A Camera for KidsNikon markets the S30 as a waterproof compact designed for kids. It therefore can't really be compared directly with other 'proper' cameras in the Coolpix range. So before we put the S30 through our regular lab tests—which aren't likely to do it any favours—let's consider this underwater snapper from the perspective of its indented users.
The basic and colourful interface makes an interesting change to the more classic controls and menus seen in ultra-cheap snappers the Kodak C123 and Sigmatek SDC-350p. The icons are l ultra -simple and the whole interface is incredibly easy to understand, so little ones can use this camera with no technical knowledge and without having to be able to read.
Another very simple modification that changes handling dramatically is the fact that the lens is positioned in the middle of the camera's front face. So even if you grab the camera approximately with two hands, you're still highly unlikely to end up with a finger in front of the lens.
As you'll see below, the lens is much better quality than the kind of thing we usually see in kids' cameras, which are generally more like webcams than genuine camera lenses. However, the S30 has a camera lens that's worthy of the name—albeit an entry-level, reinforced lens designed for kids.
So if you're looking for a simple snapper to keep the children amused on holiday, unless you've got the cash to splash on a 'real' camera and you're ready to help teach them how to use it, the S30 is probably the best option out there right now.
While this camera is clearly a distinct mode, we still decided to put it through our standard lab tests so it can be compared alongside regular 2012 compacts. You should bear that in mind when reading the following review.
The Nikon Coolpix S30 is certainly an original camera. Although it's a waterproof compact, it uses a telescopic zoom lens—something previously only seen in the Canon D10. This in turn makes the camera body a bit bulky, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as the raised lens makes the camera easier to grip and stops you resting your fingers over it by accident.
The interface has been completely reworked to make it as simple as possible for kids to use. You therefore won't find any long menus, but four buttons on the left of the screen for adjusting key settings. You move from one page of settings to the next using the up and down arrows on the four-way controller and select a setting by pressing whichever of the four buttons the setting is lined up alongside.
Icons are on hand to help make things crystal clear, with a paint tube for colour settings, a frame for framing options, a flower for macro mode, a fish for underwater shooting, etc. This makes the camera interface very clear and user-friendly—you don't even need to be able to read to find your way around the main settings.
The S30 is clearly designed to be held in two hands—the wrist strap can be attached to either the left or right of the camera, and there's a shutter-release button on either side of the upper face—photos on the right, videos on the left.
The S30 screen is pretty standard fare for an entry-level camera, with very tight vertical viewing angles and 230,000-dot definition. However, it's not as bad as it may seem, as the grey scale is nice and even (although light tones are still a bit too easily overexposed) and colours are consistent and relatively accurately displayed, if a touch on the cold side. The average Delta E of 4.9 (difference between accurate colours and those displayed onscreen) is on the better side of average for a compact camera screen.
On the whole, the S30 can be a perplexing camera to use if you're used to a classic compact. However, this total rethink of the interface is exactly what makes it interesting. Visually and physically it's really quite a pleasant camera. In fact, grown-up cameras could even learn a thing or two from the S30—Nikon models included!
The S30 is very bog standard in this field, with nothing especially good or bad to write home about. Start-up in under two seconds is decent enough, photo-to-photo turnaround is OK (one and a half seconds), and the autofocus is a little slow but consistent in performance (under half a second).
You'll therefore find much faster cameras on the market ... as well as much slower cameras.
The Nikon Coolpix S30 uses image capture technology that we haven't seen before, with a 3x zoom lens (equivalent to 29-87 mm) and a 1/3" 10-Megapixel CCD sensor rather than a standard 1/2.3"-format sensor as usually seen in compact cameras. It therefore has the same pixel density as a regular 16-Megapixel CCD compact camera sensor!
The S30 doesn't have any adjustable sensitivity settings—it only works in automatic exposure mode. The camera chose to shoot our test scene at 200 ISO, but we managed to force it to 80 ISO by boosting the lighting and to 400 ISO by reducing the lighting. Still, we wouldn't recommend comparing these results with ISO tests from cameras with user modifiable ISO settings.
In any case, the S30 seems to refuse to go any higher than 400 ISO most of the time, and that's no bad thing, as from 400 ISO smoothing is only too visible. This in turn means that the S30 isn't entirely at ease with indoor photography or shooting in low-light conditions. However, that's not too much of a problem in a camera designed primarily for snapping days out at the beach.
The Nikon S30 lens is really nothing special. At wide-angle settings, the lack of consistent sharpness across the frame is visible on 8" x 10" (20 x 27 cm) prints and can even be spotted on 4" x 6" (11 x 15 cm) pictures or when looking at photos full-size on a computer. That's a shame too, as the middle of the frame is reasonably sharp. At telephoto settings, sharpness levels are hazier although more consistent across the frame, but an 8" x 10" print doesn't look perfect.
That doesn't mean the S30 should be written off completely, though. Compared with other waterproof compacts aimed at kids, like the Sigmatek SDC-350p and Kodak Sport, the S30 is the only model to boast an optical zoom. Even though it's clearly not amazing, it still does a better job than the fuzz-prone digital zooms used in most kids' cameras.
The S30 is therefore the first kids' camera to get two stars for picture quality in our standard lab tests. And while the Olympus TG-310 is a much better camera, it's still more expensive than the S30, in spite of its relative age.
The Nikon S30 films 720p video with mono sound and a digital zoom.
Sharpness levels are OK in video mode, but they're not great. Plus, videos are prone to snowstorms of noise and the high contrast tends to overexpose lighter parts of the picture. Sound is pretty low-grade, with muffled voices (particularly anyone behind the camera, like the person filming) and distinct noises sound confused.