Nikon Coolpix S3000 Review
The Nikon Coolpix S3000 is a super-slim, stylish and affordable digital compact camera aimed at the point-and-shoot user. With an aluminium body that's just 19mm thick, the Nikon S3000 is available in a wide-range of eye-catching colours. The S3000 features a wide-angle 4x zoom lens with electronic stabilisation, 12 megapixel sensor, 2.7 inch LCD screen, a scene auto selector with 16 modes, Smile Timer function, face-priority autofocus, a skin softening function, and subject tracking auto-focus. The Nikon Coolpix S3000 comes in black, champagne silver, red, blue, orange, magenta or green and retails for £109.99 / $149.95 / €135.
Ease of Use
The Nikon Coolpix S3000 is the cheaper and simpler sibling of the S4000 model that we reviewed earlier in the year, losing that camera's 3 inch touch-screen LCD and 720p High Definition movie recording capability, but otherwise offering the same design and core features. Weighing in at only 116 grams with battery and memory card inserted, the Nikon Coolpix S3000 is a very compact camera. Thanks to its small size and moderate weight, it easily fits into a shirt pocket. In terms of design, it's a good-looking little snapper that successfully blends traditionalism with style.
The front plate is dominated by the lens, which sits fully retracted into the body when the camera is powered off, but extends about an inch or so upon power-up. Covering a 35mm equivalent focal range of 27-108mm, it has a maximum aperture of f/3.2 at the wide end and f/5.9 at full telephoto. Like most small-sensor digicams, the Nikon Coolpix S3000 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.
Notable by its absence is any form of optical / mechanical image stabilisation - this is a glaring omission given that ultra-light cameras like the Coolpix S3000 have little physical inertia and are inherently prone to image blur caused by shaky hands. Instead there's Electronic VR post-processing and a motion detection option which increases the ISO setting to provide a faster shutter speed, both of which ultimately result in poorer image quality.
The only other parts visible when viewing the S3000 front on are the flash, the AF assist lamp and the built-in microphone. The flash is a slim little unit that works quite well as a fill light, but obviously won't light up an entire ballroom. The AF-assist light doubles as the self-timer lamp, while the microphone is there to record mono sound with movies as well as voice memos for stills.
The top of the S3000 features a large shutter release surrounded by a zoom lever, and a small power button that sits flush with the camera's surface. The latter - which can be a bit hard to press due to its size and recessed position - incorporates a tiny LED that lights up when the S3000 is powered up.
On the back of the camera we find the 2.7 inch, 230k dot screen, a flash / charge lamp, four buttons - Shooting Mode , Playback, Menu and Delete - and a traditional four-way navigation pad. These controls essentially replace the S4000's touch-screen interface. The navigation pad provides options for setting the flash, exposure compensation, Macro mode and self-timer.
The full range of flash modes include auto, auto with red-eye reduction, fill flash, slow sync and forced off. Note that the availability of these flash modes varies with the shooting mode and certain other settings. The self-timer options are simpler: 10 seconds, 2 seconds and off. Disappointingly the Macro mode only focuses as close as 8cms to the subject. The OK button in the centre of the four-way controller confirms on-screen menu selections.
The Menu icon brings up the main menu screen whose content varies according to the chosen shooting mode. The shooting modes on offer include Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Smart Portrait, Subject Tracking and Movie. Somewhat confusingly, 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 set the ISO speed manually, which is something you cannot do in the other modes. Other parameters that can be set by the user in this shooting mode include resolution and file quality, white balance, drive mode, AF area and AF mode. These are all buried in the menu - none of them has a virtual shortcut button of its own. Which is a pity, given that some of these functions - like ISO, WB or white balance - are quite frequently used, and the awkwardness of accessing them can be frustrating at times.
Those who'd rather not fiddle with ISO speeds and white balance settings will likely choose Scene Auto Selector instead of Auto. The Nikon Coolpix S3000 offers 16 scene modes plus a Scene Auto Selector that puts the camera in charge and allows it to choose from the six most commonly used scene modes at its own discretion, based on its assessment of the scene in front of the lens. This is the true auto mode, which requires - and allows - the least amount of user control over the picture taking process. Of course, picking a scene mode by hand is always an option.
Smart Portrait is a shooting mode of its own rather than one of the scene modes. In this mode, the S3000 hunts for smiling faces and snaps a photo whenever it detects one. Also, there's a skin softening option that can be used to remove blemishes and other minor imperfections, giving the skin a smooth look in the process. The intensity of the effect can be set to High, Normal or Low. The function can of course be turned off as well. The Blink Proof option forces the camera to take another image if it detects a person who's blinking in the photo.
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Subject Tracking is a new auto-focus option that automatically focuses on the main subject and then follows it around the frame. You simply place the square target over the subject and press the OK button, which then places a yellow rectangle around them. If either the subject or the camera is moved, the focus and exposure remain targeted on the yellow frame. This is especially useful for erratic subjects like children and pets, although the system does sometimes struggle to keep up, forcing you to lock focus again.
In contrast to its big brother, the S4000, the Nikon Coolpix S3000 can only record standard-definition VGA videos. The resolution is 6400×480 pixels, while the frame rate is 30 frames per second. Mono sound is recorded with movies, but the optical zoom cannot be used while filming. Single or full-time AF may be selected for movies - in the first case, focus will be locked at the beginning of each clip, while in the second case, the camera will keep adjusting the focus while filming, which may cause the sound of the focus motor to be picked up by the microphone. Maximum clip length is limited to 29 minutes. Electronic VR can be turned on to help avoid camera shake, although the quality of the video is affected.
Videos and stills may be stored either in the S3000's limited 47Mb on-board memory, or on a separately sold SD or SDHC card (SDXC cards are not supported). The memory card shares its compartment with the supplied EN-EL10 lithium-ion battery. Nikon appears to have made a conscious effort to place the compartment door as far away from the tripod socket as possible, so you might be able to change batteries and memory cards while the camera is mounted on a tripod, but it will also depend on the kind of head and / or quick release plate you are using. The battery can be charged via a computer using the supplied USB cable or via the EH-68P AC adapter, using the same cable. Although the battery is removable, it must be in the camera for charging (much like a cell phone battery). The number of images that can be captured on a single charge is about 220, though the actual figure may vary with the amount of flash and zoom usage.
In use, the S3000 proved to be adequately responsive for its class. Start-up was pretty fast considering the camera has to extend the lens before it can start taking photos. The zoom action can be described as smooth for a power zoom, and the relatively moderate 4x zoom ratio ensures that it doesn't take ages to go from wide angle to maximum telephoto or vice versa. Overall, the design works reasonably well, although I really missed shortcut icons for oft-used functions like ISO speed and white balance.