Coolpix S9

Coolpix S9

Nikon Coolpix S9 Review

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Nikon Coolpix S9

Steve's Conclusion

Yet another "ultra-compact" model to add to Nikon's "S" series ranks, the Coolpix S9 is among the most compact point-n-shoot digicams that Nikon has to offer (as of March 2007). This new model is almost identical to the Coolpix S5 from last year. While being very compact (weighing in at just 4 oz. without battery or memory card, and measuring just .08-inches thick), the S9 boasts a 6-megapixel imager, internal Zoom-Nikkor 3x optical zoom lens, QuickTime VGA movie mode, 2.5-inch LCD as well as Nikon's exclusive Face Priority AF, D-lighting, and Red-eye Fix technologies. The only real difference in these models is the S9 does not feature an Underwater scene mode, but does include the new Stop-Motion movie mode. Aimed more towards beginner to novice users, this point-n-shoot offers the usual Auto exposure mode with limited adjustments for ISO, white balance, Color modes, etc. There's also 15 pre- programmed scene modes that help users capture great photos in various shooting environments.

The S9's ergonomics are somewhat difficult. This is a very small camera, and I found unless you use the "pinch" technique (using your left thumb and forefinger to pinch the left side of the camera), it can be hard to use. The controls on the back of the model are well placed, however, I did not like how the buttons were arranged on the top of the camera. The Zoom controls are where the shutter release should be. This made it uncomfortable to use, and because these controls are so "touchy" I found myself changing the zoom position when trying to capture a framed shot. The menu system is logically organized, which allowed for quick navigation. You can even choose the style (Text or Icons) in which menu options are displayed via the Menu's option in the setup menu. While the 2.5-inch LCD does not feature a anti-reflective coating, I found it a pleasure to use outdoors, even in the bright sunlight. The display was also effective indoors, intensifying the live image in marginal lighting to aid in shot composition.

Shooting performance is a bit sluggish. Power up to first image captured measured about 3 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between pressing the shutter release and capturing an image, averaged 1/10 of a second when pre-focused, but slowed to a leisurely 8/10 of a second including autofocus time. The shot to shot delay averaged about 2.5 seconds between frames without the use of the flash and between 3 and 5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. When using red eye reduction flash mode, the LCD blanks during the pre-flash, a critical period of about one second. The LCD also goes blank and the camera freezes while the flash is recharging.

There are three Sequential shooting modes to choose from; Continuous, Multi-shot 16, and Interval Timer. Continuous mode captured 10 images in 7.2 seconds. Multi-shot mode captures 16 frames in 7.2 seconds and combines them into a single 6M/Normal image. Interval Timer mode allows you to choose the interval between shots (30 sec.-10 min.) and once started, will continue to record until the sequence is stopped by pressing the shutter release. The LCD viewfinder briefly displays the last image captured in all Continuous modes, making it difficult to follow moving subjects; this is when an optical viewfinder would come in handy. All tests were done using a Lexar Professional 133x 2GB SD card, using 6M/Fine size/quality, flash off, welcome screen off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

The internal Zoom-Nikkor 3x optical zoom lens produced sharp results through the zoom range. There were moderate amounts of barrel distortion at wide angle as well as slight pin cushioning present at the telephoto end. Chromatic aberrations were also well-controlled, with only a small amount of purple fringing around subjects with high contrast. The lens moves smoothly and quietly, but not continuously; I counted 8 steps between wide angle and telephoto, which is adequate for most shot composition needs, but you may need to zoom a bit with your feet when you need to be precise. The 35-105mm (35mm equivalent) zoom range is typical for a camera in this class, offering a sufficient field of view for most interior and landscape shots, and a telephoto range useful for portraits and to bring your distant subjects a bit closer.

The S9's image quality results were good for a 6-megapixel consumer model. The majority of our outdoor samples showed good overall exposure and color saturation. Images were also nice and sharp, and thanks to the exposure system, sky detail was very pleasing. Image noise was average, becoming more noticeable as the ISO setting is increased. However, I don't see too many users of this camera taking it off of the Auto setting, and the camera seems to do a good job at keeping the sensitivity as low as possible.

Our portrait images, both indoors and out, were a bit on the soft side, even when using the Face Priority AF mode. However, a quick second in any photo editor or album software will take care of this problem. The redeye reduction flash mode was also fairly effective, aided both by the pre-flash and the camera's automatic Red Eye Fix feature. When shooting in marginal lighting, you'll have to work within the limits of the flash. Nikon claims the flash offers an effective range of about 10.5 feet when the lens is at full wide angle (ISO Auto.) I produced the best results from about 4 feet away, using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. The Macro mode can focus on a subject as close as 1.6-inches from the lens, and controls the flash well, "throttling down" to ensure that the subject is not overexposed. When shooting with natural light, the macro mode is complemented by the Best Shot Selector (BSS) feature, which captures a sequence of up to 10 images and saves only the sharpest one.

The S9 includes several unique features that help you overcome common causes of poor images:

  1. Blur Warning detects camera movement during the exposure, warning you that the image is blurred and giving you the choice of saving the picture or not. If you are satisfied, you can save it; if not, you can retake it with flash or Best Shot Selector on, ensuring that you leave with a better image.

  2. D-lighting solves a different problem, one of underexposure due to back lighting or insufficient flash coverage. D- lighting operates in image playback mode; if you find an underexposed subject, simply hit the OK button and the image will be brightened and displayed on the LCD monitor. If you like the result, confirm that you want it saved; it will be recorded with a different file name. You can see an example of D-lighting on our Sample Photos page.

Movies can be recorded at resolutions of 640x480, 320x240 or 160x120. The length of these clips is limited only by the amount of available memory. The S9 includes a microphone and movies are always recorded with sound; as a result, the optical zoom can be used to compose movies before recording starts, but not during recording. The Digital zoom can be used, but image quality will be degraded. The S9 allows you to set Full Time AF in movie mode, but it operates only before recording starts, not during. Movie quality was OK in 640x480 30fps mode, but like we saw with the S10, the last second or so of the clip contains no audio.

The S9 is powered by a proprietary EN-EL8 3.7v 730mAh Lion battery. Nikon claims you can record up to 190 shots on a fully charged battery. I found battery life was good, capturing about 80 sample images and several movie clips as well as concluding our other testing before the low battery warning was displayed. As always, to avoid missing that unique photo op, we suggest you purchase a spare and keep it charged and ready at all times.

Bottom line - The Nikon Coolpix S9 is a mixed bag. While offering good image quality, loads of user-friendly exposure modes, and a stylish "ultra-compact" body, the sluggish shooting performance dwindles a lot of its appeal. So, if you're in the market for an extremely pocketable camera, then we suggest also looking at other cameras, like the Canon PowerShot SD630, Casio Exilim EX-Z600 or Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W35 just to name a few.

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