The desire for longer zoom lenses has supplanted using sensors bursting with megapixels to market point-and-shoots.
So much so that for the Coolpix S9700, Nikon increased the telephoto range of its top compact megazoom from 550mm on the S9600 to 750mm, while simultaneously dropping the resolution from 18 megapixels to 16.
All in all, this is a good thing. The S9700's longer lens doesn't really change the camera's body size or weight, keeping it pocketable. Its photo and video quality remain quite nice for its class. And shooting performance is pretty quick, too, though the autofocus still occasionally struggles to lock onto a subject when fully zoomed in.
The biggest issues I have with it are related to design, with only one really being a potential deal breaker.
So, if you're looking for a capable travel zoom that'll cover both basic auto shooting and more creative photography, you'll want to consider the Nikon Coolpix S9700.
Nikon's higher-end Coolpix cameras usually turn out pleasing results, and the S9700 is no different. Photos are very good to excellent depending on how much light you have -- the more, the better. Like most small-sensor compacts, though, photos from the S9700 viewed at full size onscreen show noise and artifacts, and fine details look mushy even under ideal conditions. Zooming out some, though, gives you nice detail and excellent color. Basically, if you really want to enlarge and crop in on images, you'll probably be disappointed.
Between ISO 200 and 800 details start to soften more and benefit from some light sharpening with editing software. The good part is there's enough detail intact at ISO 800 that it's still usable at smaller sizes, though, again, I'd avoid any heavy cropping.
The two highest ISOs -- 3200 and 6400 -- should only be used in emergencies, mainly because the colors get very washed out and the noise reduction makes subjects appear smeary. In fact, I'd stay away from ISO 6400 altogether.
Video quality is just as good as its photos -- better in daylight than indoors or in low light. If you plan to do a lot of panning from side to side or shooting fast-moving subjects, you'll likely see judder, wobble, and image breakup, 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 front, 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. You'll also want to be careful with your fingers on the right because it's possible to accidentally cover or brush against one of the mics on front.
Under most circumstances, the S9700 performs quickly. From off to first shot is 2.2 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 0.9 second. The time between shots when using the flash is good as well at 1.7 seconds.
The camera's full-resolution burst mode is capable of capturing up to five frames at 7 frames per second. 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 5 seconds for those images to be saved before you can shoot again. Also, it takes a little longer to autofocus 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 overall design hasn't changed much over the past few generations of this model. That includes its weight and dimensions, which is remarkable given the lenses continue to get longer and longer.
Available in black and red versions, the S9700 has just a couple of subtle differences from the prior version. The camera is nice-looking, though Nikon used a grainy, textured plastic on the body that I don't like the feel of.
It's fairly flat across the top, but there's a small bump up above the lens. Unfortunately, you have to be very conscious of where you put your fingers on the left side. Despite having redesigned pop-up mechanism, the S9700'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.
Also, although you can pull back on the flash unit, it won't fire in this position. Some competing models, like Samsung's WB350F, have a similar flash mechanism, but allow you to pull it back and bounce the flash for better results.