Nikon Coolpix S630
Powerful zooms do not a camera make
Review Some products remind you of certain things, and in the case of the Nikon Coolpix S630, it’s a banana. You can’t help but notice the curvature of the camera body, which sweeps gently towards the right. But although the Coolpix S630 comes in a variety of colours, yellow isn’t one of them.
Nikon's Coolpix S630
This is a camera designed for the point-and-shoot photographer. Yet having a 7x optical zoom means it offers more than the average compact when it comes to focusing on your subject. Despite its respectable zoom, the Coolpix S630 remains a compact camera, measuring 96.5 x 57.5 x 25.5mm and weighing around 160g with battery and card. On top, is a small power button, shutter button and zoom rocker. The back is dominated by a 2.7in LCD screen composed of 230,000 dots.
On the right, is a tiny flash indicator light, a small camera mode button and playback button. Below is a multi-controller which has a central OK button and can be used for selecting macro, drive move, flash mode and exposure compensation. For some reason, Nikon has hidden the exposure compensation logo on the right hand side of the body, so it’s very easy to miss this function.
On a happier note, the multi-controller utilises a scroll dial that enables easy menu selection. At the bottom are menu and delete buttons. On the right is a small, and not very substantial, plastic cover hiding a mini USB port. Underneath is a cover for the Lithium-ion battery and SD/SDHC card, plus a plastic tripod bush.
The Coolpix S630 features a 1/2.3in CCD composed of 12Mp (effective) with a top image resolution of 4000 x 3000, going down to 1920 x 1080, shutter speed range of 1/1500-2 seconds – this extends to 1/4000-1/15 sec in sport continuous mode. The Nikkor 6.6-46mm, f/3.5-f/5.3 lens is equivalent to a 37-260mm zoom on a 35mm camera.
Faster ISO settings drop the resolution to 3Mp
With an ISO range of 64-6400, the Coolpix S630 only takes 3Mp images for the ISO 3200 and 6400 settings. The camera has 15 scene modes with the usual suspects, portrait, landscape, food, sunset and panorama, plus Nikon’s D-Lighting technology to tweak the contrast and brightness of your shots.
A face detection system can focus on up to 12 faces in a frame, and there’s also smile mode, whereby the Coolpix S630 automatically takes a shot whenever someone smiles. You also get blink detection and blink warning systems – the latter warns you that the subject appears to have blinked and suggests taking another shot.
Continuous mode is fast but has a short duration
There are various in-camera editing features, including Quick Retouch, which offers three adjustment levels for contrast and saturation. In this mode, your original shot is displayed alongside the tweaked version for comparison. If you’re happy with the results, press the OK button and a new copy is saved along with the original.
Nikon makes a big noise about the Coolpix S630 offering no fewer than four image stabilisation systems, but this is really is stretching the point. The IS technology consists of a sensor-shift-based Vibration Reduction system, High ISO setting (up to 6400), a Motion Detection system which detects camera movement, and Nikon’s Best Shot Selector (BSS), which fires off ten consecutive frames and selects the sharpest. And there are other areas where you don’t get quite as much as you think.
A sport continuous mode lets you shoot at a whizzing 11f/s, but in the process, the file size is limited to 3MP or less, and the ISO bumped up to the 6400-3200 range, so image quality is reduced a fair bit. It’s also restricted to around 20 frames per shoot.
Movies are limited to VGA and QVGA resolution at 30f/s or 15f/s, but HD movie recording is not offered. Finally, Nikon provides the camera with no paper documentation, not even a quick start guide – you have to view a PDF file from the supplied CD-Rom. A second CD-Rom includes the usual photo management software, plus ArcSoft’s Panorama maker.
12Mp resolution but no HD video option
When it comes to handling, we were not quite sure why Nikon has gone to all the trouble of giving the Coolpix S630 a curvy design, because the top edge of LCD screen removes most of the curvature. On the right hand side is large indentation, which can be used as a thumb rest, but quite frankly, it’s not that comfortable using it for this purpose, especially when operating the shutter – we preferred placing our thumb under the camera body.
The mode menu is simple, offering just four options – auto (which includes automatic scene selection), scene, sport continuous/high ISO/smile mode, plus movie. The scroll wheel really comes into its own when using the menus and is also nice to use when reviewing shots in playback mode.
Controls are simple and the scroll wheel makes a big difference with menu options
Switch on is fast and the Coolpix S630 is ready to shoot in around two seconds. However, it takes several seconds to settle down between shots and the AF system is sluggish. In most cases, the camera will take care of your settings, although some flexibility is built in.
The AF system can be set to Single AF, where it only kicks in when the shutter is half-pressed, or Fulltime AF, which continuously focuses. The latter is good for tracking fast-moving subjects, but it does eat into your battery power. There is no spot metering, but preset manual white balance is available.
The LCD screen and display are disappointing. With just camera mode, IS status, file size and number of shots remaining appearing on the screen, Nikon offers only a minimum amount of shooting information. Yes, screens can get cluttered with icons, but it would be nice if Nikon gave you the option of several display modes.
Bizarrely, the battery level icon only appears when battery power is running down – a bit like having a fuel gauge which only kicks in when your petrol tank is half full. Furthermore, while most LCD screens are not great when used in bright sunlight, we found the Coolpix S630’s to be one the worst and it was often a case of take a shot and hope it works out.
Limited on-screen information is a drawback
Zooming was also a pain. If you want to shoot at the extreme ends the zoom, no problem, but try framing a subject between these points and the lens jerks and jumps around, making composition difficult.
Performance was a mixed bag. Cramming so many pixels onto a small CCD means that noise can be problem, and at ISO 400, noise begins to become apparent. At ISO 6400, it’s awful. Not only was the AF system slow but we were surprised at the number of frames that were out of focus, even though the AF indicator suggested the subject was in focus.
It takes decent photos, but Nikon can do better than this
The lens was also disappointing at the wide angle setting, offering the equivalent of a 37mm lens on a 35mm camera. On the plus side, colour reproduction was good and the VR image stabilisation system does help keep things rock steady at the extreme end of the zoom. The panorama feature works well, although it’s a shame that the stitching isn’t done in-camera, so you can review the results in the field.
With a recommended price tag of almost £300, the Nikon Coolpix S630 is no budget offering, but when compared with other models in the same price bracket, it doesn’t offer a great deal more. Sure, you get a 7x optical zoom, but we think a model offering a 4x or 5x zoom with a wider angle setting would be a more appealing prospect.
Other than that, there’s not a lot that makes the Coolpix S630 stand out from the crowd. There’s no HD movie recording, limited manual control and there are a number of handling issues. You’ll get decent images in most cases, but little improvement over a camera offering 10Mp performance. This isn’t a bad camera, it’s just we expected rather a lot more from brand like Nikon. ®
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