Nikon Coolpix S1200pj Review
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The Nikon Coolpix S1200pj is the world's third camera with an integrated projector, replacing last year's S1100pj model. The new S1200pj has a 40 percent brighter internal projector and three times greater projection contrast than its predecessor thanks to the new three-lamp (red, green and blue LEDs) system which can reproduce the entire sRGB gamut and has a contrast ratio of 200:1. Other improvements include connectivity to an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch via a dedicated cable, a 3 inch, 460k-dot TFT LCD monitor, 18 scene modes and a range of special effects and digital filters. The S1200pj's lens is a 28-140mm equivalent, 5x zoom with Vibration Reduction and an aperture range of f/3.9-5.8, while the sensor is a 1/2.3-inch CCD with a total pixel count of 14.48 million. The Nikon Coolpix S1200pj is available now in black and pink priced at $429.95 / €464.00 / £399.99.
Ease of Use
The new Nikon Coolpix S1200pj has a lot of similarities to its predecessor, the S1100pj, in terms of its form and function, so some of the comments that we made in our review of that model apply equally to the S1200pj.
The main difference between the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj and a normal compact camera becomes obvious as soon as you take a look at the front. That's because the S1200pj 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, which is now protected by a large vertically sliding switch helpfully labelled "Projector" and which even more helpfully also protects the projector and turns it on and off. There are also two tiny holes either side of the flash for the camera's speakers, an infrared receiver for the supplied ML-L4 remote control unit, and the shared self-timer/AF-assist/movie light lamp.
On the top plate there is a large shutter release button surrounded by the responsive zoom rocker switch, a small and recessed power button and one other control that's not normally found on a camera, a dial that you use to manually focus the projector lens.
The rest of the S1200pj looks more like a normal compact. The rear panel now features a 3-inch TFT LCD screen in place of the touchscreen variety that the S1100pj had. It still has a pleasingly high resolution of 460k dots though. The S1200pj's user interface no longer relies touchscreen interface of its predecessor, opting instead for a much more conventional button-driven system. So alongside the screen are more buttons than before, with the Movie Record, Shooting Mode and Playback controls joined by a traditional navigation wheel with an OK button and Menu and Delete buttons. The flash indicator lamp and a useful second infrared receiver are also found on the back. Some of the more frequently used buttons on the rear of the camera are illuminated during projection, making it easier to use them in the dark.
The Nikon S1200pj 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.
There's a rudimentary but effective built-in stand for projection on the S1200pj, 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 S1200pj is mounted on a tripod. The A/V / USB terminal is found on the right-hand side of the camera (if viewed from the back), now accompanied by a socket that connects the S1200pj to an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch via a dedicated cable (supplied in the box).
There are some limitations to this connectivity though - you have to playback still images as part of a slideshow, rather than individually, you have to run the Apple device in NTSC and widescreen, and the documentation ominously states "if you upgrade the software or firmware of you Apple device, the camera may not project properly". Needless to say my iPhone running iOS 5 failed to project any images via the S1200pj.
The S1200pj'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 S1200pj 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 S1200pj 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.
In addition, there are a range of other functions and modes that also help to prevent camera shake. High ISO light sensitivity up to ISO 6400 reduces the risk of blurred images, while the Motion Detection option automatically detects and compensates for both camera and subject movement. The Best Shot Selector (BSS) mode automatically selects the sharpest of up to 10 sequential shots.
The Night Portrait mode takes consecutive shots which expose the portrait subject and background separately, then immediately combines the exposures to create a blur-free portrait. The Night Landscape mode combines a series of five consecutive shots taken at a fast shutter speed into a single image with reduced noise, useful when taking handheld shots. The Backlighting mode offers an in-camera high dynamic range (HDR) function, merging several images of the same scene to achieve a single image with a broad range of tonal detail. All of these options and the Vibration Reduction system can be used at the same time if so desired.
There are four main shooting modes on the Nikon Coolpix S1200pj, accessible via a dedicated button marked with a green camera icon, which include Easy Auto, Scene, the new Special Effects mode , Smart Portrait and finally Auto. 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, macro, drive mode, white balance, and zoom. New to the S6200 is the Effects mode, which shoots both still images or movies using a special effect, such as Soft Focus and Nostalgic Sepia.
The Easy Auto mode is similar to Auto, identifying the type of subject and automatically applying the optimum scene mode, but with less user control options provided. The camera also has 17 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, Black and White Copy, Backlighting, Panorama Assist and Pet Portrait. 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 Backlighting.
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 S1200pj 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 S1200pj 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 S1200pj features a 720p HD video mode. The video features are rather basic: you can choose from single or full-time autofocusing, turn the movie light on or off, switch the macro mode on or off, turn wind reduction on or off, set enhanced resolution to Auto or off, and set the movie quality (1280x720p, 960x540 or 640x480 all at 30fps). 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 but the sound is still mono. The clips are compressed using the Quicktime codec and stored in a MOV container.
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 set the print order, view a slideshow with music, protect certain images, rotate and downsize them for Web resolution, add a voice memo and copy them to or from the internal memory or memory card.
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So far the S1200pj 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 sliding the protective cover open on the front of the camera. Then you move the S1200pj 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 top of the camera.
The throw distance can be set from 26cm to 3.1m, while the longer dimension of the projected picture can vary between 5 and 60 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. The 20-lumen internal projector is a marked improvement on the S1100pj 14-lumen model. while the switch from a single-lamp projection system to a three-lamp (red, green and blue LEDs) system means that the S1200pj is capable of projecting roughly the entire sRGB gamut with a contrast ratio of 200:1, producing a much more vivid image than its predecessor.
Nikon have also retained 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 S1200pj 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 S1200pj 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 S1200pj 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.