What would it take to get you to spend £230 on a compact digital camera? A 10-megapixel sensor? Hmm, they're ten a penny these days. Image stabilisation? A 4x wideangle zoom? Well, we're getting there, perhaps. How about face, smile and even blink detection? No? Well, perhaps the S610's automatic scene mode selection will clinch it...
In a market saturated with perfectly competent compact digital cameras, every maker is looking for features and innovations which will give it an edge over the rest. And the CoolPix S610's list of features is certainly impressive.
The 4x wideangle zoom is a good start. With an equivalent focal range of 28-112mm, it goes usefully wider and longer than the usual 3x zoom. And Nikon's VR system will help cut camera shake in low light and at longer focal lengths -- Nikon claims it will produce sharp shots at up to four shutter speeds slower than usual.
The Active Child mode will be a big selling point for anyone who's ever chased a child around the house with a conventional compact digicam, though it's not really any more effective than the crude and simple alternative -- half-pressing the shutter release to lock the focus and exposure in anticipation of the shot and then waiting for the perfect moment.
Face-detection is very much a must-have in today's market (whether or not it really makes any difference), and the smile detection system is an interesting novelty first introduced by Sony -- the shutter will only fire when the camera detects a smiling face. The S610 also promises to tell you if your subject blinked when you took the shot.
The Auto Scene Selector, meanwhile, promises to automate what you might have thought was automated already. All compacts have scene modes where the camera's controls are set up for specific subjects like landscapes, portraits and so on. The Nikon is one of a new breed of compact which can analyse the picture in front of it and work out which scene mode it ought to be using. Is it useful? That depends on whether you're the kind of person who uses scene modes in the first place.
The fact is, though, that all these gadgets, clever as they sound, just create uncertainty and confusion. Just how long will you have to stand there with the shutter button pressed before the camera decides your subject is smiling? Just how long is it going to take it to decide which scene mode to use, and will it be the right one (it isn't always)? And however clever the Active Child mode might be, it doesn't recapture the simple push-button response of the old Box Brownie.
The results are decent enough, though. Sharpness is what you'd expect from this class of camera at low ISOs, though at high ISO the Nikon uses super-aggressive noise reduction, which reduces textures to flat splodges of colour.
The CoolPix 610 is neat, compact and well-finished. Its start-up and autofocus speeds are quicker than some Nikon compacts of old, too. And as a technological talking point, it's great. As a camera, though, it doesn't really deliver anything new and, if anything, all the new features which sound so intelligent are going to make the basic principles of photography more opaque to beginners than ever before.
Edited by Marian Smith