Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nikon Coolpix S570 Review

So I've had a few days with my new Nikon Coolpix S570, so I thought it was about time for a review.

Starting with the bad things about this camera, I have to say I was really disappointed with the way the S570 handles video. As it can record 640x480 video at 30FPS with sound (the same as my RCA Small Wonder pocket camcorder) by slapping an 8gb SD card in there, I was looking forward to having one less device to carry.

However, The S570 can only record video clips of 25 minutes or less, and while this is only a very minor problem, the way the S570 uses video compression…or more accurately, the way it doesn't… is a big problem. According to the manual, you'll get approximately 11 minutes of video per gigabyte of storage space…which is roughly an hour and a half on an 8gig SD card.

I have to be completely fair here and point out that the S570 is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a camcorder. However, considering my pocket camcorder (that also records 640x480 video) can fit almost 15 hours on that same 8 gigabyte card, it makes you wonder why Nikon didn't do anything to compress the video. Having said that, the actual video is very good quality and far better than I expected. Basically, it would be really nice to be able to record a few hours worth of video, but it's far from a deal breaker.

The only other thing that jumped out at me as an obvious problem is the camera's zoom control. My last Coolpix model (albeit a far higher end model) had a really smooth zoom with lots of fine control. Unfortunately, the zoom control on the S570 reacts like a sugared-up five year old, giving no fine control whatsoever. Even though the zoom control is a rocker switch with lots of movement, it doesn't appear to be analogue at all. The S570 appears to always zoom in or out as fast as it can, no matter how lightly you press with the control. While it's fairly easy to use once you get used to it, it's counter-intuitive and takes some getting used to.

The general picture quality of the s570, however, is absolutely top notch for a sub-compact camera and you really would have to go to a good DSLR to get better. I was particularly impressed with how well indoor and night-time shots came out…something my old camera was quite bad at. It's not quite as foolproof as I'd like (for example, setting it to the party/indoor setting can result in pictures with a lot of motion blur), but with a little practice and finesse, it's pretty easy to take a picture in a dimly lit room where the capured image looks almost identical to what the naked eye sees with little or no distortion. For occasions where a slower shutter speed is needed, the very quick and easy to use 2 second self timer completely removes any camera shake caused by pressing the shutter release.

In fact, the only real place where the S570 doesn't deliver what the marketing material promises is its performance at ISO 1600 and 3200 sensitivity. While picture quality is absolutely superb up to ISO 400 and good up to ISO 800, the picture quality drops off rather quickly after that and the images becomes noticeably grainy when viewed at full size. Luckily, you can set the ISO manually, or set the camera to automatically set the ISO within a range (ISO 80-400 or 80-800). The other point I should make is that if you're taking 12 megapixel pictures above 800 ISO, once they are printed at an average 5x7 size, most of the grain isn't all that noticeable…although you do have some noticeable color shift and yellow blotching.

I should also point out that the 'image stabilization' on the S570 is not mechanical stabilization and is totally electronic…meaning the S570 attempts to cancel out camera shake by automatically using a higher ISO and faster shutter speed, meaning it's not as effective as it could be…although this really isn't an issue when taking daytime shots or using the flash.

I was particularly impressed with the smart portrait mode and in particular the skin softening feature. As someone who has a lot of experience with photo retouching in photoshop, I know what an involved process it can be. I honestly expected the skin softening mode to be a gimmick that I'd never use, but the results were surprisingly subtle and natural looking.

In fact, I was quite impressed with a lot of the in-camera retouching features. They're especially great if you're not a person who uses Photoshop, but even if you are, it'll save you a few steps as it does basic contrast curve and color correction quite well. The nice part is that when you retouch a picture on the camera, it's non destructive, saving both your original shot and the retouched copy. Also nice is the ability to zoom and crop your picture in-camera.

As for ease of use, unless you've never touched a digital camera before, using the S570 should be no problem as it has very clear and easy to use menus and, for the most part, the average person can get by with simply setting the camera to auto or auto scene.

Auto scene generally works well in most situations, but when trying to photograph my Christmas tree in a very dimly lit room, the auto scene insisted I was trying to take a 'night landscape' picture…which disables the flash, sets the focus to infinity and sets a long exposure time. Not exactly perfectly set up to photograph something less than eight feet away. However, auto scene mistaking the scene appears to be the exception and not the rule and generally works really well.

One of the things I was particularly impressed with is how quickly the camera wakes up. If you're like me you've missed a good few 'photos of opportunity', by having your camera turned off to save battery power, but with the S570 you can take your first shot within two seconds of turning it on. There are certainly faster cameras out there, but to be completely honest, two seconds is more than fast enough (it's about the time it takes you to move the camera from by your side to your eye-level to frame up a picture). ..and to be completely honest, if you absolutely must have a camera that starts faster than two seconds, you're just 'keeping up with the Joneses'. Also, the S570 has a 'standby' mode which turns off the LCD and puts the camera into power saving mode after a user-set period, and the S570 wakes up from standby almost instantly.

Finally, the LCD screen is big and bright and the metal shell makes the camera feel very sturdy. Also, the build quality is excellent even down to the battery/memory card hatch. Nothing on this camera feels cheap or flimsy.

In conclusion, I think the S570 is simply one of the top cameras in its price range. You'd have to look far and wide for a better camera for around a hundred and seventy bucks. The only other camera I considered buying (after a lot of research) was the Sony Cybershot DSC-W290, as it had very similar performance to the S570 and a few nice extra features like HD video and true image stabilization.

However, the DSC-W290 sells for around $30 to $50 more than the S570, and more importantly, only takes Memory Stick Pro Duo cards, which retail for around $50 to $70 for an 8GB card (whereas the S570 takes standard SD or SDHC cards which retail at around $15 - $20 for an 8GB card). Plus, if you actually want to play the HD video from the DSC-W290 on a HDTV, you need to buy a proprietary cable for another $30.

Basically, while I believe the DSC-W290 is a slightly better camera and is certainly worth the extra thirty dollars, once you factor in memory cards and accessories, you're actually talking almost a hundred dollars more.

Long story short, I would highly recommend the Nikon Coolpix S570 and believe it's just about the best deal out there in its class and price range.


Anonymous said...

This is a very good review. My girlfriend bought me this camera for Christmas and I have a few questions about it, and if you don't mind answering them I'd be extremely grateful. All I need to know is what settings are the best for taking pictures and recording videos in a concert. Thank you very much!

Paulius said...

Sorry, I can't really make any recommendations other than to say read your manual.

Basically, you'll want a different setting depending on lighting levels and your distance from what you're shooting.

Everything you need to know is in the manual. If you don't want to read your manual all I can say is set it to auto and hope for the best.

Anonymous said...

I've read through it before and didn't find anything about the best settings for a concert. I'll look through it again. Thank you very much!

Eagle said...

hmm... thanks for the recommendation on 570. Got ta see that one too!!!