Originally Posted: June 15, 2012
Last Updated: July 11, 2012
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 ($349) is a compact, GPS-equipped travel zoom camera. It features an 18X optical zoom lens, 16 Megapixel CMOS sensor, a high resolution 3-inch LCD display, Full HD video recording and, of course, a GPS receiver.
The Coolpix S9300 is the follow-up to the S9100, which was introduced last year. I've put together this chart to compare the two cameras:
So there you have the differences between the S9100 and S9300. Aside from the higher resolution sensor and GPS, there isn't a huge difference. If you noticed, the battery life on the S9300 has dropped considerably (and I believe that number is calculated with the GPS off), which isn't what we like to see on new models.
As you might imagine, the Coolpix S9300 faces tough competition from the likes of Canon, Fuji, Panasonic, and Sony. How does the Coolpix S9300 hold up? Find out now in our review!
Due to their similarities, portions of the Coolpix S9100 will be reused here.
What's in the Box?
The Coolpix S9300 has an unremarkable bundle. Inside the box you'll find:
- The 16.0 effective Megapixel Coolpix S9300 digital camera
- EN-EL12 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Charging AC adapter
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROMs featuring Nikon ViewNX 2 and Reference Manual
- 24 page Quick Start Guide (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
The Coolpix S9300 has 26MB of built-in memory, which holds a grand total of two shots at the highest quality setting. Thus, you'll want to pick up a memory card right away, unless you have one already. The S9300 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, and I'd recommend a 4GB card to most people. Picking up a Class 6 or faster card will ensure the highest performance.
The S9300 uses the same EN-EL12 lithium-ion battery as its predecessor. This battery holds 3.9 Wh worth of energy which, while not wondrous, is still average for this class. Here's how the camera compares to other compact travel zooms in terms of battery life:
As you can see, the Coolpix S9300 is tied for the worst battery life in its class, along with the Olympus and Samsung cameras. Therefore, I'd highly recommend picking up a spare battery. A Nikon-branded EN-EL12 will set you back at least $29.
The Coolpix S9300's battery is charged internally, over its included (proprietary) 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. Internal battery charging also prevents you from charging a spare battery separately -- you'll need to get the external charger listed below for that.
There are just two optional accessories available for the Coolpix S9300. The first is the MH-65 external battery charger (priced from $38). This fills up the battery in 2.5 hours (still not that fast) and also allows you to charge a spare. The other accessory is the EH-62F AC adapter (priced from $29) which let you operate the camera while plugged into the wall, unlike the included USB charger.
Bundled software includes Nikon Transfer and ViewNX 2, both of which run on Mac and Windows. Nikon Transfer does just as it sounds -- it moves your photos and movies from the camera to your computer. ViewNX 2 is a pretty standard image organizer, with a good set of editing tools. You can adjust things like sharpness/contrast/brightness/and color, brighten shadows, straighten a crooked photo, remove redeye, or reduce chromatic aberrations.
The manual for the Coolpix S9300 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 S9300 is a compact and generally well-designed ultra zoom camera. The body is made mostly of metal, with the front plate having a rubberized coating that makes the camera easier to hold. The only weak spot I could find is the very flimsy door over the battery/memory card compartment. Controls are easy to reach, though I'm not a huge fan of how they're flush with the back of the camera.
|Images courtesy of Nikon USA|
As with its predecessor, you can pick up the S9300 in three colors: black, silver, and red.
As you can see above, the S9300 is quite compact, especially considering the size of the lens. Here's how it compares to other compact travel zooms in terms of size and weight:
The Coolpix S9300 is one of the larger and heavier cameras in the group. That's not to say that it's a large camera -- the S9300 will travel in your jeans pocket with ease.
Let's take a tour of the S9300 now, using our tabbed interface.
The Coolpix S9300 has the same F3.5-5.9, 18X optical zoom Nikkor lens as its predecessor. The focal length of this lens is 4.5 - 81.0 mm, which is equivalent to 25 - 450 mm. That range should handle just about any situation you find yourself in. The lens isn't threaded, and conversion lenses are not supported.
Naturally, you're going to want an image stabilization system on an ultra zoom camera. Nikon has switched from a hybrid system on the S9100 to a more "normal" lens-shift system on the S9300. It'll reduce the risk of blurry photos, and will also smooth out your movies.
Behind the lens is probably the second-biggest new feature on the S9300 (with the GPS being #1): a new 16 Megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor. BSI sensors allow more light to reach the photo sites, which in theory allows for higher sensitivity. We'll see about that when we get to the photo tests.
To the upper-right of the lens is the pop-up flash, which is released electronically. This flash is stronger than the one on the Coolpix S9300, with a working range of 0.5 - 5.1 m at wide-angle, and 1.5 - 3.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). As with all cameras in this class, an external flash is not supported.
The only other thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp (just to the upper-right of the lens), 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 the same 3-inch, 921k pixel LCD display that was found on the S9100. As you might imagine, everything is super-sharp. Outdoor visibility is average, meaning not wonderful. In low light, the screen "gains up" fairly well, so you can still see the subject you're trying to take a photo of.
At the top-right of the photo is the dedicated movie recording button. Under that we have buttons for playback mode, entering the menu system, and deleting a photo.
In between those three buttons is the four-way controller / control dial combo. You'll use this for menu navigation, reviewing photos, and adjusting the exposure. The controller also allows you to quickly change the flash, self-timer, and macro settings.
The Coolpix S9300 logo sits atop the pop-up flash, which is in the down position here. The hump in the center of the photo is the GPS receiver, which I'll discuss later. The camera's stereo microphones straddle it.
Continuing to the right, we find the power button (which must be held down for a second before it does anything), shutter release / zoom controller combo, and the mode dial. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.8 seconds. I counted twenty steps in the S9300's 18X zoom range.
More on the mode dial after the 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 the right side you'll find the S9300's I/O ports, which include a proprietary USB + A/V connector and mini-HDMI. It was nice of Nikon to move the ports to the side of the camera, as they were on the bottom of the S9100.
The lens is at full telephoto in this photo. Pretty amazing that it even fits into that compact body!
On the bottom of the S9300 you'll find a metal tripod mount and the battery/memory card compartment. The door over this compartment is very flimsy.
The included EN-EL12 battery can be seen at right.
While there's no live histogram on this screen, you can see one when you adjust the exposure compensation
I'd like to talk about the features on the Coolpix S9300 that are controlled by the various buttons and dials on its body. The first thing is the exposure compensation button on the four-way controller, which does just as it sounds like. In the Auto and Burst shooting modes, you can also use this button to adjust the vividness and hue of the photo you're composing (Nikon calls this the "Creative Slider").
Now it's time to dive into the items on the S9300's mode dial. They include:
The Coolpix S9300 is a 100% point-and-shoot camera, with no manual exposure controls to be found. If that's okay with you, then you'll find plenty of automatic modes and bells and whistles to choose from, most of which I explained above. The S9300 has a pair of multi-shot, for night as well as high dynamic range (HDR) shooting. I'll tell you about the latter in a moment.
The "easy panorama" scene mode lets you "sweep" the camera from side-to-side, after which the camera will stitch everything together. You can choose from 180 or 360 degree panoramas, and keep in mind that the resolution of these images is on the low side. As you can see above, the camera had a little trouble with the Bay Bridge -- I don't think you'd want to drive across it. Less challenging subjects should look better.
Selecting the Backlighting mode on the dial will give you access to the camera's high dynamic range (HDR) function. When you take a picture in this mode, the S9300 will create two images: one without HDR, and one with. The HDR photo is a combination of two or perhaps three images, each taken with a different exposure. The resulting photo is supposed to have brighter shadows and less highlight clipping than a regular image. Let's see if that's the case:
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
The HDR feature performed just like it did on the Coolpix S9100. While yes, contrast is improved, the HDR effect is so over-the-top that it looks like a Photoshop effect. If you really want HDR on this camera, just take three shots at different exposures and combine them using one of the many HDR applications out there.
The final item on the camera body that I want to go over before we hit the menus is what's under that hump on the top: a GPS receiver. The GPS is new to the S9300, and it also features a point-of-interest database and electronic compass. There are over 1.7 million entries in the POI database, and that information will be shown on the LCD when you're composing a photo, and saved into the metadata when it's taken. You can choose how "deep" the info drawn from the POI database is, from country all the way down to the landmark. When the camera knew my location, it almost always had a POI to go along with my location.
GPS options menu
GPS performance was fairly typical for a digital camera, meaning "not great". As is typically the case, the S9300 failed to get a signal when in downtown San Francisco. It also struggled to find me in a pretty open area in the mountains, though I've seen that on regular GPS', as well. In flat, open areas (near the Bay), it generally worked okay, taking around a minute to figure out my location. A tracking option is available, with three durations to choose from: 6, 12, or 24 hours. Do note that this will drain your battery even faster than the GPS already does.
Now let's go over the most interesting items found in the S9300's menu system. The menu system is attractive and easy to navigate. While there are help screens available when selecting a scene mode, they're not available for the regular menu options.
- 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 125 to 3200, use an Auto mode that tops out at ISO 1600, or a fixed range auto mode that can stop at ISO 400 or 800
- AF area mode: choose from face priority, 9-point auto, manual (choose from 99 points yourself), center, and subject tracking
- 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 (assuming that you've got Auto ISO turned on), though this will increase image noise
Strangely enough, the S9300 lacks the Active D-Lighting feature found on nearly all of Nikon's other cameras. It also lacks a spot metering option, though I doubt that the S9300's target audience would use that very often. The camera also does not rotate portrait photos automatically -- a rather surprising omission.
Now let's talk about movies. The S9300 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 either of the two 1080p settings, you'll hit the time limit first. There are two 1080p choices (normal and high quality), and you can also record at 720p, 640 x 480, or 960 x 540 (using Apple's poorly marketed iFrame codec).
The optical zoom lens can be used while you're recording a movie, and the lens moves slowly so the motor noise isn't picked up by the microphone. The optical image stabilization system is active on the S9300, which was not the case on its predecessor. The camera can focus continuously, so your subject will stay sharp as they move around the frame, or if you zoom in or out.
There are no manual controls in movie mode on the Coolpix S9300. The only things you can adjust (besides the resolution) are the AF mode and a wind filter.
The S9300 can also record movies at frame rates other than the standard 30 fps. Choose from 15 fps (at 1080p), 60 fps (at 720p), or 120 fps (at 640 x 480). Movies taken at 15 fps will appear to move twice as quickly when played at normal speed, while the opposite is true when the frame rate is 60 or 120 fps (they'll be 2X or 4X slower).
Except for the special iFrame size, movies are recorded using the H.264 codec.
Here's a sample for you, taken at the highest quality setting:
Looks like pretty decent video quality for a low cost travel zoom to me!
The Coolpix S9300 has a pretty nice playback mode, loaded with retouching options. The interesting ones include:
- Quick Retouch: enhances contrast and saturation, with three levels to choose from
- D-Lighting: brighten dark areas in a photo
- Skin softening: remove blemishes and wrinkles from people pictures
- Filter effects: apply soft, selective color, cross screen, fisheye, miniature effect, and painting filters to photos you've already taken
- Rotate image: since the camera doesn't do this automatically, you may need this option
- Calendar view: keep "zooming out" in playback mode and you'll be able to jump to photos taken on a certain date
One playback feature that you won't find on the Coolpix S9300 is some kind of movie editing/trimming function.
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 S9300 moves from photo to photo without delay.
Performance & Photo Quality
The Coolpix S9300 is generally a responsive camera. There is a bit of a lag when you start recording a movie or enter the menu, and low light focusing leaves something to be desired, but otherwise the news is good.
The table below summarizes its performance:
There are really two areas where the S9300 is not so hot. The first is low light focusing. Not because it's slow, but because the camera usually struggles to lock focus in those situations. The S9300's flash is also on the slow side when it comes to recharging. Thus, the camera may not be the best choice for those shooting in dim lighting.
As I mentioned on the previous page, the S9300 has a huge collection of continuous shooting modes, which are only accessible 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):
When it comes to full resolution continuous shooting, the S9300 is about average in terms of speed and buffer depth. Sure, it can shoot at 120 fps, but only at VGA resolution. I also noticed that the LCD lags considerably behind the action when shooting at full resolution, which makes it very hard to track a moving subject.
Let's move on to photo quality now, shall we?
Our macro test photo turned out nicely. Colors are nice and saturated, the subject is sharp, and a good amount of detail is captured. While there's a tiny amount of noise here, it's not nearly enough to concern me.
The minimum focus distance on the S9300 is 4 cm, though that's only when the lens is at its "sweet spot" near the wide-angle position. Unfortunately, Nikon doesn't publish what the distance is after that point (the same was true for the S9100).
Being a point-and-shoot camera, you have to rely on auto modes to handle more complex scenes, like the night photo that I take regularly. In regular auto mode I can lock the ISO down and set the white balance to something that doesn't make the photo come out so yellow. Unfortunately, the longest shutter speed on the camera is just one second, which doesn't cut it for this type of scene. The only way to get a photo with a semi-decent exposure is to use the night landscape scene mode, which boosts the ISO (for a brighter exposure), while unfortunately keeping the white balance set at Auto. What we get from that is a yellowish photo that's soft, underexposed, and noisy. The bottom line is that the S9300 is not well suited for long exposures.
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 S9300 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. As with the S9100 before it, the camera passed our redeye test with flying colors. You will, however, notice the pretty high noise levels in the photo, which the camera took at ISO 400.
There's very little barrel distortion at the wide end of the S9300's 25 - 450 mm lens -- most likely due to automatic correction during image processing. Corner softness doesn't seem to be an issue (it's hard to tell when the photos are so soft in the first place), and vignetting (dark corners) was not a problem.
Now we're going to take a look at our studio test scene. Since the lighting never changes, you can compare these images with those from other cameras that I've reviewed over the years. Remember that the crops below show only a small portion of the total scene, so be sure to view the full size images!
Things start out with a little noise at ISO 125, but it doesn't eat away at the details in the scene. That changes at ISO 200, where you can see edge detail starting to disappear. This is much earlier than I'd expect to see this kind of thing. Thankfully, ISO 400 isn't much worse than 200, and it's probably where I'd stop with the ISO sensitivity. At ISO 800 details continue to go south, with some parts of the scene looking more like an oil painting than a photograph. Still, you could use this sensitivity when you have no other choice. I would avoid the top two sensitivities, as there's too much detail loss for them to be usable.
Since the Coolpix S9300 lacks support for the RAW format, I cannot do a RAW vs. JPEG comparison.
What I can do is a comparison of the test scene at ISO 800 on five different travel zooms. Included here are the Canon PowerShot SX260, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS15 and ZS20 (note that the former lacks a GPS), and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V. Click on the tabs to compare them and see which one looks best -- and don't forget that you can click on them to see the whole scene!
I think it's safe to say that the Coolpix S9300 and the Panasonic ZS20 have the worst-looking photos in the group. The Canon SX260 and Panasonic ZS15 look better, but it's the Sony HX20V that comes out on top in my opinion, despite the fact that it has an 18 Megapixel sensor!
Overall, I was disappointed with the photo quality on the Coolpix S9300. But first, the good news: photos are generally well exposed, and colors are really vibrant. Purple fringing isn't an issue and, as you saw either, neither is redeye. The bad news is that images are soft, quite noisy, and lacking in fine detail -- even at the base ISO of 125. Sure, they look okay when downsized or printed at 4 x 6, but other cameras don't require as much of a compromise. The S9300 also likes to clip highlights, and there aren't really any tools available to deal with that.
As always, you are the best judge of image quality. Have a look at our photo gallery and decide for yourself if the S9300's image quality meets your needs!
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!