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Nikon Coolpix S51c

A 8.2 megapixel Coolpix with WiFi built-in
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

In the olden days, you dropped film off at the local One-Hour-Photo or sent it off to a lab. Or you did prints yourself in your on darkroom, or you dropped them off at some photography store. There were quite a few possibilities, and that really hasn't changed now that photography has gone almost all digital. Today you upload from the camera into the computer and then just look at the pictures, or you bring the card to a store where they make prints, or you run your own prints on an inkjet printer, or you upload to a photo site, and so on.

Nikon decided to tackle one of those issues, that of getting the pictures from the camera to a computer or photo service, by adding WiFi to its new Coolpix S51c. That means you do not have to use a USB cable or stick the storage card into a card reader. It all happens wirelessly. The implementation is a bit more proprietary than we'd like to have seen, though.

What does wireless do?

Unlike most digital cameras, the S51c has onboard WiFi and can thus communicate wirelessly. Nikon primarily uses this capability to let S51c users connect to its "my Picturetown" photo storage and sharing service. There are two basic functions that handle wireless communication in the S51c:

Picture Mail lets you select pictures and then upload them to your my Picturetown account. You can share them with family and friends by having email notifications with links to the pictures sent to them automatically.

Picture Bank is your personal online image server. You upload them to my Picturetown where they can be viewed via a web browser or downloaded into a computer.

To use the wireless capabilities of the S51c you obviously need a wireless LAN in your home. You also need to use the my Picturetown utility that comes with the camera. You set up a network profile, enter email addresses of friends, and do your settings all with the S51c's rotary multi selector. It's not exactly a replacement for a keyboard, but it works. There is some setting up to do on the PC or Mac as well. Of public WiFi, only T-Mobile hotspots in the US and a select few others in other parts of the world are supported. The S51c ships with a six-month complimentary T-Mobile HotSpot service, allowing the user to send images and videos to my Picturetown from over 8,200 T-Mobile HotSpots nationwide.

Once all that is done, you can wirelessly send picture mail (up to 1600 x 1200 pixel format) or store pictures on my Picturetown. You need to set up an account on the my Picturetown server. 2 GB of storage is free. Additional storage is available via extra-cost membership levels. The my Picturetown server can also act as a conduit to load pictures wirelessly to the very popular Flickr photo storage and sharing service.

Whether or not wireless connectivity to a Nikon photo sharing site is an important feature, only the market will decide. Personally, I'd have liked to see a much more open system that would allow you to upload to your computer or your photo sharing service of choice.

What does the S51c have to offer?

Quite a bit. The Coolpix S51c is a sleek and very elegant 8-megapixel camera with a wealth of desirable features. With a footprint of 3.8 x 2.3 inches -- a bit larger than a credit card -- and a thickness of 0.8 inches the S51c is not an ultra-slim, but it definitely fits into just about any pocket and never gets in the way. The fully internal 3X optical Zoom Nikkor lens requires a complex lens assembly consisting of no fewer than 12 elements and 9 groups.

Despite its small size, the S51c has a giant high-resolution LCD. It measures a full three inches diagonally and its total of 230,000 pixel make for a very sharp display that is a pleasure to use and makes it easy to see if pictures are blurred or not. Five brightness levels allow adjustment, and anti-reflective coating increase outdoor viewability. In addition, Nikon claims a very wide viewing angle of 160 degree, which means pictures can be viewed at just about any angle.

The front of the S51c is flat and very clean. All you can see is the tiny flash and the AF-illuminator light sitting alongside the lens. Since the S51c has an internal zoom mechanism there is no lens barrel that motors out as you turn the camera on. There are lots of arguments pro and con internal folding zoom mechanisms. Personally, in a stylish camera like the S51c, we think a fully internal zoom is a good thing.

Advanced technology

In addition to the glorious 3-inch LCD, the S51c offers a variety of other goodies:

The likelihood of blurred pictures is reduced via lens-shift style optical VR Image Stabilization that minimizes the effect of camera shake. This is enabled or disabled in the Setup menu. If it is enabled, the lens-shift optical technology that detects horizontal and vertical shift and tries to compensate for movements perpendicular to the direction of the panning.

Perhaps a bit whimsical is "Pictmotion," a feature supplied by muvee that lets you create slide show movies with custom transitions and background music right in the camera! To do that, you tap the Mode button and then select music with the rotary multi select dial. You can then have the camera pick the 30 most recent pictures or select them yourself. You then select from five included muisc tracks or ten user-defined ones. So there -- instant VGA-resolution slide show movie with sound, right out of the camera.

Like its other cameras new for the Fall of 2007, the S700 incorporates a series of "Nikon 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. What happens with D-Lighting is that the camera software creates a copy of a picture with enhanced brightness and contrast where it tries to boost dark and underexposed areas.

Face recognition, or "face priority," seems to be a must-have feature of virtually every consumer camera introduced in 2007 and the Coolpix S51c 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 S51c, 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 five separate faces quickly and efficiently.

The S51c also has Nikon's exclusive Best Shot Selector (BSS) that snaps up to ten frames and automatically selects the sharpest one. This feature is meant to be used with the flash off or fully zoomed in, or in other situations where unwanted blurring may happen. Other modes include "Continuous" that shoots five shots in one-second interval and Multi-Shot 16, where 16 pics are shot at one-second intervals and then arranged in a 4 x 4 grid on one image.

The rotary multi selector

Like the Coolpix S510 and S700, the S51c has a "rotary multi selector" that seeks to combine the mode dial and the navigation disc into an unmarked multi-function selector disc/ring. This requires a bit of getting used to.

You can use the multi selector ring like a standard navigation disc. You can also use it to toggle through flash, self timer, exposure compensation and macro mode settings by pressing down on its four sides. And to select various options you can rotate it like a mode dial to select various options both in record and playback mode. Sometimes an onscreen representation of the multi selector appears on the LCD, providing labels so you can rotate until you get to the selection you want. The multi selector works well, it's just that it is a bit different from what most digital photographers are used do.

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 pictures (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 S51c won't let you operate the optical zoom while shooting movies; digital zoom is available but only up to 2X. On the plus side, you can do a "stop-motion" movie where individual pictures can be joined into a silent movie.

There are no manual modes; the S51c is strictly a point & shooter.

Overall

The Coolpix S51c is a elegant, small and handy camera that offers an interesting feature in its built-in wireless connection that lets you send and store pictures. It primarily connects to Nikon's own my Picturetown service, which limits choices. The camera is small enough to fit anywhere, yet has a very large and razor-sharp 3.0-inch LCD that remains quite readable outdoors thanks to an anti-reflection coating. The design is clean and uncluttered, though the somewhat unusual multi selector ring requires a bit of getting used to.

The S51c is a speedy point & shooter without manual control. It offers full voice recording, VGA movies with sound, has active lens shift vibration reduction eliminates most blur when you zoom. It also includes a slew of Nikon's in-camera goodies and technologies. The X51c is not inexpensive, but between the terrific display, the many features, and its built-in WiFi, it definitely offers enough to warrant a somewhat higher price.

We like:

  • Terrific hi-res 3.0 inch screen
  • Onboard WiFi
  • Elegant metallic design
  • Internal folding zoom
  • 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
  • Costly
  • WiFi limited
Specifications Nikon Coolpix S51c
Status Added 09/2007
Camera Type Ultra-Compact
Size 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.8
Weight (oz.) 4.4 without batteries
Effective Pixels 8.1 mp
CCD Type 1/2.5
Max pixel size 3264 x 2448
File formats JPEG, WAV, AVI
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 til ful + voice clips up to 20 seconds
Lens 12 elements, 9 groups
Focal length 6.3-18.9mm (38-114mm)
Zoom (optical/digital) 3X/4X
Image stabilization Lens shift
Aperture f/3.3 - f/4.2
Focus modes auto, center, manual, and AF-assist illuminator
Focus minimum/macro 1.0 feet, 1.6 inches
Shutter speed 1/2000 to 1 sec (4 sec om Firework mode)
Sensitivity (ISO) auto;100/200/400/800/1600
Autofocus system Contrast-detect AF
Metering 224-segment matrix center-weighted
White-balance modes auto/6 presets (manual, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, flash)
Shooting modes auto, high-sensitivity, 15 scenes
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 steps
Viewfinder Type none
LCD size 3.0" LCD (230k) 5-level brightness
LCD type outdoor viewable, anti-reflection coating
LCD construction fixed
Flash type built-in
Flash range up to 19.7 feet
Flash modes 5 (auto, red-eye, off, fill, slow sync)
Camera internal memory 13MB
Storage Medium SD Card
I/O USB and WiFi
Battery type EN-EL8 Li-Ion pack
CIPA Battery life (LCD/off) 150 images
List Price US$279.95
Contact www.nikon.com

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