Nov. 28, 2008 -- Nikon's Coolpix S60 is a slick little camera with an iPod-like touch screen and zoom lens.
The digital camera, which retails for about $350, is operated via a blizzard of icons on its 3.5-inch LCD touch screen that's nearly the size of the unit, which measures 0.9 inches deep by 2.4 inches high by 3.8 inches wide.
This point-and-shoot camera is aimed at the casual photographer who wants good-quality snapshots from an ultra-compact device. The 5x f3.8-4.8 33-165mm-equivalent internally zooming lens takes shots at up to 10 megapixels and produces well-defined pictures in reasonably large formats.
The Coolpix, like many electronic devices these days, is loaded with more features than most people could possibly want. There's an optical image stabilization feature to keep jumpy things in focus and technology that waits until the main person in the viewfinder is smiling to snap the shot. You can even draw on the images using the touch screen.
The Coolpix has only two manual switches -- the shutter release and on/off. Everything else is controlled by the touch screen, which operates reasonably fast though not as fast as the iPod. The touch screen can be a bit balky navigating the screens and the zoom, at least until you get used to how it works.
Picture quality is good, but of course not up to that of larger cameras with interchangeable lenses. There's a softness to the pictures resulting from the compromises engineered into a small one-size-fits-all lens.
The Coolpix handled outdoor pictures best in subdued light or bright sunlight. Indoor shots tended to be a bit harsh or overexposed with the built-in flash or underexposed without the flash.
The camera takes short movies at 30fps VGA, sufficient to upload to the Internet but of mediocre quality. In video mode, you can't zoom or control any other features.
This is a good choice for a compact camera for those who aren't too demanding about photo quality. It's curious though that Nikon would pack so many features and screen levels (plus a 170-page instruction manual) into a camera that's clearly meant for casual users.
It's a daunting effort to master the device. However, you can happily ignore most of the doodads and take decent pictures without a whole lot of trouble.
But you can also get the same or better picture quality in other compact cameras that cost the half the price and include half the features.