Originally Posted: October 3, 2011
Last Updated: October 16, 2011
The Nikon Coolpix S9100 ($329) is a compact camera that packs a whopping 18X zoom into a remarkably small package. Other features include a 12.1 Megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, optical image stabilization, a high res LCD, Full HD video recording, and more bells and whistles than one could possibly need.
Read on to find out if the Coolpix S9100 is the travel zoom camera that you've been looking for!
What's in the Box?
The Coolpix S9100 has an average bundle for a compact camera. Inside the box, you'll find the following:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel Coolpix S9100 digital camera
- EN-EL12 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- AC-to-USB adapter
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROMs featuring Nikon ViewNX 2 and User Manual
- 24 page Quick Start Guide (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
The Coolpix S9100 has a 74MB of memory built into it, which holds 17 JPEGs at the highest image quality setting. That holds just 12 photos at the highest quality setting, so you'll want to pick up a memory card right away. The S9100 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, and I'd suggest a 2GB card for still shooters and maybe 8GB for movie buffs. A high speed (Class 6 or higher) is recommended for optimal performance.
The S9100 uses the EN-EL12 lithium-ion battery for power. This battery holds 3.9 Wh worth of energy, which is on the lower end of average for cameras in this class. Here's how the camera compares to other compact ultra zooms in terms of battery life:
The Coolpix S9100's battery life numbers are almost exactly the group average. If you need an extra battery, do note that a spare, Nikon-branded EN-EL12 will set you back around $38, though generics can be found for less.
The Coolpix S9100's battery is charged internally, over a USB cable. You can use an included AC-to-USB adapter to charge, or just plug the camera right into your computer. Don't plan on charging when you're in a hurry, as it takes almost four hours to fully charge the battery. A faster external charger is listed in accessory section below.
There are just three accessories available for the Coolpix S9100, unless you count replacements for what came in the box. They include:
Nikon includes their ViewNX 2 software suite with the Coolpix S9100. This will transfer your photos from the camera to your Mac or PC, let you edit them, and them share them via e-mail, photo/social networking websites, or prints. ViewNX is quite capable, and beginners will find it easy-to-use.
The manual for the Coolpix S9100 is split into two parts. In the box there's a 24 page "Quick Start Guide" in the box, which is enough to get you up and running. For more details, you'll have to load up the full manual, which can be found in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. The quality of the manuals is better than average -- it's too bad that you have to load it up on your PC to read it, though. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your computer.
Design & Features
The Coolpix S9100 is a fairly compact camera with a body made mostly of metal. It feels pretty solid in most areas, though the door over the memory card/battery compartment is quite flimsy. Controls are well-placed, and the camera is easy to hold with just one hand. While it looks like the flash takes up valuable finger space, there's still a "ridge" above the LCD to hold on to. About the only other negative I can come up with is the poorly placed USB+A/V out port on the bottom of the camera.
|Images courtesy of Nikon USA|
Nikon sells the S9100 in a rather loud red, plus more conventional black and silver colors.
As you can see above, the S9100 is quite compact, especially considering the size of the lens. Here's how it compares to the competition in terms of size and weight:
The Coolpix S9100 is the second largest camera in the group in terms of bulk. It's not really a jeans pocket type of camera (though I suppose that depends on your waist line!), but it will fit just fine in your jacket pocket or in a small camera bag.
Let's take an express tour of the camera now!
The Coolpix S9100 features an F3.5-5.9, 18X optical zoom lens. The focal range on this lens is 4.5 - 81.0 mm, which is equivalent to 25 - 450 mm. Not quite super zoom territory, but more than enough for nearly all situations.
You want image stabilization on a camera with a big lens, and the S9100 has a sensor-shift "Vibration Reduction" system to reduce the risk of image blur. There's also a "hybrid VR" mode, which adds electronic shake reduction into the mix, though note that this will slow down shooting speed, image quality may be worse than using standard VR. In movie mode only an electronic VR system is available.
Above the lens is the camera's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The range on the flash is average: 0.5 - 4.0 meters at wide-angle and 1.5 - 2.5 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to the S9100.
The last thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, which is used as a focusing aid in low light situations. This lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
The main event on the back of the camera is a 3-inch LCD display with 921,000 pixels. As you might imagine, everything is super-sharp when you have that many pixels. Outdoor visibility is above average, and in low light, the screen "gains up" fairly well, so you can still see the subject you're trying to take a photo of.
Other items of note here include a dedicated movie recording button, and the combination four-way controller and scroll wheel. The scroll wheel does pretty much the same thing as the four-way controller: it adjusts settings and navigates through photos you've taken.
Moving left to right, here you can see the flash (in the down position), the stereo microphone, and the power button.
Next door to that is the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about two seconds. I counted 21 stops in the camera's 18X zoom range, which doesn't allow for very precise adjustments to the focal length.
At the far right is the mode dial, which is loaded with point-and-shoot options. I'll tell you about the interesting ones right after this tour.
The only thing to see on this side of the camera is the release for the pop-up flash. The lens is at the wide-angle position here.
On right side you'll find the camera's mini-HDMI output port, which is kept under a plastic cover.
Wondering where the other I/O ports are? Click the next tab to find out.
The lens is at full telephoto here. Pretty amazing that it even fits into that compact body!
On the bottom of the camera you'll find its metal tripod mount (yay), battery/memory card compartment, and yes, the USB+A/V output port (why they couldn't put it on the side of the camera is beyond me). The plastic door over the battery/memory compartment is quite flimsy, though at least you can open it while the camera is on a tripod.
The included EN-EL12 lithium-ion battery (complete with hologram to ensure authenticity) can be seen at right.
Now let's talk about the features you'll find on the Coolpix S9100. I'm going to start with our usual list of the items found on the mode dial:
As you can see, the Coolpix S9100 is a 100% point-and-shoot camera. It does have some pretty neat features, including a panorama mode that lets you pan the camera from side-to-side, with the result being a 180 or 360 degree panoramic image, automatically stitched. The resolution isn't super high, so don't plan on making large prints of these, but it works pretty well for web viewing:
You can also take the photos separately and stitch them on your PC, if you wish.
The HDR function takes at least three photos in an instant: a regular photo with D-Lighting (a digital shadow brightening tool) applied, and then two or possibly three more exposures, each with a different exposure compensation value (this is the true HDR photo). So does it help with overall image contrast? Yes... and no.
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
The HDR feature does indeed improve the contrast of our test photo above. That said, the resulting photo looks almost artificial and, if you view the full size image, you'll find that it's quite soft, too. My suggestion is to pass on this feature, or do it yourself by taking three photos with different exposures (like -1/3EV, 0EV, and +1/3EV), and combine them using Photoshop or the like.
As I mentioned in the previous table, the S9100 has a large collection of continuous shooting modes, and you can only access them via the spot on the mode dial. The table below summarizes them, and what kind of performance you can expect (at the highest image quality setting):
The Coolpix S9100 can shoot pretty quickly, even at full resolution, though the buffer fills up very quickly. Two things I should mention are that 1) shooting stops when the buffer is full, so you have to press the shutter release again to take another sequence and 2) the camera may boost the ISO in this mode, which will degrade image quality.
Now I'd like to tell you about the interesting items that are found in the camera's menu system. Let me preface that by saying that the S9100's menus are attractive, and easy to navigate. While there are help screens available, it's only for the scene modes. I would've liked to have seen help menus for all of the options on the camera. And with that, here are some important features found in the menu system:
- White balance: in addition to the usual presets, you can also use the "preset" option and a white or gray card to get accurate color in unusual lighting
- ISO sensitivity: you can set it manually from 160 to 3200, use an Auto mode that tops out at ISO 800, or a fixed range auto mode that stops at ISO 400 (highly recommended if you're going to use Auto)
- AF area mode: choose from 9-point auto, manual (with 99 points to choose from), center, face detection, and subject tracking. Face detection will find twelve faces in the scene, making sure they're properly focused. A related feature, Smile Timer, is accessed via the self-timer button on the back of the camera, and waits until one of three detected faces smiles before taking a photo. The subject tracking option will follow a designated object as they move around the frame.
- Autofocus mode: Single AF locks the focus when the shutter release is halfway-pressed, while Full-Time AF is always focusing. That reduces focus times, but at the expense of battery life.
- Motion Detection: when set to "auto", the camera will boost the ISO to prevent blur. Be warned that this may increase image noise, though.
- Vibration Reduction: select from standard image stabilization, hybrid AF (which adds electronic stabilization into the mix), or off entirely (which is a good idea when using a tripod).
- Digital zoom: while I'd avoid the regular digital zoom option, choosing crop mode will give you more zoom power as the resolution is lowered.
- Blink warning: Puts up a warning screen if the camera detects that one of the people in your photo had their eyes closed.
So what's missing here? While the camera has controls for hue (tint) and saturation, which are accessed in the same way that you access exposure compensation, sharpness and noise reduction are not adjustable. The Active D-Lighting feature, found on many other Nikon cameras, is absent on the S9100 as well. This camera is about as automatic as you can get.
So those are still shooting options -- here's a little bit about the camera's movie mode, and what features are available. The S9100 records Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames/second, with stereo sound. You can keeping recording until the file size reaches 4GB, or the time elapsed reaches 29 minutes -- whichever comes first. At the high quality Full HD setting you'll hit the time limit first. Other resolutions include 1280 x 720, 640 x 480, and 960 x 540 (used for Apple's unknown iFrame format).
The optical zoom lens can be used while you're recording a movie, and it moves slowly so the motor noise isn't picked up by the microphone. The regular image stabilizer is not available -- you have to use an electronic system instead, which seems to be completely ineffective (video).
The camera also has the ability to record movies at very fast (or slow) frame rates. Choose from 15 fps, which makes movies play quickly when you view them, or 60, 120, or 240 fps, which appear to playback in slow-motion. While the 15 fps mode records at Full HD resolution, the high speed modes shoot at lower resolutions (720p, VGA, and QVGA, respectively). Recording times are also limited to a few minutes, tops.
Some of the notable movie-related options include:
- Autofocus mode: here's where you can turn on full-time AF, which keeps things in focus as your subject moves around. Do note that the AF motor noise may be picked by the microphone.
- Wind noise reduction: comes in handy when shooting outdoors
- Trimming: you can remove unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting:
While the S9100's video quality isn't spectacular, I think it's good enough for a camera in this price class.
The Coolpix S9100 has a very nice playback mode, loaded with retouching options. The interesting ones include:
- Sorting: view photos by date, whether you've tagged them as favorites, or by the scene mode in which they were taken
- Quick Retouch: enhances contrast and saturation, with three levels to choose from
- D-Lighting: brighten shadow areas in a photo
- Filter effects: apply soft, selective color, cross screen, fisheye, or miniature effect filters to photos you've already taken
By default the camera shows almost no information about your photos. However, press the "OK" button on the four-way controller and you'll see a bit more, including a histogram. The Coolpix S9100 moves from photo to photo without delay.
Do note that, unlike 99% of the cameras on the market, the Coolpix S9100 does not automatically rotate photos taken in the portrait orientation. You'll have to use the rotation tool in playback mode (or do it on your PC).
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:
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:
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!
The Nikon Coolpix S9100 is a compact camera with a big 18X zoom lens. The body, available in three colors, is generally well built, and feels solid in your hands. Weak spots include the flimsy door over the memory card/battery compartment, and the flat-out dumb location of the USB + A/V output port (on the bottom of the camera). The camera's F3.5-5.9, 18X Nikkor lens has a focal range of 25 - 450 mm, and has minimal distortion or corner blurring. The camera uses a sensor-shift image stabilization to reduce blur, and it seems to do the job well. Do note that in movie mode you will be stuck with a borderline-useless electronic system. On the back of the camera is large and very sharp 3-inch LCD display, with 921,000 pixels. The screen has very good outdoor visibility, and you should be able to see your subjects in low light, as well.
If its point-and-shoot features you want, you'll get plenty of them on the Coolpix S9100. They include a Scene Auto Selector mode, which does just as it sounds, plenty of regular scene modes (including panorama creation tool and a lackluster HDR feature), and numerous special effects. There are no manual controls on the camera, save for white balance, and even that is only available in select shooting modes. Nikon won't even let you adjust sharpness or noise reduction on the camera. This dependence on automatic controls may also lead to noisy photos, since you usually don't have control over the ISO sensitivity. The S9100 has a Full HD movie mode, capable of recording video at 1920 x 1080 (30 fps) with stereo sound and use of the optical zoom lens. As you might have gathered, movie recording is fully automatic on the camera, though a wind cut filter is a nice touch.
The camera is generally a snappy performer. The S9100 starts up in just over a second, and focuses very quickly in most situations. I did notice that I had a higher-than-average number of out-of-focus shots on the S9100, for some reason. Shutter lag was not an issue, and shot-to-shot speeds ranged from 2 seconds without the flash, to a sluggish 4 seconds with it. The Coolpix S9100 has tons of burst modes, though only two shoot at the highest resolution. Those two burst modes are pretty quick, though the buffer memory is limited, so shooting ends quickly. The S9100's battery life is average for the compact ultra zoom class, though some folks may be put off by its internal charging system (an external charger is available).
Photo quality is not the Coolpix S9100's strong point. While exposure was generally accurate, the camera has strongly highlight clipping at times, and shadow detail could be better, as well. I've got no complaints about the colors produced by the camera -- they were pleasing even under our studio lamps, which most cameras struggle with. As with most of Nikon's compact cameras, the S9100's main problem is overaggressive noise reduction, which smudges fine details and gives the sky a mottled appearance -- even at the base ISO of 160. While you can safely make 4 x 6 prints through ISO 400, you probably won't be impressed with the S9100's photo quality at larger sizes, or when viewing the images at 100% on your computer screen. Despite the proximity of the lens and flash, the S9100's dual redeye removal system kept this annoyance out of my test photos (though your results may vary). Purple fringing levels were fairly low. Oh, and do note that the camera does not automatically rotate portrait photos, unlike the vast majority of cameras.
Overall, the Nikon Coolpix S9100 is a decent, but not great, compact ultra zoom camera. The S9100's most appealing feature is its value: you get a lot of camera for around $275. While its photo quality is good enough for the point-and-shoot crowd (assuming they aren't cranking up the ISO too high or making large prints), it could certainly be a lot better. Still, its snappy performance and broad set of features make the Coolpix S9100 an attractive camera. While it's not good enough to earn a spot in our Buyers Guide, the Coolpix S9100 is still worth a look.
- Good value for the money
- Decent photo quality for small prints
- 18X, 25 - 450 mm optical zoom lens in a compact, generally well-built body
- Sensor-shift image stabilization (only for stills, though)
- 3-inch LCD display with 921k pixels, good outdoor/low light visibility
- Robust performance in most respects
- Scene Auto Selector picks a shooting mode for you
- Plenty of scene modes and special effects
- Fast burst modes, though buffer fills quickly at full resolution
- Redeye not a problem
- Full HD movie mode, with stereo sound, use of optical zoom, and full-time autofocus
- Variable frame rate mode allows for super slow-motion videos (or just the opposite)
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Noticeable detail loss due to heavy noise reduction, even at base ISO
- Strong highlight clipping at times; shadow detail could be better
- No manual controls, save for white balance
- Movie mode quibbles: delay before movie recording starts, electronic VR does little
- Flash is slow to recharge
- Photos taken in portrait orientation are not rotated automatically
- Flimsy door over battery/memory card compartment
- Poorly-located USB + A/V out port (it's on the bottom of the camera)
- Internal battery charging not for everyone
- Full manual on CD-ROM
Some other compact ultra zooms worth considering include the Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS, Casio Exilim EX-ZR100, Fuji FinePix F600EXR, Olympus SZ-30MR, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10, Samsung WB700, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V.
As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Coolpix S9100 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our gallery to see how the Coolpix S9100's photo quality looks!