Digital Cameras Guide
First Looks: Nikon Coolpix S8200
A Cool All-rounder
With a versatile 14x optical zoom lens (equivalent focal length of 325-350mm), the Coolpix S8200 makes for an ideal compact travel camera. Other headline specs include a backside-illuminated 16.1-megapixel CMOS sensor, 1080p video recording, and a generous, high-res, 3.0-inch rear LCD. Available in black, silver (that looks a lot like gold) or red, the S8200 takes on a fairly traditional styling; the well put together chassis uses a mixture of metal and plastic, with a rubber coating at the front and a thin vertical strip to help users get a firmer grip. As with most travel zoom compacts, don’t expect it to be super slim: with the lens fully extended, the depth of the camera goes from about 3cm to 7.5cm. Weight-wise, it tips the scale at 213g when fully loaded.
Despite the wealth of functions, there aren’t tons of controls on the body itself, which is good as it makes the camera less intimidating to casual users. You’ve the mode dial, zoom lever, and power button (with a helpful LED status indicator) at the top. The left edge sits a electronically-linked pop-up flash which springs up automatically when the situation calls for it. You could stop the flash from firing via a menu setting, but you can’t just push it back into the body once it’s raised; it only retracts when you turn the camera off. We know it sounds weird, but that's the way it functions.
The buttons beside the rear monitor are again pretty self explanatory, a scroll wheel and a d-pad where each of the four buttons doubles up as a shortcut for activating key shooting settings (flash, self-timer, macro and color/exposure compensation in this case) are the norms these days. The standout is the red button at the top right; a single press starts the video recording, the next press stops it. Suffice to say, the 89MB of internal memory isn't going to cut it once you start shooting video. Case in point: at the highest 1080p quality setting, a 4GB card will last 25 minutes.
It's Got You Covered
The dearth of manual exposure controls effectively makes the S8200 a point-and-shoot camera for the most part. Thankfully there isn't a shortage of presets that you can quickly turn to. For example, most scenarios are covered by the 15 scene modes. If you don’t know what scene to choose, just leave the mode dial at the Scene Auto Selector notch; the camera will automatically choose an optimum scene mode. With Easy Panorama, simply pan the camera and the camera will create a panoramic picture (180° or 360°) without you doing anything else. There’s a HDR mode that we couldn’t find initially; you’ve to turn the mode dial to the Backlighting mode, and then turn on HDR (three levels to choose from) in the menu. For pet owners or animal lovers, the Pet Portrait scene mode has its own position on the mode dial. To add some fizz to an otherwise mundane shot, try switching to the Effects mode; there are six effects (Soft, Sepia, High Contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key, and Selective Color) to play with.
In our tests, the camera started up in about 0.7 of a second, and we were able to review the first shot another two seconds later. AF lock was typically achieved in about 0.4 of a second at the wide end, and 0.7 of a second at the telephoto end. Full-press shutter lag was measured to be approximately 0.3 of a second; with flash, it was 0.5 of a second. In a nutshell, the S8200 is quite a speedy camera for its class. The camera’s subject tracking feature worked a treat too: once we defined the subject, it was able to lock on to it quickly and track the movements accurately.
The S8200 has an interesting list of continuous shooting options. You can capture up to five pictures at full resolution at a burst rate of 6fps. There’s also a 15fps Pre-shooting Cache mode that starts shooting the moment you half-press the shutter release button, but the resolution is fixed at three megapixels. Then, there are two more modes that shoot at a rate of 60fps and 120fps, but the resolutions are fixed at one megapixel and 0.3 megapixel (VGA) respectively. Heck, there’s another one that takes 16 shots at a rate of 30fps and arrange them all in a single photo. For us, other than the 6fps mode, the next most useful mode is the Best Shot Selector, whereby the camera captures a series of 10 pictures but only the sharpest one is saved. (To digress a bit, it seems that Nikon has a thing with continuous shooting modes. On the Nikon V1 and J1 mirrorless cameras, there is a Smart Photo Selector mode which is somewhat like a combination of (an even faster) Pre-shooting Cache and Best Shot Selector modes.)
To minimize blurred photos due to camera shake (especially in close-ups and telephoto shots), the S8200 is equipped with a lens-based optical image stabilization system - Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction (VR). Unless you're mounting the camera on a tripod, we suggest leaving it turned on. Of course, don’t expect it to work like magic if you’re in a roller-coaster ride and need to do a handheld one-second exposure. Another way to get a faster shutter speed under low light conditions is to increase the ISO sensitivity; it tops out at ISO 3,200. Noise is overall well controlled up to ISO 400. Photos shot at ISO 800 are still pretty usable if you can overlook the grain and dip in resolution, while those taken at ISO 1600 and 3200 are best left for small prints or web use.
All in all, the Coolpix S8200 is a good do-it-all compact camera. Its wide zoom range makes it a good travel companion, though it has no integrated GPS. The lack of manual modes also means that you can’t explore much beyond the automatic modes should your photo-taking skills grow down the road. That being said, the camera is easy to use out of the box, responsive, and has enough predefined modes to cover most situations you'd find yourself in. Sure, we noted some barrel distortion at the wide-angle end and slight pincushion distortion at the telephoto end, but almost all cameras in this class exhibited these. Noise handling is probably its Achilles' heel - we suggest staying away from ISO 800 and beyond as much as possible. Other than that, the S8200 is a pretty nifty and useful camera that we’ve no qualms recommending for straightforward usage with a decent optical zoom.