If you'd rather have a pocket camera that can stand up to a little rain or splashing instead of one that's compatible with an underwater housing, then Nikon has your number. Otherwise identical to the Nikon Coolpix S1, the Coolpix S2 has a water-resistant cover to protect the lens as well as a rubber ring to keep your memory card and battery dry. If you'd rather have a fully waterproof model to take snorkelling, opt for the S1, which has an Underwater scene mode and an optional housing.
Tiny size, acceptable but not outstanding image quality, and a lack of manual controls make the ultracompact S2 a fine choice for snapshot photographers who want a good selection of fun features but don't want to make many decisions on their own. This Nikon's strong points are abundant scene modes, a 3x zoom lens that doesn't protrude during use, a post-shot fix that automatically brightens dark backgrounds, and a clever Face Priority focus mode that ensures that the closest person to the camera will come out sharp and clear. But given the S2's limited shutter-speed range of 2 seconds to 1/350 second, you won't be using it for long exposures or very fast action.
Most digital cameras sized like a deck of playing cards become lumpy when you turn them on and the lens extends -- not the Nikon Coolpix S2. Its recessed optics peep out but don't emerge from the camera when you flip their water-resistant cover open. They focus and zoom internally over a 35mm-to-105mm range (35mm-camera equivalent). The lens is even tucked far enough into the body to largely avoid the bane of fingerprints.
Unfortunately, the most comfortable two-handed grip makes it easy for stray left-hand fingers to curl over the top and wander into the field of view -- more than half of our initial shots with this camera included one or more fingers in the frame. The LCD viewfinder -- there is no optical viewfinder window -- shows just 87 per cent of the image (100 per cent on review), so the stray digits escaped our notice until too late.
The camera is otherwise well laid out for an ultracompact. Its 91-by-58-by-23mm aluminium-alloy body has nary a protrusion -- even the handstrap lug is recessed -- and features the minimal number of buttons and controls needed to get the job done.
The right side houses a water-resistant plastic door covering the SD/MMC memory-card slot and the battery. On the bottom, you'll find a plastic tripod socket and an I/O connector for the Coolstation dock. All the other controls squeeze onto a back panel dominated by a 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD. They include a recording/scene/movie mode button, a four-way cursor pad with embedded OK button, a zoom rocker and separate buttons for menu, picture review and delete.