The Nikon Coolpix S1's feature set is heavily weighted in favour of the neophyte shooter who wants to take lots of different kinds of pictures, but doesn't want to make many decisions. There are scene modes for every conceivable situation, including a panorama mode and an underwater setting for use with an optional underwater housing. But there are no manual focus or exposure controls other than exposure compensation. You can adjust light sensitivity from ISO 50 to ISO 400 and set the white balance manually, but that's about it. Camera-selected shutter speeds range only from 2 seconds to 1/350 of a second, limiting this camera's utility for long exposures and capturing very fast action.
Yet there are some very cool automatic features on this camera, most notably Face-Priority autofocus. In the Portrait scene mode, the camera looks for the human face closest to the camera and locks on to that, highlighting the focus area in red on the LCD. Among the other nifty tools are the Best Shot Selector, which can take a series of pictures and save only the one that is sharpest or best exposed; the time-lapse photography feature, which you can set to record one shot every 30 seconds to 60 minutes; the effective in-camera red-eye removal; and Nikon's D-lighting option, which brightens inky shadows in extra copies of your murky or high-contrast shots.
Many of the scene selections feature assist modes. The Portrait setting provides overlays to help you place figures or couples in the frame; the Landscape assist offers guidelines for positioning the horizon and any people in the shot; and the Architecture assist supplies a grid for aligning horizontals and verticals. Macro capabilities take you as close as 40mm, but for capturing farther-off subjects in the dark, the electronic flash is positively anaemic. It's good only out to 2.4m at the wide-angle lens setting and just 1.4m in the telephoto position. You can choose from flash off, fill flash, auto, auto with red-eye reduction and slow sync.
The Coolpix S1 doubles as a voice recorder and can also capture 640x480-pixel, 15fps video clips. Nikon includes its Coolstation dock with the camera to make connecting to a computer, a TV or a charger more convenient.
The Nikon Coolpix S1's performance was generally average, except for continuous-shooting mode, which was quite good, and shutter lag under low-contrast lighting, which was poor at 1.8 seconds, even with the focus-assist lamp operating. Under high-contrast lighting, this camera managed to focus and squeeze off shots only 0.6 seconds after the trigger was pulled.
Continuous shooting produced 36 full-resolution images in slightly less than 24 seconds before the camera slowed. Set to 640x480 resolution and maximum compression, the Coolpix S1 plugged away nonstop for as long as we held the shutter release down. We captured 102 shots in 60 seconds. There is also a multiexposure mode that squeezes 16 thumbnails onto a single image when you want to analyse your golf swing, for instance.
The large, brightness-adjustable 110,000-pixel LCD was usable outdoors under all but the brightest lighting conditions and offered an acceptable view indoors under dim illumination. Some ghosting was visible, however.
Image quality from the Nikon Coolpix S1 was decent, but not great for a 5-megapixel camera. The exposure system was easily misled by backlighting, prompting us to use the Backlighting scene mode and the D-lighting option more than we'd have liked. Images tended to be a little soft, and there was noticeable blooming and colour bleeding from one area to another.
Colours were generally accurate, with a tendency towards yellowish skin tones, but the preflash red-eye prevention, coupled with the software red-eye removal feature, did an excellent job of eliminating glowing pupils. Cyan fringing was rampant around backlit subjects, and noise was often visible, even at lower ISO settings. As with most digital cameras, it was fairly easy to blow out the highlights.
A little barrel distortion made our images curve out near the edges at the wide-angle setting, and some pincushioning at maximum zoom made them curve in.
Edited by Aimee Baldridge
Additional editing by Nick Hide