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Nikon Coolpix S9700 review: More zoom, fewer pixels make for a very good camera

The S9700 packs a 30x zoom lens, very good photo and video quality, and all the trimmings you should expect.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Senior Editor / Reviews

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering laptops and the occasional action cam or drone and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.

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The desire for longer zoom lenses has supplanted using sensors bursting with megapixels to market point-and-shoots.

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7.7

Nikon Coolpix S9700

The Good

The Nikon Coolpix S9700 is a 30x compact zoom that captures nice photos and video; it has very good shooting performance; and it has a full assortment of shooting modes from basic automatic to more creative options including full manual control.

The Bad

The S9700's flash is poorly located, as are the stereo mics; Wi-Fi features are fairly limited compared with those in competing models; and battery life can be short if you do more than take photos.

The Bottom Line

Outside of some design quibbles, the Nikon Coolpix S9700 puts big zoom power and nice photo quality (snugly) in your pocket.

So much so that for the Coolpix S9700, Nikon increased the telephoto range of its top compact megazoom from 550mm on the S9600 to 750mm, while simultaneously dropping the resolution from 18 megapixels to 16.

All in all, this is a good thing. The S9700's longer lens doesn't really change the camera's body size or weight, keeping it pocketable. Its photo and video quality remain quite nice for its class. And shooting performance is pretty quick, too, though the autofocus still occasionally struggles to lock onto a subject when fully zoomed in.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The biggest issues I have with it are related to design, with only one really being a potential deal breaker.

So, if you're looking for a capable travel zoom that'll cover both basic auto shooting and more creative photography, you'll want to consider the Nikon Coolpix S9700.

Photo quality

Nikon's higher-end Coolpix cameras usually turn out pleasing results, and the S9700 is no different. Photos are very good to excellent depending on how much light you have -- the more, the better. Like most small-sensor compacts, though, photos from the S9700 viewed at full size onscreen show noise and artifacts, and fine details look mushy even under ideal conditions. Zooming out some, though, gives you nice detail and excellent color. Basically, if you really want to enlarge and crop in on images, you'll probably be disappointed.

Nikon Coolpix S9700 sample pictures

See all photos

Between ISO 200 and 800 details start to soften more and benefit from some light sharpening with editing software. The good part is there's enough detail intact at ISO 800 that it's still usable at smaller sizes, though, again, I'd avoid any heavy cropping.

The two highest ISOs -- 3200 and 6400 -- should only be used in emergencies, mainly because the colors get very washed out and the noise reduction makes subjects appear smeary. In fact, I'd stay away from ISO 6400 altogether.

Video quality is just as good as its photos -- better in daylight than indoors or in low light. If you plan to do a lot of panning from side to side or shooting fast-moving subjects, you'll likely see judder, wobble, and image breakup, but not enough to make clips unwatchable.

The zoom does work when recording, but to keep the movement from being picked up by the mics on front, the audio is dampened. 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 very quiet scenes. You'll also want to be careful with your fingers on the right because it's possible to accidentally cover or brush against one of the mics on front.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance

Under most circumstances, the S9700 performs quickly. From off to first shot is 2.2 seconds. The time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing is 0.2 second in bright lighting and 0.6 second in low lighting. Shot-to-shot times averaged 0.9 second. The time between shots when using the flash is good as well at 1.7 seconds.

The camera's full-resolution burst mode is capable of capturing up to five frames at 7 frames per second. That, however, is with focus and exposure set at the first shot, so fast-moving subjects might not be in focus for all of the photos, and it takes about 5 seconds for those images to be saved before you can shoot again. Also, it takes a little longer to autofocus and shoot when zoomed all the way in, which can be frustrating when trying to lock on to a moving target.

Design and features

The overall design hasn't changed much over the past few generations of this model. That includes its weight and dimensions, which is remarkable given the lenses continue to get longer and longer.

Available in black and red versions, the S9700 has just a couple of subtle differences from the prior version. The camera is nice-looking, though Nikon used a grainy, textured plastic on the body that I don't like the feel of.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

It's fairly flat across the top, but there's a small bump up above the lens. Unfortunately, you have to be very conscious of where you put your fingers on the left side. Despite having redesigned pop-up mechanism, the S9700's flash pops straight up -- and fast -- automatically when it's needed. If your finger is on top, it will keep the flash from popping up and firing.

Also, although you can pull back on the flash unit, it won't fire in this position. Some competing models, like Samsung's WB350F , have a similar flash mechanism, but allow you to pull it back and bounce the flash for better results.

Nikon Coolpix S9700Canon PowerShot SX700 HS
Price (MSRP) $349.95 (£329.99, $399.95 AUD)$349.99 (£329.00, $399.95 AUD)
Dimensions (WHD) 4.3x2.5x1.4 inches (110x63.5x34.5 mm)4.4x2.6x1.4 inches (112.7x65.8x34.8 mm)
Weight (with battery and media) 8.2 ounces (232 g)9.5 ounces (269 g)
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 921K dots/None3-inch LCD, 922K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 30x, f3.7-6.4, 25-750mm (35mm equivalent)30x, f3.2-6.9, 25-750mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still / video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MOV)JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still / video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 30fps (progressive)4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (progressive)
Image stabilization type Optical and digitalOptical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 300 shotsLi-ion rechargeable, 250 shots (360 in Eco)
Battery charged in camera Yes; by computer or wall adapter via USBNo; wall charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXCSD/SDHC/SDXC
Built-in Wi-Fi/GPS Yes/YesYes/No (geotagging via Wi-Fi)

Along with the power button and shutter release and zoom control, the mode dial sits on top for quick changes to the 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. In general, it's a very easy camera to use without the maze of shooting options found on most models in its class.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The S9700 is powered by a lithium ion rechargeable pack that is rated for 300 shots; that's OK, but keep in mind that using the zoom a lot or the movie and burst-shooting modes will drain the battery faster. The same goes for the camera's Wi-Fi and GPS.

The battery is charged in the camera by connecting via USB to a computer or to a USB wall adapter (Nikon doesn't include one). The battery and card compartments are on the bottom behind a sliding nonlocking door. Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB ports are behind doors on the right side of the camera. Thankfully, Nikon switched from its somewhat proprietary Micro-USB connector to the type found on smartphones and most other mobile devices.

The 3-inch display is nice for framing your shots and gives you sharp text for when you're navigating menus. However, even with the brightness cranked up, it doesn't get all that bright and was difficult to see in full sun.

GPS and Wi-Fi

GPS performance has been solid on other Coolpix cameras, and that's the case with the S9700. Turning it on and off doesn't require as much menu diving as on other GPS-enabled cameras I've tested, but it does require more effort than it should. The GPS can be used to geotag photos as well as display and embed points of interest. You can also use the GPS to keep a log of your path while you shoot.

Even if you turn off the camera, the GPS receiver stays active, searching for your position every 30 minutes for up to 6 hours. If it can't find your position it will start searching every 15 minutes for an hour. Needless to say, all of this taxes your battery life, which isn't all that great to begin with. If you're not going to be shooting for a while, make sure you turn it off.

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Joshua Goldman/CNET

Turning on and off the Wi-Fi requires as much menu diving as the GPS. Assuming you have enough battery life to use it (the menu option will be grayed out if you don't), you just turn it on and pick up your mobile device. Open the Wi-Fi settings on your device and select the camera from the available networks.

From there you open the app (Nikon's Wireless Mobile Utility application must be installed on the device before it can be used with this camera) and you get two options: take photos or view photos.

With the remote functions of the app you can set a self-timer, zoom in and out, and release the shutter. You can also opt to have every shot stored on your device and the camera -- perfect if you want to upload or email a picture immediately. The app will also tell you your aperture, shutter speed, and battery life if you're holding your device vertically. Unfortunately, you can only shoot stills with it, not video.

General shooting optionsNikon Coolpix S9700
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 125, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
White balance Auto, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash, Manual
Recording modes Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Special Effects, Smart Portrait, Program, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority
Focus modes 9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF, Subject-tracking AF, Macro
Macro 0.4 inch (Wide)
Metering modes Matrix, Center-weighted, Spot (digital zoom 2x or more)
Color effects Sepia, High-contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key, Pop, Super Vivid, Cross Process
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 5 shots

When it comes to manual controls over shutter speed and aperture, traditionally only the P-series and newer A-series Coolpix cameras have had that capability. The S9700, however, has full manual and aperture- and shutter-priority modes. Apertures range from f3.7-8.0 at the wide end and f6.4-f8.0 at the telephoto end. Shutter speeds can be set from 1/2,000 of a second to 8 seconds (when ISO sensitivity is fixed at ISO 125 or 200).

There are two Auto modes: one is Nikon's Easy Auto mode, which 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 just the general-use Auto mode, which I would avoid using unless you're in bright daylight conditions.

There are 18 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.

Also included is a Special Effects mode for those who 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 (HDR); 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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Nikon includes several extra editing features in the playback menu, as well. These include D-Lighting, which helps enhance highlights and shadows; Quick Retouch, which punches up contrast and saturation; several filter effects like fish-eye, miniature, and selective color, which lets you pick a color in your scene and turns the rest of your photo monochrome; and Glamour Retouch for softening skin, reducing face size, and enlarging eyes. Also, after you take a picture, the camera gives you the option to immediately apply filter effects, so you can have the untouched original and an edited version ready to share.

Video options include 1080p, 720p, 480p at 30 frames per second as well as high-speed slow-motion settings: 720p60, 480p120, and 240p240 (though that last one is pretty unusable). What's nice is that you can switch in and out of slow-motion capture while recording. That allows you to, say, slow down a clip while an important piece of action is happening, and then switch back to a regular 30fps movie.

Conclusion

Outside of some design quibbles, the Nikon Coolpix S9700 puts big zoom power and nice photo and video quality in your pocket. Pixel peepers might not like what they see onscreen, but for those who appreciate having better images and more shooting options than a smartphone, this one hits the mark.

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7.7

Nikon Coolpix S9700

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Image quality 8