Nikon Coolpix S9300 review: Nikon Coolpix S9300

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The Good The Nikon Coolpix S9300 has fast shooting performance, a wide, long lens in a pocketable body, and several fun and useful shooting modes that help you get the best shot without much effort.

The Bad Competing models from Canon and Panasonic have longer lenses and more shooting options for the same suggested retail price and the S9300's photos aren't the sharpest when viewed at larger sizes.

The Bottom Line The compact Nikon Coolpix S9300 is a good choice for anyone after a pure point-and-shoot experience and a long zoom lens. But, depending on needs, you might want to wait for a price drop.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

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.

Key specs Nikon Coolpix S9300
Price (MSRP) $349.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.3 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 7.6 ounces
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
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software 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
White balance Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash, Manual
Recording modes Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Continuous, Special Effects, Night Landscape, Smart 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; Sepia, High-contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 7 shots

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.

The S9300's shooting modes
The Coolpix S9300 shooting modes are geared for snapshooters. You won't find any real aperture or shutter speed controls.

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