Nikon has no trouble pulling off small and stylish point-and-shoot cameras with its Coolpix range -- even with the lower-cost models. The pocket-friendly, 10-megapixel Coolpix S230 is a good example, offering all of the point-and-shoot basics, a couple of extras -- like face, smile and blink detection -- and a big touchscreen display for around £190. Photo quality is good, rather than great, for the money, but the S230's performance is slow, despite outpacing its forerunner, the Coolpix S210.
Besides the 76mm (3-inch) touchscreen LCD on the back, the S230's 3x f3.1-5.9 36-108mm-equivalent lens and 10-megapixel resolution are standard point-and-shoot fare for the price point. The body is tiny, at 91mm by 56mm by 20mm, and weighs only 142g with a battery and SD/SDHC card. The model is available in five colours: plum, black, silver, red and blue.
Nikon has improved on the touch controls seen on the Coolpix S60 -- its first foray into that type of interface -- mainly by adding a couple of physical controls. The S230 has a traditional zoom ring around the shutter release, as opposed to the S60's on-screen zoom controls. The other change is the inclusion of an actual 'mode' menu button -- there was an irritating lag on the S60's touch interface when switching between shooting modes. These two changes, along with an overall snappier touch response, make the whole shooting experience much more enjoyable.
Also, although the screen size has dropped from the S60's 89mm (3.5 inches) to 76mm, the S60 only gives you 69mm for framing shots, compared to the S230's full 76mm.
Shooting features are generally straightforward. The standard auto mode gives you the most control, letting you set ISO, autofocus area mode (face priority, auto or centre), 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. You also get a standard continuous setting.
If you like your scene modes, the S230 has 15 of them to pick from, or you can let the camera choose by using the auto scene selector mode. The camera's movie mode is limited to 320x240-pixel or 640x480-pixel resolution video clips with sound, but you can't use the optical zoom.
In playback mode, the S230 keeps the S60's iPhone-esque finger swipes for navigation, but offers much smoother performance. We were happy to see that the S230 retains the ability to write on copies of photos too -- useful for drawing on pictures of your friends or enemies, as well as for adding notes to images of locations, for example.
While video results are comparatively good, the S230's photo quality is generally typical of an ultra-compact camera at this price -- good, but not outstanding. The S230 has a sensitivity range from ISO 80 to ISO 2,000. It's best to stay below ISO 200 for the greatest colour, sharpness and detail, however. At ISO 400 and above, there is an increase in softness.
Results are at their finest with Nikon's Motion Detection and Electronic VR image stabilisation turned off, as these boost ISO and shutter speed to minimise blur caused by subject movement or camera shake. Again, detail is best at the lower ISOs, but photos up to ISO 800 were still usable for small prints, despite their softness.
The S230's colours are natural, with the exception of reds, which are a little more vibrant and blow out slightly at higher ISOs. Also, the auto white balance is too warm. We'd advise taking the time to use the more accurate presets or the manual white-balance option.
The lens has some barrel distortion, but it is effectively corrected by the camera's distortion-control option. The lens also creates a fair amount of purple fringing in high-contrast areas -- characteristic of this class of camera.