The S710's overall performance is actually pretty slow. It takes nearly four seconds to start up to the point where it's ready to take a picture, although it only takes around two and half seconds to shut down again. In single shot mode at maximum image quality the shot-to-shot time is also very slow at around four seconds. The continuous shooting mode is also quite disappointing. Shooting at full resolution it is limited to a burst of only seven shots, which it takes in about five seconds, but it doesn't focus between shots, and worse there is no audio cue to let you know it's taking pictures. The camera does have a special high-speed continuous mode, but this is limited to 3MP. It also features the BSS (Best Shot Selector) mode, which takes a burst of pictures and then saves the sharpest one. This is hardly new though; it's been a standard Nikon feature for ages.
The S710 does have Nikon's much improved compact camera autofocus system, the same as the S560 and S610. It focuses quickly and accurately in almost all lighting conditions, and is particularly good in low light situations, making it a good choice for social photography in pubs and clubs. It has a very bright AF lamp, but it focuses so quickly that it's not lit long enough to dazzle anyone. Despite its small size the flash is also very good, easily filling a large room to a range of nearly five metres, but it is accurately metered and attenuates well for close range subjects.
Image quality is generally good, but it does have its limits. The overall level of detail is very good of course, although comparing it directly with the sample shots from the 10MP S560 or S610c I really can't say that there's any significant advantage in image quality gained from the extra few megapixels.
Colour reproduction is accurate, but colours do look a bit muted and seem to lack depth. This may well be due to the S710's one major weakness; its extremely limited dynamic range. On my high-contrast test shot of an underground car park staircase, the S710 loses detail in both the highlights and the shadows. Addling D-Lighting in playback mode brings up some very noisy shadow detail, but does nothing for the highlights. There is also a lot of blue fringing around the burned out white areas, which is usually a sign of charge leakage from overloaded sensor cells.
Image noise isn't as much of a problem as I was expecting, but compared to the excellent results of the S560 it is rather disappointing. Noise is visible even at the lowest ISO setting, and is quite obvious by 400 ISO, although to be fair the camera does still record a lot of fine detail even at 800 ISO. Beyond that though and the noise and overall lack of shadow detail really damages the image quality. The two highest settings, 6400 and 12,800, are only available at 3.0MP, and produce exceptionally poor image quality that lacks colour definition and detail, with major noise problems reducing the image to the appearance of a badly coloured pointillist painting.
To be honest I think that maximum ISO setting, like the 14.5MP resolution, is only there so that Nikon can print another big number on the box to sell an expensive camera to those who are easily impressed by such things. You can get the same style and build quality in a smaller, faster package with much better picture quality for two-thirds of the price, by buying the S560 instead.
While the S710 is an impressive-looking camera with excellent build quality and lots of big numbers on the box, not least the price tag, the slippery handling, fiddly control dial and slow performance limit its appeal compared to some very strong rivals, and its indifferent image quality, with very limited dynamic range, poor colour depth and noise problems, mean that it is outclassed by its own cheaper stablemates. 14.5 megapixels and 12,800 ISO might sound impressive, but what's the point if the picture quality suffers?