The Nikon Coolpix S600 is a very attractive-looking compact capable of producing pretty 10-megapixel photos. For around £190, does it have the features to back up its looks?
True, it's a prettily designed camera. At 130g with small dimensions of 89 by 53 by 23mm and encased in an elegant slate-black brushed metal, it fits comfortably in a blazer or trouser pocket as well as at any social occasion.
Despite its attractiveness, the S600's operational flow just annoys us. It fails to observe all the generally accepted conventions that help speed shooting with heavily menu-based point-and-shoots. For instance, every menu selection requires a confirmation, rather than assuming that the option you were on when you backed out is your choice. While on a typical competing snapshot camera it takes two button presses to switch from ISO 100 to ISO 200, with the S600 it takes five. Some competing cameras still require this, so only a partial demerit here.
However, to get out of the menu, virtual mode dial and playback, you've got to press the relevant button again; in contrast, almost every other camera quits those modes when you half-press the shutter button. In total, this just makes for a less pleasurable, occasionally frustrating user experience.
Only the macro, flash, self-timer and exposure compensation settings have dedicated controls -- as with most point-and-shoots, almost all shooting controls are screen- or menu-based. With a virtual mode dial, you cycle among setup, movie, audio recording, program exposure (scenes), a high-ISO auto and regular autoshooting modes. A menu button pulls up your shooting options: resolution/image quality; white balance; metering; shooting (single, continuous, best shot selector); ISO sensitivity (100-3,200), various colour options, AF area and AF mode.
We suppose it doesn't matter that it takes multiple presses to access these options, since most of them are of little use. You really don't want to shoot at higher than ISO 400 with this camera, so forget the high ISO mode. We couldn't get the camera to produce different exposures with the matrix and centre-weighted metering; the missing spot-meter option usually makes a handier alternative to either one of those.
The best shot selector can be quite useful -- it shoots up to 10 photos as you hold the shutter down, then saves the sharpest of the bunch -- but it's also the sort of mode that you want to be able to toggle on and off more quickly than the camera allows.