Nikon Coolpix S31 review
Nikon's website describes the S31 as a camera for all the family. We'd say it's more accurately described as a camera for children. Its toy-like appearance isn't likely to appeal to mums and dads, but the sub-£100 price will.
So too will the waterproof, dustproof and shockproof design. The plastic body doesn't inspire as much confidence as the metal-clad Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT5; and sure enough, the relatively modest 5m underwater depth can't match the FT5's 13 metre rating. While the S31 might not be our first choice for snorkelling or mountain climbing, it should be able to withstand the abuse that comes with youthful exuberance – more than other £100 cameras, at least.
The controls are well conceived for children, with a slightly recessed power button and big buttons for photo and video capture. The 3x optical zoom control is harder to locate – it's accessed by pressing up and down on the navigation pad. There's a playback button just below, and everything else is controlled via four buttons along the left edge of the screen, which align with on-screen icons.
There's very little on offer, though. There are a few scene presets, creative filters and decorative frames, but traditional photographic controls are limited to flash, self-timer and resolution. Exposure compensation is nestled in among the scene preset options, but it's crude, moving in whole exposure stops, and the obscure location means it's unlikely to see much use.
We recognise that ISO speed and white balance controls on compact cameras are seldom used, but we like to have them included anyway for the small percentage who want them. In this instance, though, omitting these features makes sense. It's not always obvious what a particular setting does, and here there's little chance of leaving the camera on unsuitable settings.
There are other issues we're less pleased about. It's slow to switch on, taking 5.2 seconds to the first photo in our tests. There's an orientation sensor to rotate portrait-shaped photos automatically, but it worked for less than half of our portrait-shaped test shots. There's no HDMI output – we didn't miss it but others will. The video mode is pretty basic, with a 720p resolution and fixed zoom and autofocus while recording. Soundtracks were tinny but picture quality was decent enough.
No optical stabilisation makes it hard to avoid blur indoors. Children often struggle to hold a camera steadily, so this seems like an odd omission. We also found that the autofocus was quite slow, typically taking between one and two seconds between pressing the shutter button and capturing a photo. We'd normally consider that a big drawback, but camera shake is often caused by the act of pressing the shutter button. As such, the slow autofocus might just help to avoid camera shake.
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