Nikon Coolpix S9100 - digital camera review: Nikon Coolpix S9100 - digital camera

Like most cameras with BSI CMOS sensors, the S9100 has multishot modes for improving low-light photos of landscapes and portraits. At a single press of the shutter release, the camera takes several photos and then combines them to improve blur from hand shake and reduce noise and correct exposure. In general, the Night Landscape mode is successful. However, the Night Portrait mode is better, taking shots with and without flash and combining them into a single nicely exposed flash photo. However, because of the nature of how these images are produced, these modes cannot be used with moving subjects. There is a Backlight HDR (high dynamic range) mode, too, that combines photos taken at different exposures to help bring out highlight and shadow detail.

The high-speed performance of the CMOS sensor gets put to use in burst modes, too. The best one is the Continuous H setting, which lets you shoot at up to 10fps for five photos (our tests clocked it at up to 17fps, though, at lower resolutions). The Continuous L mode drops to approximately 1.8fps, but can capture up to 24 photos. The camera also has 60fps and 120fps bursts; the former captures up to 25 images at a resolution of 2 megapixels, and the latter grabs up to 50 1-megapixel frames 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.

And while I'm on the subject of shooting performance, the S9100 is pretty excellent for this class of camera. From off to first shot is 1.1 seconds. Shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is 0.3 second and 0.6 second in bright and low lighting, respectively. Shot-to-shot times averaged 1.2 seconds. The only hiccup came when using the flash, which slowed the camera to 4.2 seconds between shots.

Aside from all the features and performance, the camera is nice-looking and easy to use, too. Available in black, red, and silver, the S9100 is compact given its 18x zoom lens--one of the longest available in a camera this size. The metal casing covered with a rubberized texture makes it feel high-quality, but like the S8100, it has just a slight ridge on the front of the camera to help with your grip. Also like the S8100, the flash pops up from the top left, but at least with the S9100 it doesn't pop up automatically; a switch on the side of the body releases it when you need it. You're not left with much room to grip the camera when it's up, but it's not impossible either. One other irritation: there's no option for auto picture rotation, which means all photos taken vertically will need to be rotated.

A mode dial sits on top for quickly changing your shooting mode. On the back, a large thumb rest separates the screen from a record button for movies; there is no standalone movie mode you have to switch to in order to shoot video. Below that is a playback button and a four-way control pad/wheel with an OK button in its center (Nikon calls it a Rotary Multi Selector), and then there are Menu and Delete buttons at the very bottom. The control pad is used for menu and image navigation as well as setting the self-timer, adjusting flash and exposure compensation, and turning on macro focus. Should you want to move more quickly through menus, images, and videos, you can spin the wheel instead of doing single presses with the underlying control pad. Although it moves easily, you can feel stops.

The S9100 is powered by a lithium ion rechargeable pack that is rated for 270 shots; this was supported in testing, but keep in mind that using the zoom a lot or the movie and burst-shooting modes will kill battery life faster. The battery is charged in the camera by connecting via USB to a computer or the included wall adapter. The battery and card compartment are on the bottom behind a locking door. Next to it is a Mini-USB/AV port. A covered Mini-HDMI port is on the right side of the camera for connecting to an HDTV or monitor; you'll need to buy a cable, though.

While several manufacturers have bulked up their compact megazoom offerings with GPS receivers, touch screens, 3D photo capture, and semimanual and manual shooting modes, the Nikon Coolpix S9100 is all about the lens. Yes, it has plenty of other things going on--including a beautiful high-res LCD--but if all you really want is a long lens in a pocketable body with reliable automatic shooting options, the S9100 might be the best option for the money.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
Nikon Coolpix S9100
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10
Nikon Coolpix S8100
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

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