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The S560 is quite a brisk performer too. It starts up in a little over two seconds, and in single shot mode and maximum image quality it can maintain a shot-to-shot time of approximately 2.2 seconds, although it is a little quicker over the first five shots. Unfortunately the continuous shooting mode is nowhere near as polished as the rest of the camera's features; it shoots at irregular intervals, and there is no audio cue to tell you when it is taking a picture. It can manage about 1.3 seconds per frame, but to be honest it's hard to tell accurately. The Best Shot Selector mode operates in much the same way, but it does appear to work, taking up to ten shots while the shutter is pressed and then saving the sharpest.
One perennial problem for Nikon compacts has always been the slow autofocus system, but I'm happy to report that some work appears to have been done in this area, and the AF system on the S560 is noticeably quicker than on previous models. It's still a bit slower than some of its rivals, but not embarrassingly so. Low light performance is excellent, focusing reliably even in very dark conditions, with a good AF assist lamp that has a useful range of at least three metres.
The S560 also scores highly on image quality, although it does have a couple of minor issues. The lens is good, producing relatively little barrel distortion and no chromatic aberration, however it isn't as sharp as some rivals. Dynamic range could also be better, but it's no worse than most other 10MP compacts, burning out highlights to preserve shadow detail.
Where the S560 scores most highly though is in noise control. It is one of the few compact cameras I've seen that can produce good quality shots at 1600 ISO, with visible fine detail and virtually perfect colour rendition. 2000 ISO is a little scrappy but still usable, and even the 3MP 3200 ISO setting is far from useless. I don't know what Nikon has done to produce these results, but they need to keep doing it. The S560 has the easily best high-ISO image quality of any recent compact that I've tested, even beating the Fuji F40fd.
Although it isn't without a couple of niggling faults, the Nikon CoolPIx S560 is a very pleasing camera to use. It has excellent handling, superior build quality, good performance and image quality, and is small, light and robust enough to take anywhere. Where it really shines though is in its outstanding high-ISO picture quality. For £160 it is excellent value for money.