In theory this should make the S200 a good choice for low light photography, but sadly this is not the case. The problem is the autofocus system, as it has been for several recent Nikon compacts. Even in good light it is slower than most, taking over a second to achieve focus, but its low-light performance is terrible. In a room lit by a 100W bulb, in other words light you could easily read by, the S200 would only focus about half the time even on high-contrast subjects at normal ranges. In lower light, such as you’d find in many social situations, it failed to focus at all. It has no AF assist light, so there’s no help there. I have to say I’m surprised that Nikon has such a poor quality AF system in its compact cameras, especially considering how good its digital SLRs are at low-light focusing. Hopefully this is something that will be addressed in the latest models due out next month, because for the S200 it really is a major handicap to an otherwise good camera.
The S200 acquits itself more favourably in other performance criteria. Start-up time is just under three seconds, which isn’t bad for a low-cost camera, and it shuts down again in about two and a half. In continuous shooting mode, with a fast SD card, it can manage just under a shot a second, but it also has the same 16-shot burst mode as the S500, in which it takes 16 frames in about 12 seconds, but combines them all into one mosaic image. In the maximum image quality setting the S200 shoots JPEG images averaging around 2MB, which is a bit on the over-compressed side for a 7MP compact, but it does mean that a 1GB SD card is enough for at least 282 shots. The camera is compatible with SDHC cards. As for battery duration, Nikon claims 230 shots from the 740mAh Li-ion cell, but this may be a bit on the conservative side. I took about 150 shots with it and the battery level indicator didn’t even appear.
As for image quality, the S200 isn’t bad, but it does have a few issues. The Nikkor lens performs well, producing minimal barrel distortion, no noticeable chromatic aberration and good edge-to-edge sharpness. I found that in shots taken on a bright but cloudy day colour saturation was a bit lacking, and overall most images lacked contrast. The level of fine detail proved to be higher than average for a 7MP camera, however the severe file compression does it no favours, with visible compression artefacts. Image noise is about average for a 7MP camera with a 1/2.5-in sensor, with visible noise on all shots above 200 ISO. All in all a fairly average performance, but not bad for the price.
Despite the prestigious Nikon badge, the S200 is a pretty run-of-the-mill ultra-compact, with little to distinguish it from several competing models. It is very slim and light, build quality is well up to the usual Nikon standard, and the camera handles well. The electronic vibration reduction also works well, and does give the camera a slight edge over models with only ISO-boost, but this is let down by terrible low-light focusing, average performance and indifferent image quality. Not too bad for the price, but there are better ultra-compact cameras, and better Nikons.