Nikon Coolpix S9100 Review

April 18, 2011 | Gavin Stoker |


The Coolpix S9100 is Nikon's third travel-zoom camera, featuring an extended 18x zoom lens with a very versatile focal range of 25-450mm. Other key features of the slim S9100 include a 12 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, high resolution 921k dot 3 inch LCD screen, full 1080p high-definition movies with stereo sound, sensor-shift Vibration Reduction, a shooting mode dial and a fast auto-focus system. The Nikon Coolpix S8100 also offers a range of special effects, in-camera HDR imaging and advanced Night Landscape and Portrait modes. Available in three colours, black, silver and pink, the Nikon Coolpix S9100 costs £299.99 / €348.00 / $329.95.

Ease of Use

Not wanting to let Panasonic's TZ range take all the long lens glory, Nikon has staked its claim on the burgeoning 'travel zoom' market with the Coolpix S9100, stylish in the black iteration we had in for review though red and silver are additionally available. This pocket-sized offering pushes the proverbial big lens boat out, bettering the majority of its close rivals with an 18x optical zoom, retracted within the body when not in use to maintain compactness. Provided here is a focal range equivalent to a wide angle 25-450mm in 35mm film terms, so plenty of scope for expansive landscape shots and pulling the faraway closer. The 9100 is only currently trumped in the 'big zoom, small-ish camera' stakes by Olympus with its 24x SZ-30 offering.

Official build dimensions for the Nikon are 104.8x62x34.6mm, while it weighs 214g with rechargeable lithium ion battery and optional SD, SDHC or SDXC card inserted into a shared compartment at the base. Otherwise photographers have a 74MB internal memory to fall back on. Battery life is 270 shots from a full charge, which is par for the course for its class yet no match for the 1,000 shot battery life of rivals in the Casio EX-H30 or H20.

Nikon hasn't included a standard mains charger in the package; instead the battery is recharged within the camera itself. This is connected up to a USB-equipped plug via supplied standard USB cable. Fair enough, but even if you purchase an extra battery for the holidays you won't be able to leave the spent battery charging whilst you head out and use the camera.

More positively, those users wanting an all encompassing point and shoot that also performs in lower light will be buoyed by the fact that Nikon hasn't overly burdened the S9100's back-lit 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor with pixels: the count here is a sensible 12.1 MP effective. The S9100's maximum lens aperture is a modest f/3.5 though.

With the above in mind, a manufacturer's suggested retail price of £299 for the S9100 doesn't come as much of a surprise, though a street price of £250 that makes it more of a direct rival for the Canon PowerShot SX220 HS and Olympus SZ-20 seems much more like it. Other current competitors are numerous and similarly featured, and also include the aforementioned Casio EX-H30 (with similar styling) and Samsung WB650 in its price bracket with the Fujifilm FinePix F550EXR, Sony Cyber-shot HX9 providing further rivalry. We don't get built-in GPS as on the Samsung, Panasonic TZ20 and Casio EX-H20 which may be a deal breaker for some; but if geotagging is a feature you feel you won't be making the most of anyway, then save yourself the extra £50 to £100 spend and go for the longer 18x reach here instead.

Nikon Coolpix S9100 Nikon Coolpix S9100
Front Rear

Photos and video are framed and reviewed on the S9100 via a 3-inch 4:3 aspect ratio LCD. We also get Full HD 1080p movie clips at 30fps with stereo sound, with an instant record button located at the top right hand corner of the back plate. Its implementation is similar to the one found on the less expensive Coolpix S3100 snapshot, in that it features a raised surround to avoid accidental nudges.

Whilst that much is standard, less so is a screen resolution that again betters what one might expect at 921k dots, so visibility is clear with it. We were shooting under bright spring sunshine for most of our test period and weren't compelled to cup a hand around the screen to view it. Videographers will be further interested to note the S9100's facility for slow motion video clips; the walking through treacle look on playback being achieved via a fast capture speed of 240fps. This requires a resolution drop to 320x240 pixels however. The alternative is a slightly better 640x480 pixels at 120fps.

For hooking the S9100 directly up to a flat panel TV HDMI connectivity is provided under a side flap, while, rather than being located alongside, a separate flap for AV output and USB 2.0 connectivity has been shunted onto the base where it nestles next to the compartment for the lithium ion rechargeable battery.

Build wise the camera feels up to Nikon's usual high construction standards when gripped in the palm, at once solid yet manageably lightweight with it and feeling like it will withstand the odd knock (as long as it's not directly to the lens). There's a high proportion of metal on show and thin rubber coating to the front surface and sides help prevent slippage. There is a slender 'grip' of sorts provided. via a raised metal ridge at the front into which we managed to dig our middle fingers, complemented by a pad of 16 plastic nodules at the back. This provides limited help to prevent the thumb from sliding about.

Given the camera's portable size that longer than average lens reach is supported by sensor shift anti shake, electronic vibration reduction plus motion detection technology to avoid blur from hand wobble at longer focal lengths; a combination that in practice largely appears to work.

The front of the camera is unsurprisingly dominated by that Vibration Reduction assisted lens, with a small AF assist/self timer lamp located top left, and the aforementioned sliver of a grip being otherwise the only feature to adorn the faceplate.

Nikon Coolpix S9100 Nikon Coolpix S9100
Pop-up Flash Top

Looking down on the top of the camera one of the most noticeable features is left and right stereo microphones flanking a speaker in their midst. An integral flash is sunk into the top plate to their left and manually activated by a switch at the side rather than automatically popping up (an on-screen message prompts you to raise the flash if you haven't already done so). Over at the right hand edge of the top plate we find an on/off button recessed to avoid accidental activation, shutter release button encircled by zoom lever, plus a tiny 8-option shooting mode dial that's smaller than a dime or halfpenny.

The front lip for the zoom lever is slightly ridged to provide purchase for the fingertip and, upon switching the camera on, the ring encircling the power switch briefly glows green for no other apparent reason than it lets you know the camera's working and it looks cool.

The Coolpix S9100 is relatively swift in its response times, powering up in just over a second, LCD screen fading up from black and lens extending from flush to the body to its maximum wide angle setting in readying itself for the first shot. A few minutes of inquisitive button poking and shutter firing and there's no disguising the fact that, for all its outward sophistication this is actually a fairly usable point and shoot, unburdened by much in the way of manual control. The mode dial doesn't feature any program, aperture priority, shutter priority or manual modes for example; it's preset auto modes all the way.

As on the newly launched D5100 digital SLR, the S9100 features a shooting mode option given over to 'special effects': digital filters in other words, although here they feel less special and more modest compared to the wackier settings found on competing models such as the Olympus SZ-20 with its 'punk' option alongside the regular toy camera and miniature modes. On the Nikon we are offered a 'soft' effect, nostalgic sepia (not only rusty coloured but softened too), high contrast monochrome (one of the most distinctive options), high key, low key and selective colour options. While these are applied at the point of capture, drill down into the playback mode and soft, selective colour, plus fisheye and miniature effect filters can also be applied post capture.

Crammed around the same shooting mode dial we additionally get a regular auto mode, a scene auto selector mode which is an intelligent auto option by another name, a manually selectable range of scene modes (15 in total, including 'Easy Panorama' and the usual aids to portraiture and landscapes), plus dedicated night landscape and night portrait modes, continuing around the dial, along with a flash deploying back lighting mode (for shooting against the sun), and finally a continuous shooting mode, with up to a Casio Exilim-alike 120fps achievable if opting for the 'Continuous H' option. We also get best-shot selection and a pre-shooting option to round out the package.

As with automatic panorama similar modes on Sony Cyber-shot and Casio Exilim models, the 'Easy' option here automatically composites together a single elongated panoramic image as the user pans across the scene. The gimmick here though is that both horizontal and vertical panoramas can be created, with the further option of either shooting a 'normal' 180° panorama or usefully the full 360°. Operation is completely silent, so just as good for taking images in hushed environments as anywhere else.

Nikon Coolpix S9100 Nikon Coolpix S9100
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The camera meanwhile toggles through the entirety of its optical zoom range in just under three seconds, though it is sound-tracked by a low audible grinding noise. The zoom can be utilized when shooting video as well as stills, its action becoming slower and steadier in this mode to help disguise the noise, but it is still audible if you're not filming outdoors or in a busy environment. The camera also takes a moment or two to alter focus as you adjust framing, so expect footage to go soft when zooming in.

In single shot stills mode, a half press of the shutter release button and roughly in the time it takes to blink focus and exposure are determined. This is signalled by the auto focus point glowing green accompanied by a loud bleep of confirmation. Take the shot and a full resolution, least compression JPEG is committed to SD, SDHC or SDXC card or internal memory in just under two seconds - commendably swift once again.

Moving on to the S9100's back plate, with the LCD taking up two thirds of the 'real estate', here buttons are few and won't confuse anyone trading up from a cheaper snapshot. In addition to the aforementioned video record button, delete, playback and menu get their own buttons, with the largest control being a familiar four way control pad which here is encircled by a scroll wheel, as on the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS and SX220 HS. We have to admit we're not great fans of this set up, as, while scroll wheels do get you through the menus faster than tabbing steadily through, it's all too easy to fall onto a setting you didn't actually want. That said, at least here Nikon has given it a roughened surface at least ensures it's less fiddly under the thumb than similar controls found on the Canon PowerShot range. Plus, as you can press down on the edges of the pad to alternatively tab through menu options, you don't have to use the wheel at all if you don't want to.

On the right hand flank of the S9100, if viewing it from the back we find the aforementioned HDMI port, with lug for attaching the provided wrist strap directly below. Over on the opposite flank there is the lever for raising the flash, and that's it.

The base of the camera meanwhile features a screw thread for a tripod at its far edge rather than the usual position of dead centre beneath the lens, which provides space over at the opposite edge of the base for the joint battery and SD card compartment with AV/USB out port nestling close by. Nothing untoward or confusing here.

So while the Nikon Coolpix proves relatively easy to handle if steering clear of the scroll wheel at the back, how does it shape up when it comes to picture quality? Read on to find out…