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Sample photos: Nikon Coolpix S9100

Check out an examination of photo quality from Nikon's 18x compact megazoom, the Coolpix S9100.

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Joshua Goldman
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1 of 11 Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET

ISO comparison

Overall photo quality from the S9100 is very good, on par with most other cameras in its category. Though its sensitivity settings run from ISO 160 to ISO 3200, the S9100 produces the best results below ISO 400. regardless of sensitivity, photos generally look somewhat soft and benefit from sharpening with photo-editing software. There's a Fixed Range Auto option that will limit you to ISO 160-400, which is nice since, again, this is where the S9100 performs best. On the other hand, the regular Auto ISO setting only goes up to ISO 800 and since the S9100 does OK there, too, it's fairly safe to use. The two highest ISOs--1600 and 3200--should probably only be used in emergencies, mainly because the colors get very washed out and the noise reduction makes subjects appear smeary.

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Macro

If you like to shoot close-ups, the S9100 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 1.6 inches from your subject and the results are very good.

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Continuous burst shooting

While the S9100 has many burst modes, several of them are at reduced resolutions of 1 or 2 megapixels. Used here is its fastest full-resolution setting, shooting at 10 frames per second for up to five shots. Focus and exposure are set with the first shot; there is no continuous option with autofocus.
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Capture stills while recording movies

Have you ever wanted to shoot a photo while recording video with your camera? If so, the S9100 will let you do just that. Press the shutter release all the way down and the camera will capture a still at whatever resolution you're recording in (e.g., full HD grabs a 2-megapixel image).
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Fringing

Fringing in high-contrast areas of photos is generally only visible when photos are viewed at full size. And even then it's typically off to the sides of a scene.

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Lens distortion

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 reasonably 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 corners also show some pulling toward the center when using the wide end. You can see an example of what I'm talking about in the top photo of the next slide (especially in the bottom corners), but for most subjects it's not noticeable.
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Zoom range

The S9100 has an impressive zoom range given its size, going from 25mm (top) to 450mm (bottom).

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Color

Colors produced by the S9100 are good up to ISO 800--pleasing and natural. 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 incandescent light and when using the flash is a little too warm, so it's best to use the presets or manual white-balance option whenever possible in those situations. Also, like most compact cameras, highlights can blow out easily. Nikon's Backlight HDR (high dynamic range) mode can help even things out, though.
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Backlight HDR

This is an example using the Backlighting mode with the high dynamic range feature (HDR) on. The mode takes a burst of shots with a single press of the shutter release and combines 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).

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Special Effects mode

For the S9100, Nikon includes a Special Effects mode that allows you to shoot with different style filters. Going left to right from top to bottom: Soft, Nostalgic Sepia, High-Contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key, and Selective Color.

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Easy Panorama mode

Nikon includes two panorama modes: Easy and Panorama Assist. The latter uses a ghost image on screen to help you line up your successive photos. The former, used here, just requires you to press the shutter and pan the camera left, right, up, or down to create a panorama in camera. These modes never handle movement well, so they're best used on scenery without movement in it.

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