Nikon's made the Coolpix S3000 'fun and easy' in a bid to let you capture great pictures without having to waste time with options and menus. It's the successor to the popular Coolpix S220 and part of Nikon's new compact-camera range for spring 2010. For around £100, you get a slim and stylish camera with a 12-megapixel resolution and a 4x wide-angle zoom.
The S3000 looks good. It comes in a choice of seven different colours (silver, pink, green, black, blue, red and orange), and it's just 19mm thick, which makes it really easy to carry around. The shiny metal finish on the front makes it look more expensive than it actually is, while, around the back, it has a smooth, elegant, matte black finish and larger buttons than usual, as part of Nikon's plan to make it easy to use.
There are five modes, toggled by a button on the back of the camera. The auto mode gives you some manual control over the camera's settings. The 'scene' mode lets you select scene modes manually, or you can leave the camera to do it automatically. There are also 'smart portrait', 'subject-tracking' and movie modes.
The 4x wide-angle zoom offers the kind of scope you don't always get with cameras of this size and price. Also, the USB charging system is handy -- you can charge the battery using the supplied mains adaptor, or by plugging the camera into a powered USB port on a computer.
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Unfortunately, the S3000 just feels like a rehash of countless other Coolpix compact cameras. There's nothing new here apart from the styling and perhaps a couple of pieces of technology that may or may not make a difference to your pictures.
The picture quality itself is alright, but only just. Considering the S3000 is a budget camera, the lens is quite sharp, but it's the processing that's the problem, as it so often is with small sensors. Even at ISO 80, finer textures, like grass or brickwork, begin to get smoothed over as the camera tries to decide what's noise and what's detail. You won't notice this in ordinary-sized prints, but you will if you blow them up to A4 size or larger.
The colours are good, but the S3000 tends to overexpose when shooting into the light. Also, the autofocus system doesn't always work well with objects close to the camera -- you need to switch to the centre-spot focus mode to be sure of getting sharp results.
Nikon's 'smart portrait' options are technically interesting, but don't necessarily make people shots any easier to achieve. The 'smile timer' only fires the shutter when your subject smiles, and the 'blink-proof' feature tells you if your subject's eyes were closed when the shutter fired. You might wonder whether it isn't simpler to just take a picture in the normal way, check it quickly on the LCD display and shoot it again if you need to. These features are okay when they work, but also add an extra layer of complication.
The same applies to the focus-tracking feature, which can follow a subject around the frame, but can take a moment or two to lock on initially. It can also lose contact if your subject turns or moves too quickly. You only get electronic 'vibration reduction' with this camera, too -- not optical stabilisation.
The Nikon Coolpix S3000 is a good little camera for the money. It's small, smart and practical, and the 4x wide-angle zoom is handy. But, technically, it's so similar to what's gone before that it's hard to get excited about. If your current camera's a few years old, it's worth a look, but, if you only bought one last year or the year before, the S3000 has nothing new to offer.
Edited by Charles Kloet