The Nikon Coolpix S02 ($99.95) is one of the smallest digital cameras you can buy, and one of the least expensive cameras you’ll get from a branded company. But its picture quality is disappointing, and the lack of wireless connectivity makes it a less appealing option than a smartphone for the socially inclined. Consider spending a little more on a camera like the Canon PowerShot SX600 HS (at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) if you’re looking for something that offers a serious upgrade over a smartphone.
Design and Features
S02’s The distinguishing feature is its size. It’s small. Really small. The camera measures just 2 x 3 x 0.7 inches and weighs 3.5 ounces. It does for other compact cameras, including the Canon PowerShot N ($299.00 at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) (2.4 x 3.1 x 1.2 inches, 6.9 ounces) looks larger in comparison. S02 is available in silver, white, blue and pink colors.
The lens is a 3x zoom lens that covers a 30-90mm field of view (full-frame equivalent) with a variable aperture of f/3.3-5.9. That’s a modest range, not as wide as you’ll find on most compact cameras today at its widest. With 10x scaling being the norm even in low-cost cameras, it leaves something to be desired in terms of reach. More expensive cameras with short zoom ranges, like the compact Canon PowerShot N100 in our Editors’ Choice (at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) , which typically has a wide aperture lens that captures more light and a larger image sensor. The S02’s short zoom is to keep it small, and its 1/3.1-inch image sensor is smaller than what you’ll see on other budget compacts; it is more suitable for the sensor in most smartphones.
There are very few physical controls on the S02. The top section houses the zoom control, shutter release, and Power and Playback buttons. The rear is almost entirely occupied by a 2.7-inch touchscreen. A black stripe runs along the right side of the screen and is where the touch Home button is located.
Tapping Home brings up the main menu, allowing you to switch between stills and video, delete photos, and adjust some camera settings. You can control whether the flash fires automatically, set a timer, and adjust exposure compensation to brighten or darken a scene, but that’s it. The S02 is purely an automatic shooter, although there are some art filters built in so you can take photos with sepia, black and white, low-key or dominant color.
The rear screen leaves a lot to be desired. Its small size is understandable given the S02’s frame, but even though it’s touch-sensitive, it’s very dim because of the low 230k-dot resolution. It can be viewed from the side with no problem, but if you tilt the camera back or forward, you’ll find that it has a very narrow gap in terms of vertical viewing angles. This results in loss of contrast and color fidelity. If you’re looking for a serious touchscreen camera, consider the Samsung Galaxy Camera ($399.95 at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) or Galaxy Camera 2 ($599.98 at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) —Features a large 4.8-inch touchscreen that’s as good as you’ll get on a top-of-the-line smartphone. And both of those cameras have serious connectivity options, so it’s easy to share photos on social media. The Coolpix S02 doesn’t have any kind of Wi-Fi, so it’s not a good choice if you want to post pictures to Instagram or Facebook while out and about.
Performance and Conclusion
The S02 boots up and takes a picture in focus in about 2 seconds, in slow mode. Its autofocus speed is inconsistent; it ranged from 0.2 seconds to 0.9 seconds in our tests, with an average of 0.5 seconds. There’s no continuous drive mode, but I was able to take pictures with about 1.3 seconds between each shot by snapping as fast as I could. Compare this to the Canon SX600, which boots and shoots in 1.6 seconds, but continuously locks focus and fires in 0.1 seconds, and shoots continuously at 1.6 fps.
Normally I use Imatest(Opens in a new window) to judge image quality, but the lack of even modest manual controls in the S02 makes that difficult. There’s no ISO control, so standard focus resolution is done at ISO 400, a setting the camera defaults to. Usually, this test is done at the lowest ISO the camera can manage (ISO 125 in the case of the S02). It recorded just 1,298 lines per image height at ISO 400, well below the 1,800 lines we were looking for for a sharp image.
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Under studio lighting for our standard ISO test scene, the camera defaulted to the lowest ISO setting. It doesn’t show much noise there, just 0.8 percent, but double-check the test images on the calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W ($999.00 at Amazon)(Opens in a new window) The display shows that details are absolutely poor. The fine lines in our ISO test scene run together, producing blurry results.
The S02 records QuickTime video at up to 1080p30 quality. There’s no tripod socket, so it’s purely a handheld affair, but I found that handheld footage was extremely shaky, even when I tried my best to steady my hand. Audio is clear, but optical zoom is disabled when recording (although you can digitally zoom). The camera uses internal memory (7.3 GB available), so you’ll need to plug it into your computer via the included USB cable to offload images and videos. This is not a standard port, so you can’t use any old micro USB cables you have. The cable is also used to charge the camera’s internal, non-removable battery via the included AC adapter. The only other connection port is micro HDMI, which is used to connect the S02 to the TV.
The Nikon Coolpix S02 is a cute, small camera for a low price. But it’s not the one we recommend. Its image quality gives it an edge over a good smartphone camera, like the one you’ll find on the iPhone 6 Plus ($299.00 at Verizon)(Opens in a new window) , but the advantage is a little. The camera has a modest optical zoom, unmatched by most phones, and the standard flash has a longer reach than the LED flash used by most phones. It lacks any kind of wireless connectivity, so you won’t be using it to take Instagram photos and handheld videos are noticeably shaky. The $100 price tag makes this seem like a cheap camera, especially for Nikon, but you really should spend a bit more if you’re looking for a camera that will be significantly better for you. your smartphone in terms of functionality and image quality.
The Canon PowerShot SX600 HS offers further zoom, better image quality, and Wi-Fi connectivity and is currently on sale for around $180. And the older PowerShot S110 are still being sold at the same price. It originally sold for $450 and is a great value as long as it remains available for purchase at the discounted price. Our Editors’ Choice compact camera, the Canon PowerShot N100, is noticeably more expensive at $350, but it’s worth it if you’re interested in using Canon’s Creative Shot filter system not included in the S110 .
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