There was one hitch, however: the S220 and S230 sold well, but left a lot to be desired in terms of picture quality. Read customer reviews of either camera and you'll understand [Ed. Note: We rated the S220 of of the worst cameras of 2009]. While an affordable touchscreen camera and a bevy of color choices are desirable traits, at the end of the day a camera has to be able to take good, in-focus pictures even when light isn't perfect.
Enter the Nikon S4000. As the direct replacement for the S230, the S4000 looks like an exact clone when not in operation. Its controls are nearly identical to the S230, as well. What isn't identical is the quality of the images the S4000 produces.
As someone who hated the S230's picture quality, I think the S4000 is a steal of a camera when applied in the right settings. The key is to rein in the camera's ISO setting, which determines how sensitive the camera will be to light. Higher ISO allows for faster shutter speeds to prevent blur in low-light situations but those higher ISOs also create dull, degraded colors and grainy images.
is the case with any digital camera, but the S230 had a very difficult
time producing quality images under even average conditions. The S4000
performs typically in average lighting conditions and really shines
when taking outdoor pictures when light is ample, as colors really pop.
It doesn't feature optical image stabilization, which would help to
reduce the need to rely on ISO speeds, but it does feature a “fixed
range auto” option that allows the camera to choose the ISO it needs,
but with a cap of 400 or 800.
S4000's best feature may be its touchscreen control. While many cameras
tend to go all-or-nothing with touchscreen control, even in Nikon's own
product lineup, the S4000, like the S230 before it, retains two buttons
on the rear of the camera for accessing playback and shooting modes, as
well as a shutter button and zoom toggle on the top of the camera.
control is well implemented and doesn't feel like a gimmick, the way it
can with other touchscreen cameras. One accesses the different shooting
modes with physical button on the rear side, but makes adjustments to
the rest of the camera's settings by touching the screen in the desired
area. The buttons are large and the screen is sensitive enough that
it's rare to press the wrong button, as even a fingernail is registered
on the screen unlike with some touch screens.
The LCD itself is designed to handle the task. It's a big three-incher with double the pixel count of the S230 (and what is typically found in small digital cameras -- 460,000 pixels vs. 230,000). Those extra pixels make it much easier to see details and to determine color balance, focus, and whether a shot came out as expected.
The extra real estate also allows plenty of space for the thumb on the rear of the camera, making one-handed shooting more comfortable than with other touchscreen cameras. One can also choose the focal point by touch, which is useful, or, in place of the shutter button, to take the photo, which is not useful.
we'd expect from a mid-tier point-and-shoot, the S4000 doesn't have the
ability to manually adjust shutter speed or aperture. It does have 18
scene modes including panoramic and “draw” modes, a 4x zoom range at
27-108mm equivelant for outdoor and group photos. ISO can be boosted as
high as 3200 for when quality isn't a concern but light is limited.
Users will find the time between shots frustrating, only getting a continuous shot off about once per second. It's about on par with other cameras in this price range in that regard. It does support a “Best Shot Selector” that takes a host of shots and then chooses what it thinks is the best one, though I found that mode to be less useful than it sounds.
main drawback is the lack of optical image stabilization. The camera
has to rely on its “Electronic Vibration Reduction” and ability to
boost its own ISO to counteract camera shake when light is limited. As
such the camera is best suited for use in average and ideal lighting
conditions. For its price, it really should have optical stabilization,
but it still performs quite well outdoors.
Battery life is typically short on touchscreen cameras because the high-powered screen is on so much of the time. The S4000's life was a little bit shorter than the average non-touchscreen, around 200 shots with a full charge. The tiny flash doesn't draw too much power, which helps compensate for the screen. Overall, it's better than expected, but still not very good.
The S4000 does lack some of the color and editing options found in higher-end cameras such as those offered by Canon and even Nikon itself, but it does support a surprisingly good high-definition (720p) video recording mode with good audio quality (though the mic does suffer from the typical wind-muffling when outdoors). That's all for about $50 less than touchscreen cameras typical retail for.
The S4000, despite the price bump over the S230, still sits at a very interesting position in the market. It's still one of the most affordable touchscreen cameras around, and its picture quality is now on par with most of its competitors in the market, especially in good, outdoor light, though low-light shooting remains hairy. The lack of optical image stabilization is troubling and some other performance issues are irritating. But in the end, the S4000 features one of the best touchscreen interfaces I've seen, and the image and video quality are pretty good for $200. It's a vast improvement over Nikon's previous offering, and if you're sold on the touchscreen craze, this camera could be the best value for you.