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Nikon Coolpix S4 : Avoid at all costs

I’ve been wanting a new digital camera for a long time now. My old one, a Sony DSC-F505 is 6 years old now, it’s only 2 megapixels (same as my cell phone) and it’s relatively large meaning I’m no longer willing to carry it with me all the time. I wanted something I could slip in my pocket if possible but that still took reasonably good pictures. I’d also really wanted something with at least 5x optical zoom which really limited my options. Most cameras are 3x zoom.

So, just about the time I really needed a camera as I was going on trips to both Osaka and Malaysia I decided to go get one. At first I was thinking of just settling for a Canon IXY-55 or 60 or 500 etc. They met NONE of my requirements except being small but that’s probably the most important attribute because I knew I wasn’t going to carry anything large. Still, they don’t really take good pictures judging from the ones my friends take with them. They are really only good for polaroid quality pictures taken at a party (assuming you use the flash)

I went online to see what else was available and found out Nikon had just released a new camera, the Coolpix S4. It’s similar to the old 900 series Coolpix with the swivel lens (swivel lenses are SOOO much more fun then non-swivel) and it had 10x optical zoom!!! Based on the reputation of Nikon I decided to go for it. Boy did I lose.

Unless I go out and actually take comparison images with multiple cameras it’s really hard to show what’s wrong with it. Basically it comes down to after taking about 250 pictures, nearly all of them suck.

The S4 can’t seem to take a single picture without a tripod. If your hands wiggle at all you’ll get a blurry picture. Sure, you should hold still as possible but I have another camera that doesn’t have this problem. There’s something specific to the Nikon that requires it to be held SUPER STILL. Even worse, it’s got anti-jitter tech built in so it’s supposed to deal with non-still hands better than one without that tech yet nearly 80% of my pictures are blurry.

Even worse, it tells you they are blurry when you take them. I guess telling you is good since you can then take another picture but when you try 8 times in a row to take a simple picture and 8 times you’re told “Picture is Blurry” then you pull out your other camera, take the same picture in one shot no problem, something is wrong.

On top of that, 80% of the pictures I took have major bloom problems. Bloom is where some brighter spots in the picture kind of generate a halo around them that washes into the rest of the picture. Well, this S4 has that problem in 4 of 5 pictures and I’m not talking about pictures it uber contrast either. My old camera rarely has that problem if ever.

I took a bunch of pictures for a page I was going to put up on Japanese Nabe 2 days ago. Today I loaded them up, all of them are unusable. Pissing me off I decided to go to my kitchen where I took those pictures and take a simple picture of an apple on a cutting board with both my 6 year old camera and the S4. My 6 year old camera took the picture instantly. The Nikon, the first picture came out too dark. Checking the settings I put everything in automatic. It took me 7 tries to get it to take the picture and not tell me “Picture is Blurry” and that picture is acutally still blurry compared to the picture from the old camera.

The Nikon also has a situational setting mode. You flip the switch then when you pull up the menu you can pick from one of about 20 situations, Sports, Party, Outdoors, Night Scene, etc. I picked Party thinking that means “indoors”, unfortunately that put the flash on and you can’t turn it off (I never use a flash). I looked again and found a setting “Museum” which I assumed means “indoor-no-flash”. It took the picture, the picture is not blurry but it’s also super noisy compared to the picture my old camera took as well as being too dark. In fact the picture looks banded almost like it’s a solarized picture.

Other issues, my old camera has a point exposure option where you could tell it to only consider the center of a picture when deciding on the exposure. You point the camera at something and you can see the image get adjusted in realtime. So for example in a picutre of buildings with a bright sky in the background you can point it toward the sky and get all the cloud details but nearly black buildings as it adjust for the sky or you can point it at the buildings in which case you’ll see the details on the buildings but the sky will be washed out. Once it appears as you like it you hold the shutter button halfway down then point the camera where you actually want to take the picture. This Nikon has no such option so many pictures are basically not possible to take. :-(

Clearly I lose, this camera SUCKS ASS. That’s my *official* rating. Avoid it at all costs. Don’t even consider it. It’s piece of shit.

Now the question is what to get instead. I don’t agree with my friend that you need a top end camera to get good pictures. Or rather, I don’t agree that it’s not possible to make a good low end camera. I might agree that all the manufactures are purposely making their consumer models take poorer pictures just so they still have a market for their upper end cameras. The proof is in the 8 or so cameras I’ve owned. Some took awesome pictures in all kinds of situations, situation my friend would claim require x,y or z but these cameas didn’t have that. But, if all the manufactures are in fact making crappy consumer cameras then maybe I’ll have to go SLR. Unfortunately I know I won’t use an SLR as it’s WAY TO BIG TO CARRY. :-(

ps: I’ve actually wondered if this is a hardware problem or a software problem. For example, maybe the Nikon software takes several samples over time to make an image. It then averages them together giving a less noisy image. Unfortunately that means longer exposures, more blur. If true, a firmware upgrade could fix the blur problems. Whether or not the bloom problems are related I don’t know. Also, some cameras post-process the image trying to make them *better* on average. I assume my 6 year old camera is not doing that. If the Nikon is, maybe part of the problem is there. Or, it could just be the Nikon hardware sucks. The fact that the “museum” setting came out so noisy where as my old camera did just fine suggests that maybe the sensor in the Nikon is crap. Oh well, I don’t make them so I’m just guessing.

  • Phil

    Hi,
    I have had this camera for the last 10 years, and up to about 3 months ago it was still working fine. Today i switched it on and this issue is now happening to us; the screen displaying black. Has anyone got it fixed, and if so, would you know if Nikon issued any recall, as it seems like a common problem. If not, would you know what needs to be replaced/fixed ?

    Thanks

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