Though it's appeared in a few cameras over the years, wireless photo transfer capabilities have only now begun to really take off. Our recent review of the Panasonic TZ50 got us very excited about the new generation of Wi-Fi digital cameras, so we thought we'd take a look at a smaller model, Nikon's S52c.
The Nikon S52c is the wireless version of the Nikon S52, and its specifications are identical. The S52 is a slim, 9-megapixel ultracompact that's quite easy on the eyes. It can fit in a shirt pocket and is exceptionally light. Nikon certainly earns big style points with its curvaceous body and muted black metallic color. Though the S52 is also available in red, the s52c is not.
Because it's a small camera, there's not a lot of room to place buttons, and Nikon does well with what little space it has. Everything seems to be in its right place, easily accessibly by the fingers while allowing the shooter to maintain control and balance over the camera. For efficiency's sake, mode settings like switching from automatic mode to high-sensitivity mode have been dropped into a menu that's accessible via a button on the back of the camera. The common mode dial has been virtualized on the screen.
The menu system is meant to be simple, and its appearance is quite user-friendly. Sometimes, however, it's easy to become stuck or lost among the options, unsure of what buttons to press to return to the top level.
Menus and settings are navigated via an excellent spinning wheel that rotates clockwise and counterclockwise. It glides with ease and makes for a comfortable experience. The wheel also serves as a four-way directional pad and nestles the 'OK' button right in its center. The 3.0-inch LCD screen provides plenty of high-resolution real estate for framing or previewing photos.
The Nikon S52c is somewhat limited in its abilities. This is a fully automatic camera; the primary mode is 'automatic,' and there are several augmentations that can be made, including macro focus, high-sensitivity, and various environmental scene modes. They are all variants of the automatic mode. There's the option to adjust the exposure compensation to some degree if you feel the camera's automatic exposure choice isn't quite on target. If you're the kind of photographer who doesn't want to fuss with lots of settings or features, then the S52c will suit you just fine. It practically runs itself.
Face Detection Falls Flat
One major disappointment on the S52c is its Face Priority AF, commonly known as 'Face-Detection.' The S52c claims to be able to track up to five faces simultaneously, ensure crisp and clear focus on the most important parts of your photo. For some reason, Nikon has sequestered this feature to its own mode, rather than making it available in the primary automatic mode. In order to enable face detection, the photographer must press the "One Touch Portrait" mode button on the top of the camera.
However, even in "One Touch Portrait" mode, it can be hard to utilize face detection. The effective range of the face detection is roughly seven feet. Beyond six or seven feet, the S52c is no longer able to accurately track faces; first the yellow focus boxes that appear around the faces become intermittent, blinking as they try to reacquire their target, and then disappearing altogether, even though faces are clearly visible. Similar cameras from Canon or Panasonic have much more stable and much more versatile face detection modes.
Automatic for the People
Apart from the face detection issue, the Nikon S52c takes fairly good photographs in its automatic mode. For the casual photographer, the vivid, high-resolution photos will certainly satisfy. In 'Macro' or 'Close-Up' modes, it is able to capture subtle details and nuances in the subjects, and these photos benefit greatly from the 9-megapixel resolution.
The S52c also features some in-camera editing tools for improving your photos on the fly. Nikon's "D-Lighting" mode makes it possible to brighten up photos that came out too dim or dark. This process does result in the addition of some image noise or graininess, but the changes are dramatic and it provides an opportunity to salvage a previously disappointing photo. The S52c also has in-camera cropping and a "Small Pic" function which can instantly create a newer, smaller copy of the photo for uploading to the Internet.
The S52c is trying to make photography as easy as possible, and though it's not always on target (primarily with the face detection), it largely succeeds in its goal.
The Nikon S52c has a built-in wireless transmitter, which enables it to connect to a home or public Wi-Fi hub. When connected, photographers can upload their photos to an online photo album hosted by Nikon's myPictureTown, or directly email their photos to friends and family.
It should be noted up front that photos uploaded via the S52c's wireless feature are immediately scaled down to a resolution of 1,600 x 1,200 pixels, roughly half of the camera's 9-megapixel maximum resolution. While this reduction isn't significant enough to really be concerned about (the final photos look fine online), it's something to be aware of.
After a one-time configuration using Nikon's myPictureTown software, the camera will be able to get onto your home wireless network, and accessing open Wi-Fi hubs out in public is easy to do from within the camera. One caveat: for some reason, the necessary myPictureTown configuration software is not part of the standard installation. It must be specifically selected by the user during a custom installation. It's a strange hoop Nikon makes its users jump through.
Wireless photo transfer is surprisingly fast. Large images are sent over the air with ease and are archived in the user's myPictureTown album. Sending directly to friends and family via email is also quite simple, as the recipient receives an emailed link to the album instantaneously. Nikon has done an excellent job with the integration and implementation of the Wi-Fi features. It should be noted that it is extremely important that novice users read the Wi-Fi directions carefully, as some of the specifics of connecting to wireless networks can be confusing.
Conclusion: Decent Photos, Excellent Wi-Fi
Though in some respects the Nikon S52c's reach exceeds its grasp, overall it's an excellent camera that is well suited for casual or novice users interested in a small, user-friendly shooter. The Wi-Fi features are excellent and will add significantly to the photographic experience, as they make sharing and transferring photos easier than ever before.