Nikon Coolpix S3000 Brief Review

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REVIEW SUMMARY

Specifications

  • 12 megapixels
  • 4x optical zoom
  • 4-way image stabilization
  • 2.7-inch LCD monitor
  • Video mode
  • Captures to SD/SDHC memory cards
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Release Date: 2010-03-15
  • Final Grade: 85 B

B
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Nikon S3000 Hands-On Review
I spent a few weeks shooting with the Nikon S3000. The results weren't particularly surprising, though I did begin to wonder about the future of cheap cameras.
By , Last updated on: 5/18/2014

When the S3000 came in for review, an eerie feeling crept over me. I opened the box, picked it up, held it in my hands, and a chill ran up my arms. I realized I was holding this year's version of the Nikon Coolpix S220. That was a bad, bad camera. We called it one of the worst of 2009. Users complained about noisy, blurry images in almost every S220 review they submitted to us (we still get some that come in here and there, even in mid-2010).

Granted, the S220 was meant to be a cheap-o little camera -- something cute and small for college girls to carry around in their purses for vanity self-portraits at a Friday-night kegger. The quality doesn't matter so much, as long as everyone's face is in the frame and nobody's eyes are awkwardly half-shut. But that brings up the question: why pay $130 for a mediocre camera when you already have a mediocre camera on your cell phone? Manufacturers of cheap cameras really need to offer something better if they want to sell any cheap cameras at all.

Thankfully, Nikon did achieve something slightly better with the S3000. It's definitely a better camera than its predecessor, and a class above current cell-phone cameras.

Design

The S3000 is a sliver longer than a credit card and less than an inch thick, plenty compact to fit in skinny jeans. It feels reasonably well built and has a comfortable heft for its size. The 2.7-inch LCD is standard for the price and tough to see in sunlight -- totally average. The body is mostly plastic, but all the buttons, except for the power switch, are metal. The menu and mode buttons on the rear are small, but are raised a bit and easy to feel out. The shutter button up top is about the same size as a hearing-aid battery, rimmed by a flanged zoom tilter. The battery and media-card compartment has a plastic door that feels like its well-anchored to the body. A plastic tab covers the A/V port, and a plastic tripod mount sits on the bottom-left of the camera. I was surprised by the build quality. It's solid for such a cheap camera.

Image Quality

If you set your expectations low, you'll be reasonably satisfied with the S3000's middling image quality. It's superior to some crap cameras out there. The outdoor photo quality is OK. Details get fudged around the edges and there's little depth in the photos, so everything looks flat. But the colors are accurate and the focus usually locks onto something, even if it is some random detail neither in the foreground nor the background of the photo. Bizarre, but it could be worse.

When it comes to indoor shots, it's point and pray. Just keep in mind how hard it can be to get good shots even on some $200+ point-and-shoots. You're going to have a tough time getting good indoor shots with the S3000, so you'll either have to a) accept the fact that you need to spend more cash if you want a camera works well in awkward lighting or b) live with the S3000's limitations.

For starters, most settings are completely automatic, so photos, for the most part, are at the mercy of the S3000's judgment. It's quick to jump to a high ISO in any slightly dark situation, and as expected, anything at ISO 400 and up gets noisy. If for some reason it does choose a low ISO and a slower shutter speed, shots succumb to camera shake (though the vibration reduction did alleviate this problem a bit, and there is an option to fix or set a range for ISO). The easiest solution, of course, is to swallow your pride and turn on the flash. You'll get orange-tinted subjects and virtually no background details, but you'll get a passable shot every time.

Interface and User Experience

The S3000 is meant for novice users, and as such, offers little manual control. Users have a choice of auto mode, smart portrait, a scene auto selector, or a choice of 16 scene presets (including a panorama assist) -- no program mode to be found here. Some basic manual settings can be adjusted, like the flash, macro mode, ISO, and exposure compensation, but no white balance or auto-focus settings, not to mention any shutter or aperture priorities.

The menu system also seems to be geared toward brainless point-and-shoot operation. All the modes and sub-modes are in the same multi-tiered menu, including video mode, as there is no dedicated video button. This all could be frustrating on a more advanced camera, but the S3000 is so straightforward in the first place that it hardly matters. It's still not as intuitive as a similarly cheap Canon.

Conclusion

The S3000 is a mediocre camera. There's no way that you can get publishable photos out of this thing, and if you want any advanced features or plan to do any kind of semi-serious photography, this is not the camera for you.

But it is passable for its price, and better than its predecessor by a mile. Basically, the S3000 is the kind of camera to keep around for quick, casual snapshots to post on Facebook or Flickr. But even at that, I'm still not sure if it's worthy of a purchase. If you have a good cell phone camera, compare it to the sample images here and decide if the S3000's shots are crisp enough to justify the cost. Honestly, if you can spare another $50, you'll get a much better camera. If you're really, truly stuck at this price point, some of Canon's cheap cameras are worth a look.

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