PROS / This camera is easy to use and control, especially underwater.
CONS / The image quality isn't up to par with other cameras in our comparison.
VERDICT / Since it's the least expensive camera we reviewed, the Coolpix S33 is worth considering if price is your biggest concern. Image quality is just average, but the device is rugged and functional.
The Nikon Coolpix S33 is the most affordable and easy-to-use waterproof camera in our lineup. It is simple in look and functionality. Nikon claims the S33 can handle underwater depths of 33 feet and can handle a drop from 5 feet. Upon first glance, the look and feel of the camera do nothing to suggest its ruggedness. The camera is mostly white and has a smooth plastic exterior. After playing with the camera for only a few minutes, we were able to navigate through all its functions and menus. Simplicity is this underwater camera's greatest attribute.
Before turning the camera on, the back of the camera looks a bit empty. There are four unmarked buttons on the left side of the display and a directional pad to the right. When the camera is turned on, the four unmarked buttons correspond to four menu options on the display. It's not aesthetically pleasing, and the buttons feel a bit out of place and a little clunky, but once you or the camera is wet, the larger buttons are welcome and make it easy to hold the device and navigate through the menus.
This underwater digital camera is not for those looking for complete control as it is somewhat stripped down and lacks many features. For instance, you cannot manually adjust the ISO. The camera is essentially fixed on auto. There are a couple different picture preset styles that change the shutter speed automatically, including underwater, burst and fireworks, but you can't adjust shutter speed and ISO settings manually. This was one frustrating aspect of the camera.
This Nikon underwater camera doesn't have the same picture quality as some top-rated underwater cameras in our lineup. The S33 struggled with both dry-land and underwater picture quality in our comparison. For the dry-land testing, we took pictures of a test scene that challenges the camera's color saturation, color accuracy, white balancing and sharpness. Considerable image grain (also known as noise) is apparent when the image is slightly zoomed in. Zoom in a little closer and color lines between the boxes start to bleed. The image isn't sharp and lacks definitive lines. When compared to the best test images, this camera's color palate looks dull. The lack of sharpness wasn't too much of a surprise considering the max resolution for the S33 is 13.2 megapixels, whereas most underwater cameras boast closer to 16 megapixels. The fact that we couldn’t manually adjust the ISO played a part as well. As convenient as the auto settings are, they don't always produce the best photos.
The underwater images we captured didn't look great. The camera turned the water an unappealing yellow hue in all of the pictures we took. The photos are not sharp or clear – almost as if a piece of wax paper was placed over the image. Clarity and sharpness deteriorated further as we zoomed in.
Although the image quality isn't up to par, this camera offers a handful of useful features, including 1080p video recording that captures audio. It also has an image stabilizer and face detection to keep your photos in focus. Unfortunately, this camera doesn’t have GPS that allows you to put geographical tags on photos – a cool way to keep track of where you snapped the photo.
The Nikon S33 underwater camera's shining quality is its simple functionality. It doesn't have complicated menus or rows of small buttons, so it's ideal for beginning photographers. Unfortunately, the photo quality is below average when compared to top performers in our lineup. This is an inexpensive camera that can get wet, dirty and take the occasional tumble, but if exceptional photo quality is your priority, you'll want to pay a little extra and look elsewhere.