Nikon Coolpix S600 Digital Compact Camera Review

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, October 2008
Published by: Nikon Canada Nikon USA
Requires: An interest in general photography
MSRP: US$249.99, CAN$249.99

Aimed at casual photographers and people who need a sturdy, lightweight, good looking compact camera for unexpected moments, and at enthusiasts who from time to time need a competent camera without the size and bulk of the much bigger prosumer and small DSLR bodies, the Nikon Coolpix S600 is an interesting choice both for those of us on a budget and for those of us who prefer something significantly better than a bargain basement cheapie. The Nikon Coolpix S600 is a 10.1 megapixel point & shoot camera featuring Nikon's patented Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilization system built into the 4x zoom Nikkor 5.0-20.0mm (35mm format picture angle equivalent: 28-112mm) f/2.7-5.8 lens.

As long as Nikon and its competitors continue to rein in their desire to compete by packing more and more megapixels onto the surface of really small digital point & shoot camera sensors, they'll be able to concentrate on improving image quality, color balance, automatic white balance and several other important issues. Diluting the brain trust by forcing them to devise ever more complex ways of reducing image noise caused by overloaded sensors is a bit of a mug's game. At 10.1 megapixels, images from the Nikon Coolpix S600 can be printed beautifully (with some clever interpolation) at 16"x24" and anything smaller. I mean, how big do you normally print? The point is that at 10.1 megapixels, you've got more than enough image data to do everything that people normally do with photos captured by these pocket P&S cameras.


We passed around the Nikon Coolpix S600 quite a bit during the review period. Unlike some of the more expensive, so-called prosumer models from various manufacturers, the Nikon S- and L-series cameras are nice looking, unassuming and very easy to use. Pull it out of a pocket, pouch, shoulder bag, kit or what-have-you, turn it on and start shooting. Start up time is very fast, which means you can turn it on, look at your target, raise the camera, frame and shoot in what amounts to one smooth motion. There might be a delay of a beat or two if you're particularly quick, but most of the time the Nikon Coolpix S600 won't get in your way.

Image quality is good. The clean, 10.1 megapixel images easily provide print sizes up to 8"x10" on A4 or U.S. letter paper from standard color or photo desktop printers. If you take your time and make careful use of VR to get the steadiest and sharpest images, you'll be able to take many of them to local digital printing services to get 13"x19" prints. We also tried shooting the S600 from a tabletop tripod and managed to get sharp enough shots to make 16"x24" prints (albeit with interpolation applied in Photoshop Elements 7). That's a big print which represents the theoretical size limit for good quality prints from 10.1 megapixel originals shot with one of these small cameras. Optimizing image for output at 13"x19" meant we had to do lots of image clean up in Photoshop Elements 7. Optimizing images for output at 16"x24" forced us to spend a lot of time correcting for flaws in the lens, color inaccuracies and so on. But we did it and it worked.

Neighbourhood shooting was a blast. Like all P&S cameras, the Coolpix S600 is small. People don't always notice it in your hand which means candid shots of kids and grown-ups are often easier to get with a camera of this size. We used the camera on a couple of more serious sojourns into the world of business, mainly for office use, but also for some trips with a co-operative insurance adjuster we know. He liked the Coolpix S600 for its small size and detailed images and for the usefulness of the built-in flash indoors in fairly tight quarters. The lens and sensor combined to produce images with more than enough detail for careful analysis of damage and loss when reviewing photos on screen.

Nikon Coolpix S600 digital compact camera offers all of Nikon's latest features including Face Detection for automatically detecting faces in any composition and ensuring that the lens focuses on them. We were able to fool the S600 by shooting dark faces, eyes closed, standing in front of an equally dark background. The same was true when we set up a bunch of white faces against a beige background and asked every body to close their eyes. It's a dumb test which we only performed after being seriously struck by how well face detection works when you're not messing around. With one of these cameras at a party or get-together or event of some sort, all you really have to do is make sure the lighting is behind you (to light up your subject), walk or zoom to get everyone in the shot, maybe turn on the flash for some fill lighting, and snap away. In good lighting, indoors or out, the S600 may surprise you with its image quality and detail.

Cons: The Nikon Coolpix S-series seems to be a direct competitor to Canon's SD/Ixus line and the Nikon models succeed in many of the same ways. However, the Canon user interface is somewhat more intuitive. Nikon's merry-go-round on-screen selector relies on screen icons rather than a hardware selection dial. Control is average using the scroll wheel/command dial, and the center OK button can only be pressed reliably with the tip of a fingernail. Nikon should use a subset of its superb D40/D60 user interface in the S-series. The Coolpix S600 is a daytime shooter, so don't bother with too much indoor flash stuff under dim lighting because you're not going to be happy with the white balance or the image noise. The body of the Coolpix S600 is well made of lightweight metal, but offers only small grip edges. Use the wrist strap

Pros: The Nikon Coolpix S600 works well in a wide variety of family, personal, social, business and public situations for casual snap-shooting, amateur photography in good light, and all sorts of events with friends, family and kids. It starts quickly, makes good quality images (in the hands of a competent or careful photographer), and is very easy to use. Nikon has integrated a good quality lens which proves the old adage about good things coming in small packages. The camera is lightweight but sturdy, offers clean, good looking lines and is completely pocket-able. Indoor shooting with natural daytime lighting augmented by the S600's built-in flash is quite satisfying and we got consistently good results. Good for Nikon for restricting the zoom to a sane 4X, and for providing a wonderfully usable 28-112mm zoom range. Better yet, the wide end of the zoom lens is rated at a zippy f/2.7, while the long end is a respectable and usable f/5.6. As well, the 10 megapixel sensor is not so overloaded with data that it produced noisy photos. In fact, images from the S600 are surprisingly clean in most circumstances. Good news all around. If you're looking for a solid pocket camera with this particular feature set, it's here. Recommended.

KSN Product Rating:



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