Normally when there’s a performance complaint about a touch-screen camera, it’s about the responsiveness of the display. That’s not true for the Nikon Coolpix S4000. Its touch controls respond well to both fingertips and the included stylus. Nikon makes the screen useful, too, not just relegating it to functions that would be better suited for physical buttons. The performance problems are related to the autofocus system, which is inconsistent at best, and general shooting speeds.
Its photo quality, especially indoors or in dim lighting, is mediocre as well. It’s capable of taking a good snapshot under the right circumstances with results suitable for small prints and Web sharing. In fact, if you’re looking for an inexpensive touch-screen camera for well-lit portraits of still subjects, the S4000 is a viable option. That seems like an awfully small user group, though, and with so many other options at and below its price, you have to really want the touch screen to make this model worthwhile.
The S4000 is nicely dressed for its price. The ultracompact metal body gives it a higher-quality feel and it’s available in five colors–silver, black, red, pink, and plum. Up front is a wide-angle lens with a 4x zoom and in back is a 3-inch touch-screen LCD with a higher resolution than you’d typically find in this class. Despite its slim body, the camera is comfortable to hold and use, though with little to grab onto you’ll want to use the included wrist strap.
Since the touch screen is used for most functions, there are few physical controls. On top is a power button and shutter release with a zoom ring. At the lower right of the screen is a shooting-mode button and a play button for reviewing and editing photos, but that’s it. Thankfully, the screen is actually quite responsive and menus and shooting options opening quickly with little to no lag.
When shooting at the camera’s full 12-megapixel resolution, the whole screen is used for framing shots; icons are simply layered on top. Down the left side of the screen are icons for changing flash, timer, macro, and display functions. The lower right side has icons for touch-based shooting options and accessing the main menu system for shooting and setup settings. The touch settings include a Touch Shutter to focus on subject and shoot with one tap; Subject Tracking for automatically tracking a moving subject; and Touch AF/AE, which will automatically focus and adjust exposure for whatever you tap on. All three aren’t available in all shooting modes in which case the unavailable option just won’t appear. In Playback, the touch screen can be used to browse photos and videos and to draw or add decorations to pictures among other things. And while the screen responds well to fingers, Nikon includes a small stylus to use if you want better control or a screen free of fingerprints.
Touch-screen cameras generally have mediocre battery lives, which is the case here. The S4000′s CIPA-rated battery life is less than 200 shots per charge. The pack charges pretty quickly, though, in about 2 hours using the supplied wall adapter; it can also be charged by connecting via USB to a computer. The only output on the camera is a Micro-USB/AV port on the bottom of the camera next to the battery/memory card compartment.
The shooting options, although fairly basic, are good for snapshooters, particularly for portraits. There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Nikon’s Scene Auto Selector that adjusts settings appropriately based on six common scene types. If the scene doesn’t match any of those, it defaults to a general-use Auto. Then there is an Auto mode, which is similar to the program AE modes on other point-and-shoots, giving you a modicum of control over your end results. You can change ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation as well as autofocus areas and modes, flash, and continuous shooting modes. Light metering is locked to multipattern unless you’re using the digital zoom.
If you’re able to decipher the type of scene you’re shooting, it may correspond to one of the camera’s 14 selectable scene modes. All of the scenes are standards like Portrait and Landscape, and there is a Panorama Assist for lining up a series of shots that can be stitched together with the bundled software. There is also a Draw option for writing or drawing on the screen and then saving it as an image.
Nikon’s Smart Portrait System gets its own spot in the shooting-mode menu. Basically, it combines a Blink Warning, Smile Shutter, Skin Softening, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix, and Face Priority AF (autofocus) features into one mode. The System works well, in particular for self-portraits, allowing you to take pictures without pressing the shutter release or setting a timer.