Camera Reviews
by Brad Soo on April 23 2012

We’ve just posted our review of the Nikon Coolpix S9300 compact super-zoom camera. The Coolpix has 16 megapixels, 18X optical zoom, 3 inch screen, GPS, high-speed shooting and Full HD movie mode. Visit the Nikon Coolpix S9300 photo gallery to see our usual large gallery of sample photos.

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 is the latest addition to Nikon’s 2012 camera line. The Coolpix S9300 is a compact super-zoom camera that has a 16 megapixel backlit CMOS sensor, 18X optical zoom lens, 3 inch LCD, built-in GPS functionality, multiple high-speed continuous shooting modes and Full HD movie mode. The camera also boasts Nikon’s new styling which makes the camera a lot sleeker than models from the previous years. Is the Nikon Coolpix S9300 a great camera to consider as your next one? Read more to find out.

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 also has a sibling which seems to be available only in Europe. The Coolpix S9200 is a variant without the GPS of the S9300, and consequently is slightly cheaper in price.





In the camera box

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 has an average set of bundled items in its box:

  • Nikon Coolpix S9300 camera
  • EN-EL12 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • AC adapter charger with USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Wrist strap
  • Camera software CD

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 comes with a measly 26 MB of internal memory, which isn’t enough beyond taking the camera out of its box and snapping a few test shots to make sure it works. If you actually want to use the camera for picture-taking purposes, you will have to pony up for a memory card. The Coolpix S9300 takes the usual SD, SDHC and SDXC memory card formats supported by most other cameras, laptops and electronic devices; and is able to perform noticeably better when a high-speed card is used. As a good starting point, I would suggest getting an 8 GB high-speed SDHC though it doesn’t hurt to get a larger card since memory cards are very affordable nowadays.

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 uses the EN-EL12 rechargeable lithium-ion battery which is used by various other Nikon cameras. The camera comes with an AC adapter style charger similar to those of smartphones, so when it’s time to charge the camera, you’ll have to connect it to the power outlet on your wall. The Coolpix S9300 manages to squeeze out an unremarkable rating of 200 photos per battery charge, part of which probably has to do with the power-consuming GPS module (which you can thankfully disable when not needed).

Accessories

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 is extremely light on accessories. There aren’t any optional extras available for the camera besides replacement cables and chargers, a dedicated battery charger and HDMI cable for connecting the camera to your TV.


Camera Tour

Nikon Coolpix S9300 compared to the Google Galaxy Nexus

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 has slimmed down since last year’s model, despite retaining the big 18X optical zoom lens. The Coolpix S9300 measures a decent 108.7 x 62.3 x 30.6 mm (4.3 x 2.5 x 1.3 inches) which is compact enough to fit into most pockets and bag compartments, but the camera still isn’t super tiny. The camera has not-too-hefty weight of 215 grams (around 7.6 ounces) which makes it just right and stable to hold in your hands.

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 has good ergonomics with spread out controls, a small raised bump on the front of the camera and everything is clearly labeled and within reach of your right hand. The Nikon S9300 has a popup flash and like its predecessor, it is raised manually – a good thing since it doesn’t come up unnecessarily. The Coolpix S9300 is available in your choice of three colors: silver, black or red. There’s also a blue/violet color available in some parts of the world.

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 uses the same 18X optical zoom lens as its predecessor. The camera’s lens covers a versatile range of 25 – 450 mm and hence offers good wide-angle coverage while having plenty of maximum reach for long zoom shots. The lens has an aperture range of f3.5 – f5.9 which is on the dim side, but that’s a necessary compromise for a lens that covers such an ambitious range. The lens comes equipped with optical image stabilization (Lens shift VR, in Nikon’s terms) which helps reduce the chances of taking blurry photos with the camera. Behind the lens, the camera sports a 16 megapixel backlit CMOS sensor which helps produce better photos than a conventional CCD image sensor and lets the camera perform high-speed continuous shooting.

Other things you will find on the front of the Coolpix S9300 are its autofocus assist/self-timer countdown lamp and popup flash. The flash is on the powerful side, reaching a range of 50 cm to 5.1 meters (16 feet) at wide-angle and up to 3 meters (10 feet) at maximum zoom.

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 has a 3 inch LCD with a high resolution of 921,000 dots which is pretty much the staple of cameras above $250 nowadays. The display is sharp and fluid, and has very good visibility in both low and bright light.

On the right side of the LCD are a familiar set of controls. Just like on Nikon’s other cameras, the buttons here are nicely spaced and large. The button with the red dot is the movie button which is used for starting/stopping video recording in any mode.

There is a diagonal empty space with a nice rubber grip going across for your thumb. Below that, we have the flash/power status light, playback, menu and delete photo buttons surrounding the navigation pad. The Nikon Coolpix S9300 has a 5 way navigation pad with a scroll wheel incorporated into it. The scroll wheel is used for scrolling through menu items and photos in playback, and turning it provides nice tactile clicks.

Adjusting hue, saturation and exposure compensation on the Coolpix S9300

The navigation pad gives you access to several things on the Coolpix S9300:

  • 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 – Hue/saturation/exposure compensation
  • Center – OK/Confirm

Shooting settings

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 displays just key shooting information and exposure details, battery and zoom indicators as well as compass direction and GPS coordinates if you have them enabled. The Coolpix S9300 does have a live histogram but it only appears when adjusting exposure compensation.

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 is a fully automatic camera. You can adjust picture size/compression, white balance (includes a custom option), metering mode, ISO, focus area and autofocus mode (single or continuous focus). In terms of autofocus area, there are several options available to you: auto 9 point, center, focus point selection (you can pick one of 99 points), face detection and subject tracking.

Macro and scene modes
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 has a good macro mode. The camera has a minimum focusing distance of 4 cm (1.6 inches) at wide-angle and 1.5 meters (5 feet) at full zoom. The Coolpix S9300 offers plenty of scene modes: beach, close up, copy, dusk/dawn, fireworks, food, landscape, museum, night portrait, party/indoor, pet portrait, portrait, snow, sports and sunset. The Coolpix S9300 also has a 3D photo mode as well as Easy Panorama mode where the camera can automatically capture and piece together a panorama of 180 or 360 degrees wide when you pan the camera from side-to-side.

On the top of the Coolpix S9300, you’ll find the popup flash, a small bump where the GPS module is located, stereo microphones, on/off button and shutter button with zoom controller around it. Turning the zoom controller towards the right side when browsing the camera menu will bring up help tooltips about menu items in case you need help.

The Coolpix S9300 has a simple mode dial with just 8 modes (going counter-clockwise): Auto mode, Scene Auto Selector mode, pick your own scene mode, night landscape mode, backlight portrait, Smart Portrait, continuous shooting and Effects mode. The Coolpix S9300 has a backlight photo mode that takes several photos in a row to combine photos into a HDR photo with proper brightness while night landscape mode takes a few photos and combines them into a single sharp photo.

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 also has 6 shooting effects: soft, nostalgic sepia, high contrast monochrome, high key, low key and selective color. All of them have self-explanatory names.

GPS and compass
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 has a built-in GPS and compass which lets you embed location and direction that photos were taken. The compass can work pretty much all the time and even show you an on-screen direction display while the GPS usually needs open spaces/outdoors to acquire a signal after a few minutes. The GPS has a tracking function which will cut down on acquisition times by getting signals from time to time (instead of when powering on the camera) but will drain the battery more quickly. The Coolpix S9300 doesn’t have fancy landmark and location tagging features found on some other brands; it just shows a bunch of numbers which are the coordinates of your location.

One side of the camera is blank while the other side hosts two ports hidden under a flexible hinged cover: a combo port for USB and A/V out, and a port for connecting the HDMI cable from the camera to your monitor/TV.

The bottom of the Coolpix S9300 hosts its painted-black metal tripod mount and battery/memory compartment. The tripod mount is placed far enough from the compartment that you can open the door and swap batteries/cards while the camera is mounted on a tripod. The compartment door on the Coolpix S9300 feels flimsy so you’ll have to be careful when it’s open.

Video Recording

Movie options on the Coolpix S9300

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 has the same great Full HD movie mode we have seen on Nikon’s other Coolpix models. The camera can record Full HD movies with stereo sound at 30 FPS. The camera allows you to use optical zoom (at a slower speed than usual so the lens motor noise isn’t so apparent), optical image stabilization, wind filter and continuous autofocus while recording. I did notice the continuous focusing mode on the Coolpix S9300 is on the sluggish side compared to other cameras and it takes a while for the camera to refocus after zooming in. There’s a limit of 29 minutes or 4 GB per movie clip, whichever comes first.

Here are the resolution options available in the regular movie mode of the Coolpix S9300; the camera records at 30 FPS for all of these options:

  • Setting
  • Video resolution
  • Full HD 1080p
  • 1920 x 1080
  • Standard HD 720p
  • 1280 x 720
  • iFrame 540p
  • 960 x 540
  • VGA
  • 640 x 480

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 records movies in MOV format using the MPEG4 H.264 codec.

The camera also has options to record high-speed/slow motion or low speed/fast motion video where the Coolpix S9300 will record at higher/lower frame rates than usual then play movies back at 30 FPS to create such effects. Sound is not recorded using these settings.

  • Setting
  • Video resolution
  • Frame rate
  • Fast motion 1080p
  • 1920 x 1080
  • 15 FPS
  • Slow motion 720p
  • 1280 x 720
  • 60 FPS
  • Slow motion VGA
  • 640 x 480
  • 120 FPS
  • Slow motion QVGA
  • 320 x 240
  • 240 FPS

Here are three sample movie clips from the Coolpix S9300 taken at Full HD 1080p:

Performance

Performance testing of the Nikon Coolpix S9300 was done using a high-speed 45 MB/s Sandisk Extreme Pro SDHC card.

  • Action
  • Performance
  • Speed
  • Startup
  • 1.5 seconds
  • Fast
  • Autofocus:
  • Good light
  • 0.1 to 0.6 seconds
  • Very fast
  • Low light
  • 0.6 to 1.2 seconds
  • Average
  • Shot-to-shot
  • 2.3 seconds
  • Decent
  • Flash recharge
  • 3 seconds

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 has a handful of continuous shooting modes, found under the dedicated Burst spot on the mode dial:

  • Continuous high-speed: Takes 7 photos at 6 frames per second (at full 16 megapixels)
  • Continuous low-speed: Takes 14 photos at 2 frames per second (at full 16 megapixels)
  • Pre-shooting cache: Buffers photos at 10 FPS and saves the 2 before and 3 after pressing the shutter button
  • Continuous H 60: Takes 25 photos at 60 frames per second (image size is lowered to 2 megapixels
  • Continuous H 120: Takes 50 photos at 120 frames per second (image size is lowered to 1 megapixels
  • Multi-shot 16: Takes 16 photos and makes them into a collage
  • Best shot selector: Takes 5 photos and the camera automatically picks and saves only the sharpest image

All-in-all, the Nikon Coolpix S9300 is a responsive and fast camera. The camera excels at focusing in well-lit conditions and gives you plenty of choice when it comes to continuous shooting. The Coolpix S9300 does slow down in low-light, though it usually manages to lock focus accurately thanks to its focus assist light.

Image Quality


ISO 125


ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600


ISO 3200

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 produces clean and detailed photos at ISO 125 and ISO 200. Sharpness levels are good for most of the ISO range. The camera runs a light amount of noise reduction at ISO 400, giving photos a ‘smooth’ look with a minor drop in detail but that shouldn’t stop you from using photos for large prints and display.

Photo quality at ISO 800 still looks decent despite an increase in noise reduction and some smudging in pictures. You’ll be able to make large prints out of this. Photos at ISO 1600 have more smudging and a slight drop in color vividness but image quality is still fairly impressive and you’ll be able to make medium sized prints or display (like as your computer or phone wallpaper) using this setting. ISO 3200 is not too bad either and fit for small prints and display.

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 doesn’t exhibit a lot of lens distortion, probably thanks to the digital correction as the camera processes photos. Edge sharpness is good, with just slight softness at the four corners of photos when inspected at full size. There is also minimal color fringing (chromatic aberration) which doesn’t become too obvious unless shooting very high contrast scenes (outdoors).

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 produces above average image quality with clean looking images, sharp and detailed characteristics with lens flaws not being an issue at all.

Photo gallery

Visit the Nikon Coolpix S9300 photo gallery to view photos taken using the camera.


Playback

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 has a great playback mode. It has basic playback functions like image protection, resize, voice memo, print marking and slideshow. There are also editing functions that let you soften the skin of your subjects, improve brightness (D-Lighting), improve saturation with contrast (Quick Retouch) and apply Filter Effects to photos (cross screen, fisheye, miniature effect and painting).

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 tells you everything you need to know about images, including exposure and shooting data and a brightness histogram.





Conclusion

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 is a great digital camera with the same nice 18X optical zoom lens as last year’s model but an improved much sleeker design that now incorporates a built-in compass and GPS unit. The camera sports a 3 inch LCD and a minimalistic set of controls which makes it easy to use and ergonomic to hold. Build quality is good, except for the flimsy bottom compartment door, and the Coolpix S9300 has a handy scroll wheel for moving through menu items and photos in playback.

The Coolpix S9300 is basically a point-and-shoot digital camera with no manual controls for exposure. This contributes to its ease of use but may turn off folks wanting to adjust shutter speed and aperture. The Nikon Coolpix S9300 does offer an automatic panorama and HDR mode along with a large selection of continuous shooting modes. The camera also has photo effects that you can apply to pictures.

The Coolpix S9300 performs great in terms of speed and image quality. The camera is responsive and can shoot quickly; it also auto focuses pretty quickly and accurately. The only thing that could be improved is the number of photos the camera can take in a row (though a fast memory card will definitely help the camera clear its buffer more quickly). Image quality wise, the Coolpix S9300 produces detailed, low noise photos which are nice and usable up till ISO 800 to ISO 1600.

We definitely highly recommend the Nikon Coolpix S9300 to anyone who wants a very capable digital camera with lots of optical zoom, intuitive operation and great movie mode. The Coolpix S9300 has plenty of features and effects that will please its users and also delivers good image quality. But before we conclude this review, we would certainly advise getting a spare battery when buying the camera.

What’s hot:

  • Detailed and clean images; overall good image quality
  • Huge 18X optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization
  • 3 inch display is sharp and has good visibility
  • Good build quality, handy scroll wheel and built-in help tooltips
  • Auto scene selector, plenty of scene modes, in-camera panorama and HDR modes, photo effects
  • Very responsive and good performance, plenty of continuous shooting choices
  • Great playback mode with editing tools and filter effects
  • Full HD movie mode with zoom, continuous AF and image stabilization; high-speed/slow motion movie options available

What’s not:

  • Lacks manual controls
  • Limited photos per burst
  • Flimsy bottom compartment door
  • Below average battery life

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