Nikon calls its Coolpix S6200 an 'ultra-compact superzoom'. It's crossing into two distinct markets, there, but we reckon the specs justify the description. The S6200 is considerably smaller than its larger brother, the S8200, yet retains the 16-megapixel sensor, and, although the optical zoom doesn't match the S8200's monster 14x, it does stretch to a respectable 10x.
It's available now for around £170.
Sensitivity starts out lower than it does on the S8200, kicking off at ISO 80 and running through to ISO 3,200, with options to prevent it from straying beyond either ISO 400 or ISO 800 if you want to avoid noisy results.
Exposure compensation extends to +/-2.0EV in 1/3 EV steps. This is controlled by a neat wheel on the back of the case that sits where many lower-end cameras sport a four-way rocker. Scrolling it races through the menus, and in this case lets you run up and down the compensation scale with the results displayed in real-time on the LCD preview.
The menus are well considered and clearly organised. There are 19 scene modes to choose from, including the sweep panorama tool we've seen on each of Nikon's latest crop of digital snappers. This feature, also common to Sony Cyber-shot models, lets you literally mop up the scenery by moving your lens through the arc of the scene before you, with the camera itself handling the stitching and exposure correction. There are also six built-in effects, including soft, high contrast, and low and high key.
As well as the regular single-shot and burst-shooting modes (the latter of which lets you capture a maximum of six shots at 1.2 frames per second), there's an innovative multi-shot option that grabs 16 consecutive shots over half a second and compiles them into tiles in a single frame. It's a quirky way to capture movement in your scene, of either your subject or camera.
The S6200's aperture range is nothing out of the ordinary for a camera of this size, running from f3.2 to 5.8. What we find more disappointing, though, is the macro range, which only gets you to within 100mm of your subject. Still, when you're using the camera to take pictures of flowers and plants in the open air, this is enough to pull them forward from their backgrounds.
What of the results? We conducted our regular tests with the S6200 set as much as possible in full auto mode, allowing it to choose what it considered the best parameters for each situation.
Despite our criticism of the macro setting topping out at 100mm, it can produce some impressive results when used with care. In the image below, the spikes of the chestnut case are pin-sharp, with both the twig and leaves immediately behind it, and the nut in front of it, thrown out of focus.
Likewise, in shooting the teasel below, the S6200 retained excellent detail in the spikes that protect the pods and even the smaller, hair-like spikes that line their edges, while softening the projection at the front coming out towards the camera.
But the S6200 is suited to more than just macro work. When tasked with shooting general countryside scenes, the results are realistic and well balanced, with accurate colours and an excellent level of detail across the frame.
In the image below of grasses caught in the wind, the camera produced a perfectly balanced result despite the difficult shooting conditions. We were shooting towards the sun, which appears in the lower-left corner of the frame, yet, rather than ramping down the exposure to compensate and thus losing all of the detail in the grasses, the S6200 has produced a well-lit, detail-filled frame, with the individual seed husks highlighted by the oncoming light. The depth of field is shallow enough to draw the eye towards the main part of the image, despite the fact we were shooting outside of the macro mode.
Likewise, there's plenty of detail in the shot below of a nearby riverbank. Despite the sharp contrast between the well-lit upper half of this image and the shadow that dominates the lower portion, there's nothing lost in the shadow, despite the S6200 pinning the sensitivity at ISO 80 and the shutter speed at 1/640 second.
The S6200 performed consistently when presented with similar scenes throughout our tests, making a great job of balancing extremes of contrast.
We left the camera set to fully automatic to shoot the formal garden below, framing the image exactly as seen in the finished result, so that the camera would meter using the available light, rather than forcing it to compensate for either the lighter or darker portions.
Again, there's a strong contrast in this scene between the overhanging canopy of the vine that grows across the top of the pergola, obscuring the sun, and the well-lit legs that support its right-hand side. The S6200 captured detail in both areas, neither rendering the fine variations in the shadow area as a dark morass, nor burning the highlights on the leading face of each leg.
The S6200 sailed through our chromatic-aberration test. It perfectly aligned each portion of the available spectrum when we shot a fine iron sign against a strong blue sky, and showed only the faintest fringe on backlit scaffolding when zoomed to 100 per cent. In the image below, the pixel-wide blush to the right and lower edge of each strut is one of the best examples of well-controlled light convergence we've seen in a camera of this size.
Turning to our indoor still life, we were very impressed by the even illumination provided by the flash. The result came close to matching the image captured when using the studio lights. With the camera set to auto, it self-selected ISO 80 in each instance, shortening the exposure time from 1/50 to 1/60 second in the second shot to account for the flash.
Fine detail was very well rendered in each instance, with text remaining sharp, and the threads in the weave of a fabric doorstop easily picked out when zoomed to 100 per cent.
We repeated the test, shooting the same scene under fairly dim ambient light, which forced the camera to increase its sensitivity. It shot the scene at ISO 400, and, although this inevitably increased the amount of noise in the finished result, we were again impressed by the overall quality of the photo. The markings on the thermometer dial remained sharp, and, although the text in our book was less clear, with the edge of each character slightly feathered, it remained perfectly legible.
We conducted our video tests using the S6200's highest resolution and quality settings, shooting 720p footage at 30 frames per second.
Image quality was spot on. When shooting handheld from a static position, we achieved excellent results, with good detail and accurate colours. Shooting while walking clearly introduced an extra level of complexity as the camera was moving not only horizontally, but also vertically with every step.
Of greater concern, though, was the noise of the camera's internal workings, which occasionally featured in our movie soundtrack. The zoom was particularly audible, but equally troubling were the focus servos, which we initially took to be the call of an unusual bird. For this reason, you might want to disable full-time autofocus and instead settle on the single autofocus, which takes a reading when you start shooting and uses it for the duration of the shot, regardless of the frame composition.
We found full-time autofocus tricky to master, and it took some practice before we were able to accurately zoom and track from one focused point to a closer subject on which the S6200 could get a fix.
The Nikon Coolpix S6200's video performance left us feeling rather deflated, particularly as the camera had impressed us so greatly when we were shooting photos. It should be remembered, though, that video capability is a bonus in an ultra-compact camera, rather than a headline feature. When you consider its excellent photos, ambitious specs, small body, and bargain price, the S6200 is very much a winner.
Edited by Charles Kloet