Camera Reviews
by Brad Soo on October 25 2011

I’ve just posted my in-depth review of the Nikon Coolpix S9100, a very capable compact travel-zoom camera from Nikon. The camera has the largest zoom lens for a camera around its size; a whopping 18X optical zoom along with impressive qualities that makes this camera worth a look. Be sure to also visit the Nikon Coolpix S9100 photo gallery to view sample photos.

DPInterface Nikon Coolpix S9100 Review

Brad Soo – October 25th, 2011

The Nikon Coolpix S9100 is marks Nikon’s foray into this year’s crowded travel-zoom camera market. The camera sports a 12 megapixel CMOS, much like other compact super-zoom cameras, but packs a huge 18X optical zoom lens, very good battery life and just about the highest resolution 3 inch screen you can get in a compact camera. High-speed continuous shooting abilities and Full HD movie mode are, by now, quite expected in cameras of this class, and the Coolpix S9100 has them too.

Is the Nikon Coolpix S9100 the ultimate travel-zoom of the year? Let’s find out.





Size and weight

Nikon Coolpix S9100 compared to the Apple iPhone

Considering the big zoom range of its lens, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Nikon Coolpix S9100 is one of the larger travel-zoom cameras out there. The camera is by no means huge, but it won’t sit too well in the pocket of your skinny jeans. However, it does fit into most pockets, bag compartments and larger purses with ease.

The Nikon Coolpix S9100 has a footprint that’s as large as a mid-size smartphone like the Apple iPhone, and is quite a bit thicker and heftier too. Measuring 104.8 x 62.0 x 34.6 mm (4.2 x 2.5 x 1.4 inches) with a weight of 214 grams (7.6 ounces) loaded, the Coolpix S9100 will definitely make its presence in your pocket clear. That’s actually a good thing since the camera feels nice and solid in hand and stable when you shoot.

In the camera box

The Nikon Coolpix S9100 arrives with all the standard accessories you’d expect from a camera (ie, not much really):

  • Nikon Coolpix S9100 camera
  • EN-EL12 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • AC adapter style USB charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB and A/V cables
  • Camera software CD

The Nikon Coolpix S9100 comes with 74 MB of internal memory, which isn’t plentiful for a 12 megapixel camera but still a nice touch and can be used as backup memory or to store your favorite photos. The Nikon Coolpix S9100 supports all three SD card variants: SD, SDHC and SDXC so it would be wise to pick one up if you don’t already have a memory card. I would recommend a 8 GB high-speed memory card for starters since they’re fairly affordable and will hold plenty of photos and a good amount of video. The Coolpix S9100 does take advantage of high-speed memory cards, so you will feel a performance improvement when using one.

The Nikon Coolpix S9100 uses the fairly powerful EN-EL12 rechargeable lithium-ion battery which translates into an above average battery life figure of 270 shots per charge. The Nikon Coolpix S9100 is one of those cameras that supports USB charging and comes with a USB charger in the box. It’s a disadvantage having to plug the whole camera to charge (just like how you would with a phone) and being unable to take it out to shoot while charging a spare battery… but it seems more camera makers are doing this (presumably to cut costs). Nikon would be happy to sell you an optional standalone battery charger though.

Accessories

There aren’t any accessories available for the Nikon Coolpix S9100 save for various camera cases and aforementioned spare battery and standalone battery charger.


Camera Tour

The Nikon Coolpix S9100 certainly won’t be winning any awards for style with its rather plain looks and chunky design. However, I’m glad to report the camera does well in terms of substance and feel: the Coolpix S9100 is very solid, since it’s constructed mostly of metal, and feels sturdy in hand (save for the part where you have to open the bottom compartment whose door feels flimsy). The Coolpix S9100 is also ergonomic with well-placed and nicely sized buttons, along with plenty of room for your hands to hold the camera on each side.

The camera has all its controls reachable with your right hand and there’s plenty of room to support the camera with your left hand too. The Coolpix S9100 has a built-in popup flash but unlike the Fujifilm FinePix F550 EXR and Canon PowerShot SX230 HS we reviewed recently, this one doesn’t come up automatically (a good thing, since the latter two cameras had very annoying flashes that raised each time the cameras were powered on).

The Nikon Coolpix S9100 comes in your choice of three colors: silver, black and red.

The biggest feature of the Nikon Coolpix S9100 (no pun intended) is the 18X optical zoom lens it has on the front. The lens is about the biggest you will find in a travel-zoom camera (tied with the Samsung WB700 and recently introduced Samsung WB750 which also have 18X lenses) and is equivalent to an extremely useful 25 to 450 mm, which covers both ultra-wide-angle and long distance shooting. The aperture range of the Coolpix S9100 is on the dim side though, spanning f3.5 – f5.9 which might need a boost in ISO or using one of the camera’s low-light modes when shooting in poorly lit situations. Behind the lens is a sensor-shift image stabilization system which moves that 12 megapixel sensor around to reduce the chances of taking blurry shots.

If that’s not enough, the Coolpix S9100 has the ability to take pictures at high speed, just like other CMOS-sensor equipped compact cameras, including taking multiple shots and combining them into a single low-noise, sharp photo in dimly lit shooting conditions.

Near the lens, you’ll find the camera’s autofocus assist/self-timer lamp, a raised bump for gripping the camera with and manual popup flash. The flash is pretty average in terms of power, covering a range of 50 cm to 4 meters (2 to 13 feet) at wide-angle and 1.5 to 2.5 meters (6 to 8 feet) at maximum zoom; with both figures achieved using Auto ISO. The camera also uses several slightly weaker pre-flashes to reduce redeye if you choose to enable the redeye reduction setting.

At the back of the Nikon Coolpix S9100 is yet another epic feature. The camera has a 3 inch display with an impressive resolution of 921,000 dots; the same thing as you’ll find on more expensive compact cameras and digital SLR models. The display is nice and fluid, plus has very good visibility in low-light and under bright situations too. The only slight (but nevertheless annoying to some) imperfection is the 97% coverage in live view, which means resulting pictures will cover a little more of your scene than what was previewed on the display.

The camera gives you plenty of room for your thumb on the right, with the movie button located to the upper right corner, opposite a small status indicator light for the flash status. Below that is a cluster of controls that includes a navigation pad and three buttons in the vicinity of it (Each assigned its own function: playback, menu and delete photo).

The Coolpix S9100 has a navigation pad combined with a scroll wheel. The scroll wheel has nice, tactile clicks that prevents accidental scrolling while providing good feedback about how many ‘steps’ worth of settings you have changed… too bad the camera doesn’t have any manual controls.

  • Up – Flash setting (Auto, on, slow sync, off; redeye reduction available)
  • Down – Focus mode (Auto, macro, landscape)
  • Left – Self-timer (Off, 2 seconds, 10 seconds)
  • Right – Exposure compensation (+/-2 in 1/3 increments)
  • Center – OK/Confirm

The Nikon Coolpix S9100 has plenty of stuff on the top. You can find the popup flash on the left side along with the camera’s stereo microphones and speaker. Towards the other side, you’ll find the power on/off button and shutter button with zoom controller wrapped around it. The Nikon Coolpix S9100 has two available zooming speeds, depending on how hard you pull the zoom controller: you can be either very quick or precise in zooming.

On the very right side is the Coolpix S9100’s mode dial which consists of just 8 options (going clockwise): P-auto mode, effects, continuous shooting, backlighting (When your subject is standing in front of a very bright background; HDR and D-Lighting options are found here), night portrait, night landscape, scene modes and scene auto selector. The Coolpix S9100 has two ‘night’ modes above which take several photos in a row and combines them into a single lower noise, less blurry photo. If you have the camera on a tripod, you can enable tripod mode which makes the camera take long exposure shots instead.

On the left hand side of the Coolpix S9100, you’ll find a small switch to manually pop the flash up. On the other side of the camera, there’s the wrist strap loop and HDMI port hidden behind a cover (you can also see the camera’s 18X lens at maximum zoom position here).

At the bottom of the camera, you’ll find the battery and memory card compartment, covered by a door that isn’t as sturdy as the rest of the camera. There’s also another port here, hidden by yet another cover: it’s the combo port for USB and A/V Out connectivity (also where you’ll plug the charger in). The last item to see is the metal tripod mou