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. In general, it's a very easy camera to use without the maze of shooting options found on most models in its class.
The S9700 is powered by a lithium ion rechargeable pack that is rated for 300 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 same goes for the camera's Wi-Fi and GPS.
The battery is charged in the camera by connecting via USB to a computer or to a USB wall adapter (Nikon doesn't include one). The battery and card compartments are on the bottom behind a sliding nonlocking door. Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB ports are behind doors on the right side of the camera. Thankfully, Nikon switched from its somewhat proprietary Micro-USB connector to the type found on smartphones and most other mobile devices.
The 3-inch 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.
GPS and Wi-Fi
GPS performance has been solid on other Coolpix cameras, and that's the case with the S9700. 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 more effort than it should. 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.
Turning on and off the Wi-Fi requires as much menu diving as 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 remote functions of 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 email a picture immediately. The app will also tell you your aperture, shutter speed, and battery life if you're holding your device vertically. Unfortunately, you can only shoot stills with it, not video.
General shooting options
Nikon Coolpix S9700
ISO sensitivity (full resolution)
Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash, Manual
Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Special Effects, Smart Portrait, Program, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority
9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF, Subject-tracking AF, Macro
0.4 inch (Wide)
Matrix, Center-weighted, Spot (digital zoom 2x or more)
Sepia, High-contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key, Pop, Super Vivid, Cross Process
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)
When it comes to manual controls over shutter speed and aperture, traditionally only the P-series and newer A-series Coolpix cameras have had that capability. The S9700, however, has full manual and aperture- and shutter-priority modes. Apertures range from f3.7-8.0 at the wide end and f6.4-f8.0 at the telephoto end. Shutter speeds can be set from 1/2,000 of a second to 8 seconds (when ISO sensitivity is fixed at ISO 125 or 200).
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 just the general-use Auto mode, which I would avoid using unless you're in bright daylight conditions.
There are 18 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.
Also included is a Special Effects mode 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 (HDR); 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.
Outside of some design quibbles, the Nikon Coolpix S9700 puts big zoom power and nice photo and video quality in your pocket. Pixel peepers might not like what they see onscreen, but for those who appreciate having better images and more shooting options than a smartphone, this one hits the mark.