If you've ever packed up the kids into the family minivan for a vacation, you've probably carried a camera along to capture photos of the trip. While scenic shots of the Grand Canyon call for a nice camera, plenty of vacation fun happens in places where your camera—or worse, smartphone—dare not tread.
For times like these, a waterproof, shockproof camera is called for. And if you're looking to pick one up without spending a lot of money, the affordable Nikon S33 (MSRP $149.95) is an attractive new option.
We can't attest to the image quality yet, but the simple, easy-to-understand control scheme is tailored specifically for kids and families, making the S33 a good option for worry-free photography.
Design & Usability
Simple and approachable, the S33 is designed to be the new family camera.
Unlike other waterproof cameras, which usually look like something that fell out of a Bear Grylls survival kit, the S33 keeps things as simple as possible. It's got a straightforward plastic body, only a few physical controls, and a basic 3x zoom lens. Nikon has actually made some aesthetic changes since last year's S32, but the S33's looks are still closer to Fisher-Price than what you'd expect from a rough-and-tumble Coolpix.
That simplicity belies the S33's ruggedness, however, as it can still survive drops as high as 5 feet, temps as low as 14°F, and dives underwater down to 33 feet. Of course, most kids I know could still find a way to break it, but that's at least rugged enough to survive the daily grind of bumps and bruises that most family cameras are subjected to.
Nikon carries its emphasis on simplicity through to the menu system, redesigning it so that it's easy for anyone—including young children—to understand. So, menu navigation is a more visual experience, and the names of certain filters have been changed into calls to action; thus "Fisheye" becomes "Add a Fisheye Effect."
The physical control scheme is also simplified, with a rear directional pad that doubles as your zoom control, four buttons alongside the rear LCD, and two shutter buttons on top—one for stills and one for video recording. The four buttons work with the menu, corresponding to onscreen options; press the button beside the option you want and it accesses them.
All of this makes shooting with the S33 as simple as it gets. You pick it up, turn it on, and start shooting. There are plenty of features for your kid to dig into if they're feeling creative, but generally speaking this is pared down even by point-and-shoot standards.
The hardware doesn't amount to much, but creative filters should keep 'em busy.
Compared to many of the high-end cameras here at CP+ in Japan, the Nikon S33 doesn't have much going for it. It's a pretty run-of-the-mill point-and-shoot, save for its ability to survive dives and minor drops. From a hardware perspective, nothing here is high-end. While the S32 improved significantly upon its predecessor, the S33 carries the same 13.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, low-res 230k-dot screen, and 3x optical zoom lens.
From a software perspective, things are a little better. The S33 has 15 different scene modes ranging from the usual suspects (fireworks, underwater, macro, soft) to less common modes like mirror, neon effect, and interval shooting. It's also got a new underwater face framing mode, which will automatically focus in on faces while underwater, so if you're standing by the pool and want to take a photo of a person underwater you don't have to dip your face in to get the shot you want.
There are also a dozen or so in-camera editing features, which are nice extras that let you get creative with photos once you've taken them. The "Add Makeup" mode is particularly fun, letting you beautify certain areas of your subject's face—often to comical effect.
The S33 can also capture video, though it's limited to 1080/30p and wasn't particularly impressive in our experience. That isn't a surprise given this is a relatively low-cost camera, though with many cameras in this price range topping out at 720p it does give the S33 a small leg up.
More expensive than last year's, but still affordable.
Careful observers of Nikon's waterproof offerings might raise an eyebrow at one part of the S33's spec sheet: the price. At $149.95 it's debuting $30 higher than last year's S32 (which now sells for $99.95) and $50 more than the S31 before it. And on the surface there isn't a whole lot different about the S33.
In fact, though it's impossible to know for sure without thorough lab testing, the S33 looks to be basically the same as the Coolpix S32 on the inside; same sensor, same processor, same LCD screen, same lens, and roughly the same body design. The body may have been slightly changed and some menu options might have been added, but that's hardly enough to justify a 50% price hike over the S32's street price.
Still, even at $150, the S33 is a good value. Most waterproof cameras start near $300 and up, and don't offer much more than the S33 in terms of durability. And if you're mostly just interested in a camera that your kids can mess around with on vacation without destroying it in the first five minutes, $150 isn't a bad price at all—just try to find an S32 first.