Nikon Coolpix S32 review

A toughened compact camera that won't break the bank

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Our Verdict

You'll have to accept that its toughness does come at the expense of image quality and zoom range, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a tougher camera for less cash.

For

  • Water and shock proof
  • Easy to use
  • Full HD video recording
  • Creative effects

Against

  • Underwhelming image quality
  • Slippery casing
  • Very limited manual control
  • Poor LCD viewing angles

Rarely does a budget compact camera offer much fun, but the Coolpix S32 is a little bit special. Where many £100/$130 cameras have limited talents, this Nikon manages to be dustproof, waterproof to 10m/33ft and it'll survive drops from up to 1.5m/5ft.

The go-anywhere theme extends to the simple, chunky button layout and a menu system that's a doddle to use in extreme environments.

The waterproof Nikon S32 has big chunky controls and comes in a range of eye watering colors

Inside, the specs aren't quite as impressive, as the S32's sealed lens packs just a 3x optical zoom range, translating to a 30-90mm focal range (in 35mm camera terms). This can be boosted with 4x digital zoom, though not without reducing detail.

The slimmed-down specs extend to the S32's 13.2-megapixel sensor. Its sensitivity range of ISO125-1600 is nothing special, and at just 1/3.1 inches, it's also physically smaller than the typical compact camera sensor, which could be bad news for image quality.

Nikon has equipped the S32 with Full HD video capture, though, as well as a proper rechargeable Li-ion battery pack, rather than resorting to a pair of AA cells. The camera also has plenty of scene modes plus several image effects, including Neon, Cartoon and Diorama filters. You can also apply a selection of faux digital frames to a photo.

Build Quality and Handling

Rugged cameras don't tend to have the same svelte style as their conventional camera counterparts, and the S32 is no exception. At 107.6 x 66.1 x 40.4mm, it's distinctly chubby and that lens bulge makes it a little tricky to slip into a jeans pocket.

As you'd expect for a camera built to shrug off drops from 1.5m, the S32 feels rock solid and well made. This does however have an effect on the camera's weight, which at 175g ready-to-shoot is around 50% heavier than a standard compact, but in the real world the difference isn't that noticeable.

What's more irritating is the glossy plastic casing, which provides very little grip. It makes the S32 pretty slippery on dry land, but you'll really struggle to hang on to it when underwater. Luckily the camera is available in bright blue, yellow, shocking pink and white finishes, so if you do drop it, it shouldn't be too hard to find.

Nikon CoolPix S32

The S32's finish is actually quite slippery, which could be a particular problem underwater.

Assuming you can keep hold of the S32, you won't have much trouble operating it. Buttons are kept to a minimum, and those you do get are big and easy to press when wearing gloves. The four controls to the left of the LCD monitor directly select different on-screen menu items, so there's rarely any need to scroll through menus using the directional pad. The large shutter release, power and video record buttons on top of the camera add to the S32's exceptional ease of use.

Nikon Coolpix S21

The buttons on the back are chunky and easy to use but the screen has just 230,000 dots.

Apart from the lack of grip, the only other thing that lets the exterior of the S32 down is the 2.7" LCD monitor. Its 230k-dot resolution is fairly low by today's standards and makes menus and images look slightly pixelated. But far worse are the screen's restricted viewing angles, which cause brightness and contrast to vary considerably depending what angle you view the camera from. These issues are far from unique to the S32, but they're a bigger pain on camera that's designed for quick-fire action shots.