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Nikon Coolpix S9100 - digital camera review: Nikon Coolpix S9100 - digital camera

Nikon Coolpix S9100 - digital camera

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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9 min read

The Nikon Coolpix S9100 is a step up from the S8100. That camera features a 10x 30-300mm-equivalent lens, whereas the S9100 has an 18x 25-450mm-equivalent lens. Otherwise, the cameras look the same (though the S9100 is slightly larger) and the shooting options are similar, too, due in part to their 12-megapixel backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensors. They are both very good cameras with a lot of automatic shooting options to help get the best photos without dealing with settings other than changing shooting modes.

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7.8

Nikon Coolpix S9100 - digital camera

The Good

The <b>Nikon Coolpix S9100</b> has fast shooting performance, a wide, long lens in a pocketable body, and several useful and fun shooting modes.

The Bad

The Coolpix S9100's photo and video quality is soft, particularly at high ISOs and in low-light conditions. It also lacks auto picture rotation.

The Bottom Line

Nikon produces another solid point-and-shoot compact megazoom with the Coolpix S9100 by offering fast performance, good photos, and an excellent feature-to-price ratio.

Basically, the reason to go with the S9100 over the S8100 is the longer, wider lens; shooting performance and photo and video quality is about the same. If you're a stickler for sharpness or fine details when photos are viewed at larger sizes, then this camera probably isn't for you. Also, I found it difficult to hold this camera still with the lens fully extended, and the image stabilization could only do so much. Without some sort of support, you may end up with a lot of blurry shots. But for its price and shooting flexibility, most people after a decent snapshot should be pretty happy with the results.

Key specs Nikon Coolpix S9100
Price (MSRP) $329.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4.2 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 7.6 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 921K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 18x, f3.5-5.9, 25-450mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/MPEG-4 AVC H.264 (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Mechanical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 270 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; by computer or wall adapter via USB
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software Nikon ViewNX 2 (Windows, Mac)

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 3,200, 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--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.

Nikon does an excellent job of controlling both barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushioning at the telephoto end of the lens. 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. It's not always noticeable, and even when it is, it may not bother you. Similarly, 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.

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.

Despite its 1080p movie capture being a main selling point, video quality is merely on par with a good HD pocket video camera: good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. If you plan to do a lot of panning from side to side or shooting fast-moving subjects, you'll likely see judder. Also, though the zoom does work when recording, the movement is picked up by the mics on top so you will hear it in your movies. If you use the zoom while recording you'll want to keep the autofocus set to full time, but unfortunately you will hear the lens focusing in your movies, too. Worth mentioning is the ability to capture stills while shooting movies. Just press the shutter release down and it'll grab a frame at the resolution you're recording in.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix S9100
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 160, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, 3,200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Open Shade
Recording modes Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Continuous, Special Effects, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Backlighting HDR
Focus modes 9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF, Subject tracking AF, Macro
Macro 1.6 inches (Wide)
Metering modes Matrix, Center-weighted, Spot (digital zoom 2x or more)
Color effects Brightness, Vividness, Hue controls
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 5 shots

There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Nikon's Scene Auto Selector. It 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 AE modes on other point-and-shoots. You can change ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation as well as light metering, and autofocus area and mode. For the S9100, Nikon adds some extra control over hue (color tone) and vividness (saturation), with adjustable sliders. They're not revolutionary, but if you like to experiment, they'll be welcomed. The slider settings get stored in the camera's memory for the Auto mode, so they stay even if you power the camera off.

There are 15 other scene modes like Landscape and Portrait as well as a new Pet Portrait mode and two panorama modes: Easy and Panorama Assist. The latter uses a ghost image on the screen to help you line up your successive photos. The former 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.

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.

Like most cameras with BSI CMOS sensors, the S9100 has multishot modes for improving low-light photos of landscapes and portraits. At 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 and correct exposure. In general, the Night Landscape mode is successful. However, the Night Portrait mode is better, taking shots with and without flash and combining them into a single nicely exposed flash photo. However, because of the nature of how these images are produced, these modes cannot be used with moving subjects. There is a Backlight HDR (high dynamic range) mode, too, that combines photos taken at different exposures to help bring out highlight and shadow detail.

The high-speed performance of the CMOS sensor gets put to use in burst modes, too. The best one is the Continuous H setting, which lets you shoot at up to 10fps for five photos (our tests clocked it at up to 17fps, though, at lower resolutions). The Continuous L mode drops to approximately 1.8fps, but can capture up to 24 photos. The camera also has 60fps and 120fps bursts; the former captures up to 25 images at a resolution of 2 megapixels, and the latter grabs up to 50 1-megapixel frames at a press of the shutter release. There's a substantial wait while the camera stores all those photos, but if you're trying to capture a specific moment in time, this is your best bet with this camera. Also, with all of these modes, the focus, exposure, and white balance are set with the first photo. If you have a fast-moving subject, like someone running, there's a good chance only the first photo will be in focus.

And while I'm on the subject of shooting performance, the S9100 is pretty excellent for this class of camera. From off to first shot is 1.1 seconds. Shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is 0.3 second and 0.6 second in bright and low lighting, respectively. Shot-to-shot times averaged 1.2 seconds. The only hiccup came when using the flash, which slowed the camera to 4.2 seconds between shots.

Aside from all the features and performance, the camera is nice-looking and easy to use, too. Available in black, red, and silver, the S9100 is compact given its 18x zoom lens--one of the longest available in a camera this size. The metal casing covered with a rubberized texture makes it feel high-quality, but like the S8100, it has just a slight ridge on the front of the camera to help with your grip. Also like the S8100, the flash pops up from the top left, but at least with the S9100 it doesn't pop up automatically; a switch on the side of the body releases it when you need it. You're not left with much room to grip the camera when it's up, but it's not impossible either. One other irritation: there's no option for auto picture rotation, which means all photos taken vertically will need to be rotated.

A mode dial sits on top for quickly changing your shooting mode. On the back, a large thumb rest separates the screen from a record button for movies; there is no standalone movie mode you have to switch to in order to shoot video. Below that is a playback button and 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.

The S9100 is powered by a lithium ion rechargeable pack that is rated for 270 shots; this was supported in testing, but keep in mind that using the zoom a lot or the movie and burst-shooting modes will kill battery life 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. Next to it is a Mini-USB/AV port. A covered Mini-HDMI port is on the right side of the camera for connecting to an HDTV or monitor; you'll need to buy a cable, though.

Conclusions
While several manufacturers have bulked up their compact megazoom offerings with GPS receivers, touch screens, 3D photo capture, and semimanual and manual shooting modes, the Nikon Coolpix S9100 is all about the lens. Yes, it has plenty of other things going on--including a beautiful high-res LCD--but if all you really want is a long lens in a pocketable body with reliable automatic shooting options, the S9100 might be the best option for the money.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)

Nikon Coolpix S9100
1.1
1.2
0.6
0.3

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10
1.9
1.1
0.7
0.4

Nikon Coolpix S8100
1.1
1.5
0.7
0.4

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V
1.8
1.5
0.8
0.4

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS
1.6
2.4
0.8
0.4

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.

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7.8

Nikon Coolpix S9100 - digital camera

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Image quality 7
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