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In recent months Nikon has been rejuvenating its compact camera range, some parts of which had been looking a bit stale, with some interesting and adventurous new models. Perhaps the kindest thing I can say about them is that some have been more successful than others. For example the CoolPix P5000 that I reviewed last month is a good mid-range enthusiasts camera that should compete well with Canon’s A-series. Others, such as the CoolPix S10 don’t really fit into the market anywhere, and also have some serious technical issues to boot. Nikon already has some very good budget and high-end compacts, such as the CoolPix L6 and P4, but one area where it has been sorely lacking is in the ultra-compact market, where cameras such as Canon’s popular Digital Ixus range and Casio’s Exilim models compete. It’s probably no surprise to anyone then that one of the new models is the S500, an extremely sleek and stylish ultra compact launched in February.
When looking for competing models with which to compare the S500 I didn’t have to look very far. It is so similar to the Canon Digital Ixus 70 that they could have been twins separated at birth. Announced within two days of each other, both are 7.1-megapixel ultra-compacts with 1/2.5-in sensors, 3x zoom, 35-105mm-equivalent, f/2.8 lenses and 2.5-in, 230k anti-glare LCD monitors. In appearance as well the two cameras are very similar. Both are very rectangular in shape, and only a couple of millimetres separate them in size. The Nikon is slightly longer (88 x 51 x 22 mm), while the Canon is marginally thinner (85.9 x 53.5 x 19.4). At 135g dry the Nikon is the heavier of the two by 10g.
There’s also little to separate the two cameras on price. The Nikon S500 is currently retailing at around £170, while the Canon Ixus 70 is available for about £163, which with the variation in prices between various retailers is a close as makes no odds.
In terms of design and build quality the S500 is a match for the Canon too, with a strong all-metal body available in either silver or a sort of dark metallic bronze colour, both finished in a brushed metal texture. The control layout looks fairly conventional, but in fact the D-pad also rotates for fast scrolling through menus and recorded images, a feature that you’ll either love or hate. I have to admit I’m not too keen on it. The dial is very loose and turns far too freely, and it is very easy to accidentally change settings unintentionally. The conventional D-pad works perfectly well, so I don’t see the point of changing it to make it worse.