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I've criticised some previous Nikon cameras for their sluggish performance, but this is clearly an area in which a lot of progress has been made. The S700 performs very well, starting up in under two seconds and shutting down again even more quickly. The autofocus system is a massive improvement over previous models, focusing in just over a second in good light, and not slowing down much in reduced lighting. I used the camera in a typical social situation (a dark nightclub) and found it to be very quick and reliable. The AF assist lamp helps in very low light, with a range of a couple of meters. Considering this big improvement, the shot-to-shot cycle time in single shot mode is a little disappointing at approximately three seconds, and is only a little faster in continuous mode at 2.3 seconds per shot. As is often the case with very small high-tech cameras, battery duration is a bit limited. Nikon claims 150 shots on a full charge, but I found it to be slightly less, at around 130 shots, but I was using the flash and the LCD monitor more than usual.
One are where the S700 does score well is image quality, which is refreshing for a 12MP camera. The Nikkor lens lives up to the high standard for which the marque is known, producing excellent sharpness across the frame, only fading slightly with a hint of chromatic aberration in the very corners of the frame. The level of fine detail is extremely good, and overall picture quality at low ISO settings is among the best I've seen from a 12MP ultra-compact. Yes, the dynamic range is a bit limited, and shadows are a bit dark and murky, but I've seen a lot worse. Exposure and colour rendition are as good as one expects from Nikon's excellent Epeed processor, and noise control is also surprisingly good for a high-powered small sensor. Pictures are very good up to 800 ISO, and I would say that it has the best image quality up to this setting of any of the 12MP ultra-compacts I've seen so far, equaling that of the Sony W200.
Although it is expensive, the Nikon Coolpix S700 offers excellent style and build quality, good performance, simple operation, effective low-light focusing and superior picture quality, with the advantage of optical image stabilisation. It shows that a 12MP ultra-compact can produce good image quality at fairly high ISO settings. However it still doesn't offer any real advantage over less expensive eight or ten megapixel models.