We recently reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Camera and found it to be more like the product of a high-end Android smartphone mated with a super-zoom lens. It was the first Android-powered camera we got our hands on, but it’s the Nikon Coolpix S800c that was the first digital camera to run Android. It was announced in August last year and was launched in India towards the end of the year. Let’s find out what it has to offer and how is it different from the Galaxy Camera.

The first digital camera to feature Google Android OS

The first digital camera to feature Google Android OS

The core

More than the optics and other features related to shooting, it’s the hardware that powers the camera that’s more interesting. Nikon hasn’t mentioned anything about the specifications of the core, so we used an app too look up the same, which revealed that the S800c runs a 1.6GHz ARM v7 processor. The other components include 512MB RAM and PowerVR SGX 540 graphics processor. The core of the Galaxy Camera is way more powerful with a 1.4GHz quad-core processor, 1GB RAM and Mali-400MP graphics processor. Also, Galaxy Camera offers 4GB of usable storage and runs Android v4.1 (Jelly Bean), whereas you get only 1.7GB of storage and Android v2.3.3 (Ginger Bread) with the S800c. The way Galaxy Camera and Coolpix S800c are positioned is different. The former is targeted at those who want the option to instantly share photos from anywhere. For this, Samsung has provided a SIM slot for 3G connectivity. Also included are apps for editing photos, managing media and creating cool-looking movies from recorded videos. Everything works seamlessly, and thanks to the large 4.8-inch HD display (1280 x 720 pixels), the Galaxy Camera is a breeze to use. Nikon has taken a simplistic approach. The lack of 3G connectivity means you need to be in a hotspot to be able to share photos and videos. Also, Nikon has chosen to stick to the stock Android UI with the exception that shortcuts for camera and playback are placed on either side of the app drawer button. Open the app drawer and the only apps you’ll find are a part of the stock Gingerbread ROM. These include Browser, Calculator, Calendar, Clock, Contacts, Email, Gallery, Gmail, Music, Play Store and YouTube. Should you need apps for social networking, enhancing photos, file browser, you will have to download them separately.

Design and features

By the look of it, this 16MP shooter comes across as a travel zoom digital camera. Unlike the Galaxy Camera, it’s not too large and should easily fit in your trouser pocket. The camera comes in two body colours (black and white) and the entire shell has a glossy finish. Rounded corners, curvy sides and shiny trimmings around the lens look good. The overall design is sober and looks elegant.

The S800c is indeed a curvaceous beauty

The S800c is indeed a curvaceous beauty

The front of the camera sports a focus-assist LED lamp, stereo microphones and a tiny flash strobe at the top right corner. The side is home to an eyelet for a wrist strap, mini HDMI and USB port, both protected by plastic flaps. The rear of the camera sports a large 3.5-inch OLED display and physical buttons for Home, Menu and Back—like you’d find in many Android smartphones.

The lens used in the S800c isn’t extraordinary. It’s nice and wide at 25 mm and extends to 250 mm, which translates to 10x optical zoom. The f/3.2 aperture at the wide end is about average and so is f/5.8 at the telephoto end. So don’t expect extremely shallow depth of field (background blur) and miracles in low-light, for which you need at least f/2.0 aperture. At full zoom, the lens extends 45 mm from the body. You can imagine how much it would protrude if Nikon had used a 20x zoom lens, although it would have been useful for extreme close-ups and zooming into distant objects.

Shooting modes and the rear panel

Shooting modes and the rear panel

The camera function is provided via the Camera app, which thankfully isn’t the stock app. Just as with a phone with a dedicated shutter button, we expected the camera to spring into action on pressing the shutter release on top. Surprisingly, it didn’t, despite holding it down for a couple of seconds. What this actually means is if the camera app isn’t running and the device is locked, and you want to shoot a photo instantly, you can’t! You have to first press the on/off button on the top, unlock the screen and then launch the camera app from the home screen dock.

The camera app isn’t as feature rich as in the Galaxy Camera that included semi and fully manual modes and a raft of settings to tinker with. Here, you get only the Smart Auto mode and the Auto mode, which is equivalent to the Program mode but with limited options. You can adjust the ISO, resolution, white balance and burst mode, but not metering mode and flash intensity. EV, Macro, self-timer and flash can be activated via the icons in live view. The other modes include Scene presets (18 modes including, Panorama, Fireworks, Food, Night portrait and Sports) and Special effects (Soft, Sepia, High-contrast Monochrome, High key and Low key). Filter effects such as Selective colour, Cross screen (star filter), Fisheye and Miniature effect aren’t available while you’re shooting, but they can be applied in playback mode on pressing the menu button.

Filter Effects can be applied only in Playback mode

Filter Effects can be applied only in Playback mode

Adjustable parameters in Auto mode

Adjustable parameters in Auto mode

The Movie mode for recording videos has a good selection of presets—HD 1080p at 30 fps, HD 720p at 60 fps, QVGA (320 x 240) at high speed 240 fps (super slow motion) and VGA at 120 fps.

The camera is easy to use, but the UI is too fidgety. Changing modes and settings involves bringing up sub menus and at times, further navigating through options. Instead of having to go to the camera settings via pressing the Menu button, a shortcut on the screen would have been handier.

As for the grip, the design doesn’t inspire much confidence. The glossy shell and lack of rubberised grip means you better fasten the camera to your wrist with the strap. Although you can, it’s not recommended to use this camera single-handed. When held with both hands, it’s more convenient to use the touchscreen to autofocus or change shooting mode and settings.

Performance

The S800c is very good at what’s easy for most digital cameras. Use it indoors, shoot macros, take it out on a bright sunny day and you’ll get best results. The reproduction of colours and details was excellent in indoor and macro shots. It did well in our ISO test—the colours and details were handled very well at up to ISO 400. Boosting the ISO to 800 or higher, results in excessive luminance noise in the form of large grains and colour noise as well. It isn’t too apparent if images shot at full resolution are rescaled to half the size or lesser. But at 100 percent zoom, the noise is visible and you’ll notice faint red and green blobs of pixels—not a problem as it can be easily eliminated in a photo editing program. The outdoor shots looked good, but the camera tended to blow out the highlights in brightly-lit zones. Also, the details in distant objects weren’t too pronounced.

ISO 125

ISO 125

ISO 800

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 3200

The quality of video recording is very good. Pan gently and you’ll get stutter-free videos. The picture quality of the video is very good. You have optical zoom at your disposal while shooting videos, but it’s advisable to use it sparingly as the stereo microphones pick up the annoying whirring noise of the zoom motor.

Detailed close-ups

Detailed close-ups

Shot using High-contrast Monochrome mode

Shot using High-contrast Monochrome mode

Shot using Low Key effect

Shot using Low Key effect

Over-exposed bright areas

Over-exposed bright areas

Verdict and Price in India

At Rs 20,950 (including a 4GB SD card, pouch and HDMI cable), the Nikon Coolpix S800c is priced at par with premium travel zoom digital cameras such as Canon PowerShot SX260 HS. Considering the S800c lacks good zoom range and manual modes, coupled with the fidgety user interface and performance that doesn’t match up to other cameras in its price range, the asking price is too high. If you don’t need Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and the Android OS, you’d be much better off with a non-Android-powered digital camera. You’ll get a much better feature set and results far superior in quality.

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