Nikon's Coolpix S5 is a slim, attractive 6-megapixel top-pocket camera that hits all the right design notes. Its 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen, satin silver finish and internally zooming 3x optical lens (35mm-to-105mm equivalent) will be a hit with style-conscious casual photographers, and its scrolling click wheel gives users an easy, MP3 player-like interface.
The quick-shooting camera boasts very good build quality, colour rendition, and sharpness, but some minor image flaws may disappoint eagle-eyed photographers. A simple feature set and basic shooting options will serve amateur photographers, but they probably won't satisfy enthusiasts who like to tinker with settings.
At less than 25mm thick and only slightly larger than a credit card, the Nikon Coolpix S5 is an excellent camera to slip into your pocket and take anywhere you go. It's also very attractive, with grey lettering on a body of chrome-trimmed, satin silver metal. The front of the camera curves slightly in an S-shape, giving the body a sophisticated look. Even charging and syncing look cool, thanks to the camera's matching docking station. Build quality, as with most Nikons, is very solid.
The Coolpix S5's sleek, contoured body, bright 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD and recessed, internally zooming lens scream style rather than substance, and the camera doesn't seem to be designed with shooting efficiency in mind. The recessed power button, shutter release and zoom rocker on the top edge of the camera are practically microscopic. They function well enough, but they clearly sacrifice comfort and accessibility for maintaining the S5's smooth lines.
The iPod-style scrolling click wheel on the back is a brilliant feature, recalling the wheel-style controls of decades of film cameras, as well as digital SLRs. The wheel feels incomplete, though -- it can directly change only flash, macro and timer features, forcing the user to delve into the camera's menu to tweak image settings such as white balance, ISO sensitivity, resolution and EV. Thankfully, the menu itself is simple, and those settings can be changed with just a spin or two of the click wheel.
Casual shooters who don't normally change those settings, however, should be happy with the Coolpix S5. Nikon has incorporated a dedicated Mode button for quick access to scene modes, and another button selects a special portrait mode that activates Nikon's face-priority autofocus, in-camera red-eye removal and D-lighting automatic exposure adjustment.
Designed to deliver quality shots with minimal fuss, the Nikon Coolpix S5 offers a mixed bag of features. Photographers who just want to point and shoot will be pleased, but the limited options will disappoint users who like to experiment with image settings. The 6-megapixel sensor is large enough for quality 203x254mm (8x10-inch) prints at low ISO settings, and the modest 35mm-to-105mm zoom lens (35mm equivalent) sports an equally modest maximum aperture of f/3.0 to f/5.4.
The Coolpix S5 has several small conveniences, such as 21MB of internal memory; a 30fps VGA movie mode with electronic vibration reduction; interval and 16-shot burst modes; a feature that warns you when you've taken a blurry picture; and Pictmotion slide-show software that animates your images with transition effects and music from either on-camera tracks or user-uploaded MP3s. The camera sports 15 shot presets, including four shooting modes, such as Portrait and Sports, and 11 scene modes, such as Museum and Beach/Snow.
On the downside, the camera lacks control over contrast, sharpness and JPEG compression, though there are two 6-megapixel image settings with different compression levels and five colour modes.
The Nikon Coolpix S5 is a snappy performer, capturing its first shot after power-up in just 2 seconds. The camera performs even better when you actually start shooting, delivering a shot-to-shot time of 1.8 seconds. It stays quick even with the onboard flash enabled, requiring just 2.1 seconds to recycle between flash shots. The Coolpix S5 exhibits impressive autofocus and shutter-lag performance in good lighting as well, focusing on and capturing CNET's standard high-contrast target in 0.5 seconds. Low-contrast shooting is a bit more sluggish, upping shutter lag to 1.7 seconds.
The Coolpix S5 is quick enough in burst mode -- in our testing it captured 41 shots at 1.3fps using the highest image-quality setting. At the lowest image-quality setting, the camera captured 73 frames at 2.1fps.
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The Nikon Coolpix S5 offers generally excellent image quality for standard shots, though critical viewers may notice vignetting and other minor flaws creeping into their photos.
Colour and tonal range are excellently rendered, and its colour accuracy and exposures are generally on target. The Coolpix S5's palette is rather neutral and faithful to the scene, not oversaturated as with many other point-and-shoot cameras. The Coolpix S5's Vivid colour setting gives images a little more warmth and pop but doesn't go too far. Flesh tones are warm but not ruddy, even with flash at close range, and the camera's automatic white balance is fairly accurate under most conditions.
The lens exhibits very little chromatic aberration, which causes the purple or green fringing commonly found along strongly backlit or high-contrast edges, and it can yield quite sharp images. But lens artefacts tend to crop up, including significant softness and vignetting (darkening) at the corners of the Coolpix S5's frame, especially at the wide end of the zoom's range. We also noticed significant 'pincushion' and 'barrel distortion' -- lines curving inward at the telephoto end and bowing outward at the wide end, respectively. Thankfully, most of these image flaws will probably go unnoticed by casual viewers looking at prints. The camera's edge sharpening is occasionally too aggressive in high-contrast areas with thin lines, such as power lines in front of a white wall, which gives them light halos.
Edited by Lori Grunin
Additional editing by Kate Macefield