Nikon S9100 pocket super-zoom.

Jun 19, 2011 (Updated Jun 20, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Easy to use, with full array of automated creative functions suitable for most users.

Cons:No manual override.  Maximum telephoto focus lock can be sluggish and sometimes unpredictable.

The Bottom Line: Great for anyone wanting versatility, pocket-ability, creativity and quality images with go everywhere camera in a camera.  Still and video with a lens suitable for most situations.


Nikon S9100 super-zoom pocket camera review.Nowadays many consumers are looking for small pocketable portable cameras that are extremely versatile. The Nikon CoolPix S9100 is one such camera. The S9100 comes with a 12.1 million pixel image sensor, an 18 X optical zoom with an equivalent optical focal length of 24 two 450 mm. The camera uses an image shift sensor for vibration reduction, in conjunction with electronic vibration reduction for movies.

While I own a comprehensive DSLR (digital single lens reflex with multiple lenses) camera kit, I was looking for a small pocket camera that could go everywhere with me without being noticed, lightweight and yet be versatile.  What I call a walk-a-bout camera. The Nikon CoolPix S9100 weighs in at 494 grams (1.3 pounds) with battery including the small and light Nikon CoolPix leather belt case.  The S9100 goes almost everywhere with me and is seldom noticed even when I pull it out to take photos.

The normal close focus range of the lens at wide-angle is 50 cm or 1'8", at telephoto it is 1.5 m or 5 feet. In macro mode, the lens can focus as close as 4 cm or 1.6 inches at its wide angle position. Macro mode can also be used with a very slight telephoto to provide a greater working distance. An indicator on the LCD Zoom bar will show green when you are within the available zoom range for macro use. While it takes a little getting used to at first, the macro mode works very well and provides high quality images in good light.

The 9100 can provide ISO (light sensitivity) ranges from 160 All the Way up to 3200. The new Nikon backlit sensor does an incredible job of maintaining relatively low noise as compared to other 1/2.3 sensors. Noise is very well controlled for a small camera, up to ISO 400, and capable of producing quality prints up to 16 X 24 with good conditions. ISO 800 can produce decent prints up to 11 X 14, and ISOs 1600 and 3200 can produce usable 5 x 7 and 8 x 10 prints. Nikon has done an excellent job with keeping noise level down when compared to other small pocket cameras.

The real marvel of the CooPix S9100 is its remarkable lens. The lens offers a 35mm angle of view equivalent to 25–450 mm. This is an incredible range for a small pocket camera of its size. That is an 18x optical zoom with an optional 4X additional digital zoom.  The 18X optical zoom provides excellent sharpness and quality across its range. The 25mm (equivalent) wide-angle is classified as a very wide angle of view in the 450 mm (equivalent) is classified as a very long telephoto.  This lens range is classified as a super zoom. While there are larger super zooms available, they tend to be larger and heavier and do not qualify as pocket cameras.

As of the time of this writing, the Nikon S9100 provides one of the widest ranges of all pocket cameras. It does push the definition of pocket camera, and may not comfortably fit in many shirt pockets or pants pockets. However it will easily fit in jacket pockets, small purses, or the side leg pockets of Cargo–Carpenter pants or shorts. It may also be easily carried in a small belt case (which is what I do) and Nikon makes a very nice leather case just for that purpose which is both stylish and unobtrusive.

Since pocket cameras do not have viewfinders the user must rely on the LCD display on the back of the camera for aiming, composing and viewing images. The LCD display on the S9100 is state-of-the-art and above average quality. It has a 921K dot LCD which is a very high resolution display for such an affordable pocket camera. Most pocket camera LCDs today are about half that resolution. However, more and more manufacturers are moving towards higher resolution displays. The S9100 display also has a 5 level brightness adjustment so that each user can adjust the display brightness for their shooting conditions or preferences. For instance if you are inclined to wear sunglasses outdoors while shooting you may want to set the brightness of the display to its highest level. But if you're shooting indoors, for instant at a child's play or show where the house lights are very low, you may want to reduce the brightness of the LCD display.

The Nikon S9100 uses a combination of both mechanical and electronic shutter. Under normal use the shutter speeds will vary from one second to 1/1000 second. However in the fireworks show scene mode, the camera is capable of exposures as long as 4 seconds to capture the full effects of fireworks. You will want to place the camera on a tripod or other solid method of stabilizing the camera for such long exposures as it is nearly impossible to handhold the camera for such a long time. The camera also provides a self timer choice of either 2 seconds or 10 seconds. 2 seconds is ideal if you have the camera on a tripod for long or nighttime exposures, as it lets you press the shutter, move your hand back and gives the camera time to stop shaking before taking the picture. 10 seconds of course is time enough for you to press the shutter and get in the picture yourself.

The camera menus are available in 24 different European and Asian languages, so this camera can be used around the world even by non-English speaking individuals. This makes it an excellent world travel camera, not that you could easily hand off to another person.The S9100 uses a Nikon proprietary rechargeable lithium ion battery that is rated at approximately 270 pictures per charge. However your usage may vary and can be somewhat less than that under heavy usage with high speed, flash or zooming use, or can be much more than that with conservative use and keeping the camera off when not needed. The 270 pictures per charge rating is based upon the CIPA standard and and considers that the zoom is used on every shot, while the flash is used on every other shot. From my experience shooting in good daylight conditions with less then 25% flash use 350 shots per charge is very doable with only light flash use.  The charging time for fully drained battery is just under four hours when using the provided charger. A nice feature of this camera is that when connected to a powered computer via USB the camera will also be charged by the USB port though it may take longer for a full charge. This is very nice though when traveling and if you have a laptop computer that is connected to a power source, the camera will actually charge while you are downloading or viewing your photographs on the computer. The battery is also rated as good for approximately 1 hour and 20 min. of video per charge.

VIDEOThe Nikon S9100 is primarily a still photo camera, but it will also provide very good video all the way up to 1080P HD video (1920x1080 pixels). It can output video directly from the camera in either NTSC (the US standard) or PAL (European standard) video, or in HDMI (high definition) video at 480P, 720V, and 1080i. Cables are provided for both standard video output and HD video output.

The camera has 74 MB of built in memory but this is sufficient for less than a dozen photos at maximum resolution. You will want to get an additional SD memory card to expand storage memory. The camera supports all the latest SD memory card standards including SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards. With a 4 GB memory card you can capture 662 maximum resolution photographs. With a 32 GB memory card you can capture more than 5000 maximum resolution photographs. Of course if you shoot video the number of still photographs will be substantially reduced relative to the amount of memory required for video storage.

FEATURES:The Nikon S9100 comes with six special effects that can be added to pictures in camera at the time that you shoot them. You can actually view the effect on the LCD at the time you shoot, so you know what the outcome will be. 1.)  The first effect is SOFT and the purpose is to soften the image by adding a very slight blur. This is very effective for close-up head and shoulder portraits to minimize skin defects and add a soft glamour look to the photo. It is also useful for landscapes were you want to provide a somewhat mystical or dreamy appearance. 2.)  The second effect is NOSTALGIC SEPIA in this adds a sepia (brownish) tone and reduces the contrast to simulate the qualities when old film photograph. 
3.)  The third effect is HIGH CONTRAST MONOCHROME and converts the image to black and white and gives it a sharper contrast. This will provide an appearance of a journalistic or art photograph. 4.) HIGH KEY gives the entire image a brighter tone emphasizing highlights. 
5.) LOW KEY gives the entire image a darker tone emphasizing shadows.  6.) SELECTIVE COLOR is a little more challenging to learn to use but it allows you to select a specific color and when you take the photograph only that color will show and all other colors will be converted to black and white. This is useful for on artistic effect where perhaps you wanted a red rose to stand out in the photograph but wanted all other colors to be black and white.

The Nikon S9100 also comes with an excellent array of scene modes. These can be selected automatically by the camera by choosing the SCENE AUTO SELECTOR  on the mode dial which is the word scene with a heart. The camera Will attempt to analyze the photographic scene and determine automatically the optimum settings. You may also choose the standard SCENE mode and manually choose from the following scenes which are designed to optimize exposure in camera settings for the type of image. The included scenes are as follows: PortraitSportsBeachSunsetClose-up (macro)MuseumBlack and whitePet portraitLandscapeParty–indoorSnowDusk DawnFoodFireworks showPanorama.
In addition to those scenes there are three additional scenes on the mode dial. 1.) The first is NIGHT LANDSCAPE which is designed to optimize city or country landscapes at dusk or at night. 2.) The second is NIGHT PORTRAIT which tries to balance flash exposure with the background so that you capture not just the individual against a dark night background but also capture some of the background imagery. 3.) The third is BACKLIGHTING intended for use when the primary light may be behind the subject and you want to capture detail in both the subject and the background. In this last setting the camera actually shoots a series of images at high speed with each image at a different exposure and creates a composite image that provides good highlight and shadow detail that would not the attainable under normal shooting circumstances. This type of image is also known as HDR (Hight dynamic range) and is a technique often used by professional photographers to gather more detail in a high contrast image. BACKLIGHTING can be used not just when the primary light is behind the subject but also any time when the contrast of a particular scene is too great to be captured in a single photograph. It is an excellent option for landscapes that include both rights sky in dark foliage or earth. The owners manual includes much more detail on all this seems and how best to use them.


The EASY PANORAMA scene mode is very well implemented. It is used when you want to create a very wide vista of either 180° (a half circle) or 360° (a full circle) image.  One of the things I liked most about Nikons panorama mode, is that you simply select the mode and then start moving the camera in the direction desired and it will sense which direction you are moving. You can use it horizontally from left to right or right to left, or vertically from down to up or up to down. Now the limitation of the panorama mode which is consistent with panorama mode on most other pocket cameras, is for a horizontal image the vertical dimension is only 720 pixels. If you're shooting vertically such as in photographing a tall building, the horizontal image limitation will be 1080 pixels. While not documented in the manual I discovered that by holding the camera vertically you can still scan horizontally and will get a horizontal panorama with with a high a 1080 pixels. I have tried the panorama mode on several other point and shoot type cameras in the Nikon EASY PANORAMA is one of the easiest to use and provides quality equivalent to the best of the bunch.

The Nikon CoolPix S9100 also provides a more advanced panorama mode called PANORAMA ASSIST.  With this mode the camera guides you to take a series of pictures at full resolution and then two composite them together on the computer using the panorama maker five software provided with the camera. With this approach you can create near professional quality panoramas capable of stretching across a living room wall. Shooting speed for still photographs at maximum resolution is about 9.5 frames per second. However, the camera buffer is somewhat small and can only capture 5 frames in a single burst. So the highest speed shooting function is only useful for 5/10 of a second. In continuous low-speed mode the camera can capture up to 24 images at 1.8 frames per second at the highest resolution.

Last but not least, the Nikon S9100 is a capable video camera suitable for average home and vacation videos and provides some creative options. It can shoot at the following resolutions.  Video mode is activated by pressing a single red button on the top right of the camera and will take advantage of special effects in the scene modes that are set for still photographs. HD 1080P (the highest currently available HD mode)HD 720P iFrame (960x640 pixels)VGA (640x480 pixels) It also provides the following 4 HS (high speed) video modes.HS 240 at 240 frames per second (320x240 pixels) which will provide an 8X slow motion effectHS 120 at 120 frames per second (640x480 pixels) which provides a 4X slow motion effectHS 60 at 60 frames per second (1280X720 Pixels) which provides HD quality 2X slow motion effectHS 15 at 15 frames per second (1980x1080 Pixels) which provides a full HD 2X fast motion effect.

So in addition to standard home and vacation video you could for instance photograph your golf swing at HS240 and then play it back at 1/8th of the speed to analyze every aspect of your swing and motion just like the pros do, or you could photograph a sunrise, sunset, clouds, etc at HS15 and play it back twice as fast as normal. Video mode can also make use of many special effects and scene modes with the video as well.

SUMMARYThe Nikon CoolPix S9100 is a camera designed for easy amateur use under a wide variety of conditions and capable of very creative and innovative photography.  I would recommend this camera for people who wanting to be able to take creative high quality photographs and videos without worrying about all the technical details.  It is not a camera for advanced photographers who like extensive manual control and want to be able to override specific functions with precision as the camera has no manual overrides. The user must utilize only the built in scene modes or by using SCENE AUTO SELECTOR allow the camera to select the best recommended mode based on its analysis of the photographic scene. From my experience SCENE AUTO SELECTOR works well at least 80% of the time.

The high ISO settings of 800-3200 provide above average quality for small sensor (1/2.3 size sensor) cameras, though noise is noticeable.


I have posted a few photos I took with the Nikon S9100 on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lightweaver2/sets/72157626873877385/ 
 
 


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