It's hard for a budget camera to justify itself in the face of increasingly powerful phone cameras, but the little £150 Nikon Coolpix S6700 has a good stab at it with an impressively big optical zoom.
Small and pocketable
Nikon Coolpix S6700 review
This is about as compact as cameras get in 2014. From front to back it's around the thickness of two iPhones and a lot smaller in the X/Y dimensions. That increases its chances of being taken out on an excursion when pocket space is at a premium – those times when you might otherwise decide to leave the camera back at base.
It's also very light, so you could just about get away with carrying it in an inside pocket without adding too much of an unsightly sag to your crisp, tailored three-piece.
Nikon S6700: 10x zoom
S6700 zoom lens
Nikon S6700 wide angle
Nikon S6700 10x zoom
In the war against your phone's camera, the S6700's trump card is a 10x optical zoom. Fitting that into such a slim body is quite an achievement. The three-part concertina'd lens extends with the zoom rocker to open up photo opportunities that are completely off the menu with a phone snapper.
Image stabilisation is sufficient to keep things steady at full reach, which is especially useful when shooting video. The two test shots of the church, above, give you some idea of the scope of the zoom. The first is taken at the widest angle, the second at 10x zoom.
Power and speed
Nikon S6700 controls
The S6700's budget credentials show through with a general lack of speed in use. It's not terribly slow but compared to (admittedly pricier) rivals there's a notable amount of pausing and waiting, sometimes when focusing and often between shots as the camera attends to its internal business of processing and filing.
This is the main compromise in the whole deal: on the one hand you get a small camera with a great zoom lens for very little cash, and on the other you get slightly laggy response times. As long as you're cool with that, you'll get along with the S6700 just fine.
Nikon S6700 image quality
Nikon S6700 test shot
Nikon S6700 dynamic range
Outside in good light the S6700 is a fine snapper with realistic colour reproduction and good detail. The zoom range even allows you to create some depth of field effects that can give a much more professional whiff to your output.
Indoors with the built-in flash, results are pleasantly lit so long as you're not too close to your subject. Without the flash you'll typically be dropping to shutter speeds of around 1/8th second at 800 ISO. That's too slow to freeze fast movement but fine for semi-posed shots. The level of noise at this kind of setting is quite apparent but colours remain well balanced.
If you don't mind messing around with the flash settings you can get much better results indoors, at night or even on the dancefloor by taking advantage of the Slow Sync Flash mode, which freezes and illuminates your subject whilst exposing the background with a longer shutter speed than usual. It's nice to have this available directly from the flash settings, rather than hidden away under a cryptically titled scene setting.
Nikon Coolpix S6700 tech specs
Sensor: 20MP, 1/2.3-in
Optical zoom: 10x
Display: 3in LCD
ISO range: 80-1600
Dimensions and weight: 95x58x21mm, 137g
Nikon S6700 Video
Maxing out at 720p/30fps, the video doesn't particularly impress with its specs, and frankly it's not going to bowl you over with its footage either. In this price bracket it's still pretty good and you'll typically end up with smoother movies than you would from a high-end mobile thanks to the image stabilisation. And once again it's the zoom that sets it apart in terms of shooting possibilities - but do give the autofocus a chance to lock before you start zooming away.
But if you were to analyse the video frame-by-frame (as we did) you'd see that it's beaten on detail and colour reproduction by the best Android and iOS devices, and also unsurprisingly by the best compacts at the higher end of the scale.
Tricks and effects
S6700 art effects 1
S6700 art effects 1
Elsewhere it's all quite simple. There's no Wi-Fi and based on the current state of Wi-Fi in compact cameras that's no loss at all. There are some retro colour filters that work in realtime as you're shooting, and these work with video, too. That's quite handy, because processing video on a computer can be a laborious slog - the ability to shoot a piece to camera with a built-in wrinkle-softening filter is always welcome in our book. Alternatively you can add effects (although only to stills) after the event.
A bunch of the usual scene modes are on hand that can be useful to avoid the camera being fooled by snowy or bright conditions, and there's a star mode - although it only to two seconds. No pretty star trails for you, then.
Nikon S6700 review summary
Nikon S6700 review
As a backup camera, or for those times when size and weight really do matter, the Nikon Coolpix S6700 makes a good case for itself. Sure, your phone can probably match it for wide-angle photos in good conditions, but if you want to go equipped with a bit more creative control without loading yourself down with kit, the S6700 will be a useful addition to your gadget arsenal.