Check out an examination of photo quality for Nikon's top-of-the-line compact megazoom, the 18x Coolpix S9300.
Overall photo quality from the S9300 is very good, suitable for prints up to 8x10 and Web use. At full size they don't look good, though, so its 16-megapixel resolution isn't a reason to buy. Though its sensitivity settings run from ISO 125 to ISO 3200, the S9300 produces the best results below ISO 400. Regardless of sensitivity, photos appear somewhat soft and benefit from sharpening with photo-editing software. There's a Fixed Range Auto option that will limit you to ISO 125-400 or ISO 125-800; I recommend using the former outdoors and latter indoors when possible. The two highest ISOs--1600 and 3200--should only be used in emergencies, mainly because the colors get very washed out and the noise reduction makes subjects appear smeary, and actually, colors are so bad at ISO 3200 you probably shouldn't use it at all.
Again, details are a little soft when viewed at larger sizes, but for Web use or prints up to 8x10, most should be happy with the results. Applying some sharpening with basic photo-editing software will improve things.
Nikon includes several continuous shooting options. The best one is the Continuous H setting (used here), which lets you shoot at up to 7.9 frames per second in our tests for seven photos at full resolution. The Continuous L mode drops to approximately 2fps for six photos, but will continue to continuously shoot at a slower rate until you stop pressing the shutter release. The camera also has 60fps and 120fps bursts; the former captures up to 25 images at a resolution of 1 megapixel, and the latter grabs up to 50 VGA-quality shots at a press of the shutter release. There's a substantial wait while the camera stores all those photos, but if you're trying to capture a specific moment in time, this is your best bet with this camera. Also, with all of these modes, the focus, exposure, and white balance are set with the first photo. If you have a fast-moving subject, like someone running, there's a good chance only the first photo will be in focus.
Colors produced by the S9300 are good up to ISO 800; above that and colors look desaturated and muddy. Nikon adds some extra control over hue (color tone) and vividness (saturation), with adjustable sliders if you're not happy with Nikon's processing. The slider settings get stored in the camera's memory for the Auto mode, so they stay even if you power the camera off. Exposure is consistently good, too, but if you want to bring out some details lost in shadows, Nikon's D-Lighting feature can be used in Playback mode. There's also a Backlighting HDR mode to help balance out scenes with extreme contrast.
This is an example using the Backlighting mode with the high dynamic range feature (HDR) on. The mode takes a burst of shots with a single press of the shutter release and combines them into one image for improved shadow detail on backlit subjects (bottom). What's nice is the camera simultaneously captures a second photo with a regular exposure (top). When the HDR feature is off, the camera corrects backlighting using the flash, which is better for portraits or other close backlit subjects.
The S9300 has a Special Effects mode, too, perfect for those who want to get just a little more creative with their photos. Settings include Soft, Sepia, High-contrast Monochrome (pictured), High Key, Low Key, and Selective Color.