Nikon Coolpix S02 review

Nikon's micro compact is smaller than a credit card… but is it too lightweight?

Nikon Coolpix S02
It's small and cute

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Within a short time using the Coolpix S02 we were pleased to find that many of our complaints about the S01 seem to have been addressed, and we'll reveal these one-by-one in this section.

The Nikon Coolpix S02 starts up in just under two seconds. Pressing the Home button on the bottom right of the touchscreen lets you make adjustments to image size, exposure compensation, add special effects, enable touch shooting, change the scene selection mode (Scene auto selector; Hand-held night scene; or Backlit scene HDR), set the flash mode and enable the self-timer.

Nikon Coolpix S02

The lens still protrudes from the body, but not very far

For most people using this camera, this will be enough. But it would be nice to have an ISO control, perhaps some choice in metering and, you know, an AF control. The last of which is strange, as in Movie mode you can choose between Single AF and Full Time AF. For some reason this option doesn't extend to shooting stills (nor did it in the S01).

What's more, somewhat frustratingly, when you make an adjustment via one of the menu controls, instead of throwing you back to the menu like most cameras seem to do, the Coolpix S02 sends you straight into record mode. So if you want to make more than one adjustment you have to press the Home button again and go through the menu. Of course, we're talking about a matter of seconds. It's just a little baffling. And we find the Home button isn't always sensitive enough and requires a few presses.

Accurate exposure

While there are no exposure controls, to be fair to the Coolpix S02 it handles exposures very well, if leaning slightly to the cool side. Shooting high-contrast scenes where a dark foreground fills half of the frame, for instance, the S02 is able to maintain natural, accurate colours and provide detail in the highlights.

In fact, we found a surprising amount of detail in images where we weren't expecting it - textures in tree bark, tufts of cloud, loose fibres in shaggy carpeting.

We also would have liked a white balance control, but to be fair to the Coolpix S02 again, it produces largely pleasing tones and accurate whites. Green grass is dark and rich, backlit forest canopies maintain a vibrant hue, blue skies are a touch cool but nowhere near the awful cyan you see on some budget compacts, while the all-important skin tones in both mixed and natural lighting are much better than we anticipated from a camera at this end of the range.

Nikon Coolpix S02

The built in flash can be a little harsh

Using the camera's built-in flash, however, spoiled those pleasing skin tones for us, leaving subjects looking bleached and red. Without an ISO control and the harshness of the flash, shooting in low light did prove rather difficult. And this is probably the main complaint we have about its performance - particularly for a camera billed as a go-anywhere party camera. Most parties you go to - if they're any good! - will be dimly lit.

The best we could do in low light was to try and stabilise the camera by wedging it between books or other solid objects and using the self timer. Again, this is where a tripod mound would have come in handy.

The Coolpix S02 has a an ISO range of 125-1600 which is determined automatically by the scene selection. Images at ISO 125 and the bottom of this range are reasonable and keep noise to a minimum. However, by ISO 400 you'll start to notice distortion and smudging of colours creeping in. By the top of the ISO range, the quality is pretty poor. But if your only ambition is to share these images online, it's perfectly fine.


The Coolpix S02 offers a range of five art filters - Sepia, High Key, Low Key, High-Contrast Monochrome and a Mirror Mode. The Mirror Mode is actually the most exciting; using it prompts you to think about your subjects and compositions in different ways than you're probably accustomed to, and we found this rather enjoyable.

The other filters, however, were pretty bog standard. For most cameras that would be fine, but it really seemed a shame that on a camera aimed at the smartphone crowd, the partiers, the people on the go who want to take fun pictures, there aren't more filters to choose from. What's more, the effects seem rather subtle. The Sepia, for instance, could just be a bad colour cast in mixed lighting.

Video quality, on the other hand, is fantastic. One of the key improvements to the S02 over the S01 is its upgrade to full HD video recording, and the difference is quite remarkable. And it's also easy to capture. The camera's size really comes into its own in movie mode, allowing you to film from all sorts of creative angles.