are basic: you can turn touch shooting on or off, switch the macro mode on or off, and set the movie quality (720p HD at 30 frames per second, VGA or QVGA at either 30 or 15fps). You cannot manually set white balance, gain or exposure compensation, neither is there an AE lock function. The 5x optical zoom can thankfully be used while filming, an improvement on the S1000pj, but the sound is still mono. The clips are compressed using the Quicktime codec and stored in a MOV container.
The S1100pj allows you to focus and take a picture or video simply by touching the relevant area on the screen. The Touch Shooting "button" brings up a menu with three choices, Touch Shutter, Subject Tracking and Touch AF/AE.
Touch Shutter means that touching the screen at any given point of the frame will result in the camera's focusing on that point and immediately snapping a picture upon achieving focus. This is quite a fast way of snapping a photo - while focusing speeds are not SLR class, the fact that you can pick a focus point by simply touching the desired part of the frame, and then not have to even touch the shutter release to initiate autofocus and image capture means that the entire picture taking process may actually take less time than with an SLR. On the flip side, enabling this function may cause you to take a few photos involuntarily.
By contrast, Touch AF/AE is simply AF point selection by touch, which still requires you to press the shutter release to actually take a shot. This was the setting I ended up using most of the time. Finally, Subject Tracking lets you pick a subject by touch, and allows the camera to follow that subject if it moves within the frame. This feature works best when the selected subject is - or has - a human face.
You can access the Setup menu by pressing the icon at the bottom of the touch-screen and then selecting the spanner icon. This is where you can turn off Vibration Reduction when shooting from a tripod, set the date and time, mute or enable all electronic sounds, switch off the digital zoom function, format the memory card, and access a few less important or rarely used features.
While the S1100pj's gesture and multi-touch support come into play in some of the shooting modes too, where exposure compensation, colour temperature or saturation can be set using a sweeping gesture, depending on the selected shooting mode, it is in playback where they can really be exploited. Going from one image to the next is done by way of a sweep of a finger, while you can zoom in and out of a photo by pinching. Apple iPhone users will be familiar with this, but it has to be noted that none of these effects is as immediate or fluid as on an iPhone, for example. The Nikon S1100pj has an orientation sensor, and can rotate the images and icons based on how you are holding the camera.
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. Quite surprisingly, the camera does not display any meaningful exposure data along with the photo you are viewing; nor does it provide a histogram to judge exposure (there is no live histogram in record mode, either).
On the other hand, there are quite a few post-capture image modification / retouching functions, including D-lighting, stretching, perspective control, six creative effects - Color, Soft, Selective Color, Cross Screen, Fisheye and Miniature - plus Glamor Retouch, which applies adjustments only to faces in an image. You can also decorate your photos with hearts, stars and other shapes, add a frame, draw and paint over the top, view a slideshow with music, insert a date stamp, rate your images out of five, downsize them for Web resolution or add a voice memo.
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So far the S1100pj sounds like a pretty run-of-the-mill compact – but let us not forget that it has one big trick 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 S1100pj closer to, or further from, the wall or canvas in order to achieve the desired image size. Finally, adjust focus using the circular dial on the top of the camera.
The throw distance can be set from 26cm to 2.4m, while the longer dimension of the projected picture can vary between 5 and 47 inches. 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 14-megapixel camera that projects a 0.3-megapixel image. That said we didn't notice any obvious pixelation, but it was clear that the image quality from the S1100pj's integrated digital projector is no match for a classic 35mm slide. Not only is its resolution lower but the projected image is also less bright and the colours are less vibrant too, although the 14-lumen internal projector is a marked improvement on the original S1000pj model.
Nikon have also added the ability to project any data that is stored on a PC and being viewed on the computer screen via its USB connector, instantly making the S1100pj viable as a relatively inexpensive and portable device for business users - a clever move on their part which should widen this camera's user base.
Although the Nikon Coolpix S1100pj has a small built-in projector stand, it's a much better idea to mount it on a tripod instead when possible. That's because pictures are projected at a slight upward angle when the stand is deployed, which causes a keystoning effect. It is also recommended to use the supplied remote control unit when using the S1100pj as a projector. 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 is therefore a good idea for extended use.
The camera comes with a comprehensive manual that is also downloadable as a PDF from the Nikon website. It is quite thorough and very well cross-referenced. Nikon 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.