Editor's Note appended.
According to Nikon, the Coolpix S600 features "the world's smallest body and fastest start-up time." What really matters though, is how it takes pictures, which the 10-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S600 does well. Add in a versatile 4X (28-112mm) zoom lens, a nice 2.7-inch LCD, image stabilization, and a handy scroll wheel, and you have one of the best sub-$300 cameras money can buy.
Nikon S600 Design
Though it's small, the S600 is more handsome than cute. It comes in three colors, but don't expect anything eye-popping or trendy--just silver, black, and something called "pink gold," which is sort of champagne colored. The camera is rectangular, with beveled edges and made mostly of polycarbonate, though there is some metal plating around the buttons and controls.
Score One for the Scroll Wheel
As with most pocket cameras, the buttons were small but not especially hard to use. We really liked the scroll wheel, which let us quickly navigate menus and images, and we wish more cameras adopted this easy-to-use feature. The shutter button is well sized, though the zoom control rocker really should be bigger.
Fast Start-Up, Then A Bit Slow
The S600 lived up to its "world's fastest" claim, taking less than a second to power on, extend its lens, and be ready to take pictures. While it focused quickly and had very little discernible shutter lag, the S600 was frustratingly slow shot-to-shot. After an image is captured, you see a little hourglass symbol on the LCD for half a second while the shot is recorded to the memory card.
Superb Image Quality
The images were consistently great. The S600 excelled in taking close-up macro shots, long a strong suit of Nikon's Coolpix line. We were able to get just over an inch away and still focus on flowers and plants. The close-ups had very good sharpness and did not overexpose like some of the competition.
In fact, all of the S600's shots were slightly underexposed, which might be done intentionally to get the best effects from Nikon's D-Lighting technology that automatically pumps up brightness in shadow areas after the picture is captured. The Nikon S600's 4X (28-112mm) zoom lens offered a good range for getting close to the action or capturing wide-angle scenes.
Realistic Colors (for a Change)
Color was also very good in our flower pictures, with attractive though not overpowering saturation. This trait came in especially handy in overcast landscape shots we took of the George Washington Bridge connecting Manhattan and New Jersey. While pictures from some cameras in this price range come out gray and dull, the S600 was able to capture some of the blue in the cloudy sky. Portraits were also vibrant and life-like.
Action Shots and Movie Recording
Impressively, the S600 could snap relatively sharp photos of an indoor basketball game despite some image noise issues, especially at the camera's maximum ISO 3200 setting. The S600's movie mode, which can capture clips at up to 640 x 480 and 30 fps, was only fair, with an erratic zoom and so-so sound.
Nikon Coolpix S600 Verdict
Though it may be known for having the world's smallest body and fastest start-up time, there's more to the Nikon Coolpix S600 than just those specs. Most important to photographers, this handsome little camera takes great pictures in a variety of shooting situations, making it the best sub-$300 pocket camera on the market.
Editor's Note: When we first reviewed this camera, some of the icons rubbed off after a week of use, including part of the trash-can symbol on the delete button. We also noticed fading around the lens. We checked with Nikon about the issue, and the company said this was an isolated incident, so we requested a second unit to test.
After a week of vigorously rubbing the icons on the second unit and traveling with the camera in a full purse, we saw minimal wear and tear on the S600. Just a tiny spec of the trashcan icon was missing, which we consider acceptable. Therefore, we've upgraded the review from 3.5 stars to 4 stars and awarded it an Editors' Choice.