I am perhaps being too critical, because there is a lot to like about the S600. The monitor screen is superb; bright sharp and clear with a viewing angle of at leas 170 degrees both horizontally and vertically, making it ideal for both displaying your pictures and for composing them even when the camera is held above head height. The 28-112mm zoom range is also pretty much perfect for all types of general snapshots, from wide landscapes to zoomed-in portraits.
The camera’s overall performance is fairly good, although again it isn’t problem-free. It starts up in a fraction over two seconds and shuts down again in about one and a half, which is quick enough. Shot-to-shot time in single-shot mode and maximum quality is a little slow at around three seconds, limited mainly by slow write speed even when using a high-speed card. Trying to shoot quickly in single-shot mode is frustrating, because if you try to take a picture before it’s ready, it simply refuses to do anything for a couple of seconds, which in practice means that the actual shooting speed is usually a lot slower than the possible maximum. In continuous shooting mode it is somewhat faster, managing just over a frame a second, but this is because it doesn’t pause to focus between shots and the buffer is limited to ten frames. Oddly the performance doesn’t improve at all when stepping down from Fine to Normal picture quality.
The autofocus system is a big improvement on some earlier S-series models, but is still not without its problems. It is quick and accurate in good light and at wide angle, but its low light performance lags some way behind most of its competitors. It also still has a tendency to hunt around at longer zoom settings, and the combination of telephoto and low light usually defeats it altogether.
Fortunately the S600 does have one major saving grace, and that is its excellent picture quality. In this respect alone it is easily a match for the best of its competitors. The 4x zoom lens performs brilliantly, with good edge-to-edge sharpness that only falls off in the extreme corners of the frame at wide angle. There is visible barrel distortion at wide angle, but it isn’t too severe, and there is no trace of pincushion distortion at the other end of the zoom range. Dynamic range is a little limited, as is usually the case with small-sensor 10MP cameras, but it is no worse than any of its main rivals, and it does at least retain some highlight detail. Exposure and colour rendition are superb, with clear bright colours and plenty of contrast and detail. Noise control is also very good, in fact surprisingly so for a 10MP camera, with printable images at 1600 ISO and better than usual results even at the maximum of 3200 ISO.
The Nikon CoolPix S600 is a great-looking camera with a good practical list of features, especially its useful zoom range and outstanding monitor screen. It is well made, simple to use and takes superb pictures. However it very expensive, and its fiddly controls and less-than-stellar performance don’t compare well to its main rivals. Nikon still has some way to go to catch up with Canon, Sony or Panasonic in the luxury compact market.