Nikon S51c

A Stylish, Feature-Rich Compact Camera

by Ron Eggers

Published March 2008

Compact digital cameras are getting better all the time. Resolutions are climbing; screens are getting larger, while, at the same time, the cameras themselves are getting smaller. And manufacturers are adding functionality such as video capabilities, voice recorder modes and wireless image transfer options. One of the best examples of one of this new generation of compact digital cameras is Nikon’s new CoolPix S51c, an 8.1-megapixel camera with a maximum sensor resolution of 3264 x 2448 pixels.

The new CoolPix is fast and it’s responsive. There’s very little of the focusing hesitation or shutter delay that frequently plague compact consumer cameras. The only time the camera tended to hang up a little was when shooting with the built-in flash. That’s understandable, since it takes a few seconds for the flash to recycle.

And it’s small. At 3.8 x 2.3 inches, it’s just a little larger than a credit card. At 0.8-inch in width, it’s also quit slim. One of the things that anybody who first shoots with it will notice is its oversized screen. It has a 3-inch screen that takes up almost all the back of the body. The LCD is very viewable, even in marginal lighting conditions. It’s possible to see what’s on the screen in all but the brightest light.

Screen viewability is very important with compact consumer cameras, possibly even more important than with larger consumer or professional models, because compact consumer cameras don’t have viewfinders like larger cameras do. That means that all framing has to be done on the LCD or just guessed at by pointing the camera in a certain direction and hoping that everything you see in front of it will be framed correctly. I shot with the S51c in sunlight and was still able to see the screen well enough to frame the image.

For optics, the S51c has a 3X optical zoom lens that extends from slightly wide angle to portraiture telephoto range. In the standard mode, the lens can focus from 1 foot to infinity. The Macro Close-up (which is actually more of a close-up mode than a true macro mode) lets you focus all the way down to 1.6 inches. A navigation dial on the back of the camera sets the shooting mode, including Shooting Stills, Hi-ISO, Scene, Voice Recorder and Video, which are displayed as icons on a virtual navigation wheel on the screen. There’s also a Set-up option that controls all the camera’s settings. Menus can also be displayed as text. Each shooting mode has its own set of menu and sub-menu options.

The Shooting menu, for example, includes options to control capture resolution and quality, white balance, and the ISO, among others. Many consumer cameras only have an ISO equivalent range of 100 to 400. The S52c goes beyond that. It has an ISO range of 100 to 1600.

IS and Other Features

The menu also lets you turn image stabilization on and off. Initially, image stabilization was primarily built into high-end professional 35-mm lenses. More recently, image stabilization was being incorporated into professional digital cameras. Increasingly, some form of image stabilization is now also being designed into consumer cameras. The new Nikon includes Vibration Reduction (VR) optical image stabilization. With VR, it’s possible to take pictures in marginal-lighting conditions. With both high ISO and VR, it’s possible to capture images in lighting situations and with high-speed action that otherwise might not be possible.

For casual photographers, the camera comes equipped with 15 different Scene options, including Portrait, Landscape, Sports and Close-up. In the Scene mode, the S51c makes all the appropriate exposure and focusing adjustments, automatically.

When shooting in the One-Touch Portrait mode, the camera can detect up to five faces in the composition. That ensures that the primary subject or subjects in the frame, the people being photographed, are sharp and evenly lit. There’s also the In-Camera Red Eye Fix option, which significantly reduces the red-eye problem that comes up when shooting people with flash, and there’s D-Lighting, which can be used to automatically lighten dark image.

Once captured, images are optimized in Nikon’s new Expeed image processing engine. The camera comes with some internal memory, but very little. The 13MB of internal memory can hold only two high-resolution images. Still, that does make it possible to take an important picture or two when there’s no memory card inside. Generally, images are written to SD memory cards. The camera supports both conventional SD and the higher capacity SDHC cards.

Nikon has come up with an effective way to review images. When reviewing images, the navigation wheel brings up thumbnails of captured shots on the right side of the screen. Individually highlighted thumbnails, which are grouped by the dates they were shot, are displayed as larger images on the left side. So it’s just a matter of scrolling through the thumbnails to come up with the specific shot. Individual images can also be displayed full-screen or searched on in a monthly calendar.

Nikon has been on the forefront of wireless digital cameras. In July 2003, the company introduced the D2H, which was the first DSLR to offer wireless connectivity, using the optional WT-1A WiFi accessory. That was a unidirectional transfer process. Images could be sent to a nearby computer, but no data or functional information could be returned to the camera. In September 2004, the D2X introduced bi-directional data transfer, making it possible to control some of the camera’s functions remotely.

A year later Nikon introduced the CoolPix P1 and P2, which were consumer cameras that supported local WiFi image transfer. The CoolPix S7c added wide-area WiFi connectivity, making it possible to send images to anyone around the world through the Internet. At the same time the S7C was introduced, Nikon also rolled out its CoolPix Connect Service, which lets photographers use Nikon-specific servers to share emailed images.

Wireless Portability

More and more cell phones include digital camera capabilities that make it quick and easy to share photos online or through emails. But the quality of the pictures that cell phones capture is generally limited. The S51c makes it almost as easy to transfer those images electronically, but the quality of those images is considerably better. The S51c includes an IEEE 802.11b/g wireless transfer interface for direct hotspot wireless access. That means, with the right account, it’s possible to sit at Starbucks or any other outlet with a T-Mobile hotspot and send images around the world. A six-month trial T-Mobile HotSpot WiFi account, which lets users access over 8,200 hotspots around the country, is included with the camera.

Besides simplifying online distribution, the S51c also makes it easy to share images locally. It lets you create quick slide shows, with music and audio tracks, right in the camera. Up to 200 images can be grouped for a presentation, which can be shown on the camera’s LCD or through a connected television set.

The camera is powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery, which is charged directly in the camera through the provided power adapter and cable. Most consumer digital cameras ship with a small separate battery charger, which is the way I like to charge batteries. Since, with these small cameras, the cable chargers are almost heavier than the cameras, it’s easy to accidentally knock or pull the tethered cameras off a table. But, in this case, Nikon decided that it would make the external charger an optional item. 

  • Size/Weight: 3.8-in. W x 2.3-in. H x 0.8-in. D/ 4.4-oz.
  • Image Sensor: 8.1MP.
  • Maximum Resolution: 3264 x 2448.
  • Zoom: 3X Optical.
  • Focal length: 6.3mm — 18.9 mm (35 mm equiv. of 38mm — 114 mm).
  • Focusing range: 1 foot to infinity (normal mode); 1.6-in to infinity (macro mode).
  • Image stabilization: VR optical image stabilization.
  • Provided accessories: Rechargeable Li-ion battery, AC adapter, AVI/USB cable, strap, printer dock insert, software suite.
  • Warranty: 1 year.
  • Contact:

2 Responses to “Nikon S51c”

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