Nikon Coolpix S9100 Review


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!

Photo Gallery

Check out our gallery to see how the Coolpix S9100's photo quality looks!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.