Nikon Coolpix S8100 compared to Canon S95 and why Nikon needs a serious compact camera

I am very particular when it comes to small (pocketable) cameras and I wanted to find out how good (or bad) the top of the line Coolpix S8100 really is. I ignored the P7000 because it is in a different category - I wanted to see what a "real" point and shoot Nikon camera is all about. A natural choice for my comparison was the Canon S95 which is the top of the line compact camera currently offered by Canon. I know this is not  fair fight since the Canon S95 can shoot RAW, has manual mode and costs $100 more. I hope with the next Coolpix announcement on February 9th Nikon will address those issues in the upcoming 24-100mm f/1.8 compact camera the way Olympus did with their new ZX-1.

The Coolpix S8100 and Canon have very similar design with almost identical location of all major buttons and dials. The only difference is that the S95 has a rotating ring on the lens that can be assigned for different functions like zooming, aperture, ISO, WB, manual focus, etc. Nikon will also release a new Coolpix camera with a similar lens ring. Canon S95 is lighter and smaller in size.

Nikon's menu is clean, with only few options. The three main tabs are: "shooting menu", "movie" and "set up". Each of them has only few settings. The "shooting menu" lets you set the image mode, WB, metering, ISO, AF area and AF mode:

This is how Canon's menu looks:

In addition, the S95 has a separate functional settings menu that depends on the mode you are currently using:

I noticed that the S8100 has a slightly faster AF compared to the S95. The Coolpix has a direct video recording button and can be charged via USB while the Canon has a conventional battery charger:

I did a quick and simple comparison between both cameras by setting them in auto mode. Here are the results (click on images for larger view) - even in daylight, the Canon S95 provides better colors and flare resistance:

Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95
Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95
Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95

The big advantage of Canon's S95 comes in low light - almost all S95 samples were significantly better than one taken with the Coolpix S8100:

Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95
Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95
Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95
Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95
Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95
Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95
Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95

One area where the Coolpix is superior to the Canon S95 is the macro mode - you can take images much closer with the Nikon S8100:

Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95

Update: I uploaded the full size jpg files on flickr. I also added few more S8100 samples.

Specifications comparison (green color indicates the better specs):

Nikon Coolpix S8100 Canon S95
Pixels 12.1 MP 10 MP
Sensor size 1/2.3 in. 1/1.7 in.
Sensor type BSI CMOS CCD
ISO range 100-3200 80-3200
Lens aperture f/3.5-5.6 f/2-4.9
Lens zoom 30-300 mm 28-105 mm
Screen 3" TFT 3" TFT
Video mode 1920x1080 at 30fps 1280x720 at 24fps
Max shutter 1/4000 sec 1/1600 sec
Dimensions (WxHxD) 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.2 in. 3.93 x 2.3 x 1.16 in.
Weight 0.46 lbs 0.35 lbs
Price $299.95 (rebate available) $399.95 (check latest)

The S8100 simply doesn't cut it to be a serious compact camera. Nikon has a hole in the Coolpix line between the S8100 and the P7000 and I think this is what they will be targeting with their next product announcement. Almost all major manufacturers have a model in that category. RAW shooting, manual mode, AMOLED screens, f/1.8 aperture, hot shoe, improved direct manual controls can quickly lead Nikon to the top of the serious compacts category. Let's see what will be announced next week.

Disclosure: the reviewed product(s) were loaned from B&H who is an affiliate sponsor of NikonRumors.com.
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