No longer is the term 'budget' shorthand for 'total rubbish'. Nowadays, many big-name manufacturers are coming up with low-cost cameras that don't skimp on performance or features. At around £90, the slim, 12.1-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S2500 could well be a contender.
Thin black, silver, red, pink line
The S2500 is small and lean, but there's nothing unique or innovative about its appearance. It has a metallic front and a plastic back, and comes in black, silver, red and pink versions.
The top features only two buttons -- a power switch and a shutter button encircled by a zoom ring. The rear houses a 2.7-inch LCD monitor and a collection of buttons, including the usual five-way pad.
The 230,000-pixel screen isn't the best we've ever seen. It's rather low-res, has a yellowish tint, and makes it difficult to see subjects clearly if you're holding the camera at an angle, rather than face-on.
Despite the S2500's diminutive size and price, Nikon has managed to squeeze in a high-resolution sensor that's capable of capturing images at 12.1 megapixels. The Nikkor lens has a fairly wide angle and a 4x optical zoom, providing a 35mm equivalent focal length of 27-108mm.
As well as staple features, such as a built-in flash, the S2500 comes with a selection of welcome extras, including an anti-blur function, vibration reduction and motion detection.
There are five basic shooting modes -- auto, movie, smart portrait, subject-tracking and scene. The movie mode is standard-definition only. Smart portrait uses a blend of technologies, such as 'smile timer', 'blink proof', 'skin softening' and 'red-eye fix' to make your human subjects look less visually offensive. The subject-tracking mode attempts to keep a moving target in focus at all times. Finally, the scene mode lets you choose from 17 different optimised settings to suit your shooting situation.
Manual controls are lacking. The S2500 is aimed purely at those who want to point and shoot.
The camera is extremely straightforward to use and the menus are easy to navigate. We also found the S2500 fast and responsive. It's ready to go in less than 2 seconds after pressing the power button, and the auto functions aren't as slow to react as those on many other budget cameras.
Thanks to the wide lens, there's plenty of room in the frame for both landscape and group shots. But the anti-blur and vibration-reduction features aren't as capable as we'd have liked, particularly when using the zoom or shooting in darker conditions.
In strong light, the S2500 can produce sharp, clean shots with strong colours. Some colours can look too vibrant, though, particularly pinks and reds. We also found flesh tones looked slightly unnatural, particularly in the smart-portrait mode, although this may prove to be a matter of taste.
The S2500 offers ISO settings of up to 3,200. We found it impractical to use anything above ISO 400, though. As the image of the clock shows, detail deteriorates quickly at settings higher than that, and picture noise becomes far less tolerable.
It's hard not to like the Nikon Coolpix S2500. It's small, cheap, easy to use and delivers decent pictures more often than not. Some areas of its performance aren't brilliant and some of its automated features work better than others but the S2500 is a good camera for the price.
Edited by Charles Kloet