Nikon's Coolpix S8000 is the world's thinnest compact superzoom with a 10x zoom, at just under 24mm thick. It has a 14.2-megapixel sensor, 720p high-definition movie mode, a high-resolution LCD and a host of features to make taking pictures easier. It all comes in at a price of around £220.
Versatile and speedy
These compact superzooms really are useful. They're barely bigger than an ordinary compact but they have a much larger zoom range, so they're far more versatile. The S8000's 30-300mm zoom range means it's not quite a wide-angle (28mm or less, strictly speaking), but there's not much in it, and you do get a very handy 10mm macro mode.
The start-up time is short and the autofocus is fast. Around the back, there's an excellent, 921,000-pixel, 75mm (3-inch) LCD display. You wouldn't normally expect a display of this quality on anything less than a digital SLR.
Nikon's kept the control layout pleasingly simple. A mode button cycles between the basic 'auto' mode, in which you can control settings like ISO and white balance; an automatic or manual scene-selector mode; a 'smart portrait' mode (including face-detection, skin-softening, smile- and blink-detection features); and a focus-tracking mode.
This focus-tracking mode is quite neat. Once it's locked on, it follows your chosen subject around the frame, if either you or they move. It can even pick your subject up again if they move out of the frame momentarily.
The smart-portrait system is less impressive. The 'smile timer' is supposed to recognise a smile and take a picture, but it proved unpredictable at best, while the skin-softening option makes it look like your subject's face has been coated with a mixture of foundation and Polyfilla.
Also, when you use the zoom to take a close-up, the S8000 sometimes says it's in focus when it clearly isn't. The auto scene-recognition mode resolutely refused to use the flash too -- even in a darkened room.
There are some other annoying limitations. The S8000 can shoot 45 pictures at 3 frames per second, but only at a resolution of 3 megapixels. At full resolution, it croaks along at less than a frame per second.
While the 1,280x720-pixel movie mode sounds promising, you can't zoom while filming and the autofocus is disabled. You need to plan your clips, choosing the zoom setting first and framing the shot so that the camera is focused on your subject before you start.
The biggest letdown is the picture quality. Nikon says it's used fancy 'extra-low dispersion' glass in the lens, but it must have put it in the wrong way round or something, because the definition is average at best and gets progressively worse as you zoom in. There's something weird going on with the detail at maximum zoom, too. It's almost as if the camera's changing the image-processing settings according to the focal length.
The S8000 will produce good-looking prints up to about A4 size, as long as you don't look too closely. If you do, you'll see the definition falling away at the edges, some purple fringing creeping in and plenty of smoothed-over detail in grass, trees and other subtly textured areas.
Don't be fooled by the 14.2-megapixel resolution. The Nikon Coolpix S8000's image quality is barely up to the standard of decent 10- or 12-megapixel models. It's straightforward to use, fast and responsive, and it offers pretty good value compared to other compact superzooms, but the results aren't going to impress anyone.
Edited by Charles Kloet