It’s the first ‘smart camera’, and one with a 16-million-pixel sensor and 10x optical zoom. Tim Coleman tests the Google Android OS-powered Nikon Coolpix S800c. Read the Nikon Coolpix S800c review...
Nikon Coolpix S800c at a glance:
- 16-million-pixel, back-illuminated CMOS sensor
- Equivalent 25-250mm Nikkor lens (10x optical zoom)
- Android enabled (Gingerbread 2.3)
- 3.5in, 819,000-dot OLED touchscreen
- Built-in GPS
- Lens-shift vibration reduction
- Street price around £340
Nikon Coolpix S800c review – Introduction
Smartphones are truly popular with photographers, thanks in no small part to their pocketability and multi-purpose functionality. Web access for instantly sharing photos is clearly useful, as are photography apps. Most importantly, the built-in cameras are getting better. DxOMark recently put on its website (www.dxomark.com) an article claiming the best smartphone camera has better image quality than high-end compact cameras of five years ago. Such devices have therefore put, dare I say it, one-trick-pony consumer-level compact cameras under serious threat.
Nikon was the first to announce the launch of a ‘smart camera’ that uses the Google Android OS (operating system) in the form of its Coolpix S800c, pipping the Samsung Galaxy Camera. Unlike the Samsung camera, there is no sim card in the S800c, which means no mobile data network or a contract to pay each month. Instead, Wi-Fi is used for photo sharing, web browsing, emails and access to the Google Play store for downloading applications. The S800c offers most of the advantages of a smartphone, but it is at its heart a consumer compact camera.
Image: This unedited image has been taken using the camera’s auto mode
Google Android is used by a large number of smartphones, and as such is a continuously developed OS that is both speedy and smooth. The S800c uses an old version of Android, Gingerbread 2.3, rather than the latest version, which is currently Jelly Bean 4.1. Gingerbread is possibly the most widely supported version, with most of the current apps working on the camera. So it may be an old version, but it is reliable.
Alongside the camera, Nikon has introduced its own myPicturetown app, which is an online image viewing and storage service.
Where a smart camera currently has an advantage over a smartphone is in the lens. Most smartphones feature a fixed wideangle lens, whereas the S800c uses a versatile 4.5-45mm (25-250mm equivalent) lens equipped with shift-vibration reduction.
Remove the Android operation from the specification of the S800c and it appears much of the camera’s core is identical to the Coolpix S6300, which is a consumer compact with a current street price of around £120. With the S800c’s initial RRP of over £400 (although it is now £379.99), the Android platform is relatively costly. Of course, a big part of that cost is in the new OLED touchscreen, which is used effectively for functions such as touch AF, navigating the camera and typing. I will go into more detail about the screen in the Build and Handling section.
The core of the camera is made up of a 16-million-pixel, back-illuminated CMOS sensor. It is the standard 1/2.3in (6.17×4.55mm) size. JPEG-only still images and 1080p full HD videos are processed using the company’s Expeed C2 processor.
Image: The file converted via Instagram into b&w, with added contrast and blur at the edges
Like the S6300, the S800c has autoexposure only, with an easy auto mode, scene modes that include backlighting, HDR, a smart portrait mode and special effects including high-contrast monochrome. There are no manual-exposure controls, apart from ±2EV exposure compensation. However, with access to photography apps there is an abundance of extra picture effects and shooting modes available. In auto mode, the drive modes include a continuous high shooting burst of 8.1fps for full-resolution files, or up to 120fps using a reduced file size.
Build and handling
Most of the handling of the S800c revolves around its wonderfully bright and crisp 819,000-dot OLED touchscreen. The fixed 3.5in monitor dominates the rear of the camera and is clear to view in bright daylight. Be it adjusting the sliders for exposure compensation, using the touch shutter or typing an email, the screen is responsive, too. A home button accesses the main menu where the shooting, playback, browser and apps can be selected.
Image: There are a number of photography apps available. Adobe Photoshop Express is free
Downloading an app works much in the same way and speed as a smartphone. Full-resolution files from the camera are bigger than those from most phones, and the uploading and editing process can therefore feel a tad slow using some of the popular photography apps. As the camera is a new Android device, some bugs may need to be addressed from the apps side, too. For example, images cannot be rotated in the Instagram app without disappearing!
The camera is pocket-sized and encased in a smooth and solid plastic shell. Start-up time from standby is rather unpredictable. The camera is usually ready to shoot within 1sec, but the buttons and touchscreen can often take more than 10secs. The 10x optical zoom takes approximately 3secs to go from its widest to most telephoto settings, and macro AF offers a minimum focus distance of 10cm.
With no manual-exposure control, it is worth setting up the touchscreen to its touch AF/AE mode. A large central portion of the frame is covered for this spot functionality, but it must be chosen instead for touch shutter or subject tracking.
Storage is on SD memory card, but the camera also has 1.7GB of internal memory, 680MB of which is for downloading applications. A USB cable is supplied for charging the EN-EL12 battery, which has a disappointing life measured to the CIPA standard at 140 shots. If you enable GPS satellites for tagging images with GPS data, the battery life is even shorter. The comparable S6300 uses the same battery and offers a 230-shot battery life, while a smartphone would probably offer even more. An extra battery is therefore a worthwhile purchase.
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured with the lens set to its 60mm point. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
With a 10x zoom and high-resolution sensor, there is little doubt that the S800c is more versatile than a smartphone. However, fast shutter speeds are required at the telephoto settings because the lens-shift reduction is not as effective as I would have hoped.
Given that there is no manual control over shutter speed and the camera does not automatically select a fast shutter speed, one cannot guarantee blur-free images at the more telephoto settings, even with a steady hand. This is a shame because the lens could have been the camera’s trump card.
With an initial price of over £400, it is easy to have high expectations regarding image quality. The S800c is based on a consumer compact camera, though, and as such its JPEG image quality cannot match that of similarly priced high-end models. Close-range subjects in good light are sharp enough, but generally when viewed at 100% any other detail is mushy at best. At such a price level, this is disappointing. When images are viewed at 50%, which is the same size as images from many of the latest popular 8-million-pixel smartphones, they appear much crisper than at 100%.
The usual limitations resulting from the use of a compact-sized sensor apply here. In standard shooting mode, the dynamic range is not expansive enough to cover strong highlight detail, so information in the sky often burns out. With this in mind, it is beneficial to make use of the HDR shooting mode available in-camera, rather than trying to recover nonexistent information post-capture using apps with HDR modes.
In the standard shooting mode, colours are bright, punchy and realistic enough. Opt for the landscape scene mode, and colours are way too saturated to be believable.
The Nikon Coolpix S800c has the feel of a camera rushed through to be the first of its kind. It offers a glimpse of how smart cameras can revolutionise photography, which is an exciting prospect given that the technology will probably be developed further and find its way into more high-end cameras. Apart from its Android functionality, think of the S800c as a consumer-level compact with an excellent screen but poor battery life.