Not all of us are looking for a camera with which to make competition standard prints; sometimes all we want to do is point and shoot and end up with an attractive result that doesn't require much, if any, image editing. And if we can get that for a reasonable price, all the better. Ticking those boxes is the new Coolpix S3100, which offers an effective resolution of 14 megapixels and a 5x zoom lens.
Available in a range of seven vivid colours - citrus yellow, pink, purple, blue and regulation silver and black – the cheerful label can be applied to this camera even before you've taken a photo, assuming any of the above colours takes your fancy. The S3100 inevitably also boasts slender proportions and manageable weight of just 118g with battery and card, so it will slot equally well into any handbag or trouser pocket.
For the cheap part of the equation, prices of between £115 and £130 seem to fit the bill. Inevitably, at this price you're looking at a camera with no few manual controls, so if you start to get a bit ambitious with your shooting you may soon out grow it.
There are some interesting stats that come with the S3100. It upgrades last year's 12 megapixel S3000, which Nikon claims was, incredibly (considering its mediocrity), Europe's best selling camera for 2010. This immediately lends the S3100 a place of importance within the manufacturer's line up that belies its gaudy/glossy exterior and high volume/low cost market position.
Reminding us a lot of last year's great value and similarly dinky S5100 model, the new Nikon S3100 is one of a co-announced Coolpix trio which includes the touch screen S4100 and 7x zoom S6100. This unit's own 5x optical zoom, the equivalent of a wider than most 26-130mm in 35mm film terms, is an improvement over the S3000's 4x, and is shoehorned into its slim-line, 18.4mm, body (also an improvement over its predecessor's 19mm frame). Inevitably, the lens aperture is a modest f/3.3-6.5 so low light shooting will more often than not require a flash or very steady hands and subjects. Unfortunately there's no sensor shift nor optical stabilisation mechanism to help out in the latter scenarios or when shooting handheld at the telephoto end of the zoom.
More positively, the S3100's 2.7-inch, 230k dot resolution LCD screen is claimed to be brighter than its forebear's despite being identically sized, which we found was borne out in testing.
HD video recording is a thoroughly unsurprising addition in this day and age, though here's it's of the HD ready, 1,280x720, variety. You even get a dedicated record button located at the top right hand corner of the backplate, which is a rare addition on lower priced cameras. Press this and recording instantly commences, the screen's default 4:3 aspect ratio cropped to the widescreen 16:9 in which hthe footage is being recorded. There's no HDMI output however, just standard definition AV output and USB 2.0 connectivity, sharing a port at the camera's base, next to the shared compartment for the supplied rechargeable lithium ion battery and optional SD, SDHC or SDXC media card. Incidentally, the battery is charged within the camera, as Nikon, doubtless to keep costs down, has supplied a generic USB mains adapter into which one end of the supplied USB cable neatly slots.