The latest addition to Nikon's expanding range of digital compacts in the S-range is the Nikon Coolpix S5, an ultra slim 6-megapixel model with a strong metal body. It combines simplicity of operation with high-quality image performance and a multitude of scene exposure modes while using a new Pictmotion photo sharing technology for in-camera slide shows with smooth transitions and added music.
The Coolpix S5 incorporates a Nikon ED f/3.0-5.4 35-105mm optical zoom lens with 12 elements in 10 groups and a range of in-camera features such as Nikon's D-lighting technology as well as in-camera Red-Eye Fix. Its sister model the Nikon S6 even comes with built-in Wi-Fi for wireless photo transfer to MAC or PC and an even bigger 3.0" LCD screen.
Using the Nikon S5
On our usual trip around the camera the first thing to notice is that there is no protruding lens barrel. The 3x optical zoom lens located in the top right hand corner at the front is completely internal. A small lens cover hides it from view when not in use. This non-extending lens makes for ultra quick start-up times and gets the camera ready to take pictures in just over a second.
On the top plate we find the main controls such as on/off switch, shutter button and zoom control.
What struck me was that all controls are very tiny, which makes precise handling with normal-sized
hands rather awkward. Especially the minute zoom control is too small to operate with any degree of
precision and would need a small finger with a very delicate touch. A special addition is the Face
Priority button on the left which actually recognises the shape of a human face and automatically
focuses on it. In playback mode this control is used to activate the D-lighting function, which
improves under-exposed shots by brightening darker areas, to balance them with the lighter parts.
Holding the camera takes some getting used to as the ultra thin body with wave shaped contour
does not provide much grip for single handed operation, whereas the position of the lens means
that it is quite easy to cover it with your left index finger when holding the camera with two
hands. Build quality is very good. The Nikon S5 feels solid and durable and all controls have
that feeling of real quality to them, as we have come to expect from Nikon cameras.
The back of the camera is almost completely covered by the large 2.5" LCD screen with a
scratch resistant acrylic covering. While this shiny protective layer does prevent damage
to the screen it is also highly reflective, which makes framing images under less than ideal
circumstances rather difficult. Note that there is no optical viewfinder on the S5, so you
will need the LCD for all image operations. Next to the LCD is the large circular control
dial which can be used as a conventional four-way controller but it can also rotate, which
makes for very fast scrolling through camera functions or through your images in playback mode.
Above this we find the delete button plus controls for image playback, record mode and camera menu.
The menu is convenient to use as print is large and can easily be read even by those with less than
perfect eyesight. The text can be substituted by pictograms or icons should you prefer that.
Pressing the Mode button selects the desired recording mode. Selections here include normal
(green) recording mode, movie or voice recording and several Scene Assist modes such as Portrait,
Landscape, Sport and Night Portrait. A further selection of 12 scene modes can be found by
selecting Scene and pressing the menu button. These include options such as Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow,
Close up, Museum, Panorama Assist or Fireworks among others. The icons here also provide quick access
to exposure compensation in steps of 1/3 EV over 2 stops and image quality settings. Help for any menu
function is available by pressing the Telephoto zoom button towards T(ele).
Scene Assist mode on the Nikon Coolpix S5 is rather special in that it provides welcome composition
assistance for every scene chosen. In Portrait mode for example you can mark the type of portrait you
want to take, such as duo portrait or single person left or right in the image and the camera will adjust
settings accordingly. In Landscape mode you can tell the camera if you want to capture architecture or if
the scene contains lots of sky and exposure is then adjusted accordingly. It is possible to fine-tune
these settings by applying exposure compensation or by selecting different resolutions or quality settings.
Seeing that this camera is aimed at first-time shooters it is good to see that there are ample automatic
functions such as automatic Red-Eye removal; Best Shot selector; an on-screen warning for camera shake at
slow shutter speeds plus a multitude of handy Scene Assist modes. A nice touch of the blur warning system
is that it does not only warn for camera shake at the capturing stage, but if the shot turns out to be
unsharp, the camera will ask whether you want to keep the image or delete it. What is missing though
is any information about apertures or shutter speeds used. So no clues here for more advanced users
who would like to know what their camera is doing.
What the Nikon S5 excels at is Macro focus. It is possible to take frame filling macro shots as
close as 1.6 inches from the lens. Without leaving macro focus the camera can focus all the way to
infinity, so if that colourful bee buzzes off into thin air you could follow it all the way to the
horizon. When using flash in macro the camera automatically reduces flash intensity to ensure the
subject is not overexposed. For best results in Macro use of a tripod and self-timer will ensure
the sharpest possible results.
In normal recording mode the last flash setting used will be remembered by the camera when it
is turned off. This is not the case in macro mode which always resets flash to automatic as soon
as the camera is switched on. When you press the shutter half way, a small but convenient indicator
light on top of the camera will show if flash will fire or not, alerting you about the current flash
status. In wide angle flash will cover a range of 0.3 to 2.6m, which at tele is reduced to 0.3 to 1.4m.
There is also a handy Interval timer to take shots with intervals of 30 seconds to 60 minutes. This could
be nice to record the opening of a spring flower over time or other time lapse subjects.
The new Face Priority AF mode, which is activated by the dedicated button on the top plate can
recognise a human face and automatically focus on it, wherever the subject is positioned in the frame.
This works OK in good light although it seems to be less effective when lighting conditions are low or
the subject is looking away from the camera. Strong back-lighting or movement of the subject also seems
to confuse the system. Arguably more useful is the D-lighting function which is activated by the same
button in playback mode. This function will quickly and easily improve underexposed images by effectively
brightening up darker areas by increasing the ISO setting for those parts. A consequence of higher ISO is
that there will be more noise in those areas, although it could make the difference between a badly
underexposed shot and a reasonable image.
In the Nikon Coolpix S5 box
Apart from the usual straps and cables, the Nikon S5 comes with a handy Quick Start guide plus an
elaborate 95-page instruction manual which clearly explains all the finer things of the camera and how
to put them to good use. The Nikon S5 buyer is provided with ample info about the all new Pictmotion
function to show your images as slide shows with added music on TV or PC. There are many tips on what
settings to choose in various image situations and direct printing is explained in great detail as well.
There is no SD memory card with the camera as the Coolpix S5 is equipped with 21Mb of internal memory,
which could hold about 8 to 10 six-megapixel shots at its finest resolution. Considering the prices of
memory cards today, a 1GB SD card would be a good investment with this camera. This should keep you happy
for a week's holiday, shooting about one hundred 6-megapixel images a day.
The proprietary Li-ion EN-EL8 battery provides enough power for almost 200 shots between charges.
As other manufacturers manage to get quite a bit more out of their power cells, our best advice with
the Nikon would be to buy a spare battery and keep it charged at all times. Charging the battery takes
about two hours and is done by placing the camera in the supplied Cool Station MV-14, which acts as
a camera dock to send pictures to PC or printer or to connect the S5 to a your home television.
Software comprises Nikon's Picture Project CD-Rom for Windows or MAC to transfer and store images
on your PC. Its functions include adjusting brightness and contrast and performing some basic imaging
functions. Images can be arranged in folders according to date or subject or shared with others.
The Nikon ED f/3.0-5.4 35-105mm optical zoom lens produces sharp results in the centre of the image
throughout its range, but there is some notable vignetting in the extreme corners of the pictures. Also
we noted that corners were definitely lacking in sharpness. The latter would not be too obvious in most
day to day photo situations but vignetting will be clearly visible in images with uniform colours, such
as the blossom image you can see here. There is no evidence of purple fringing in extreme contrast situations.
A fair amount of barrel distortion is visible at wide angle, which slowly changes into some pincushioning
when you zoom in. The amount of barrel distortion seems to be a bit more than what we have come to expect
in cameras of this class.
Focusing and exposures were perfect under all circumstances and there were no obvious problems with
white balance settings. The automatic WB coped well during our tests and should you find yourself in
difficult lighting situations you can use one of the five presets or resort to the Custom setting in
combination with a grey card. The Nikon S5 has only one metering mode and this appears to be some form
of matrix metering, which is perfectly adequate for all but the most demanding lighting situations.
There is no histogram function as Nikon believe the novice user the S5 is intended for would not really
need this anyway. Colour rendition is excellent with clean natural colours, which appear to be a bit
less saturated than on some other compacts, although this is not necessarily a bad thing. In the end
it is down to personal preference which you would prefer. Nikon's colours are nicely neutral in this
Exposures are fully automatic and this will certainly appeal to most first-time users. However the
enthusiast who would like control over shutter speeds for instance would have to resort to more complicated
measures such as choosing Sports scene if they want to crank up shutter speeds, or Museum mode if
they need longer shutter speeds. However this is beginning to sound like advanced photography class
and that is not what the Nikon S5 was intended for anyway. The camera has a fixed aperture of f/3 and
when there is more light, exposure is reduced by dialling in a neutral density filter, effectively
reducing the aperture to f/8 at wide angle. ISO can be left on automatic, or you can manually choose
settings from 50 to 400 ISO. Noise is well controlled and even at 400 ISO, where noise does become
apparent its pattern is rather like film grain, making images perfectly usable.
Despite some rather obvious shortcomings such as the tiny controls and reflective LCD screen coupled
to the average lens quality, the Nikon S5 would still make a nice addition to the family’s photographic
gear as an elegant ladies' camera, to capture the kids at play or to record snapshots on holiday. Its
durable built and solid construction will ensure many years of trouble free use although we feel the
price is a bit steep compared to the competition. Despite some of its nifty gadgets though, the serious
enthusiast would probably be more tempted to buy a model with a higher level of user control if they
intend to take their hobby further.