Nikon Coolpix S9300 Review
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 isn't a whole lot different than its predecessor. Aside from a new sensor and GPS, it's basically the same camera, with a very similar list of pros and cons. The body hasn't changed much, and that's generally a good thing. It's very compact and well put-together, save for the flimsy door over the memory card/battery compartment. The S9300 retains the same 18X, 25 - 450 mm lens as its predecessor (the S9100), and it's a pretty nice piece of glass, considering the low price of the camera. Nikon switched from a hybrid (sensor-shift + electronic) image stabilization system on the S9100 to a straight-up lens-shift system on the S9300. The main takeaway from that change is that you can now use IS while recording movies. On the back of the camera is a 3-inch, 921k pixel LCD with excellent sharpness and average outdoor visibility.
The S9300 is a point-and-shoot camera, with just one manual control (for white balance). There are two auto modes --- one of which will pick a scene mode for you -- plus numerous scene and special effect modes. The S9300 has a "sweep panorama" feature which should work fairly well, as long as you're not taking photos of bridges. There's also an HDR mode, though the output is really artificial looking, so it's not a great solution for photos with lots of contrast. The lack of manual controls combined with a 1 second shutter speed limit made the S9300 a disappointing night photo camera. The movie mode has been improved slightly since the S9100: you can still record 1080p video at 30 frames/second with stereo sound, use of the optical zoom, and continuous autofocus. On the S9300 you now get to use the optical IS system instead of the electronic system, which is a big improvement. As you probably figured out by now, there are no manual controls in movie mode. Let's not forget the biggest new feature on the Coolpix S9300: its GPS receiver and electronic compass. Not only will the GPS tag your location and direction, it'll also tell you what landmark you're near. The system works fairly well if you're in flat, clear areas, but I had trouble both in the mountains and in the city, which isn't entirely surprising.
Camera performance is good in most respects. The S9300 starts up and is ready to take photos in about 1.4 seconds. In good lighting, the camera focusing very quickly, placing it near the top of its class in that department. I was disappointed with low light focusing performance, though: while not horribly slow, the camera could not lock focus more often than not. Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot speeds were minimal if you weren't using the flash. If you are using the flash, expect to wait a lengthy four seconds before you can take another picture. The camera has numerous burst modes, though most are at lower resolutions. In high speed mode you can fire off seven shots at 7.5 fps, while in low speed you can get away with 10 shots at 1.9 fps before the frame rate drops a bit. The LCD does lag behind the action, so tracking a moving subject can be tricky. Battery life dropped considerably on the S9300, and is tied for the lowest of any travel zoom. I can't say that I'm a fan of the slow internal charging system, either.
As with the S9100 before it, photo quality is where the Coolpix S9300 really stumbles. While exposure is generally accurate, the camera has strong highlight clipping at times. I have no complaints about color: the S9300 had vivid colors both inside and outside of our studio. The camera's biggest problem are its soft and noisy photos (with lots of fuzzy details), which you'll see even at the base ISO of 125. Things get worse rapidly, and I'd say the S9300 is at least a stop worse than the best cameras in this class. If you keep the ISO below 400 and make small prints then you'll probably be satisfied, but the bottom line is that other cameras do a lot better. On a more positive note, the S9300 keeps purple fringing levels low, and redeye was not an issue.
Overall, I found that the Coolpix S9300 is a decent travel zoom camera, but there are several competitors that I think are better choices. While it does offer a nice point-and-shoot feature set, the mediocre photo quality, poor battery life, and other annoyances prevent me from recommending it.
- Good value for the money
- 18X, 25 - 450 mm optical zoom lens in a compact, generally well-built body
- Optical image stabilization
- Sharp 3-inch LCD display with 921k pixels
- Fast autofocus in good light
- GPS receiver with compass and large landmark database
- Scene Auto Selector picks a shooting mode for you
- Plenty of scene modes and special effects
- Wide selection of burst modes, some of which are pretty good
- Redeye not a problem
- Full HD movie mode with stereo sound, use of optical zoom and image stabilizer, and full-time autofocus
What I didn't care for:
- Noisy and soft photos have noticeable detail loss, even at base ISO of 125
- Strong highlight clipping at times
- No manual controls, save for white balance
- Low light focusing not great
- Below average battery life
- Flash is slow to recharge
- Not great for night shots, due to 1 sec shutter speed limit and lack of manual controls
- Photos taken in portrait orientation are not rotated automatically
- Flimsy door over battery/memory card compartment
- Internal battery charging is slow, won't let you charge a spare
- Full manual on CD-ROM
Some other GPS-equipped travel zoom cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS, Fuji FinePix F770EXR, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20, Samsung WB850F, and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V. If you can live without the GPS, the Olympus SZ-31MR, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS15, and the Pentax Optio VS20 may also be worth a look.
As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Coolpix S9300 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our gallery to see how the Coolpix S9300's photo quality looks!