Nikon Coolpix S8000 Compact Camera Review

Exposure and Metering

A friend of mine had a play with the S8000, and while she didn’t like the conservative looks (typical), she raved about the photos she was getting. “Amazing” she cried, “the shots are exactly as I see you sitting there”. That pretty much summarises this Nikon’s metering and exposure capabilities; more so than any compact this side of Canon’s G11, the S8000 does a bloody marvelous job of judging scenes and getting the exposure right.

The laws of physics haven’t been repealed as yet, so the S8000 can’t magically capture massive contrast ranges but under normal conditions, it’s bewilderingly good. It’s not using some faux in-camera HDR (High Dynamic Range) technique either, the blacks and shadows are still dark and the highlights aren’t blown out.

Image Quality

The aforementioned laws of physics still apply to the Nikon’s sensor and at higher ISOs the overall performance is average for a compact (ie, not all that great.) There’s evidence of noise and associated noise reduction processing from ISO 400 and up, while anything above ISO 1,600 is dreamsville, baby – you may get the shot but you won’t like it much.

At ISO 100 and 200 (especially at 100), the S8000 can produce some reasonably sharp and attractive shots, without too much of the over-processed softness I’ve seen in some recent compacts. However, the images straight from the camera still aren’t as crisp as they could be and benefit from a dose of sharpening in software. If you use Photoshop or something similar, then the sharpening filters are your friends. It’s just a pity that the sharpness can’t be set in camera.

Colour saturation is good without being overblown. There is a very handy and easy to access “Creative Slider” setting allowing in-camera control of brightness (exposure), vividness (saturation) and hue (not the Vietnamese city), with instant feedback on screen. So if you want more saturation on a specific shot, it’s no trouble to dial it in and out as required.

The S8000 fires its flash often, even for shots where it seems unnecessary, but the results are always good, so I can’t argue with its logic. Unlike many compacts I’ve tested recently, the S8000 doesn’t tend to bog down the shutter speed, so shots are still taken at reasonable speed and don’t suffer motion blur. When shutter speeds do slow down, the vibration reduction system operates very well for a compact and blur never seems to be an issue, except at genuinely unreasonable speeds.

Chromatic aberrations are present in the form of purple fringing in some high contrast shots, but that’s par for the course in the category and in any event, they’re never intrusive and you’d have to be an anally retentive magnifier to notice them. [Who’s anally retentive, then? – Magnifier Ed]

The macro mode is great, producing sharp and detailed close up shots. Video quality is about average for the class – okay in good light, not so good in bad light where it becomes grainy and noisy. There’s no optical zoom in video mode either, just a short digital zoom.

Conclusion

Nikon’s Coolpix S8000 is a competent little compact camera at a premium price. As a point and shoot travel camera, it’s got a lot to recommend it and if not for a few glitches, it would be a superb device.

Image quality is actually good for the class, ahead of many, but if Nikon had been realistic with the megapixels, then we’d have better images by far. After all, only one Nikon DSLR has more than 12 MP and that’s the full frame flagship D3X; even the APS-C DSLRs and full frame D700 and D3S have to live with around 12MP, so what’s with 14+MP here? Don’t the DSLR and compact divisions at Nikon speak to each other?

The S8000 does a very satisfying overall job with stand out results in metering, exposure and auto-focus. It’s no worse than most of the opposition in many regards and superior in others.

That pop up flash is a minor pain in the proverbial but the strange start-up reluctance is a real concern and has no place on this type of camera in 2010. Hell it wasn’t good enough a decade ago.

So four stars then, less a half for the slow start up but this could well have been a five star review with a little more care and product development. Close Nikon, but no cigar. ASHLEY KRAMER

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