The design does have two significant advantages though. First and most obviously, the lens can swivel 270 degrees relative to the monitor screen, including pointing straight back at the user, so it’s great for including yourself in the shot.
Second, it does allow a large lens to be used in a fairly compact camera. Larger lenses are usually better because fewer optical compromises have to be made in their design, and indeed the S10’s lens is very good, especially at the longer focal lengths. It has a maximum aperture of f3.5 at all focal lengths, which is unusually good given its focal length range. It does suffer from some spherical distortion at the wider end, which is only 38mm, but I’ve seen far worse.
Overall performance is about average for a camera in this class, with a start-up time of around two seconds. It has no continuous shooting mode, but in single shot mode it can take a shot every three seconds, which is a little on the slow side. In its highest resolution and quality mode file sizes are around 2MB, quite small for a 6MP camera, which means that a 1GB SD card is enough for approximately 336 pictures.
The S10 is aimed strictly at the snapshot end of the market, and has no manual exposure options. Even exposure compensation is relegated to a menu option. It does have a good range of scene program options though, many of which have extra sub-options for particular circumstances. They’re a bit fiddly to use, since they have to be accessed via the menu, but they can help with creative photography.
Although the S10 is very sleek and stylish to look at, it’s not a small camera. Measuring 112.5mm long, 74.5mm high and 40.5mm wide when folded flat, and weighing 220g without its battery, it’s nearly twice the size and weight of typical current pocket compacts.
It’s more comparable in size and shape to a compact digital video camera. In fact it is possible to rotate the orientation of the video shooting mode so you can hold it upright like a video camera while shooting. It has a video mode with the now-standard 30fps VGA capability. However you can’t use that nice 10x optical zoom while shooting video, just 4x digital zoom.
When shooting stills however, the combination of a powerful, fast high quality zoom and Nikon’s new moving-sensor vibration reduction system looks very tempting. An aperture of f3.5 at the equivalent of 380mm is exceptionally fast, and the VR system is supposed to provide an extra two stops of shutter speed, so shooting sharp hand-held telephoto shots should be a breeze. Indeed, telephoto pictures are sharp, highly detailed and shake-free. Unfortunately there is one major drawback to the S10’s performance that really limits its usefulness.