The £270 Nikon Coolpix S630's 12-megapixel sensor pitches the camera just below the 14.5-megapixel S710, but its 7x zoom offers more than twice the range and it's packed with technology, including auto scene selection, ISO 6,400 and 11 frames per second continuous shooting. But how well does it all work?
Not many other pocket-sized compacts give you a 7x optical zoom. Nikon's Vibration Reduction system helps reduce camera shake when you zoom in on distant subjects, as does the super-high sensitivity.
If action is your thing, as long as you don't mind shooting at a reduced resolution (3 megapixels), you can capture up to 20 frames at a rate that not even a professional digital SLR can match.
Nikon's worked hard at making the S630 very beginner-friendly. The full auto mode takes care of everything, even selecting the best scene mode automatically. If you think you know better, you can switch to the camera's manual scene-selection mode -- there are 16 options to choose from. A third mode offers the camera's continuous-shooting, high-ISO and face-detection options (including smile and blink detection), while the fourth and final mode lets you shoot movies at a 640x480-pixel resolution.
All of these features are wrapped up in a smart-looking body that comes in a choice of colours. So far so good.
There's a big difference between the things a camera can do and how well it does them.
The 7x zoom is disappointing for two reasons. Firstly, it's not a wideangle zoom -- the minimum focal length is a somewhat restrictive 37mm equivalent. Secondly, it's not especially sharp at the edges of the picture or at long range.
The picture quality overall is only fair. At low ISOs, you get pretty decent definition but, as is always the case with tiny sensors, things fall apart rapidly as the ISO goes up. The S630 can manage ISO 6,400, albeit at reduced resolution, but, even by ISO 400, there's so much smudging and speckling from the internal noise reduction that you may wonder if you should switch to your camera phone instead.
As regards the 11fps continuous shooting, when you check the manual, you find out that you're restricted to between ISO 640 and 3,200. We really don't understand why.
Face-detection appears to be a must-have technology these days, and it's easy to see how smile- and blink-detection capability might seem like great advances. Often, though, you start to have second thoughts when you try using such functions.