This review has been written after my daughter has been using a Nikon S32 for nine months, but it’s relevant to the newer Nikon S33 as it’s only marginally different. In March 2015 my daughter turned five years old and I decided to get her camera. Quite often I would find myself being art directed and being told to take photos of various different mundane things by her; Matilda can be a regular little Martin Parr. I decided it would be far easier to get her a camera of her own so she could take her own photos, and being a photographer I wanted to get her something decent.
There are toy cameras on the market from the likes of VTech and Fisher Price but they tend to be overpriced for what they are. Usually their sensors are 0.3 to 2 mega pixels and the images they capture look like they’re shot on early camera phones. The kid cameras also tend to be bulky so they’re not the type of thing you’d take on a day trip along with all the other mountain of things you have with children in tow. On the other hand the Nikon S33 can slip into a child’s coat pocket quite easily. Unless they are of the camera all images in this review are taken by Matilda.
When it comes to a camera that a child is going to use it’s got to be durable. When I was looking for a child friendly camera I decided to narrow it down to waterproof models. The majority of compact cameras have lenses that pop in and out automatically, so if little hands touch the lens when it’s moving the mechanism can be damaged. The other obvious advantage of having a waterproof camera is that you don’t have to worry about damage from water, juice, sticky liquids and sand. It’s also shock proof so it can withstand a drop from 1.5 meters, way above the height a child would drop it from. The front of the lens housing is scratch proof; Matilda has been putting it in her bag with other objects for nine months and there is not a scratch on the lens (although the camera’s body and screen is lightly scratched but this does not affect the cameras functionality). I’ve added a wrist strap to the camera but there are eyelets on both sides so you can use a neck strap as well.
The camera is super easy to use, there are no modes just a shutter button to take a picture and then on the opposite side a button to shoot movies. Navigating through images and videos using buttons is quite simple even for a generation brought up on touch screens and finger swiping. Icons can appear on the screen for certain actions, these all line up with four buttons on the side of the screen so it’s all quite intuitive.
The camera’s battery usage is good considering it inevitably gets left on sometimes (it does turn itself off after a period). I make sure I charge it before day trips but for the most part we never get caught short. One slight down side is the Nikon S32 uses an odd USB connection, I have a lot cameras which use micro USB and the “normal” USB that Canon and Nikon DSLRs use. It’s not a big deal but it just means it’s the only cable of its type in the house.
Image quality is pretty good in daylight but images shot indoors without flash can be grainy and can suffer from camera shake, but for the price point it’s pretty good; all the images in this review have not been tweaked in any way. The colour temperature of some images can be a little on the warm side (skin tones can be a bit yellow). On the most part in good light the focusing is pretty good. I’ve been quite impressed at how close it can focus, macro (close up) focus can be a little hit and miss but it has meant that Matilda has been able to capture images of small creatures.
When setting up the camera I set the image resolution of the images to the medium setting which is 2272 x 1704 pixels which is good enough for 20 x 15cm prints. The Nikon S33 / S32 can shoot at 4160 x 3120 pixels (35 x 26cm print) but I don’t want memory cards filling up fast when I have a snap happy child using the camera. I also set the movie quality to the mid setting of 640 x 480. 30 minutes of video recording at this setting uses up 1GB of card space.
Difference between the Nikon Coolpix S33 and S32
My experience has been with the older S32 but the S33 is virtually identical apart from a few key differences. Although both cameras have 13 mega pixel sensor the S33 has a CMOS sensor while the S32 has a CCD, the mean difference with the CMOS sensor in the S33 is that it will increase battery life. The newer S33 has a mini HDMI socket which means you plug the camera directly into a TV to view images and videos. Bizarrely the old S32 can record video in full 1080p HD while the newer S33’s highest video resolution is 720p. The newer S33 also has improved auto focus. To compare their specs side by side look at the dpeview.com camera comparison site here.
To sum up
Matilda has been very happy with her Nikon S32 and I’ve been constantly impressed with the results she’s been getting from it. Although spending £70 on a child’s camera might seem bonkers to some it’s only £20 to £30 more than you would spend on a toy camera from the likes of VTech. Some toy cameras have two viewfinders and teach children to take pictures in an unusual way, I think it’s far better to get kids using devices that are more like what they will use in grown up life. What you’ll get with the Nikon S33 is smaller, waterproof, much more versatile and, because it does not look like toy, will have more longevity than a toy camera. I for one would definitely recommend it, the Nikon S33 is available from Amazon UK for £70 and Amazon US for $97.