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Nikon Coolpix S9100 12MP Compact Camera Expert Review

Nikon Coolpix S9100

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Slim compact digital cameras with a large zoom lens were first made popular by Panasonic’s TZ range of cameras, including the recent Panasonic TZ20 and its 16x zoom lens. The Nikon Coolpix S9100′s design is very similar, with the lens to one side of the body and a large LCD screen dominating the rear, all packaged in a body that’s just 34.6mm deep.

Nikon’s Coolpix S9100 squeezes an 18x zoom lens and 1080p video recording into a relatively slim body, priced at around £220. The zoom covers a very useful range, equivalent to 25-450mm on a 35mm camera, which should make this camera ideal for travel due to its flexibility and compactness.

The wide-angle lens will be useful for group shots of people, architecture and vistas, whereas the 450mm telephoto lens is best suited for isolating subjects and picking out distant details.

Nikon coolpix s9100

The Coolpix S9100 sits at the top of Nikon’s S-Series of cameras, which emphasises stylish design and ease of use, rather than manual controls and customisable functions.

Taking photos in low light is possible thanks to Nikon’s 12.1MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor, which enables sensitvity settings as high as ISO 3200. Back-illuminated sensors differ from traditional designs because the circuitry is out of the optical path, increasing the area that can be used to receive light, improving ISO performance and dynamic range.

A combination of sensor-shift and electronic image stabilisation work hard to increase the chance of achieving a sharp handheld shot in low light conditions. Nikon’s latest Expeed C2 image processing engine is also included, which promises to improve responsiveness, high ISO sensitivity and the quality of movie recording when compared to previous versions of this technology.

Nikon coolpix s9100

Full HD (1080p resolution) video recording is possible at 30fps for up to 29 minutes at a time, which is a specification that has become pretty much standard on compact cameras of this level. Stereo sound is recorded via the built-in microphone and the zoom lens can be used while recording.

When using the default single AF mode on the Nikon Coolpix S9100, autofocus is disabled during movie recording, which can lead to out of focus videos as you zoom in on your subject. However, full time AF can be enabled in the menu, which attempts to adjust the focus as required.

Face Detection, Blink Detection and Red Eye Reduction are included, to aid ease of use.

But to aid creativity in-camera, Nikon has also included a small selection of special effects modes. These include one to reproduce the look of high contrast monochrome, sepia, high key, low key and selective colour effects.

Build quality and handling

Nikon coolpix s9100

The Nikon Coolpix S9100′s stylish metal body has a two-tone finish, available in three colour combinations. The silver camera we reviewed has a high-quality gun metal finish to the front part, with a black back plate.

A finger grip placed on the front of the compact superzoom camera provides a firm hold over the body, enabling it to be used easily with one hand.

The Nikon Coolpix S9100 feels very well built, although at 214g, it isn’t overly heavy, and shouldn’t weigh photographers down if being carried on a wrist strap all day.

Controls such as the zoom, shutter and mode dial are all within easy reach of index finger and thumb, and a thumb rest is provided on the rear. The thumb rest space is quite narrow, so care needs to be taken not to accidentally press the video recording button next to it.

Nikon coolpix s9100

A rotating dial on the camera’s rear speeds navigation though menus and provides quick access to exposure compensation, macro, self timer and flash modes. The dial is quite small, so those with larger fingers may find it a little fiddly to use in a hurry. Care needs to be taken when pressing the OK button in the centre of the dial, because it’s incredibly easy to nudge the dial and select something else by mistake.

A built-in flash is hidden in the top of the compact camera body, and can be released via a catch on the edge of the Nikon Coolpix S9100.

The flash doesn’t pop up automatically, so it can be easily forgotten. Automatic modes display a message on-screen to remind you to raise the flash ready for the next shot.

Nikon coolpix s9100

A very good anti-reflective coating on the camera’s 3-inch screen aids display visibility in bright light. The screen is very sharp and shows contrast in photos well, with all information displayed very clearly thanks to the high 921,000 dot resolution.

Starting the Nikon Coolpix S9100 doesn’t take long, with the camera ready to take pictures around two seconds after pressing the power button.

Autofocus is generally very quick too, although it can struggle to focus accurately, especially at the long end of the zoom. This means pictures of fast-moving or erratic subjects can often be missed.

Performance

Nikon coolpix s9100

For the most part, the Nikon Coolpix S9100 produces sharp images with accurately reproduced colours and contrast, and a large amount of fine detail recorded.

Keeping the pixel count down to a respectable 12.1MP and using back-illuminated CMOS technology has resulted in a camera capable of shooting at higher ISO settings than compact digital cameras could traditionally manage.

Photographs taken at sensitivities of up to ISO 400 show few signs of softening due to noise reduction, retaining fine details and accurate colours well.

Stepping sensitivity up to ISO 800 results in slight softening due to noise reduction, but this is only noticeable on close examination.

Colour saturation and detail are both lost at higher sensitivities, although the performance is still very impressive for a compact camera at ISO 3200, and the images should still make reasonable 9×6-inch photo prints if exposed correctly.

Nikon coolpix s9100

Two metering options are available, and the Matrix option does a good job in a wide range of conditions, although it’s easily fooled by strongly backlit subjects and bright, overcast skies. As a result, these types of scenes may require positive exposure compensation to photograph.

A scene mode auto selector function removes the hassle of having to manually change scene modes from photo to photo.

Occasionally this automatic selection may choose an inappropriate scene mode, though. For example, on a dull, overcast day, the scene auto selector will sometimes switch to the night portrait mode, resulting in a long exposure.

Sensor shift image stabilisation mostly works well, although it can occasionally be difficult to achieve satisfactory sharpness at the long end of the zoom, even outdoors, in moderately good light. Due to this, it pays to take extra care when using the telephoto end of the zoom range to ensure there’s as little camera movement as possible.

Nikon coolpix s9100

The Nikon Coolpix S9100′s auto white balance works well in a wide range of conditions, leaving just enough colour cast to retain the atmosphere of the shot.

A good range of presets are provided for those times where more accurate colour is desirable, and a custom white balance preset can also be taken from a neutral surface.

Distortion can often be a problem with superzoom compact cameras like the Nikon Coolpix S9100. Strong barrel distortion can be seen in straight lines towards the edges of the frame at the wide end of the zoom range, which is quite common. At the telephoto end, there’s still a little barrel distortion, although at a much less noticeable level.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon Coolpix S9100, we’ve shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart’s central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 160 the Nikon Coolpix S9100 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

Nikon coolpix s9100 resolution iso 160

Nikon coolpix s9100 resolution iso 160

ISO 160, score: 20 (see full image)

Nikon coolpix s9100 resolution iso 200

ISO 200, score: 20 (see full image)

Nikon coolpix s9100 resolution iso 400

ISO 400, score: 18 (see full image)

Nikon coolpix s9100 resolution iso 800

ISO 800, score: 16 (see full image)

Nikon coolpix s9100 resolution iso 1600

ISO 1600, score: 16 (see full image)

Nikon coolpix s9100 resolution iso 3200

ISO 3200, score: 12 (see full image)

Noise and dynamic range

These graphs were produced using data generated by DXO Analyzer.

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using the DXO software.

Signal to noise ratio

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

Nikon coolpix s9100 snr

JPEG images from the Nikon Coolpix S9100 produce a good signal to noise ratio when compared with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20, Canon IXUS 220 HS and Fujifilm Finepix 550 EXR, beating all but the Canon IXUS 220 HS at ISO 800.

Dynamic range

Nikon coolpix s9100 dynamic range

This chart indicates that the Nikon Coolpix S9100′s JPEGs have a at least a 0.5EV lower dynamic range than the comparison cameras up to a sensitivity of ISO 800.

Nikon S9100 review: Sample images

Nikon coolpix s9100 sample image

Shutter lag is minimal, even when shooting with the built in flash – (See the full-res image here)

Nikon coolpix s9100 sample image

A decent amount of fine detail is captured by the 12.1 sensor – (See the full-res image here)

Nikon coolpix s9100 sample image

The telephoto is equivalent to a 450mm lens on a 35mm camera and is perfect for picking out distant details – (See the full-res image here)

Nikon coolpix s9100 sample image

The wide angle is equivalent to a 25mm lens on a 35mm camera and is great for capturing wider views in limited space – (See the full-res image here)

Nikon coolpix s9100 sample image

Barrel distortion can be quite pronounced at the wider end of the zoom range – (See the full-res image here)

Nikon coolpix s9100 sample image

Colours are repriced accurately and contrast is good – (See the full-res image here)

Nikon coolpix s9100 sample image

The zoom range is great for travel, with a wide angle suited to landscape and architecture – (See the full-res image here)

Nikon coolpix s9100 sample image

Contrast is reduced at the telephoto end of the zoom range and the camera sometimes struggles to focus accurately – (See the full-res image here)

Nikon coolpix s9100 sample image

Nostalgic Sepia special Effect – (See the full-res image here)

Nikon coolpix s9100 sample image

High Contrast Monochrome Special Effect – (See the full-res image here)

Nikon coolpix s9100 sample image

Selective Colour Special Effect – (See the full-res image here)

Final thoughts

Priced at around £220, the Nikon Coolpix S9100 is a camera that offers good image quality and a flexible zoom range in a compact body at a very reasonable price.

The ease of use will suit point-and-shoot photographers incredibly well, as will the compact dimensions. Having an 18x zoom lens included will add to the flexibility on offer, too.

We liked

A flexible zoom range and good image quality at high sensitivities are packaged in a compact, easy to use body.

We disliked

The fiddly dial on the rear and unreliable autofocus at the long end of the zoom may spoil the experience for some.

Pros

  • High quality LCD screen
  • Performance at high sensitivities

Cons

  • Unreliable autofocus at the long end of the zoom
  • Fiddly dial on rear of the camera body
  • Barrel distortion at wide end of the zoom

Verdict

Unfortunately there are a few niggles, such as the difficulties with focusing, especially at the telephoto end of the zoom range and with lens distortion.

Despite these shortcomings, with care the Nikon Coolpix S9100 can produce excellent quality images in a wide range of conditions, making it an ideal point and shoot camera for those who travel frequently and will make good use of the extended zoom range.

Nikon Coolpix S9100


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