Do you need a new point-and-shoot style digital camera? We did - and here's what we think of our new Coolpix S6200.
On our second day of vacation we discovered that the battery on our plum-colored Nikon Coolpix S210 was about to die, and - more to the point - the battery charger was still sitting on the kitchen table... a thousand miles away. There's no such thing as a Colorado vacation without a camera, so - given that the Ms had been campaigning for a new point-and-shoot, anyway - we bit the bullet and browsed the offerings at the nearest BigBox store (a Wal-Mart in Salida). We walked out with a Nikon Coolpix S6200 (after paying for it, of course).
Why choose the Coolpix S6200? Well, partially because the S210 had been pretty much bulletproof in the time we've owned it and partially because of the quality of the Nikkor lens, which the store's merchandise from Kodak, Samsung and Fuji didn't match (and the best they had to offer from Canon was sold out). Although it's a few generations beyond the S210 with the expected updates in technology, it also has plenty of features in common. Here's the scoop on the Nikon Coolpix S6200:
It's a point-and-shoot, so I wasn't expecting expect DSLR quality and features. The case dimensions of 2.3 x 3.7 inches make it marginally larger than the S210, and at an inch thick (closed) it's a third thicker. The additional size adds a bit of bulk, though the camera still weighs in at less than six ounces. The S6200 comes equipped with the standard set of features for this class of camera. There's autofocus, self-timer, built-in automatic flash control, a 2.7-inch (diagonal) TFT LCD display (230K dot), more than thirty preset "scenes" for different situations (landscape, portrait, sports, etc.), multi-language support, and the rest. There's the usual on-screen setup, including context-sensitive menus depending on the shooting mode; some computationally-intensive trickery like face recognition software and vibration-resistance (anti-shake) correction.
Beyond what's present in my older Nikon, the S6200 adds a pet-portrait setting (a facial recognition setting that "knows" dogs and cats, though not necessarily bearded dragons); a subject tracking mode that can find a "known" face in a crowd (great for spies?); and onboard software for special effects like fish-eye, sepia, soft focus, and variable contrast B&W. In an age of FoodTV fanatics, it probably won't surprise you that there's a special setting for photographing food...
Controls are straightforward and fairly intuitive; very little different from our older model. They include a four-position rocker button with an enter button in the bullseye; rocker positions open exposure compensation and flash-control menus, macro mode, and self timer. In display mode, the button spins like a wheel to take you on a forward or backward slide show of your images; twirling it also allows for quick movement through any on-screen menu. Four small tabs are arranged around the rocker to control mode choice, shift the camera into display mode, trash photos, and enter menu mode.
There's a tiny on-off switch on the top edge next to the shutter release; like most P&S cameras the shutter release can be partially depressed to lock focus/exposure. Zoom control is located on a dial coaxial with and slightly below the shutter release; spring-loaded with a tiny forward-pointing knurled tab. Instead of having to shift the camera into movie mode, the S6200 has a dedicated video button on the upper right-hand corner of the back. It's recessed, to prevent accidental presses. Several buttons are, as software geeks would say, overloaded: they function differently depending on you're doing right now: when choosing a "scene" mode, the zoom toggle shows you details of the highlighted choice; in display mode toggling toward wide-angle shifts display into thumbnail mode, though you can also zoom in on (and pan around) any image as well.
There's more: camera-makers just keep packing features into these tiny gadgets. At 16 megapixel resolution, the S6200 has twice the nominal resolution of the three-year-old Coolpix S210. That itty-bitty zoom lens specs out at 4.5-45.0 mm, which Nikkor says corresponds to a range of 25mm-250mm on a 35mm SLR - a 10X optical zoom. The lens aperture ranges from f3.2 to f5.8 (a slightly narrower range than the f3.1 to f5.9 of the S210). The software automatically adjusts the CCD's "film sensitivity" to shutter speed and aperture range between ISO 80 and ISO 1600; with an available manual high-sensitivity mode that allows setting ISO to levels from 80-3200.
In macro mode you can shoot as close as 10cm (4 inches) from the lens. Other built-in tricks include manually directing the autofocus, applying up to 4X software zoom, and panning pictures. You can nudge exposure compensation in either direction, or shoot in a panorama-assist mode. There's a "burst" or continuous mode, which fires off up to six pictures (at 1.2 frames/second) as long as the shutter button is held down; a multi-shot mode that collects sixteen shots at a rate equivalent to 30 fps on a film movie camera and saves them as a single image; and a "best-shot-selector" mode that shoots ten images in rapid succession and automatically saves the best. Of course there are the familiar technological miracles - red-eye correction, vibration reduction, and the like. There's an HD video mode, too, for the YouTube generation. Movie size (with stereo sound) is limited only by the available storage space - and the camera connects directly to a television via either component connectors or an HDMI cable to display the movies (in either PAL or NTSC format) and still images.
Internal software includes automatic red-eye reduction software; and functions that emulate darkroom manipulation like digital "dodging" and "burning," skin softening, and filter techniques like soft focus or painting. Though nominally a 16-megapixel camera, the S6200's image resolution can be set to any of nine resolution/aspect ratio combinations, from 640x480 to 4608x3456 (including 4608 x 2592, an aspect ratio of 16:9).
Besides this bright red model, the Coolpix S6200 is available in plum (like my Coolpix S210), black, silver, white, and electric blue. The camera comes with a wrist strap, a Lithium-ion battery, an AC adapter/wall charger, a cable that doubles for hookup to your computer for downloading images and connecting to the wall charger, a video component cable for connection to televisions, a PDF version of the owner's manual, a quick-start guide, and Nikon's photo management software ViewNX2. Unlike the S210, the S6200 charges with the battery installed, and can charge from a computer's USB port. The S6200 comes with 74MB of on-board flash memory, which is used when no memory card is installed. The camera accepts SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards (not included); a speed rating of 6 or faster is advised for shooting video. The owner's manual lists a group of cards that have been approved by Nikon (Sandisk, Toshiba, Panasonic, and Lexar cards only).
Living with the Coolpix S6200: It's a small camera, one that slips easily into a shirt pocket. It can be operated one-handed, though I find that controls other than the shutter release and video button are hard to use unless both hands get involved. I always keep the strap on my wrist when operating the camera. The LCD monitor measures a medium-sized 2.7 diagonal inches. On-screen menus are reasonably intuitive, and simple help screens are accessible at points in the menu system.
The monitor has multiple brightness settings, and I've found that the default (third of five) setting works well except in bright light - then, even the top setting tends to wash out. Photo info - shutter speed, f-stop, date, etc. - display briefly in the monitor during image playback and then disappear so you can see the entire image. During shooting, there are a wealth of different icons spread around the edges of the screen, such as a mode icon, battery level, and telltales for the auto flash and movement detectors, among others. Unlike my older Nikon, the battery level indicator is always present instead of only for a "low" warning. Like most point-and-shoots, you can toggle image review in the monitor on or off - for some reason, the review period seems overly long to me, so I have it off.
The S6200 goes from shutdown to ready in about a second and requires less than a second to autofocus and shoot: Nikon claims less than 0.3 seconds to attain the image and a shutter lag of 0.42 seconds, around half the timespan from press to shoot of my older camera. If you pre-focus by pressing the shutter release halfway, lag approaches zero. A shutter lag of this duration is still noticeable compared to a film camera, but is quite quick for the world of point-and-shoots.
Images are crisp and clear throughout, though the maximum effective aperture of 5.8 reduces depth of field. The images shot at full resolution are more than sufficient for 11x14 photographs at 300 dpi; though lower resolution images are more suitable for small prints. Color reproduction appears very good, without any chromatic aberration I could detect, probably a result of the Nikkor lens. The few videos I've shot were quite acceptable, though the little camera has the expected problems with rapid changes in focal length and brightness.
Autofocus in both face-recognition and pet-portrait mode seems slow, which doesn't much bother me: I prefer to pre-focus and then recompose a photograph, anyway. I'm not sure how one can actually test the anti-vibration software, unless maybe one is riding in a car or such - so I haven't tried. I also haven't tested the feature Nikon calls "Night Detection," which apparently uses an accelerometer to determine whether the camera is handheld or on a tripod when shooting in the dark and thus automatically adjusts sensitivity and shutter speed. I don't get out at night much...
The good: The S6200 packs a friendly user interface and plenty of features into a compact, high-tech body. Photographs, both still and movies, are of good quality, more than acceptable for enlarging to 11x14 prints (with proper image resolution). There are plenty of options for a point-and-shoot enthusiast, and enough versatility that a more demanding user could try out some "outside-the-box" shooting techniques. I like that the shutter speed is significantly faster than my older camera.
The not-quite-so-good: The S6200 will never compete head-to-head with a digital SLR, though that should not come as any surprise. The camera is also surprisingly difficult to turn on - the power button is so small and recessed so much that I sometimes have to press it with a fingernail.
Overall: If you're in the market for a small point-and-shoot camera and demand more than a basic box, the Coolpix S6200 should is a must for your "to-be-tested" list. The price is right, especially if substantially discounted from the MSRP of $230 (we got a whoppin' $3 discount at Wal-Mart - pbbbbbbbt). It's been great for doggy portraits, landscape photos, and some interesting cityscapes (beats the heck out of cell-phone photos). Even if you have a big ol' SLR, one of these can be handy for quick snaps and in those situations where the real camera would be too bulky.
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Amount Paid (US$): 227
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Flexible Enough for Enthusiasts