Looking for a handy compact camera for everyday snapping? Barely wider than a credit card and as thick as a packet of Polo mints, the Nikon Coolpix S5100 is the very definition of 'dinky'. Otherwise, the S5100 is a fairly unassuming addition to the Coolpix range. Its headline features are a 12.2-megapixel resolution, a 5x, wide-angle optical zoom, and 720p high-definition movie recording. Those are pretty standard specs for the £140 price.
Get a grip
The S5100 is made of both metal and plastic. It feels light, yet reassuringly solid. In the UK, it's available in black and blue versions.
The camera lacks anything approaching a handgrip, but has five tiny, raised plastic nodules on the back that fall under the thumb when holding the S5100 in your right hand. The S5100 rests comfortably in the palm and, measuring 97 by 57 by 22mm and a weighing 132g with a rechargeable battery and SD or SDHC card inserted, it slips easily into any trouser pocket or handbag. The S5100 offers a piffling 32MB of storage space out of the box.
Nikon trumpets the S5100's shooting capabilities in low light. The camera comes with lens-shift vibration-reduction technology; a manually selectable light-sensitivity range, topping out at ISO 3,200 (auto ISO is capped at ISO 1,600); enhanced motion-detection capability; and a new flash-control system. We still found it nigh impossible to shoot in lower light without a flash or avoid the effects of camera shake, though, unless we steadied the camera on a flat surface and used the self-timer option to avoid jogging the S5100 when its shutter fired.
Pictures and video are composed via a 2.7-inch, 230,000-pixel resolution LCD screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio. That's nothing out of the ordinary but it's good enough. As usual with cameras of this type, there's no optical viewfinder.
Quick off the mark
The S5100 powers up remarkably quickly, with the internally stacked lens barrel extending to its maximum wide-angle setting in just over a second. Unfortunately, this motion is accompanied by mechanical noise, redolent of an irritated wasp.
Nikon is trialling its new Expeed C2 processor in the S5100, which it claims accounts for the camera's improved response times. With a half-press of the shutter-release button, focus and exposure will be determined almost instantaneously. A full-resolution JPEG will be committed to memory in 2 to 3 seconds, which is a standard speed for the S5100's point-and-shoot class. The zoom goes through the entirety of its focal range in all of 2 seconds.
Given the noise made by the zoom lens when extending, it's no surprise that it doesn't work when filming video. A silent digital zoom kicks in instead. The S5100 is unusual in that it features a small one-touch video-record button at the top right-hand edge of its back plate. It's a handy feature.
Coming into focus
The S5100 will let you focus down to a distance of 2cm via the macro mode. There's also a face-priority autofocus mode, with the camera able to detect up to 12 faces in the frame at once.
Eighteen scene modes have been shoehorned into the S5100's diminutive frame. The default is an automatic scene-selector mode. The 17 other scene modes run the usual gamut of daytime and night-time portrait and landscape, beach, snow, sunset and party settings.
The three other shooting modes on the camera are an auto mode, a smart-portrait option that includes skin-softening, smile-timer and blink-proof settings if you drill down into the menu, and a subject-tracking setting.
The S5100's images are commendably sharp when conditions are ideal. Colours are more realistic than over-saturated, and exposures are even, although we had to watch out for burnt-out highlights.
The camera doesn't wholly live up to Nikon's low-light shooting boasts. That said, the camera's image-stabilisation feature ensures you'll capture a higher percentage of usable shots than not. Just don't expect too much, as most people won't from a £140 snapper, and you may be pleasantly surprised.
The Nikon Coolpix S5100 looks attractive and fulfils its purpose if all you want to do is take snaps and occasionally shoot a short video. Ultimately, it's a modest addition to the Nikon range. Fortunately, it comes with a price tag to match.
Edited by Charles Kloet