I Didn't Know a Camera Could Do That

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You'd think that camera makers would run out of clever new tricks. But now Nikon has pulled a pair of point-and-shooters from its hat designed to astonish and enthrall users. The Nikon CoolPix S70 is the first handheld outside Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch to incorporate a multi-touch screen. The other rabbit is the Coolpix S1000pj, the first camera that is also a projector. When you see it in action, your jaw will drop.

Squeeze your fingers together on the Nikon CoolPix S70's display, spread them apart, and see the image enlarge. Push a portion of the picture off screen, and another part reveals itself. Want to see that close-up in even more detail? Pinch and spread those fingers again. Suddenly, all the resolution possible with a multi-megapixel camera that's typically buried in the memory card can now be manipulated directly on the camera's view screen. Being able to drill into the depths of a high resolution photograph has never been more intuitive.

Even beyond multi-touch, the S70's screen is hardly ordinary. Unlike the LCD (liquid crystal display) technology found on other Coolpix models, the S70 uses an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen. Placed next to one of those LCDs, the OLED model is visibly brighter. Nikon hasn't skimped on screen size either. The S70 features a wide 3.5-inch display (same as an iPod Touch) and packs 288,000 pixels into the 16:9 space.

Controlling the picture-taking process is as direct as finger pointing can be. Instead of groping for telephoto buttons on the camera body, just tap the T or W icons on the screen to frame your subject. Also, you can simply touch the screen to have the camera set the focus and exposure and automatically release the shutter.

When you're ready to review an image from thumbnails, you touch one to bring it up. If you want to manually control a slide show, just swipe your finger across the screen to the right to launch the next picture, or left to go back. And if you want the camera to run the slide show, it can do so with built-in music. (There's a speaker on the camera.)

The S70 shoots movies in five different resolutions or frame rates, the highest quality mode being 1,280 by 720 pixels at 30 frames per second. Unfortunately, you won't be able to view your 720p movies in high definition by attaching the camera to your HDTV set. That's because Nikon includes a composite video cable but doesn't build in a high-definition camera output or offer an accessory dock for use with an HDTV. A Nikon rep suggested that you could always view your clips in high-def on a computer. Also, you should be able to burn a DVD-R with your high-def video then view it on a Blu-ray Disc player compatible with the AVCHD format.

The other rabbit Nikon has pulled out of its hat is the Coolpix S1000pj. Though it omits a touch screen in favor of a standard LCD with hard buttons, and its video mode tops out at a non-high-def resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, the camera has an ability that may cause your jaw to drop the first time you see it in action. The "pj" is also a projector.

Coolpix S1000pj

Just under the electronic flash is an LED designed to project an image between 5 and 40 inches in size. You adjust the size by placing the camera from 10 to 78 inches from a white or lightly-colored surface. A slider atop the camera lets you adjust the focus. A small plastic projector stand is included, but I wouldn't recommend using it. Because it raises the pj at an angle to the surface on which it is perched, the projected image ‘keystones', meaning that the sides are no longer parallel. You're better off attaching a mini-tripod to the camera's bottom socket.

The pj uses a reflective LCD chip with VGA (640 x 480) resolution, meaning that the projector is a perfect match for the camera's best video resolution, but a slacker when it comes to displaying the up to 12.1 megapixel pictures the camera can capture. Incidentally, the same wide/telephoto controls you use to frame a picture before releasing the shutter lets you zoom in on a projected still image. (Zoom controls turn into volume controls for the camera's tiny speaker during movie playback.) A mini remote is included for taking pictures or projecting a slide show.

Nikon rates the projected brightness at 10 lumens, which puts the camera in the zone of other pico projectors, but way out of bounds of home theater projectors. For example, the original 3M MPRO110 Micro Professional Projector put out 7 lumens, while its successor, the 3M MPRO 120 is rated at 12 lumens. However, even the most modest home theater projector is typically rated at more than a thousand lumens. The bottom line for using the S1000pj is that the larger you make the projected image, the darker the room had better be.

There are limitations to how the projector can be used. First, you can't do a live projection. The lamp can only be activated during playback. Also, don't even think about using the camera as a media player upon transferring videos or PowerPoint slides from your computer. A Nikon spokesman explained that files must be created in the camera. You could offload files to your computer and return them to an SD card you plug into the camera later. But if you've altered the image in any way – in PhotoShop, or merely by renaming the file – it will no longer be viewable. Finally, beware that a fully-charged battery will be depleted within an hour of projected playback. Opting for such accessories as spare batteries (especially if you want to take more pictures following the show) and an AC adapter would be prudent.

By the way, I had a lot of fun showing off the pj. For my first party trick at a friend's Manhattan penthouse on a recent Saturday night, I captured a paper plate arranged with colorful hors d'oeuvres. I then projected the image into a clean plate, calorie-free.

Before coming up to the party, I had taken pictures of a street sign that said Walk or Don't Walk. At the party, I projected the images onto the lightly-colored shirts of unsuspecting guests.

Since we hadn't yet sat down to dinner, I kept slipping into the kitchen where the hostess was putting together serving platters of chicken, noodle pudding, and stewed fruit. I dutifully snapped each dish, and then retreated to the living room where I projected the coming attractions on the ceiling.

Beyond the S1000pj's projector and S70's multi-touch OLED, both models contain all the latest features found in Nikon's most advanced digital point and shoot cameras including 5-way VR image stabilization, skin softening, auto red-eye removal, face priority, smile timer, and a blink warning/reduction system to enable successful group or individual portraits. Both cameras are fun to use, perform well, and as the new models on the block, are bound to grab the attention of neighbors. Here's a quick comparison:

  Coolpix S1000pj Coolpix S70
Photo Resolution (pixels); Image Sensor 12.1 million; 1/2.3-in CCD 12.1 million; 1/2.3-in CCD
Lens 5x Zoom NIKKOR; 28-140mm; f/3.9-5.8 5x Zoom NIKKOR; 28-140mm; f/3.9-5.8
Focus Range 1 ft to infinity; macro close-up from 1.2-in 1 ft to infinity; macro close-up from 1.2-in
View Screen 2.7-in LCD (non-touch); 4:3; 230,000 pixels 3.5-in OLED touch panel; 16:9; 288,000 pixels
Best Video Resolution VGA at 640 x 480 HD at 1280 x 720 (720p)
Colors Black Red & Red, Champagne & Beige, Black & Black, Champagne & Light Brown