Overall photo quality from the S8100 is very good, performing on par or above other cameras in its class. Though its sensitivity settings run from ISO 160 to ISO 3,200, the S8100 produces the best results at ISO 200. There's a Fixed Range Auto option that will limit you to ISO 160-400, which is nice since this is where it performs best. On the other hand, the regular Auto ISO setting only goes up to ISO 800 and since the S8100 does OK there, too, it's fairly safe to use. The two highest ISOs--1,600 and 3,200--should probably only be used in emergencies mainly because the colors get very washed out and the noise reduction makes subjects appear smeary.
If you like to shoot close-ups, the S8100 has a few ways to enter Macro mode. It will automatically switch to it if you're using the Scene Auto Selector mode. You can also select a Close-up mode from the camera's Scene options. And if you're in Auto mode, you can switch to macro focus via the control pad. You can focus as close as 0.4 inch from your subject and the results are very good.
Like most cameras with backside-illuminated CMOS sensors, the S8100 has a multishot mode for improving low-light photos of landscapes and portraits. With 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. The top photo is a 100 percent crop of the bottom photo. In general, the mode is successful, though at full size you will see chroma noise. Because of the nature of how these images are produced, they cannot be used with moving subjects.
In this series, the top photo was taken with the multishot Night Landscape mode and the middle was taken with the Scene Auto Selector. The bottom photo is the Scene Auto Selector image processed with Nikon's D-Lighting feature available in Playback mode. Though the bottom image is darker than the top photo, it is closer to what I actually saw. My recommendation is to take advantage of what the camera offers and shoot using both modes when possible.
Similar to the Night Landscape mode, there is a Backlighting mode with the option to turn on a high dynamic range feature (HDR). This will take a burst of shots with a single press of the shutter release and combine them into one image for improved shadow detail on backlit subjects (right). What's nice is the camera simultaneously captures a second photo with Nikon's D-Lighting applied (left).
The S8100's lens may not be as wide as competing models, but 30-300mm (35mm equivalent) offers good flexibility.
300mm at 100 percent
This is a 100 percent crop of the inset photo. The results are actually better than I get from most compact megazooms at 300mm. As long as you keep the sensitivity below ISO 400 and don't mind doing a little post-shoot sharpening, the S8100's photos at full zoom can actually withstand heavy cropping. That is as long as you don't plan viewing or printing them at large sizes.
Nikon does an excellent job of controlling both barrel distortion at the wide end (top) and pincushioning at the telephoto end of the lens (bottom). The lens is fairly sharp in the center, but there is noticeable softness at the sides and in the corners when photos are viewed at their full resolution.
The sides is also where you're likely to see fringing around high-contrast subjects.
The S8100 has several burst-shooting options, but the best one is the Continuous H setting, which lets you shoot at up to 10 frames per second. However, that's only for five photos. The Continuous L mode drops to approximately 1.8fps, but can capture up to 26 photos.
The S8100 also has a 120fps burst capturing up to 54 frames with a press of the shutter release. The images are only 1-megapixel resolution and there's a substantial wait while the camera stores all those photos, but you can get a shot of your friend getting hit in the face with a soccer ball.
Colors produced by the S8100 are good up to ISO 800, if not altogether accurate (though that's average for midrange point-and-shoot cameras). Exposure is consistently good, too, and if you need some help, Nikon's D-Lighting feature can be used in Playback mode. The auto white balance under unnatural light tends to be a little too warm, so it's best to use the manual white-balance option whenever possible.