Pros: nice size;
nice color selection;
easy to use;
good value relative to price.
Cons: lens distortion;
in-camera image processing is screwy;
randomly over-exposes images;
not great in low light.
It has been a number of years since I've embarked on a digital camera upgrade. I have been using a trusty Olympus digital SLR camera and a FujiFinePix for years now, but they're admittedly dated at 8MP and 6MP, respectively. The Olympus takes great pictures but is just too bulky for day-to-day use, whereas the Fuji FinePix F30 developed a smudge on the inside of the lens, which has marred the lighter areas of my photos with a small but annoying shadow.
I purchased the Nikon CoolPix S3300 mostly based upon price — just $70 at a membership club — and reputation. With a top brand, how can one go wrong? Nikon has been a gold-standard in photography for decades, after all.
Featuring a 16MP CCD, I was prepared to be very impressed with the image quality because it is leap-years ahead of what I'm accustomed to working with. This review will lay out why that fantastic first impression didn't pan out.
In the Box
UC-E6 USB Cable
EG-CP14 Audio Video Cable
EN-EL19 Rechargeable Li-ion Battery
EH-69P AC Adapter/Charger
Nikon View NX2 CD-ROM
Please make a note of what's not included: You will need to supply your own SD card.
Although product specs appear in the tab above this review, I will summarize the camera's features for the sake of introduction.
At roughly a half-inch thick and less than 4 oz, this is a attractive and compact camera, slim enough to fit in a pocket or purse. This, in fact, is what attracted me to the design, more so than the choice of colors (red, black, purple, silver). First impression: An attractive go-everywhere digital camera that will blow away my smartphone camera!
Despite its small size, the camera packs a respectable 6x NIKKOR glass zoom lens, with a 26mm-156mm range (f/3.3-6.5). The camera can record 720p video at 30fps. It is also capable of shooting in ISO ranges from 80 to 3200. Although Nikon has their own version of image stabilization, there is a tripod socket on the bottom for added stability when the shooting conditions warrant it.
There's no viewfinder, but there is a 2.7" LCD monitor. The camera accepts up to 42MB of images internally, and accepts SD, SDHC and SDXC media cards. In burst or continuous shooting mode, it is capable of recording a maximum of six shots at full resolution at the rate of 1.3 frames per second.
I found the button layout intuitive, even for someone with no prior experience with a Nikon digital camera. Zoom is located on the top to the right of the power button, and the menu dial is located on the rear of the camera. There is a dedicated "record" button for video on the upper right corner on the back.
The camera body is mostly plastic, with metal to hold the wrist strap and a metal lens assembly. While it feels sturdy enough in the hand, I doubt it could sustain a drop on a hard floor. Notably, the lens operation is rather noisy, seemingly somewhat belabored compared to my experience with my Fuji FinePix. For all I know this trait is typical, but it's not as smooth as my ear is accustomed to.
There are a generous selection of scene modes, accessible by a single touch of a button on the back of the camera. Modes include Automatic Scene Selector, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach, Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-Up, Food, Museum, Fireworks Show, Black & White Copy, Backlighting, Panorama Assist and Pet Portrait. On another menu, there is also an option for what Nikon calls a "Smart Portrait". It also features what Nikon calls "face detection" technology. It is capable of utilizing up to 99 auto-focus points.
The camera is PictBridge-compatible for ease of printing, has the option to print the date on the image, and offers the following in-camera editing options: Crop, D-Lighting, Filter Effects, Glamour Retouch, Quick Retouch, Rotate image, Skin Softening, Small Picture. White balance modes include Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Flash, Flourescent, Incandescent and Manual.
The camera is made in China and features a one-year manufacturer warranty.
The Nikon CoolPix S3300 is a tad slow to focus compared to my ~8-year-old Fuji FinePix F30. In particular, it is not all that impressive in Macro (flower) mode, exhibiting more trouble than anticipated focusing on very small and very near objects. By way of example, shooting a close-up of a small trinket box is fine, whereas shooting a smaller piece of jewelry is not. In general, the auto-focus seems to pick up whatever it wants to, slowing down the composition aspect of shooting a photo. That being said, shutter lag was not too bad — but keep in mind that's coming from someone who hasn't been in the new-camera market for roughly eight years!
There would appear to be a lot of digital processing going on, which I find disconcerting about this camera. When shooting portraits, the camera appears to "edit" frown lines. Zooming in on portraits reveals consistent evidence of smudges between the brows, as well as a more diffuse airbrush effect that I find unnatural. As a Photoshop user, I'd much prefer a camera to let me do the editing.
Seemingly, too, the lens distorts modestly at its default position. On most digital cameras of a point-and-shoot nature, you'll get your most clear-and-crisp photos by remaining at the default lens position — that is to say it is better to get closer to your subject than zoom in, otherwise the photo may not be as sharp. On this camera, owners might want to zoom in just a tad to minimize wide-angle distortion. Still, modest distortion at wide angles might not be the only factor at play. In shooting a subject sitting on a backyard swing with a brick wall less than five feet behind, the wall appeared severely foreshortened — as if the picture had been shot by a 7' basketball player looming overhead.
Images from this camera also look, for lack of a better word, semi-3D. Because I do not have a wide-angle lens on my older point-and-shoot camera I am accustomed to photos that look somewhat flat — they are two-dimensional images, after all — whereas on this camera, whether by lens distortion, in-camera processing or some combination of the two, foreground-to-background proportions sometimes look like they are rendered in a fun-house mirror. As alarming as that may sound, it's not so severe that I anticipate it will bother most people who purchase this camera. As someone with an art background, however, perspective is something I am keen on — and this camera definitely distorts it.
In-camera image processing seems to be the culprit, again, in yet another odd observation: When shooting a typical landscape shot, whether in auto-mode or landscape scene mode, blades of grass and leaves on trees take on a very crisp, high contrast appearance. When that same image includes a pet, however, fur blurs for a painterly, watercolor look.
Speaking of pets, while using the Pet Portrait scene mode, I found that getting too close induced the camera to focus on the background, not the pet in question. Additionally, when standing at a more typical distance from the subject, the camera seemingly applies a softening effect — in contrast to other aspects of the picture that appeared over-sharpened (concrete, blades of grass, etc.). As such, pictures aren't entirely natural looking. They aren't terrible, mind you, but they'll probably appear a little "different" to anyone who hasn't owned a Nikon camera of this type before. (If Nikon would offer users an "Advance Menu" mode to disable image processing algorithms, this camera may have made my personal cut.)
While one can learn to overlook the quirky softening vs. sharpening quality to the photos — while others may find the exaggerated image-depth attractive — I found it particularly difficult to adapt to the following:
1) Spotty auto-focus concerning quick-moving pets or people;
2) poor performance in indoor low-light settings, when the flash is disabled, in spite of the decent ISO range;
3) the camera's random propensity, outdoors involving contrasting scenes of light/shadow, to err on the side of severe over-exposure, with an odd dodge/burn/bleach-out result.
All things taken into account, my hit-to-miss rate on this camera is a disappointing so-so, not on par with what I am accustomed to with my comparatively ancient Fuji FinePix F30.
Perhaps most disappointing of all, I can't detect much of an image improvement for this camera's 16MP to my 6MP point-and-shoot Fuji. While I am not a digital camera expert, past research suggests that squeezing more pixels on a CCD does not necessarily yield better images. This camera has confirmed for me that less is more when dealing with an inherently small — about 1/2" — CCD imaging surface. Along with variables such as lens quality and the degree of JPEG file compression — because I also note that both my Olympus and my Fuji cameras generate larger file sizes than this 16MP Nikon — this may help explain how I have obtained better detail and clarity out of much older cameras vs. a brand-new point-and-shoot Nikon featuring far newer technology (at any price range).
My takeaway after nearly 10 years out of the digital camera market is this: When going above the 12 megapixel mark, spring for a CMOS image sensor because the larger image-rendering surface translates to truer details.
In closing, I would have expected better images for the brand, Nikon; still, for the money this camera takes suitable pictures for casual use. It's not the best choice for amateur shutter bugs, nonetheless.