How small can a camera get before it ceases to be practical? That's the question posed by the matchbox-sized Nikon Coolpix S01, its tiniest to date
When the chief selling point of a camera is its size, or rather lack of, we do slightly fear for both performance and attendant features. Especially as we're always told a large sensor and big lens, meaning a bigger camera altogether, is what's needed for optimum quality pictures.
The Nikon S-01 is currently the smallest compact on the market from any major camera manufacturer, making even a credit card's dimensions look massive by comparison, first and foremost this appears to be a bit of (festive?) fun, but does it have what it takes to make it into our list of the best digital compact cameras around?
With a shiny bauble-like appearance – particularly as regards the red sample we had for review – the price of such frivolity is a manufacturer's recommended £149.99, which, while not 'take a gamble' cheap, does almost suggest gifting potential.
For that we get a specification including a 10-megapixel effective resolution and modest 3x optical zoom – which provides the 35mm equivalent of a wide angle 29-87mm – and a camera weighing a mere 96g. For comparison, most competing pocket compacts average between 200g and 300g.
More unusual and welcome is a huge 7.3GB internal memory capacity good for up to 3,000 high-resolution shots, but in getting that we sacrifice any card slot for removable media. Therefore this capacity isn't expandable. Plus, with the only port offered being for AV output, there is also no way of removing the battery, so that is charged in camera.
If 'small is beautiful' isn't your thing, then for around £150 there are cameras with better overall spec, including the16MP, 15x zoom Fujifilm F660EXR or the 12.5x zoom Olympus SH-25MR. Just a little bit larger than the Nikon is the Canon 125 HS, offering 16 megapixels and a 5x zoom for £140. But, before we make any decisions, how does the S01 handle?
Nikon Coolpix S01: Controls
The smaller the camera size, the smaller – or more minimal – the control set. On the Coolpix S01 the only three hard' controls we get are: a raised shutter release button encircled by a lever for operating the zoom, a tiny power button and a separate playback button – the latter two set flush with the top plate.
While that much is straightforward enough to ensure that anyone picking up the Nikon will be able to nigh immediately start snapping, it does mean that when we want to do anything other than point or shoot we're relying on the rear touch screen's operability.
Since most of the operation revolves around the S01's screen it makes sense to delve into this further in our next section…
Nikon Coolpix S01: Screen
At 2.5-inches in size the touch sensitive screen on the Nikon Coolpix S01 is smaller than those found on most phones, plus the resolution is a low by today's standards at 230k pixels. And, though there is seemingly space to the right hand side for a widescreen format presentation, instead the LCD itself is standard 4:3 aspect ratio.
This doesn't then leave a lot of space for fingertips to prod, though at least the four mode icons initially presented with a press of the 'home' button are almost postage stamp sized. These first four govern stills shooting mode, video shooting mode, playback and set up – with a tap of each respective square placing the camera in that setting.
Run a thumb across the vertical slider control ranged to the right of these and scroll down to find further options. These are, in order, self timer, flash mode, special effects mode, exposure compensation, image quality mode and touch shooting.
Activate the latter and as it sounds a tap of the screen will fire the camera's shutter – something it's then all too easily to do accidentally with a camera this dinky, as inevitably a thumb will stray onto the screen just in the action of getting a firm grip on it.
A tap of the creative sounding special effects mode provides user access to the ability to produce images in sepia or – our favourite – high contrast, moody Anton Corbjin-style monochrome. There are also high key (ultra bright) or low-key (darker) options.
Though we can't fault the S01's screen's responsiveness, with our adult sized fingers its small size did mean it proved a little more fiddly than we'd have liked to run through the options. Therefore the inclination is not to bother doing much more than simply pointing and shooting.
Nikon Coolpix S01: Battery
As mentioned in our intro, here the S01's battery is sealed within the unit, iPod style. While that might make for a neat hermetically sealed design, it necessitates that the camera is completely out of use every time it needs re-charging.
This is achieved via combination of USB/mains lead and adapter plug, both provided out of the box. Alternatively stick the USB lead into your desktop PC or laptop to charge the camera. Up to 190 shots are offered from a full charge which, whilst not great, is slightly better than expected given the small form factor.
Nikon Coolpix S01: Image quality
The S01's operation is point-and-shoot all the way, but there is some limited additional scope for anyone feeling slightly more creative, via the aforementioned digital special effects.
Though the selection here is limited, it furthers the fun feel while high contrast monochrome imbues shots with an artsy-ness that belies the humble snapshot they derived from. Having said that, a snapshot camera is what the Nikon Coolpix S01 is, so there is no challenge mounted to a compact system camera or DSLR. Nor would we expect that to be the case for £150.
When it comes to shooting video we get 1280x720 pixels clips with mono sound. Rather than having access to the optical variety, only a digital zoom can be used when recording video. When this is replayed transitions are disappointingly jerky; to sum up the S01's picture quality is OK, but then the S01 was never going to be about optimum performance.
Nikon Coolpix S01: Verdict
Despite its matchbox size, the construction and engineering that have gone into the 10 megapixel, 3x optical zoom Coolpix S01 means that it looks and feels of high quality. This is still a Nikon camera after all – and the brand doesn't do throwaway.
The cute-sy design, rounded edges and available colour range (hunt down the mirrored version if you can) suggest to us that the camera is aimed perhaps more at women than men, and younger ones at that.
View the S01 rationally and, aesthetics aside, you're not getting much more here – modest zoom excepted – than can be achieved via the camera in your phone. And we're always being told that phones are killing off compact cameras of modest intent – hence the boom in long zoom compacts.
Ultimately then the S01 is more toy than flexible photographic tool, but it's one that's not too hard to develop a soft spot for, despite its inherent limitations.
Nikon Coolpix S01 release date: Out now
Nikon Coolpix S01 price: £149.99