Nikon Coolpix S550|
Stylish 10-megapixel ultra-compact with 5X zoom
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
When Nikon revealed its Fall 2007 lineup, something was missing: a 10-megapixel camera. The S-Series models jumped from 8 (S510) to 12 megapixel (S700). This oversight has now been addressed with not one but two new 10-megapixel cameras, the S550 and the S600. They are different enough that we'll dedicate a separate page to each.
The S550 is a small and handy little camera that will appeal to those who like to get close. That's because it, unlike any other S-Series Coolpix, has a 5X optical zoom. Depending on the kinds of pictures you like to take, that can make a huge difference. Following the trend of offering cameras in different colors, the S550 comes in plum, cool blue and graphite black. And with a list price of just US$229, it's a bargain.
Elegance and performance
With digital camera prices getting ever lower, camera makers are having a hard time differentiating their offerings and justifying price differences. In an effort to be price-competitive, they usually include something special in a model, but usually at the expense of something else. The new S550 is no different.
On the plus side you get 10 megapixel to play with. That means 3648 x 2736 pixel images, enough for huge prints and also enough to crop to your heart's content and still have enough resolution. A 5X optical zoom is always better than the standard 3X zoom. And the S550's zoom is actually longer than that of the also new and more expensive Coolpix S600 which has a 4X wide angle zoom. And you get time-lapse movies and a smile and blink mode. More on that later.
On the negative side -- and this is relative and only compared to the other new 10-megapixel Nikon -- the LCD measures "only" 2.5 inches diagonally and not 2.7. The S550 does not have the rotary multi selector of the S600 (not everyone will miss it). Most importantly, and this is primarily why the S550 costs $70 less, it only has digital vibration reduction and not the more sophisticated optical sensor shift technology. It is not immediately obvious why Nikon equips the 4X zoom model with active anti-blur and the one with a 5X zoom, which needs image stabilization more, only with the digital version.
Be that as it may, there is much to like. The all-metal S550 is a very compact and attractive camera. It measures a tiny 3.6 x 2.1 inches and is 0.9 inchs thick. Even with its battery installed, it weighs barely five ounces. It is a clen, elegant design with simple and clearly marked controls. Most of the backside is taken up by the high resolution (230k pixel) LCD that sports anti-reflection coating so it can be viewed in sunlight. It also has a very wide viewing angle from all sides. To the right of the display are the few hardware controls, all nicely and logically arranged. The 4-way navigation disc with an "ok" button in its center also lets you quickly toggle through frequently used functions such as flash, time delay, focus modes and so on. The four hardware buttons invoke the settings and mode selection menus, toggle between record and playback, and let you delete pics. All very simple.
Like all recent Coolpix cameras, the S550 benefits from Nikon's EXPEED image processing system that optimizes noise reduction and improves the signal-to-noise ratio. The S550 also has an enhanced face-priority auto focus mode that can now detect and focus on up to 12 faces in a single picture. Red-eye fixing is built into the camera, and there is D-Lighting that compensates for excessive backlight or insufficient flash in images.
Nikon uses electronic VR Image Stabilization technology in the S550. It uses higher sensitivity and quicker shutter speeds to help produce sharper and clearer images in low lighting conditions or when subjects are moving. There is a total of 15 scene modes. They are Face-Priority AF, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Back Light, and Panorama Assist.
There are also two new modes: Smile and Blink Warning. In smile mode, the camera can actually tell a smile and will wait to shoot the picture until it detects one. Blink warning actually displays a warning message when, in the camera's opinion, the subject has blinked when the picture was taken. Since a lot of people have that annoying tendency, the warning message quickly lets you take another shot without having to check the picture.
We like the Coolpix S550 because it offers a good combination of features at a great price. You get a 10-megapixel camera with a very good 2.5-inch high-res display, lots of fun features and, most importantly, a genuine 5X optical zoom. In addition, the S550 is small and light and very elegant -- a real conversation piece. The one thing missing is optical anti-blur, but that is why the excellent S550 is so reasonably priced.
Not so much:
- 5X optical zoom
- 10 megapixel resolution
- Very good sunlight-visible hi-res 2.5 inch screen with wide viewing angle
- Elegant design with brushed metal body in three colors
- Small, light and handy
- Advanced face recognition mode with smile and blink detection
- Full speed VGA movies with sound and time lapse movies