Nikon Coolpix S1000pj
Shining example of a projector cam?
Review Every now and again, you come across a product that makes you think: How on earth did they do that? Well, Nikon’s Coolpix S1000pj is such a beast, because it’s a compact digital camera with a built-in pico projector.
The little picture show: Nikon's Coolpix S1000pj
In fact, it would appear it’s the first digital camera with this feature, and so no surprise that Nikon is feeling mighty pleased with itself. So, whether you want a presentation system that will fit in a (large) pocket or are an early adopter who loves being first with the latest gadget or gizmo, then the Coolpix S1000pj could be just for you.
The Coolpix S1000pj is much smaller than you might expect for a camera with a built-in projector. True, it’s not a super-slim model, but at 99.5 x 62.5 x 23mm, it is certainly coat pocket-sized. It also weighs around 180g with battery and card, so it doesn’t feel too heavy in your pocket.
It has a 1/2.3in CCD with a 12Mp resolution, which is rather a lot of pixels for a sensor of this size. There’s an internal 5x optical zoom in the shape of an f/3.9-5.8 5-25mm lens, equivalent to a 28-140mm lens on a 35mm camera, so it’s not a particularly fast lens, nor is it that great for wide-angle shots. The shutter speed range is 1/1500-2sec, and the ISO range, 80-6400. Note that at ISO 3200 and 6400 image size is limited to 3Mp.
The Coolpix S1000pj uses SD/SDHC cards and has 36MB of internal memory. The supplied lithium-ion battery is good for around 220 frames before a recharge. Stills are in JPEG format and you can also shoot movies in VGA resolution at 30fps (in AVI Motion JPEG format). The projector uses a 0.4in LCD panel with VGA resolution and a 4:3 aspect. It offers a 30:1 contrast ratio and has a throw distance range of 0.26-2m metres - the projected image size ranges from 5-40 inches. Its brightness level is 10 lumens, roughly equivalent to candlelight.
Additional buttons are required for projector control
Being a projector too, the Coolpix S1000pj has some functions you won’t find on other cameras. A button on the top right is used for switching the projector on or off, and next to it is a slider for focusing the projected image. Nikon also provides a projector stand (read: small block of plastic) and a remote control, which can be used for taking pictures or controlling the projector. A nice touch is that Nikon has put IR sensors on both the front and rear of the camera, to enable self-portraits or projector operation.
But apart from this, the Coolpix S1000pj offers fairly conventional controls – although its operating modes have a few quirks. Switch on takes a little over a second and shutter lag is not a problem. The camera has a 2.7in LCD screen composed of 230,000 dots, so it’s not especially sharp, although it is clear and bright. Apart from flash mode, macro, drive mode and exposure compensation, almost all functions are selected from the menu, which means you can’t quickly adjust say, the ISO speed or the white balance.
Limited manual controls are accessed through the menu function
A scene button provides access to auto mode, sixteen scene modes (including panorama, landscape and beach/snow), smart portrait (which uses face, smile and blink detection technologies), subject tracking and movie. Manual control is limited, as there is no manual aperture, focus or shutter speed control. However, in auto mode, you can adjust both the white balance setting and manually set the ISO speed.
We think that Nikon should have included a program mode for making such adjustments, so that users can quickly go back to the auto default settings by simply selecting auto mode. It would also mean that Nikon didn’t have to give users the option of limiting the ISO speed in auto mode (you can select an upper limit of ISO 200 or 400). Another bizarre quirk is that the battery level icon only appears when the battery power is close to exhaustion.
And yet another oddity is that while the camera lens has a protective shutter, the projector aperture is exposed and is in the centre of the camera body, with the lens pushed to the left hand side. As a result, it’s very easy to inadvertently obscure the lens with a finger when taking a shot. On a brighter note, shaky pictures shouldn’t be a problem with the Coolpix S1000pj, as it offers five forms of anti-blur or image stabilisation technology including, a hybrid system that combines lens-shift and electronic vibration reduction technologies.
In terms of performance, we found the Coolpix S1000pj disappointing for a £400 camera, albeit one with an integrated projector. Noise was apparent in many shots, even at ISO 200, and things aren’t helped by cramming so many pixels onto such a compact CCD combined with an auto ISO system that tends to select a high setting by default.
The corner lens is easy to obscure when handling
Colour reproduction was a little insipid too. The flash was very strong, and flare and red eye were a problem in a number of shots. On a happier note, the AF system worked well and close-up shooting was a doddle. The image stabilisation systems did a good job in reducing camera shake and you can easily create panoramic shots. Movie picture quality is nothing to write home about, but video motion is smooth. In low light shooting, the dedicated night scene mode did a good job in revealing detail and taming noise levels, but the ISO 3200 and 6400 settings were best left alone.
Snow scene mode
We were surprised by how well the projector worked though, especially when you consider its modest specifications. If you use the projector in a dark room, you can get pretty reasonable results. True, resolution is low and colours are on the pale side, but the ability to see your images blown up on such a large scale is fun.
Undoubtedly fun, but room for improvement
We projected images onto a screen, wall, ceiling and even a large napkin, and they certainly created a buzz with the viewers. We also found that you could even get reasonable results when the throw distance was as large as four metres, although 1-2 metres gives optimum results. You can project both JPEGs and MJPEG movies, and use SD cards from other cameras too.
However, Nikon has missed a trick when it comes to panoramic shots. You can’t stitch images in-camera, but even after you’ve created a panorama on your PC, you can’t upload it onto an SD card and project it. Although the projector only offers a 4:3 aspect ratio, it would have been nice to view panoramic shots on a large scale, albeit with some side cropping.
Oh, and you can’t connect the Coolpix S1000pj to a laptop and use it as a miniature projector, but then, that is probably asking rather a lot from such a product. During the projector mode, the camera gets warm, but never hot. Nikon says the battery should last about an hour in projector mode, and we were pretty sceptical about this claim. So, we put a fully charged battery into the Coolpix S1000pj, set it to run on a continuous slideshow loop – you can also add effects and music – and it lasted for 75 minutes.
There is no doubt that the Coolpix S1000pj is a great concept and a superb technical achievement but as a £400 camera the performance is pretty ordinary, not to mention the lack of manual control and HD movie recording. Nikon should also re-think some of the camera’s operating processes. But if you’re really keen on having a camera that also doubles as a projector – and can find the Coolpix S1000pj at a discount price – then you’ll have fun with this model. However, if good performance and a fair level of functionality is your preference, there are many cheaper alternatives. ®
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