Nikon Coolpix S9500 review: Nice 22x zoom travel companion with Wi-Fi

Nikon Coolpix S9500 Canon PowerShot SX280 HS Samsung WB800F
Price (MSRP) $349.95 $329.99 $269.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.4 inches by 2.4 inches by 1.3 inches 4.2 inches by 2.4 inches by 1.3 inches 4.2 inches by 2.4 inches by 0.9 inch
Weight (with battery and media) 7.3 ounces 8.2 ounces 7.7 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 18 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch OLED, 614K dots/None 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None 3-inch touch LCD, 460K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 22x, f3.4-6.3, 25-550mm (35mm equivalent) 20x, f3.5-6.8, 25-500mm (35mm equivalent) 21x, f2.8-5.9, 24-483mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still / video) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC H.264 AAC (MOV) JPEG/H.264 AAC (MP4) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 AAC (MP4)
Highest resolution size (still / video) 4,896x3,672 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 30fps (progressive) 4,000x3,000 pixels / 1,920x1,080 at 24fps 4,608x3,456 pixels / 1,920x1,080 at 60fps (interlaced)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital Optical and digital Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 230 shots Li-ion rechargeable, 230 shots Li-ion rechargeable, 280 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; via USB to AC adapter or computer No; wall charger supplied Yes; via USB to AC adapter or computer
Built-in Wi-Fi/GPS Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/No

The S9500 is powered by a lithium ion rechargeable pack that is rated for 230 shots; that's OK, but keep in mind that using the zoom a lot or the movie and burst-shooting modes will drain the battery 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. Mini-HDMI and Micro-USB ports are behind doors on the right side of the camera.

It is not, however, the same type of Micro-USB port that's used on smartphones and most other mobile devices. It's somewhat proprietary so you'll need to carry an extra cable while traveling.

The 3-inch OLED display is nice for framing your shots and gives you sharp text for when you're navigating menus. However, even with the brightness cranked up, it doesn't get all that bright and was difficult to see in full sun.

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GPS and Wi-Fi
GPS performance has been solid on other Coolpix cameras, and that's the case with the S9500. Turning it on and off doesn't require as much menu diving as on other GPS-enabled cameras I've tested, but it does require some effort. The GPS can be used to geotag photos as well as display and embed points of interest. You can also use the GPS to keep a log of your path while you shoot.

Even if you turn off the camera, the GPS receiver stays active, searching for your position every 30 minutes for up to 6 hours. If it can't find your position it will start searching every 15 minutes for an hour. Needless to say, all of this taxes your battery life, which isn't all that great to begin with. If you're not going to be shooting for a while, make sure you turn it off.

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Turning on and off the Wi-Fi requires a bit more menu diving than the GPS. Assuming you have enough battery life to use it (the menu option will be grayed out if you don't), you just turn it on and pick up your mobile device. Open the Wi-Fi settings on your device and select the camera from the available networks. From there you open the app (Nikon's Wireless Mobile Utility application must be installed on the device before it can be used with this camera) and you get two options: take photos or view photos.

With the app you can set a self-timer, zoom in and out, and release the shutter. You can also opt to have every shot stored on your device and the camera -- perfect if you want to upload or e-mail a picture immediately. The app will also tell you your aperture, shutter speed, and battery life.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix S9500
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash, Manual
Recording modes Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Special Effects, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Smart Portrait, Backlighting/HDR
Focus modes 9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF, Subject-tracking AF, Macro
Macro 0.4 inch (Wide)
Metering modes Matrix, Center-weighted, Spot (digital zoom 2x or more)
Color effects Sepia, High-contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 5 shots

The S9500's shooting options are pretty much the same as you'd find on Nikon's other high-end Coolpix cameras -- lots of auto options, not much direct control over results. There are two Auto modes: one is Nikon's Easy Auto mode, which adjusts settings appropriately based on six common scene types. If the scene doesn't match any of those, it defaults to a general-use Auto. Then there is an Auto mode, which is like the Program mode on other point-and-shoots. You can change ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation as well as autofocus area and mode and continuous shooting.

There are 16 scene modes with standards such as Landscape and Portrait as well as a Pet Portrait mode that will automatically shoot when it detects a cat or dog face, and an Easy Panorama mode. Just press the shutter and pan the camera left, right, up, or down to create a panorama in-camera.

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There is a Special Effects mode, too, for those who want to get just a little more creative with their photos; a Backlighting mode that uses the flash or combines multiple exposures to improve backlit subjects; a handheld Night Landscape mode, which also uses a burst of shots and combines them to reduce blur and noise; and a smile-detecting, skin-softening, blink-warning Smart Portrait mode.

Nikon includes several extra editing features in the playback menu, as well. These include D-Lighting, which helps enhance highlights and shadows; Quick Retouch, which punches up contrast and saturation; several filter effects like fish-eye, miniature, and selective color, which lets you pick a color in your scene and turns the rest of your photo monochrome; and Glamour Retouch for softening skin, reducing face size, and enlarging eyes. Also, after you take a picture, the camera gives you the option to immediately apply filter effects, so you can have the untouched original and an edited version ready to share.

Video options include 1080p, 720p, 480p at 30 frames per second as well as high-speed slow-motion settings: 720p60, 480p120, and 240p240 (though that last one is pretty unusable). What's nice is that you can switch in and out of slow-motion capture while recording. That allows you to, say, slow down a clip while an important piece of action is happening, and then switch back to a regular 30fps movie.

The Nikon Coolpix S9500 is a good choice for those who live in auto and scene modes. Its shooting options are straightforward and the interface is easy to navigate. There are no semimanual or manual controls for shutter speed and aperture. If that's important, you'll want to look elsewhere . The biggest issue I have is with its autofocus, which, at least on my review camera, required extra effort to get the shot I wanted. It is otherwise a good camera for birds and buildings.

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