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Nikon Coolpix S9100 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

Overall. the Coolpix S9100 is a solid performer. The only real issues I found were a noticeable delay between pressing the movie recording button and the time "filming" actually starts, and very slow performance when you're trimming a movie in playback mode.

On the previous page, I told you about how the camera performed in its burst modes. The table below summarizes the S9100's speeds in other areas:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.1 sec Above average
Autofocus
(Normal light)
0.1 - 0.3 sec (wide-angle)
0.5 - 0.9 sec (telephoto)
Above average
Autofocus
(Low light)
~ 1.0 sec Average
Shutter lag Barely noticeable at slow shutter speeds Above average
Shot-to-shot
(No flash)
2 secs Average
Shot-to-shot
(Flash)
4 secs Below average

As you can see, the camera is quite snappy by compact camera standards, save for when you're using the flash. Oh, and while I wish that I had a scientific way of measuring shutter lag, I do not at this time.

So how does the S9100's photo quality shape up? Let's take a trip through our standard tests and find out.

The Coolpix S9100 handled our macro test subject fairly well. Colors look good, with the camera handling our studio lamps with ease. The subject is quite sharp, though if you look closely, you'll spot the effects of noise reduction -- but thankfully, they're very mild.

The minimum focus distance in macro mode is 4 cm. From that point until you hit the lens' "sweet spot", which is at around 3X, the minimum distance is 11 cm. After that, it's anybody's guess -- Nikon doesn't say.

Since it lacks manual exposure control, the only way to take long exposures like the one you see above is with the night landscape mode. That means that you have no control over settings, including white balance or ISO. As a result, the S9100's night shot came out pretty soft and noisy, with noticeable detail loss. While the results are probably good enough for a 4 x 6 inch print on the refrigerator, don't expect much more from that out of the S9100.

Since I can't control the ISO and shutter speed at the same time, I am unable to perform the night ISO test. You'll find the studio ISO test further down the page.

The Coolpix S9100 takes a two-pronged approach to redeye reduction. First, it fires the flash a few times, ahead of the actual exposure. After the picture is taken, the camera detects any leftover redeye, and removes it digitally. Much to my surprise, there was no redeye to be found in my flash test photo. As always, your mileage may vary.

You'd expect a lot of compromises when you stuff a 25 - 450 mm lens into a compact body, but the Coolpix S9100 has surprisingly few issues related to its optics. Barrel distortion is quite low, most likely because the camera is digitally reducing it. Corner blurring wasn't a problem, and the only time I saw any vignetting (dark corners), it was minimal.

And here's that normal lighting ISO test that I promised earlier. Since this photo is taken in our studio, it's comparable to those taken with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Keep in mind that the crops below only cover a small portion of the scene, so view the full size photos if you can. And with that, let's see how the Coolpix S9100 performed across its ISO range:


ISO 160

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

Things look about the same at ISO 160 and 200. At ISO 400, things start to soften up, and details start to disappear. Even so, you can still get away with a midsize or perhaps larger print at this setting. While the ISO 800 image has a fair amount of noise, you can still use this setting for small prints. Detail loss becomes a lot more obvious at the top two sensitivities, and therefore I'd avoid using ISO 1600 or 3200.

Overall, the Coolpix S9100's photo quality is good, but not great. While I rarely needed to reach for the exposure compensation button, the camera tends to clip highlights fairly easily (and strongly). I also found shadow detail to be a bit lacking -- here's where that missing Active D-Lighting feature would've come in handy. Colors look great -- they're nice and saturated. While most subjects are sharp, the camera's overaggressive noise reduction system eats away at fine details and gives things like the sky a mottled appearance (here are two examples) -- even at the base ISO of 160. Despite all the highlight clipping, the S9100 has very little in the line of purple fringing, which was a pleasant surprise. Most of the negatives I've raised here will not show up in small prints. However, if you're making 8 x 10's or viewing the photos on your computer screen, you will certainly notice the S9100's flaws.

One other thing that I noticed was that I had an unusual number of out-of-focus shots with the S9100, so that's something you will want to keep an eye on.

Now I invite you to have a look at our Coolpix S9100 photo gallery. View the full size images, maybe a print a few of them if you can, and then decide if the S9100's photo quality meets your needs!

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