Nikon COOLPIX S9100 Ken McMahon, August 2011
 
   
 

Nikon COOLPIX S9100 verdict

The Nikon COOLPIX S9100 is a compact super-zoom with an impressive 18x optical zoom range. In that respect it's well out in front of the competition, with the Panasonic Lumix TZ20 / ZS10 and Sony Cyber-shot HX9V offering a 'mere' 16X range and the Canon PowerShot SX230 'only' 14x. Where those models opt for lens-shift image stabilisation, the COOLPIX S9100 shifts the sensor to combat camera shake.

The COOLPIX S9100's 12.1 Megapixel back -illuminated CMOS sensor provides it with fast full-resolution continuous shooting, 1080p30 full HD video and composite modes to improve results in low light and for subjects that are backlit or have a wide tonal range.

It also has a good range of additional features including scene detection, face detect AF, smile self-timer, a new Easy panorama mode and a range of effects filters. These aren't as novel or sophisticated as the competion's, though, and it feels like the S9100 is playing catch up a little. It also lacks a GPS receiver which could rule it out as a travel companion.

   
 

 

Compared to Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

     
 
 
     

If the most important thing in a travel zoom is, well, the zoom, then the Nikon COOLPIX S9100 has a clear advantage over the Canon PowerShot SX230 IS. Its 18x optical zoom with a range of 25 - 450mm comfortably outreaches the PowerShot SX230 HS at either end of the scale.

Both cameras share the same 12.1 megapixel sensor resolution and both use CMOS sensors, both also offer similar video options (in fact the Nikon has a wider range of slow motion settings) though the COOLPIX S9100's 4:3 screen is better suited to composing stills. In our real life resolution and high ISO noise tests, the PowerShot SX230 HS came out on top, with better image detail throughout the sensitivity range.

A major difference beween the two models is that the COOLPIX is more of a consumer model, it lacks the manual and semi auto exposure modes of the PowerShot SX230 HS and will therefore appeal less to enthusiasts. On the plus side this makes it a lot simpler to operate, though the PowerShot SX230 HS Easy mode emulates the S9100's simplicity without sacrificing advanced features for those who want them.

The COOLPIX S9100 lacks a GPS receiver, so if you're looking for a compact to take on your travels and record positional data with your photos and video, that rules it out.

See my Canon PowerShot SX230 HS review for more details.

Compared to Panasonic Lumix TZ20 / ZS10

     
 
 
     

Did I mention the COOLPIX S9100 has a very long zoom range? In case you needed reminding it has a very long telephoto at 450mm equivalent which will get you significantly closer to the action than the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10's 384mm. At the wide angle end there's hardly anything in it with the TZ20 / ZS10 a milimetre wider at 24mm.

There are plenty of other minor differences between these camersa - video modes, continuous shooting speeds, screen resolution and ISO range to name a few. But what really sets them apart? Firstly, the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10 has PASM manual exposure modes, this will be a deal breaker for photo enthusiasts who will quite likely feel too restricted by the S9100's lack of manual options. The TZ20 / ZS10 has a touch screen, though that's unlikely to win it many converts it's more of a draw than the S9100's extra screen resolution.

Probably the biggest thing going for the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10 is its GPS. Of all the travel zooms with built-in GPS receivers the TZ20 / ZS10 is the best. If you get around and like to know exactly where your photos were taken the TZ20 / ZS10 is the one to go for.

See my Panasonic Lumix TZ20 / ZS10 review for more details.

 

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot HX9V

     
 
 
     
     

I think we've already established the COOLPIX S9100's biggest selling point is it's 18x optical zoom - it goes longer than the zoom on the Cyber-shot HX9V and just about everything else. Nikon's sensor shift image stabilisation performed very well on the COOLPIX S9100 and, like the Cyber-shot HX9V it has Night Landscape and HDR composite modes, though the HX9V integrates these features better with auto exposure modes.

Both cameras share CMOS sensors, both also offer similar video options (in fact the Nikon has a wider range of slow motion settings). A major difference is that the COOLPIX is more of a consumer model, it lacks the manual exposure modes of the PowerShot Cyber-shot HX9V as well as cool advanced features like Background defocus, and will therefore appeal less to enthusiasts. One other thing worth bearing in mind if you do a lot of tripod-based photography is that the longest exposure you can make on the COOLPIX (with the exception of the 4 second Fireworks show scene mode) is one second, the Cyber-shot HX9V can do long exposures up to 30 seconds. Nikon must be feeling a little deflated having introduce an Easy panorama mode only to have Sony open up the gap by adding a high resolution panorama option in addition to 3D modes.

The COOLPIX S9100 lacks a GPS receiver, so if you're looking for a compact to take on your travels and record positional data with your photos and video, the HX9V would be a better option, though with its built in database of locations the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10 is the best choice for GPS functionality.

See my Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9 review for more details.

Nikon COOLPIX S9100 verdict

The COOLPIX S9100 is an exceptional pocket super-zoom camera that manages to fit a massive zoom lens into a very compact body. It has sensor-shift image stabilisation which provides up to four stops of stabilisation for hand-held exposures at slow shutter speeds. The thing the COOLPIX lacks, which will rule it our for many travel zoom devotees is manual exposure control. This, however, will also increase its appeal to novice photographers who want the reach and compactness of a travel zoom without all the fiddling around. It is its direct appeal to this consumer market that, more than anything else, sets the COOLPIX S9100 apart from models like the Panasonic Lumix TZ20 / ZS10, the Canon PowerShot SX230 HS and, to a lesser extent the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V.

Having said that, if Nikon is serious about producing a truly competitive consumer compact travel zoom it needs to add GPS capabilities and develop some innovative consumer features to compete with the creative filters and 3D modes on offer from the competition. The New Easy panorama mode is a move in the right direction though, and combined with Full HD video, impressive fast shooting and low light composite modes, makes COOLPIX S9100 an excellent choice for those who want the power and versatility of a compact super-zoom without the complications.

 

 



Good points
18x Nikkor optical zoom.
1080p30 HD video.
Good range of fast burst modes.
Easy panorama mode.

Bad points
No GPS.
Lacks manual exposure control.
Effects filters are a bit tired.
No stabilisation for movies.




Scores

(relative to 2011 compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

16 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20
16 / 20

80%


   

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