When you extract the 14.1-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S80 from its box, the word 'wow' may well form silently on your lips. With a huge touchscreen, sliding lens cover and metal body, this compact camera feels smooth, solid and elegant. Packing a 5x optical zoom, it's available for around £300. But does the S80 represent a triumph of style over substance?
Touch it up
The S80 is thin, measuring just 17mm deep, and its design is pleasingly minimalist. Sliding the lens cover powers up the camera, but otherwise the only physical control is the shutter-release button -- the S80 is primarily controlled by its 3.5-inch OLED touchscreen. This wide-screen display boasts a seriously high resolution of 819,000 pixels and takes up almost the whole of the camera's rear.
The S80's touchscreen is so sensitive and responsive that it feels like you only have to breathe on the screen for some change to take effect. But, while this makes for swift operation, it can also easily lead to you accidentally selecting an unwanted function.
Although there's a shutter-release button, you can also take pictures by jabbing at the screen itself. We occasionally managed to do this accidentally when simply handling the camera, as our fingers and thumbs came into contact with the edges of the screen.
By the same token, we were forever accidentally adjusting the frame by hitting the zoom buttons on the right-hand side of the screen, which was frustrating. Inevitably, the screen also quickly becomes smeared with fingerprints, so you'll constantly be wiping it clean. It's worth noting too that only the central portion of the screen is used if you're shooting in the standard 4:3 format.
The lens at no point extends from the body, by virtue of its elements being internally folded. But this means that, even though the lens is slightly inset from the edge of the camera, fingers can creep into the edge of the frame. Nevertheless, the S80 offers a respectably broad focal range for a point-and-shoot camera of 35-175mm, although it would have been good to have had a wider 28mm equivalent for panoramas and group portraits.
The S80 can record 720p high-definition movies with stereo sound, which is where the 16:9-ratio screen really comes into its own for composition and review. To complement this capability, the camera sports an HDMI output, offered alongside the standard USB/AV-out port on the base. That lets you connect the camera directly to a high-definition TV.
A slot for an SD or SDHC memory card sits on the camera's side. The advantage of this is that, if you use the S80 with a tripod, you won't have to keep unscrewing it every time you wish to retrieve the memory card.
The good impressions created by the camera's appearance continue when you slide open the lens cover and turn the S80 on. Almost before you've finished performing this action, the touchscreen has burst into life and the camera is ready to take its first photograph. A half press of the shutter-release button on top of the camera sees focus and exposure determined in a second.
No great shakes
If you don't want to use a tripod, the S80 will help you get sharper shots with its motion-detection and Vibration Reduction technology. That will help counter the effects of hand shake at slower shutter speeds, maximum zoom and in low light.
The camera offers an 'easy auto' mode for those who just want to point and shoot. There's also another 'auto' mode that's closer to the more expansive program setting often found on snapshot models. There are also scene, smart-portrait and video-capture options.
Sometimes looks on the bright side
Under the default settings, the S80's photos tend towards over-exposure, resulting in slightly washed-out images on sunny days. They'd benefit from contrast adjustment in Photoshop.
There's a disparity between the pictures once downloaded and how they appear on the touchscreen. The touchscreen looks as if its brightness and contrast settings have been whacked up to maximum, with reds, blues and greens appearing especially vivid. The downloaded results look dull by comparison, which is unfortunate, as you can't really tell whether you have a well-exposed image at the time you've taken it. For this reason, the S80 is more of a camera for taking snapshots than trying to create high art.
In certain areas, the Nikon Coolpix S80's style trumps practicality, but we reckon it's the slickest Coolpix yet. It really is a handsome little devil. But because it's so easy to make accidental presses on the touchscreen and so hard to determine what your photos will actually end up looking like, it's a camera that's better suited to the gadget fan than the serious photography enthusiast.
Edited by Charles Kloet