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Nikon Coolpix S510

Elegant, speedy 8 megapixel ultra-compact with optical image stabilization
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

With high resolution and advanced features now available at very low cost, manufacturers are increasingly separating their offerings into different categories that emphasize features appealing to different groups of customers. The new Coolpix S510 is part of Nikon's "Style" series, a line that seeks to combine sophisticated elegance with advanced technology and speedy operation. If they were automobiles, the Nikon S-series cameras would be sleek and nimble sports coupes exuding elegance and class.

One of two S-Series cameras introduced by Nikon in the Fall of 2007, the 8.1 megapixel Coolpix S510 has higher resolution than its S500 predecessor, offers sophisticated optical vibration reduction image stabilization technology and comes in an elegant stainless steel body. The camera also has ISO 2000 sensitivity for shooting in low light, is compatible with the new high capacity SDHC storage cards, and it is equipped with most of Nikon's latest "In-Camera innovations" that make for better pictures.

Sculpted elegance

When it comes to certain consumer electronics, style and design are everything. Apple's iPod is a prime example of a piece of technology that prevailed because it looked better and was simpler to use than anything else. No camera is on the same level as the iPod in terms of grabbing a commanding market share all by itself, but there are styles that consumers simply like. One of them is the small, boxy, crafted-from-a-block-of-metal look originally pioneered by Canon's digital ELPH. That look went never out of style, and there are still those who prefer the chunky little blocks to all others, even the sliver-like ultra-slims that have been grabbing so much attention.

Form should follow function, and with the S510 it mostly does. The camera is very small, with a footprint of 3.5 x 2 inches, that of a credit card. It's almost an inch thick, which gives it a chunky feel unlike that of the ultra-thins. Most of the backside is taken up by a superb high resolution LCD with anti-reflection coating. It measures 2.5 inches diagonally, its 230,000 pixels make for a very sharp and pleasant image, and the anti-reflective coating makes for very good outdoor viewability. To the right of the big display are the few hardware controls, all nicely and logically arranged.

The front of the S510 is flat and very clean. Three little dots mark the microphone, the tiny flash and the AF-illuminator light sit on top of the lens barrel. The barrel itself is large, and the actual lens sits off-center. That looks kind of weird and it's the camera's only design element that misses the mark. The lens barrel itself is big and motors out a good distance when you turn th camera on. Frankly, one might wonder why Nikon didn't pack a folding intenal zoom into such a stylish camera.

Optics and technology

The Coolpix S510 comes with a 35-105mm equivalent 3X Zoom-Nikkor glass. An available 4X digital zoom multiplies that to a maximum 12X magnification.

The camera is equipped with Vibration Reduction (VR) that can correct blur caused by slight hand movement, something that easily happens when zooming in. This is an active lens shift anti-shape technology that senses movement perpendicular to the panning. So if you pan horizontally, the VR mechanism will reduce vertical shake; if the camera pans vertically, horizontal shake is smoothed out. VR can be used in all shooting modes, including movies.

Nikon stresses the speed improvements in the S510 and claims the camera has a class leading start-up time of less than one second, and a shutter lag of just five milliseconds. In addition, Nikon's new EXPEED processing engine gives the S510 enhanced image processing and brilliant color reproduction.

Like some of its other new cameras, the S510 incorporates a series of goodies that Nikon refers to as "In-Camera Innovations." They include In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, D-Lighting, and Face Priority AF. In-Camera Red-Eye Fix automatically detects and corrects red eye, a common condition that happens when you use the flash. In playback mode, D-Lighting compensates for excessive back-light or insufficient flash in images.

Face recognition, or "face priority," seems to be a must-have feature of virtually every consumer camera introduced in 2007 and the Coolpix S510 is no exception. The camera offers a "Face Priority" mode that makes sure the camera exposes faces properly. What that means is that the camera has the ability too find a face in a picture and then make sure that it is in focus and properly exposed. With the S510, you know face priority works when a double border around the face glows green. In fact, the face recognition function in the S510 can recognize up to a dozen separate faces quickly and efficiently.

The S510 also has Nikon's exclusive Best Shot Selector (BSS) that snaps up to ten frames and automatically selects the sharpest one. This fetaure is meant to be used with the flash off or fully zoomed in, or in other situations where unwanted blurring may happen.

The rotary multi selector

One thing that's different about the S510 is its "rotary multi selector." Most cameras either have a mode dial or a menu button or both. And they have a 4-way navigation disc. The S510 has a menu button and a mode button, but it combines the mode dial and the navigation disc into a multi-function selector disc/ring.

Like a standard navigation disc, you can use it to toggle through flash, self timer, exposure compensation and macro mode settings. And like a mode dial, you can rotate it to select various options both in record and playback mode. Depending on what button you push, a representation of the multi selector may appear on the LCD, with labels so you can rotate until you get to the selection you want, and then pick it. This works very well, but you first have to get used to it. The illustration below is from the S510's manual and shows how the selector works when the camera is in recording mode.

In terms of shooting modes, those are selected via an onscreen dial.

There is a high-sensitivity mode that increases sensitivity up to ISO 1600 and increase shutter speed.

There are there are 15 "scene modes," those being portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, museum, fireworks, copy (to take clear pictures of text and print), backlight and panorama assist.

Voice recording is available both as a freestanding feature (record til full) or as voice annotations to picures (up to 20 seconds).

In movie mode you can record at full 640 x 480 resolution and at a lifelike 30 frames per second, with sound. Recording time is only limited by storage capacity. Unfortunately, like all other new Coolpix models, the S510 won't let you use the optical zoom while shooting movies; digital zoom is available but only up to 2X. That was an unwelcome surprise. On the plus side, you can do time-lapse movies with intervals between shots from 30 seconds to 60 minutes.

There are no manual modes; the S510 is strictly a point & shooter.

Overall

What you get with the Coolpix S510 is a elegant, small and handy 8.1 megapixel camera that emphasizes style and technology. It's small enough to fit anywhere, yet has a large and razor-sharp 2.5-inch LCD that remains quite redable outdoors. The design is clean and uncluttered, though the somewhat unusual multi selector ring requires a bit of getting used to.

The S510 is a speedy point & shooter without manual control. It offers full voice recording, VGA movies with sound and even time-lapse movies. Active lens shift vibration reduction eliminates most blur when you zoom and it can be used both for still pictures and for movies. Like lots of stylish things, the S510 costs a bit more than other cameras with similar resolution in the Nikon lineup. Depending on your priorities, it's well worth it.

We like:

  • Elegant stainless steel design
  • Very small and handy
  • Optical lens-shift image stabilization
  • Face recognition mode
  • Voice recording
  • Full speed VGA movies with sound
Not so much:
  • No optical zoom during movies
  • Multi selector a bit cumbersome
  • Fairly expensive
Specifications Nikon Coolpix L15
Status Added 09/2007
Camera Type Compact
Size 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.2
Weight (oz.) 4.4 without batteries
Effective Pixels 8.0 mp
CCD Type 1/2.5
Max pixel size 3264 x 2448
File formats JPEG, WAV, Quicktime
Compression fine, normal, basic
Movie recording (best) til full, with audio
Max movie pixels 640 x 480 with sound at 30fps til full (digital zoom only)
Voice recording none
Lens 5 elements, 5 groups
Focal length 5.7-17.1mm (35-105mm)
Zoom (optical/digital) 3X/4X
Image stabilization Optical lens-shift
Aperture f/2.8 - f/4.7
Focus modes Auto center or face-priority and AF-assist illuminator
Focus minimum/macro 1.8 feet, 6 inches
Shutter speed 1/1000 to 2 sec (4 sec in Fireworks scene mode)
Sensitivity (ISO) auto (ISO 64-1000)
Autofocus system Contrast-detect AF
Metering 256-segment matrix center-weighted or spot
Autofocus system contrast type: spot/multi
White-balance modes auto/6 presets (manual, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, flash)
Shooting modes auto, 16 scenes
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type none
LCD size 2.8" LCD (230k) 5-level brightness
LCD type outdoor viewable
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in
Flash range up to 13 feet
Flash modes 5
Camera internal memory 23MB
Storage Medium SD Card
I/O AV out, digital IO (USB)
Battery type Two alkaline/lithium AA or rechargeables
CIPA Battery life (LCD/off) 580 images with Lithium, 160 with alkaline
List Price US$179.99
Contact www.nikon.com

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