There’s no denying that the S600 is a very attractive camera. It has that all-important feeling of solid quality that you’d expect for £250, and the brushed-steel case has an understated simplicity that is very appealing. Build quality is mostly excellent, although the battery hatch and some of the controls do feel a little flimsy. I’m also not sure about the slightly raised profile of the monitor screen, which could prove to be prone to scratches if the camera is laid on its back.
The design is only one generation removed from the original S500, and lacks the handling adaptations of more evolved products. The case is very slippery to hold, and the lack of any protrusions on the front gives no purchase for the fingers. There is a small thumb-rest area on the back, but it is also smooth and slippery. The little ridge of texture at the edge of the case doesn’t really help, and it is also all too easy to accidentally pop open the rather flimsy plastic cover over the USB port while shooting.
The control interface could also do with a re-think. Nikon has tried to re-invent the wheel with a fiddly and unpleasant rotary control in place of the more usual four-way D-pad. This offers no advantage over a D-pad except when making selections from the on-screen circular mode menu, and since it also functions as a D-pad anyway its rotary component would seem to be rather redundant. It actually makes scrolling through recorded images more awkward, since there is a slight delay on playback, as a result of which you invariably overshoot the image you were looking for.
The zoom control is also less than perfect. It is a small, thin rocker switch on the back of the camera and is also rather fiddly. It is very sensitive, and the zoom moves very quickly, so again it’s easy to overshoot the desired setting. The zoom is stepped, but it does have at least 12 steps between wide and telephoto, so with care reasonably precise framing in possible.
The menu system is clear, responsive and sensibly laid out, but it too has an annoying feature. It lacks what is known as “shooting priority”. With most other cameras, if you’re in the menu and you suddenly see a photo opportunity, a quick tap of the shutter button instantly closes the menu and puts the camera back into shooting mode. Not so with the S600; before you can take a photo you have to remember to close the menu by pressing the menu button. It’s a small detail maybe, but it’s those small details that make all the difference, especially at this price range.
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