S9100 If you’re looking for a compact camera that’s huge on zoom, the 12.1-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S9100 ($329.95 direct) has you covered—it packs a whopping 18x optical zoom into a pocket-size body. It lacks some of its competitors’ features, like a flashy UI, or GPS, but if you want to get closer to the action, the S9100 delivers where it counts. This camera is incredibly fast, packs a high-res LCD, and captures excellent photos and videos even in low light, so it’s our latest Editors’ Choice superzoom digital camera.
The S9100 wants to be taken seriously, and opts for professional looks over gimmicky or colorful attributes. It comes in black, red, or silver—my test unit was black. It qualifies as pocket-sized, but just barely at 2.5 by 4.2 by 1.4 inches (HWD). The front right has a small grip—basically just a vertical bar—that looks like a design flourish but is meant to give you a better hold. Like many higher-end cameras, the S9100′s flash must be manually popped up to be used. The back of the camera has a sweet little spinning ring on it so you can quickly breeze through menus. The button layout doesn’t stray from what you’d see on most compact cameras—there’s a direction pad underneath the scroll wheel, dedicated Playback and Movie Recording buttons, and a mode dial and zoom trigger.
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You’ll be hard-pressed to find a camera the S9100′s size that can offer more zoom. Last year we reviewed a handful of the best compact superzoom cameras, and the Canon PowerShot SX210 IS ($349.99, 3.5 stars) offered the best lens specs: its 14x optical zoom lens spans 28-392mm (35mm equivalent). The S9100 beats it on both ends with an 18x optical zoom lens that spans 25-450mm. With this camera, you get the best of both worlds—a wide-angle lensand an impressive telephoto lens. Like most of its competitors, its corresponding aperture ranges from f/3.5-f/5.9.
The 3-inch LCD on the back of camera is one of the best on the market. Most compact cameras fill their displays with 230,000 dots, and a few go up to a sharper 460,000. The S9100 tightly packs in 921,000 dots, and the result is an LCD that looks like it belongs on a D-SLR camera; images look bright and colorful, and text is razor sharp and easy to read.
- S9100 Type
- S9100 Megapixels
- 12.1 MP
- S9100 Media Format
- Secure Digital Extended Capacity
- 35-mm Equivalent (Wide)
- 25 mm
- 35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto)
- 450 mm
- Optical Zoom
- 18 x
- LCD size
- 3 inches
- Video Resolution
The user interface is the same as every other Nikon compact camera we’ve seen in the past few years—straightforward, but text-based and boring. Don’t expect colorful graphics, quick menus, or description of modes. But the high-resolution LCD does make the drab UI look more attractive and easier to navigate than many low-res LCDs.
The S9100 is generally simple to operate. There’s fully automatic shooting, and a scene mode for most shooting situations. There’s also a dedicated mode for panoramic photos—just swipe the camera left to right, and it will merge multiple photos into one master panorama shot. You can manually control the ISO sensitivity, white balance, focus area, and more, but unfortunately, as is common with compact cameras, there’s no way to control shutter speed or aperture.
Unlike some of its superzoom competitors, the S9100 does not contain a GPS. Though this isn’t really a knock, it’s worth noting that if you’re looking for a versatile travel camera there are a few superzoom options out there that add a GPS for geotagging photos, like the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS($349.99, 4 stars), the Sony Cyber-shot HXV5 ($349.99, 4 stars) or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 ($399.99, 4 stars).
The S9100 is an absolute speed demon. The camera powers up and shoots in an average of 1.56 seconds. When powered on, it averages just 0.50 seconds of shutter lag, and only a 1.58-second wait between shots. In comparison, the Sony Cyber-shot HX5V pales: it powers up and shoots in a poky 2.33 seconds, matches the S9100 on shutter lag, but ups the wait to 1.80 seconds between shots.
In the PC Mag labs we use Imatest to objectively evaluate image quality, and the results from the S9100 were solid across the board. In terms of sharpness, the S9100 offered a center-weighted average of 1,767 lines per picture height—nearly identical to the Sony HX5V, which offered a center weighted average of 1,796. Neither is a spectacular number, but it’s a good result for a compact camera.
The camera’s image sensor offers excellent low-light performance. If you want to shoot in poor lighting conditions without using the flash, you need to jack up the ISO sensitivity to absorb more light. But the higher you go, the more noise you inject into your shots. If Imatest detects more than 1.5 percent noise in an image, it will likely be visibly grainy or noisy. The Sony HXV5 was able to keep noise below 1.5 percent up to and including ISO 1600, which is quite good, but the S9100 dialed all the way up to ISO 3200 before becoming producing visibly noisy images. The S9100 will serve you nicely in sub-optimal lighting conditions.
You have a lot of options for recording high-definition video with the S9100—1080 at 30 frames per second and 720 at 30 and 60 fps. (60 frames per second is very rare, on anything other than a dedicated camcorder.) You even have the option to create low-resolution (320 by 240) slow motion video, capturing 240 frames per second. Videos are captured as .MOV files which can be uploaded into YouTube and Facebook readily.
The S9100 allows you to use its giant zoom while recording video, but when zooming in and out you’ll capture subtle noise from the lens motor. It can also autofocus while it’s recording, and in my tests, I didn’t hear any noise while it did so. There’s a built-in stereo microphone, so captured audio sounds great too. You can play videos back on your HDTV by connecting a cable to the S9100′s built-in mini-HDMI port. Files can be transferred to your computer via the camera’s proprietary USB port. The camera writes to SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards.
The Nikon Coolpix S9100 is an top-notch choice for a compact superzoom camera. The $330 shooter offers one of the biggest optical zoom lenses you can find in a compact camera, along with excellent image quality, nice video capture options, and an incredible LCD at a fair price. Though a built-in GPS would a be nice addition, the S9100 still easily earns our Editors’ Choice.