Nikon Coolpix S6

By Gerry Blackwell

April 11, 2006

Wi-Fi picture transfer is just gravy on top of this light and easy-to-use camera.

The $450 Coolpix S6 is a second-generation Wi-Fi digital camera from Nikon. It lets you send pictures to a computer or printer over a standard home (or office) wireless LAN. Wi-Fi Planet reviewed the first-generation Coolpix products, the P1 (8 megapixels, $550) and P2 (5.1 megapixels, $400), last year.

S6

This one is a 6-megapixel model with a sleek body, a 3x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 36 to 126mm on a 35mm camera), a huge three-inch LCD, 20MB of internal memory and a new user interface featuring an innovative jog-shuttle mode dial. Like the earlier models, it also lets you shoot video at up to 640x480 and 30 frames per second. What it lacks: an optical viewfinder and a memory card in the box.

The kit comes with a docking station for charging the included Lithium ion battery pack. The docking station also has a USB jack for connecting the camera to a computer, but of course you don’t need this if you have a Wi-Fi network. The software provided includes PictureProject, a basic image editing program, and the Wireless Camera Setup Utility required to make a wireless connection with a PC. 

In our tests, the camera was fairly impressive. Given adequate light, pictures were sharp and clear with minimal noise. The auto focus system had more difficulty focusing in low light than some digicams I’ve tried, but worked well in most typical shooting situations. With the default Standard Color mode, colors looked a little washed out, but switching to the Vivid mode produced color that was, to my eye, more accurate and natural. Video shot on the S6 and displayed full-screen on a TV looked very impressive – close to analog broadcast quality.

This is a simple point and shoot camera. You cannot select shutter speed or aperture manually. The S6 automatically selects exposure settings. It does offer 10 scene modes that set focus, flash and exposure to accommodate special subjects and lighting situations. Scene modes include night portrait, backlight, party, beach/snow, fireworks show, etc. You can also use exposure compensation to adjust exposure in situations in which the camera under- or over-exposes.

The S6 does have a few advanced features, including One-Touch Portrait mode, PictMotion in-camera slide show creation, panorama assist mode and voice note recording.

You activate the One-Touch Portrait mode by pushing a dedicated button on the top surface of the camera. It works like a scene mode, automatically setting exposure so the main subject will be in sharp focus and the background blurred, and setting flash to red-eye reduction mode. It also activates “face-priority” auto focus – the camera automatically detects faces, and focuses on the closest one.

The panorama assist mode makes it easy to take shots that will fit well together when you “stitch” them into a panoramic view using the included PictureProject software. Once you’ve taken the first picture in the series, you see a transparent version of part of the previous image on the LCD, which you can use to line up the next one.

With PictMotion, you can select some or all of the pictures in the camera and create and view movie-like slideshows, complete with music, slick transitions between images, and panning and zooming on pictures. You can set several parameters – the speed of the motion, the style of transitions, the overall look of the movie and so on – and the camera does the rest. You can then save the slide shows as videos and display them on a TV screen using the included AV cable.

The S6 feels solidly constructed, mainly thanks to its all-metal body. On the other hand, it’s small and light enough – 3.9 x 2.4 x 0.8 inches and just 4.9 ounces – to fit easily in a shirt pocket.

Installation of the Wireless Camera Setup Utility was uneventful. The S6 ships with Version 1.1 of the software. With the earlier version, included with Nikon’s first two Wi-Fi cameras, I had problems setting up a profile for the camera to connect with my main PC, because that PC is connected to the Wi-Fi router via Ethernet cable instead of wirelessly. I was eventually able to do it, but not without intervention by Nikon technical support.

This time, I was able to set it up first time without any problems. I simply selected Access Point (Infrastructure) mode in the first dialog in the setup process, and entered the SSID and security settings for my wireless network. I was then able to select my PC from those found on the network. It would be nice if the Nikon software could automatically detect the SSID and auto-fill these fields, but this is a quibble.

I did have some initial difficulty using the printer attached to my host PC. The first few times I tried printing from the camera, I got an error message on the camera saying it couldn’t connect. The printer connection started working after I initiated – but did not complete – a reinstall of the Wireless Camera Setup Utility.

Range and connection speed are not quite as good as with most computer Wi-Fi adapters, but appeared to be slightly better than with the previous Nikon Wi-Fi models. In my small house, there were still places where camera-to-PC connections were solid but slow.

Once connected to a computer, the S6 gives you several options for sending pictures wirelessly. You can select Easy Transfer to send all new pictures and PictMotion videos. A second Easy Transfer option only sends the still pictures. You can choose to send all pictures created on a date that you select using the camera’s controls. You can browse images and select the ones you want to send, and you can send all previously marked images. You also can put the camera in PC mode and use the interface on your computer screen to select pictures to download.

It is also possible to set the camera up to automatically send pictures to the computer wirelessly as you shoot them. This is one way to ensure your memory card doesn’t get filled up – at least when you’re shooting around home. It might be a cool thing to do at a party: one person could be moving through the crowd taking pictures, while somebody else is editing and printing them from a laptop. You could even set up an ad hoc connection between the camera and a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop or a PDA such as the Palm LifeDrive.

Nikon introduced its PD-10 Wireless Printer Adapter ($50) with its first Wi-Fi products last year. It plugs into the PictBridge USB port on compatible printers and lets you send pictures directly from the camera to the printer without going through a PC. I tested it with the very cool HP Photosmart 475 GoGo Photo Printer ($195), a portable printer that can print up to 5x7-inch pictures. It includes memory card slots, a 2.5-inch LCD and on-board controls for selecting pictures to print from a memory card or a camera connected to the PictBridge port.

The camera and the PD-10 adapter work slickly together. Plug the adapter into the printer, press the button on the adapter to connect the printer to the Wi-Fi network, use the mode dial to set the camera to Wi-Fi mode, select the Printer from the list of profiles displayed, and the camera automatically makes the connection to the printer. There are a couple of additional button clicks to set it up initially, but it worked right the first time and each subsequent time I used it.

Once the connection is made, the camera presents a standard PictBridge menu that lets you set paper size and print selected pictures or print all. Printing wirelessly direct from the camera may take a couple of seconds longer than printing from a memory card in the printer, but the difference is negligible.

Bottom line: the Coolpix S6, like the earlier Wi-Fi cameras from Nikon, is a good product, well designed and well built. However – and this may be sacrilege for a Wi-Fi publication – I do wonder how much convenience Wi-Fi really offers. How difficult is it, after all, to take the card out of your camera and stick it in a printer card slot, or plug a USB cable into the camera and your computer? For now, the wireless functionality remains interesting, but not a must-have.

Coming later this week: a review of the Canon PowerShot SD430, also with built-in Wi-Fi.

Originally published on .

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