At less than 1 inch thick and only slightly larger than a credit card, the Nikon Coolpix S5 is an excellent camera to slip into your pocket and take anywhere you go. It's very attractive as well, with gray lettering on a body of chrome-trimmed, satin silver metal. The front of the camera curves slightly in an S-shape, giving the body a sophisticated, slightly organic look. Even charging and syncing look cool, thanks to the camera's matching docking station. Build quality, as with most Nikons, is very solid.
The Coolpix S5's sleek, contoured body, bright 2.5-inch LCD, and recessed, internally zooming lens scream style rather than substance, and the camera doesn't seem to be designed with shooting efficiency in mind. The recessed power button, shutter release, and zoom rocker on the top edge of the camera are practically microscopic. They function well enough, but they clearly sacrifice comfort and accessibility for maintaining the S5's smooth lines.
The iPod-style scrolling click wheel on the back is a brilliant feature, recalling the wheel-style controls of decades of film cameras, as well as digital SLRs. The wheel feels incomplete, though; it can directly change only flash, macro, and timer features, forcing the user to delve into the camera's menu to tweak image settings such as white balance, ISO sensitivity, resolution, and EV. Thankfully, the menu itself is simple, and those settings can be changed with just a spin or two of the click wheel.
Snapshooters who don't normally fiddle with those settings, however, should be happy with the Coolpix S5. Nikon has incorporated a dedicated Mode button for quick access to scene modes, and another button selects a special portrait mode that activates Nikon's face-priority autofocus, in-camera red-eye removal, and D-lighting automatic exposure adjustment.
Designed to deliver quality snapshots with minimal fuss, the Nikon Coolpix S5 offers a mixed bag of features. Casual photographers who just want to point and shoot will be pleased, but the limited options will disappoint users who like to tinker with image settings. The 6-megapixel sensor is big enough for nice 8x10-inch prints at low ISO settings, and the modest 35mm-to-105mm zoom lens (35mm equivalent) sports an equally modest maximum aperture of f/3.0 to f/5.4.
The Coolpix S5 has several small conveniences, such as 21MB of internal memory; a 30fps VGA movie mode with electronic vibration reduction; interval and 16-shot burst modes; a feature that warns you when you've taken a blurry picture; and Pictmotion slide-show software that animates your images with transition effects and music from either on-camera tracks or user-uploaded MP3s. The camera sports 15 shot presets, including 4 shooting modes such as Portrait and Sports, and 11 scene modes, such as Museum and Beach/Snow.