The Nikon Coolpix S9500 might not be a standout in the compact megazoom category, but it's not an also-ran, either.
The lens is 100mm longer than the one on last year's model, the S9300, going from 25mm to 550mm, and the resolution has been bumped up to 18 megapixels. OK, so those don't necessarily make it a better camera, but if you're trying to get people interested in putting down their phones and picking up a camera, it's a good start.
To that end, Nikon also added some new shooting options, such as the capability to quickly edit and apply filters and effects and high-speed movie capture for slow-motion clips. And, in case you want to share your shots immediately with your friends and family, its built-in Wi-Fi can be used to transfer shots directly to your iOS or Android device. Combined with its GPS, you've got a pretty nice travel camera.
Now, it's not perfect, but it's certainly worth considering at its price if you're looking for a point-and-shoot for pictures of birds and buildings.
Picture quality is good to very good depending on how much light you have and the focal length you're using. Detail is very good at its base ISO, but it immediately starts to soften above that setting and picks up more noise and artifacts. By the time you get to ISO 800, subjects start to look soft and flat and colors start to look dull.
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.
Regardless of sensitivity, photos appear somewhat soft and benefit from sharpening with photo-editing software. You may also find yourself bumping up contrast on your shots taken with the lens fully zoomed in.
Video quality is good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. If you plan to do a lot of panning from side to side or shooting fast-moving subjects, you'll likely see judder and ghosting, but not enough to make clips unwatchable. The zoom does work when recording, but to keep the movement from being picked up by the mics on top, the audio is dampened. If you use the zoom while recording you'll want to keep the autofocus set to full-time, but you might hear the lens focusing in very quiet scenes.
Under most circumstances, the S9500 performs quickly. From off to first shot is 1.5 seconds. The time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing is 0.2 second in bright lighting and 0.6 second in low lighting. Shot-to-shot times averaged 1.3 seconds. The time between shots when using the flash is nearly as good at 1.5 seconds, a vast improvement from the 6.5 seconds the S9300 required.
The camera's full-resolution burst mode is capable of capturing up to five frames at 9.4 frames per second, which is better than the 7fps Nikon claims. That, however, is with focus and exposure set at the first shot, so fast-moving subjects might not be in focus for all of the photos, and it takes about 6 seconds for those images to be saved before you can shoot again. Also, it takes a little longer to focus and shoot when zoomed all the way in, which can be frustrating when trying to lock on to a moving target.
Design and features
The S9500's design has changed slightly over the past few generations. It's lighter and just as thin as the S9300 despite having a longer lens. The camera is nice-looking and overall easy to use, too. Available in black, red, and silver, the S9500 has just a couple of subtle differences from the prior version.
Gone is the bump-out on top for the GPS receiver; it's now flat across the entire top. Unfortunately, you have to be very conscious of where you put your fingers on the left side. The S9500's flash pops straight up -- and fast -- automatically when it's needed. If your finger is on top, it will keep the flash from popping up and firing.
Along with the power button and shutter release and zoom control, the mode dial sits on top for quick changes to the shooting mode.
The rest of the shooting and camera options are navigated with 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.