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Trends Nikon Coolpix S4000

High Technology Product Reviews | Trends and News | Trends Nikon Coolpix S4000
The 12-megapixel, Nikon Coolpix S4000 is among the least-expensive cameras on the market to offer a touch screen interface. The touch experience on this camera isn't particularly glitzy, but it's perfectly functional and is complemented by a few, smartly selected physical buttons. Also, the 3-inch display is much sharper than most other under-$200 point-and-shoot cameras. The S4000 also performs somewhat better in low light than other shooters in this price range, but in all lighting conditions, this camera produces softer images than much of the competition. Another problem: there's no optical or mechanical stabilization—most budget cameras offer some kind of image stabilizer on the lens or image sensor to avoid blurry images. With the Nikon S4000, you need to decide whether a touch screen interface is worth sacrificing image stabilization for—and we don't think it is.

Specifications
Type
Compact
Megapixels
12 MP
Media Format
Secure Digital High Capacity
35-mm Equivalent (Wide)
27
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto)
108
Optical Zoom
4 x
LCD size
3 inches
Wireless Connectivity
No
HD Video Capture
Yes
Design and Features
The Nikon Coolpix S4000's body is extremely thin, light and only a hair larger than a Cisco Flip MinoHD 8GB 2 Hours (2010). It measures 2.3 by 3.8 by .8 inches (HWD), and weighs 4.48 ounces—very thin even for a compact camera. The unit I reviewed had a black back and a silver face and sides with a tone that looked nearly identical to the color of the body of an Apple MacBook Pro. (Nikon calls the color Gloss Champagne and also offers the body in Bronze, Black, Pink and Plum. There's a Power button on the top, next to the zoom trigger and shutter button. On the back you'll find two buttons: one for reviewing photos, one for going back to shooting mode. The bottom of the device has two doors that flip open to reveal audio/video out, and the slots for the memory card and battery.

The focal length of the lens is 27-108mm (35mm equivalent)—that means there's 4x optical zoom—with a corresponding aperture of f/3.2 –f/5. Neither the lens nor the sensor, though, offers optical or mechanical image stabilization. It's really rare to find a camera at this price that doesn't offer optical or mechanical stabilization, and it significantly raises the probability of getting blurry images. Even the cheaper Canon PowerShot A3000 IS offers optical image stabilization.

The experience of using the camera, largely centered on the 3-inch touch screen LCD, does two smart things. First, when shooting photos, you actually never have to rely on the touch screen—all of the mission-critical operations are physical buttons on the camera (zoom trigger, shutter release, power, playback). Past touch screen cameras from Nikon, like the pricier Nikon S70, left off a physical zoom trigger and made it a virtual button on a touch screen, which made framing images a bit of a pain and makes the shooting process more difficult. There are some functions for which you simply need buttons, and the S4000 has them all.

The screen is very easy to use in part because it's so sharp—images, menus and text all look sharper on the S4000 than on most other 3-inch LCDs, on cameras of any price. The Editors' Choice Kodak M580's 3-inch LCD is made up of 230K dots, while the S4000's offers 460K—double the resolution. Images look crisp, and text is very readable and clear.

There's nothing exciting, fresh or new about using the UI in this camera, but it works and it's not confusing. The menu consists of several big grey buttons with text that is very simple and easy to read. Since it's a touch screen, it's easy to in a single tap change the shot's focus or even touch to capture the image.

The only frustrating about the touch screen is that it's a resistive screen (not capacitive, like on most smartphones), so at times it requires pressing the screen quite firmly in order for it to respond. Most of the virtual buttons don't require much pressure, but swiping motions can be more difficult. In playback mode, you use the physical trigger to zoom into your photos, and swipe across the screen to flip between photos—it's not nearly as easy and fluid as an iPhone.

Performance
Speeds produced by the S4000 are much like other $200 cameras. It boots and shoots in an average of 3.2 seconds, which is a bit slow. Once powered on, it averages 2.51 seconds wait time between shots, a more average figure for a $180 camera. The camera averages .65 seconds of shutter lag (the time between when the shutter release is pressed and when the image is captured).

In the PC Labs we use Imatest to objectively evaluate image quality. In our tests, the S4000 delivered better low light performance than other similarly-priced cameras. The threshold for noticeable noise within an image is 1.5 percent—if Imatest measures more than 1.5 percent noise in an image, the image will likely be visibly grainy and possibly unusable. The Sony Cyber-Shot W350 and Kodak M580 kept noise below 1.5 percent up to and ISO 400, while the S4000 went ISO 800 and still keep noise levels under 1.5 percent, an excellent performance for a budget compact camera.

Despite its low-light performance, test images from the S4000 were significantly softer than those from Nikon's competitors. The Nikon S4000 offered a center-weighted average of 1,600 lines per picture height (1,635 at the center, 1,575 part way to the corners and 1,522 in the corners.) The Editors' Choice Kodak M580, by comparison, offered a center-weighted average of 2,127 lines per picture height (2,241 in the center, 2,093 in the center, and 1,769 in the corner regions). The Sony W350 scored a center-weighted average of 1,922 lines per picture height (2,067 in the center region, 1,867 part way region, and 1,511 in the corner region). Both will deliver images that are significantly sharper than the S4000.

Video recorded by the S4000 is in high definition—720p at 24 frames per second. Most other cameras are 30 frames per second, 24 makes motion a little slower; it's similar to the motion of film. The camera will not allow you to use optical zoom or refocus while recording video (ones that do typically will have capture noise from the lens when zooming or refocusing.)

The S4000 is powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery. Photos and videos are saved to SDHC cards, so if you have an SDHC card reader in your computer, you'll have no trouble get images off the card. If you rely on the included USB cable, the risk for headache rises: the USB connection on the S4000 is proprietary, so you have to use the included cable, and replacing a lost cable is a pain. The USB port is also the only port—the S4000 lacks any HDMI connection so if you plug it into an HDTV, you won't get high-quality video. The Editor's Choice Kodak M580 uses industry-standard mini-USB and mini-HDMI outputs, so you can use available-everywhere cables to plug it into your computer or HDTV, which makes Nikon's choice all the more frustrating.

The $179.99 Nikon S4000 delivers a simple touch screen experience and a high-res display, in a sub-$200 package. The images are soft but usable, even in low light. If your budget has a firm max of $200, but you want a camera with a stabilized lens and thus sharper images, try the slightly more-expensive $199.99 Editor's Choice Kodak M580, but you won't get a touch screen.

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