What has a colorful screen, fits in a pocket, takes pictures and can go with you almost anywhere?
Nowadays, there are two possible answers: a small digital camera and a cellphone. But sophisticated cellphones with better built-in cameras — including some with up to three megapixels — are making it increasingly practical for consumers to just carry camera phones. After all, you can use the cellphone to send as well as capture images. Digicam snapshots are stuck in the camera until you return to your computer.
Digital cameras still have better lenses than cellphone cameras, though, as well as more features and more storage. Wouldn’t it be great if they also let you send pictures directly?
For the past few weeks, I’ve been testing Nikon’s $350 Coolpix S7c, a camera with built-in Wi-Fi wireless technology. The S7c captures photos, logs into your nearest Wi-Fi network and sends the photos in an email that contains thumbnail images and a link to Nikon’s Coolpix Connect Web site. Recipients can download the photos or view them in a slide-show format on the site.
I found that emailing images with the Coolpix S7c was fast, simple and efficient. It took only a few minutes to set up, and I was comfortable using the camera’s other basic features after taking just a few photos. Though the S7c’s Wi-Fi receiver wasn’t as strong as the one in my laptop, it worked well.
Wi-Fi technology isn’t as widely available as cellphone networks are, but it’s not unusual to find bookstores, coffee shops and schools with Wi-Fi. To help you along, Nikon includes a free year of T-Mobile HotSpot Wi-Fi service with its camera. This works in Starbucks, airports, Borders bookstores and many other places.
Other digital cameras with integrated Wi-Fi have been introduced within the past year by Eastman Kodak and Nikon. But Kodak’s EasyShare-one digital camera didn’t link up to the network consistently, and Nikon’s Coolpix S6 — astonishingly — would send images only to the photographer’s computer.
The Coolpix S7c (the “c” stands for connect) boasts an edgy gun-metal gray casing, a generous three-inch viewing screen and a smart rotary dial that eases navigation and photo scrolling. Its beauty is backed up with brains, including a maximum resolution of 7.1 megapixels — more than enough for normal users — and a 3x optical zoom lens.
I tried the S7c outside on a trip to California, capturing scenic ocean views, and at home in Washington, D.C., snapping friends indoors during a day of football-watching. I especially liked the camera’s One-Touch Portrait Button. If pressed before you take a photo of someone, this button automatically fixes red eye, focuses on the subject’s face and adjusts images with insufficient lighting. Other digital cameras tend to bury these settings within menus, making them hard to find when you really want to use them.
The Coolpix S7c has 14 megabytes of built-in memory and a slot for a SecureDigital memory card, though it doesn’t come with one. Nikon estimates the battery will last for 130 shots using Wi-Fi and 200 shots without it, a relatively weak showing compared with some smaller digicams.
The initial Wi-Fi setup involved entering my email address and a nickname. Entering text was easy after I got the hang of using the rotary dial to scroll through and select letters and numbers. The camera’s shutter button worked like a computer-keyboard “enter” button, confirming every step.
Before the Coolpix S7c sends images, it must be switched into Wireless LAN mode. A blinking blue light indicates the camera is searching for Wi-Fi networks. After selecting one and check-marking photos to be emailed, you can enter recipients’ email addresses and send the images.
I tried this with Wi-Fi networks in my office, at home, at my local Starbucks and elsewhere. The camera remembered my home Wi-Fi password so I didn’t have to enter it more than once, and it stored the email addresses I had sent photos to in the past. Using the T-Mobile HotSpot at my Starbucks couldn’t have been easier: I was able to send a dozen photos while waiting for my tall, skim, white mocha.
Photos are sent in one of three sizes: TV size, PC size and Photoprint, the largest. Up to 30 images can be sent at one time, never exceeding 50 megabytes, and the images are deleted from Nikon’s server after two weeks. I clocked my fastest photo emailing speed at home: 13 images in just three seconds. But it never took me longer than 30 seconds to send that many images from other sites.
The only real downside to the new Nikon is that it can’t email pictures as attachments directly. It just sends the pictures to the Nikon Web site. Your recipients must visit that site, via the link they receive, to view or download the images.
Still, those who received my photos via Nikon’s Coolpix Connect emails liked what they saw: Up to three thumbnail photos appeared embedded in the email, and the link could be opened in the Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox Web browsers.
If more digital cameras follow Nikon’s lead, integrating a smart design with simple and consistent Wi-Fi technology, people may start using digital cameras in a different way.
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