The Nikon Coolpix S640 is a 12.2-megapixel point and shoot camera with a 5x optical zoom. Nikon touts the S640 as having a “fast AF” feature that helps you get rid of shutter lag. Keep reading to find out whether the S640 is lacking lag, or just plain lacking.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from people about point and shoot cameras is that they take too long to snap a picture. Nikon has just about solved that problem with the S640 – but it’s not quite perfect yet. If you aren’t using the camera’s flash, the S640 is a crazy fast shooter for a point and shoot camera. There’s a minuscule amount of shutter lag.
The focus and shutter is even fast enough to capture the occasional action shot where your subject is moving toward you pretty quickly. In the above shot, I managed to get a relatively sharp image of my favorite model while swinging toward me with just a quick press of the shutter button. In a lot of point and shoot cameras, it simply wouldn’t be possible to get this image in focus.
If you enable flash, the S640 slows a bit to throw out a red focusing light but takes a picture pretty quickly after that. The flash recycle time will really slow you down for your next frame though. Another slowdown occurs when you switch the camera on. It just takes too long for the shutter, zoom and other buttons to start accepting input from the user.
Design and Controls
It’s quite the simple camera from an operator’s perspective. First off, it’s very compact and light. I had no problem carrying the camera around in my jeans or shorts pockets. However, the S640 is thick enough so that I actually have something to hold onto. While I prefer something a little more tactile on the front for my fingers to grip, I didn’t experience any problems holding the camera.
The buttons are sparse with just the essentials on the exterior of the camera – on/off, zoom, shutter, scene, preview, menu and trash comprise the dedicated buttons. A dual purpose scroll wheel and 4-way arrow button helps you navigate the menu and gives you quick controls for flash, exposure compensation, macro mode and timer. Everything else is in the menu.
I appreciate that many point and shoot cameras are using a dual purpose scroll wheel on the back now. These really help to navigate menus and make selections.
The S640 is packaged with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and a charger that plugs directly into the camera’s tiny USB connection port. There’s a little plastic door on the side of the camera for which you’ll need to make use of your fingernails in order to access. I was disappointed by the quality of the fasteners on this door as I bent one of the little plastic prongs the very first time I used it, which is unfortunate since this little door secures the charging connection that will obviously see frequent use.
The S640 uses SD cards, which is a very popular and inexpensive format. I used a SanDisk Extreme III 4GB SD card with the S640 and it performed like a champ. However, something like the basic (and slower) Kingston SD cards will work just fine too.
Images from the S640
For the most part, I was pretty pleased with the S640 both indoors and out. I thought that the S640 gave a pretty good exposure evaluation of most scenes. Even when using flash, the S640 tried not to over power ambient light and provide a pretty balanced exposure.
I enjoyed the macro mode best of all with the S640. The camera lets you get as close as 2cm from your subject, which makes for some pretty cool flower pictures. Some of the point and shoot cameras available now can really do some cool stuff with close-ups, and I tend to get carried away when I’m around small stuff with a camera like the S640 in hand. If flowers and the like are your thing, you’ll really enjoy this camera.
Additionally, the S640’s 5x zoom lens comes packed with Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (or “VR”) inside. This little mechanism senses the inevitable shake from your hands and works to counteract that shake by ever-so-slightly moving the glass elements within the lens to stabilize the image. It works to help keep your images sharp and should be left on most of the time.
The S640 covers a pretty aggressive sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400. It does pretty darn well for a 12MP point and shoot camera across the range. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not knocking it out of the park at ISO 1600 and above; however, the S640 has pretty respectable performance throughout. You won’t be throwing a whole lot of pictures out of the family album because of image noise with the S640.
The files from the S640 are rather big for such a small camera. At full resolution, I found most of my images to be in the 4MB range, give or take a bit. When you consider that you have 12-megapixels of information in there though, that figure starts to make sense. Just be prepared and make sure you take enough SD cards with you on your vacation.
Nikon S640 Conclusion
I recommend the Nikon S640 for those of you looking for something simple, yet capable. It’s a decent point and shoot camera, but not necessarily one that will stand out in the crowd.
Probably the biggest gripe I have about it is the slow startup time. Once you get it up and running though, it’s quite the shooter and will help you get over the shutter-delay phobia produced by your last point and shoot camera.
Obviously, there are a number of features in the S640 that I didn’t cover here (video, in-camera retouching, etc.). If you want to see a full spec and feature list for the camera, you can find it at B&H or Nikon.com.
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