Just as there are people who only want a Flip Video-style camcorder for sharing video on the Web, so there are people who just want a small pocket camera for posting pictures on their favorite social-networking or photo-sharing Web site. The 10-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S220, available for around £120, is a Facebook camera, designed for snapshooters looking to step up from using their mobile phone as their primary camera.
Despite its incredibly small size, the S220 is comfortable to use. It's lightweight to the point where you may forget you have it with you. It's available in six colours, too -- blue, silver, magenta, black, purple and green.
The control layout is straightforward, with the power, shutter release and zoom controls on top, and a directional pad and a handful of buttons on the back for menu navigation and shooting options. Pressing the menu button brings up mode-specific shooting options, along with a secondary menu tab for system settings.
The only disappointing part of the design is the LCD screen. Its size is fine, considering the camera's dimensions and price, and it's bright enough so that shooting in direct sunlight isn't a huge issue. The problem is the quality of the picture -- it frequently displays photos with off-colour pixels. That's likely to make users second-guess what they've actually captured with the camera.
Shooting features are basic point-and-shoot fare for the most part. The auto mode gives you the most control, letting you set ISO, autofocus area mode, white balance, and exposure compensation. You get a handful of drive modes as well, including Nikon's Best Shot Selector, which snaps off 10 shots while the shutter's pressed and then saves the sharpest, and interval timer shooting, which takes a picture every 30 seconds, 1, 5 or 10 minutes. There's also a standard continuous setting.
If you like your scene modes, the S220 has 15 of them to pick from, or you can let the camera choose which it determines to be the most appropriate by using the auto scene selector mode. The camera's movie mode is limited to video clips of a 320x240- or 640x480-pixel resolution with sound, but you can't use the optical zoom while it's recording.
Like much of its competition, the S220 is a fairly slow performer. In well-lit conditions, it takes 0.8 seconds from pressing the shutter release to capturing a photo. Dimmer lighting causes the lag to go up to 1.3 seconds. If you're planning to use this camera for photographing children or pets, you'll probably be disappointed unless you're really good at anticipating shots. Its burst speed is pretty good, though, at 1.3 frames per second. The S220's shot-to-shot time averages 3 seconds without flash and gets only slightly longer with flash, at 3.3 seconds.
The S220's best photo results come at ISO 80 and ISO 100. As soon as you go up to ISO 200, detail and sharpness start a steady decline. Unfortunately, the camera seems to love ISO 400 when the sensitivity is set to auto. There are three remaining sensitivities above ISO 400 -- 800, 1,600 and 2,000 -- but they're really not usable for prints. If you're in low or dark lighting, however, you'll be able to capture photos without a flash and, although they're ridiculously grainy and void of detail, they aren't without their charm. Just don't look at them too closely.
Colours aren't exactly accurate, but are pleasing and fairly natural-looking, with the exception of blues, which occasionally look too vibrant. The dynamic range of the camera seems limited overall. Highlights are a bigger issue, frequently appearing blown out. Also, the auto white balance is too warm indoors -- take the time to use the more accurate presets or the manual white balance option. Finally, the lens has some barrel and pin-cushion distortion, but it's effectively corrected by the camera's distortion control option. The lens distortion creates a fair amount of purple fringing in high-contrast areas -- something that's characteristic of this class of camera.
Video results are decent. They're good enough for Web use, but grainy, with noticeable colour banding.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The inexpensive, lightweight, ultra-compact Nikon Coolpix S220 might not take particularly great pictures -- especially when viewed at full size -- but it really comes down to what you're after. If it's capturing the moment so that you can share with friends and family online, and you're sick of using your phone and want more control over the end results, the S220 is a viable option.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet