While the S4300 doesn’t exactly push the design envelope it’s still quite a stylish little camera. The shiny casing is likely to divide opinion, and there will be some who like it and others who find it a bit tacky. Either way, the S4300 is wrapped in an abundance of plastic, which is to be expected at this end of the price spectrum. Build quality is pretty much on a par for the money and the outer casing feels quite strong and doesn’t flex when pressure is applied. All in, it’s certainly robust enough to withstand being carried in a trouser pocket, although should you opt to keep it in a bag with other items then you will run a very real risk of scratching the rear LCD monitor.
It’s quite a comfortable camera to hold, mostly on account of it being both small and light. Them front of the camera lacks any kind of finger grip on to wrap your digits around, but thankfully this isn’t too much of an issue as there’s although there’s a fairly pronounced thumb rest on the back. The shutter release is large and prominent and the zoom rocker control is easy to reach as well, giving you easy control over the camera.
On the back buttons are kept to a minimum, although you can of course use the touch screen to select focus and to adjust shooting settings. The 3in, 460k-dot screen is a big step up from the rather shoddy 230k-dot screens that tend to dominate this end of the market and the touch-screen is generally quite responsive to the touch, despite being of the resistive variety. We did find that around the edges of the screen we sometimes had to press a little more forcefully, but most of the virtual buttons are large enough to jab with ease.
Start-up time is pretty quick, with the camera going from off to on and ready to shoot in around a second. Autofocus performance is pretty much standard fare for a compact of this price, which is to say perfectly quick enough in good light but less so when light levels drop below optimum.
Unfortunately, image quality is a bit disappointing, and certainly not as good as we would have expected from a Nikon compact. Our main gripe in this respect is that, even at the base sensitivity setting of ISO 80, images produced by the S4300 are lacking in fine detail and instead display an abundance of unsightly processing artifacts. As you move up the sensitivity range the presence of these grows ever stronger, which suggests that they are a result of the in-camera noise reduction. Between ISO 80 – 400 results are just about acceptable, but by ISO 800 images start to look mushy, while at the top setting of ISO 1600 images also lose colour saturation.
While the in-camera metering is generally reliable although we did find that the camera’s limited dynamic range frequently leads to the loss of highlight detail, often earlier than we might have otherwise expected. Chromatic aberrations can also a problem, especially around the edges of images. Automatic white balance is generally quite accurate though, and even manages to work well when the camera is being used under artificial lighting.
On paper the Nikon Coolpix S4300 looks to offer quite a lot of camera for the money, with the touch-screen interface, flexible zoom range and built-in image stabilisation all pointing to a camera that should be able to punch above its weight. Sadly though, the general standard of image quality falls below what we would expect – even from a budget compact – and sadly undoes all of these plus points.