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The camera’s AF system is a little slow in most circumstances, contributing to its less-than-sparkling performance, however at higher zoom settings it becomes incredibly slow, hunting backwards and forwards a couple of times before hesitantly locking on to the subject. In good light at close to full zoom it can take well over two seconds to focus, which is hopelessly slow if you’re trying to photograph any sort of action. Low light focusing is also rather poor, and the AF lamp only has an effective range of about 1.5 metres. It’s really not the sort of performance I’d expect from a Nikon, especially a key model like this one.
There is another serious issue that I must mention, and it is to do with the camera’s handling. If you look at the accompanying photos, you’ll see that the S10 has a clearly defined thumb grip at the top right of the back panel. Note also its position relative to the monitor screen. If you hold the camera in the usual manner so that you can comfortably operate the shutter button, in fact as shown in the camera manual, then your thumb will partially obscure the monitor screen.
Admittedly I’ve got fairly huge hands, and my thumb was covering about a quarter of the right side of the screen, but even with smaller hands anyone using this camera is going to have the same problem. There’s just no comfortable way to hold the camera so that you can operate it and still see the whole screen. Surely someone involved with the design of this camera should have noticed this. Does the word ergonomics ring any bells?
It’s a shame that the experience of using the S10 is marred by these faults, because it is capable of producing good results. Colour rendition and exposure are very good, although dynamic range is a bit limited and very high contrast shots tend to be rather dark and murky. The big lens has excellent resolving power and is capable of capturing lots of very fine detail, and once it’s got around to focusing, pictures are sharp and crisp, especially at the lowest ISO settings. As I mentioned there is some spherical distortion at the widest angle setting, but it isn’t too severe.
The S10 has a good range of ISO settings, and noise control is exceptionally good. Even at the maximum 800 ISO image noise and colour distortion are kept to an acceptable minimum, producing usable shots even at this setting. The only real problem with image quality is the amount of compression. The image files are about 2/3rds the size of those produced by most 6MP cameras, and some images have heavy artefacting as a result.
The Nikon Coolpix S10 is a well-made and attractively finished camera with some useful capabilities, excellent noise handling and is capable of producing good results under the right circumstances. However, lacklustre performance, terminally slow AF, poor low-light capability and awkward handling limits its appeal. It is also expensive compared to rival cameras with superior performance, so the overall outlook is bleak.