The Nikon Coolpix S9300 is a modest update to 2011's S9100. It's basically the same camera, but with increased resolution -- 16 megapixels up from 12 -- and built-in GPS for geotagging your photos. The latter comes in handy for travel or if you just like to see where you've shot, while the former is mostly for marketing.
There are a couple other minor changes, but unless you really want GPS, there's no reason to upgrade or be upset that you didn't wait. For first-time buyers, though, the S9300 is a very good camera geared for snapshooters with fast performance for a compact megazoom. However, its near-$350 suggested retail price is the same as the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS and Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20, which both have longer lenses, more features, equally fast shooting performance, and generally better photo and video quality. It's still a good camera, but less attractive at its full price in comparison.
|Nikon Coolpix S9300
|4.3 x 2.5 x 1.3 inches
|Weight (with battery and media)
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type
|16 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)
|4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 30fps (14.7Mbps)
|Image stabilization type
|Optical and digital
|Battery type, CIPA rated life
|Li ion rechargeable, 200 shots
|Battery charged in camera
|Yes; by computer or wall adapter via USB
|Nikon ViewNX 2 (Windows, Mac)
Overall photo quality from the S9300 is very good, suitable for prints up to 8x10 and Web use. At full size they don't look good, though, so its 16-megapixel resolution isn't a reason to buy. Though its sensitivity settings run from ISO 125 to ISO 3200, the S9300 produces the best results below ISO 400. Regardless of sensitivity, photos appear somewhat soft and benefit from sharpening with photo-editing software. There's a Fixed Range Auto option that will limit you to ISO 125-400 or ISO 125-800; I recommend using the former outdoors and latter indoors when possible. The two highest ISOs--1600 and 3200--should only be used in emergencies, mainly because the colors get very washed out and the noise reduction makes subjects appear smeary, and actually, colors are so bad at ISO 3200 you probably shouldn't use it at all.
Colors produced by the S9300 are good up to ISO 800; above that and colors look desaturated and muddy. Nikon adds some extra control over hue (color tone) and vividness (saturation), with adjustable sliders if you're not happy with Nikon's processing. The slider settings get stored in the camera's memory for the Auto mode, so they stay even if you power the camera off. Exposure is consistently good, too, but if you want to bring out some details lost in shadows, Nikon's D-Lighting feature can be used in Playback mode.
Video quality is on par with a good HD pocket video camera or smartphone: 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 and ghosting, but not enough to make clips unwatchable. 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 you might hear the lens focusing in your movies, too.
|General shooting options
|Nikon Coolpix S9300
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)
|Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
|Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash, Manual
|Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Continuous, Special Effects, Night Landscape, Smart Portrait, Backlighting/HDR
|9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF, Subject tracking AF, Macro
|1.6 inches (Wide)
|Matrix, Center-weighted, Spot (digital zoom 2x or more)
|Brightness, Vividness, Hue controls; Sepia, High-contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)
The S9300 is designed for snapshots, so you won't find a lot of manual controls. Instead, you get several automatic options for improving your results. 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.
There are 16 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. These modes never handle movement well, so they're best used on scenery without movement in it. Nikon also added a simple 3D photo mode; take one shot, and move the camera slightly to the right, and it fires off a second shot and combines them into one MPO file for viewing on a 3D display.
There is a Special Effects mode, too, perfect for those that 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; 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 also includes several continuous shooting options. The best one is the Continuous H setting, which lets you shoot at up to 7.9 frames per second in our tests for seven photos at full resolution. The Continuous L mode drops to approximately 2fps for six photos, but will continue to continuously shoot at a slower rate until you stop pressing the shutter release. The camera also has 60fps and 120fps bursts; the former captures up to 25 images at a resolution of 1 megapixel, and the latter grabs up to 50 VGA-quality shots 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.
The rest of the S9300's shooting performance is pretty quick, too. From off to first shot is 1.4 seconds. Shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed without prefocusing--is 0.3 second and 0.6 second in bright and low lighting, respectively. Shot-to-shot times averaged 1.4 seconds. Using the flash, however, slowed the camera to 6.5 seconds between shots. Also, when the lens is fully extended, it takes a little longer to focus and shoot, something to keep in mind if you're considering this for fast-moving subjects.
Aside from all the features and performance, the camera is nice-looking and easy to use, too. Available in black, red, and silver, the S9300 has just a couple subtle differences from the prior version. There's now a bump-out on top for the GPS receiver and a rubberized thumb grip on back separating the one-touch movie record button from the rest of the controls. More importantly, the flash design has been changed. The S9100's flash angled up from the body leaving you little room to grip the camera and it had to be triggered manually with a switch. The S9300's flash pops straight up -- and fast -- automatically when it's needed. And when you're done with it, you can just press it back down.
Along with the power mode dial sits on top for quickly changing your 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.
The S9300 is powered by a lithium ion rechargeable pack that is rated for 200 shots; that's OK, 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. Mini-HDMI and Micro-USB ports are behind a door on the right side of the camera.
Lastly, the S9300 has built-in GPS. It's strictly there for geotagging photos, so no fancy maps or anything like that. But it was relatively fast to lock onto a signal, even in the middle of New York surrounded by tall buildings. Nikon wisely gave it its own tab in the menu interface, making it easy to turn it on and off.
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 is a good choice for anyone after a pure point-and-shoot experience and a long zoom lens. You might want to wait for it to go on sale, though, simply because it's a bit overpriced compared to what Canon and Panasonic are offering. Or if you don't want the GPS, 3D photo mode, or mind popping up your own flash, you might want to save yourself some money and buy an S9100 before they're gone.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot
|Typical shot-to-shot time
|Shutter lag (dim)
|Shutter lag (typical)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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