By Josh Fate
For a camera sporting an 18x optical zoom lens, The S9100's body is very compact. Less than 1.5-inches thick, this camera is very easy to carry, which makes it even more versatile. It is very comfortable and easy to use with either one hand or two. With only automatic shooting modes, the menus have been kept short and simple, so it is always quick and easy to find and change any camera setting. Framing and viewing your images is easy, and a pleasure with the ultra high resolution 3.0-inch, 921,000 dot Clear Color Display LCD screen. The incredible amount of detail is a big help with composing your images and makes it fun to share your images with others while they are still on the camera. With its anti-reflection coating and 5 levels of brightness, this screen is very easy to see in all lighting conditions.
Looking at our outdoor image samples, we see a sharp, very bright image. Some may find the brightness to be a bit strong (slight overexposure), which in turn dulls the colors within the images a bit; but then this could all come down to your personal preference. There are some chromatic aberrations in high contrast areas, like around the power lines in several of our outdoor samples. Helping to compose your photos, and giving this compact camera its versatility, is the 18x NIKKOR ED optical zoom lens. This impressive unit offers a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 25-450mm. With a maximum aperture of f/3.5, it handles low light situations well, especially when combined with the special night shooting modes on the S9100. The lens helps the S9100 capture sharp images throughout the zoom range. At the wide end of the 18x optical zoom you will also see some barrel distortion, which is quite typical.
Our indoor image samples are well exposed and tack sharp throughout. They also showed accurate and realistic colors when shooting with or without the flash. ISO 160 through 800 show very little, if any, noise within the image, depending on the setting, and are all very good for the individual setting. At ISO 1600, there is a big jump in the amount of noise present. Even when viewing this image at your monitors full-screen resolution (anywhere from 20-30%, depending on the size), you can see a big change in the color and clarity of the image. 1600 and 3200 are both unacceptable when it comes to image quality. Assisting with your low-light and indoor images is a small flash that pops up out of the camera body. With a range of just 13ft. (W) at ISO auto, this is a very limited range that shrinks rapidly when you add in the large 18x optical zoom. Your best bet when using it will be to stay as close as possible to your subject and keep zoomed out.
Shooting portraits with the S9100 is very easy thanks to the camera's face detection software. While it isn't the quickest to detect a face, it does find them quickly and follows them well. Our sample image shows a great deal of skin textures and an excellent overall exposure based on the subjects face. The camera's auto flash setting did an excellent job of not showing any redness in the eyes by firing the red-eye reduction flash. The camera also features a blink warning, which alerts you if it notices that a detected face within the frame is caught blinking in a captured image.
The S9100 has several special shooting modes, including some very impressive burst capabilities that also allow for special night shooting modes. In burst shooting the camera is capable of up to 5 full-sized images in just 1/2 second, or it can capture a 1-Megapixel image at 120fps. These burst speeds also allow the camera to take and combine several night images quickly to create a brighter night image with less noise than a single exposure. It also allows the camera to be used hand held in a night situation that would normally require a tripod.
Another great feature that Nikon added is the ability to capture full 1080p HD videos with stereo sound; with just one touch of the dedicated video recording button, no matter what shooting mode the camera is currently in. This is great for any surprise situation when an image just might not be enough. While the videos play back very smoothly on the camera and on an HDTV, computers might struggle a bit with playback. Recording the audio for your home movies, are two small microphones built into the top of the camera. As with most other digicams, these mics are very small and sensitive; capturing all of the noises that are closest to the camera. They also pick up wind and background noises very easily. Nikon has included a wind reduction setting that will cut down on this a little, but the best prevention is to position yourself out of the way.
Powering the S9100 is a 3.7V, 1050mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery. During our tests, we were able to capture over 130 images and several short videos without worrying about the battery running low. This fits well with the estimated 270 images (CIPA) that Nikon claims can be captured on a single charge. As Nikon is promoting this camera as a great travel camera, you will want to have a spare battery charged and on hand at all times; because it can be easy to capture more than 250 images during the day on a shooting trip or vacation. This can be a little difficult as the battery is charged in the camera instead of in a portable AC charging unit. However, charging in the camera is very easy thanks to the included USB power adapter, so you can top off the battery with from any standard USB port.
Bottom Line - Nikon's CoolPix S9100 is an incredibly compact camera when you consider that it is featuring an 18x wide NIKKOR optical zoom lens. What's more is the S9100 sports a 12-Megapixel backside illuminated CMOS imaging sensor, Dual Image Stabilization, Full 1080p HD video capture and a slew of creative, automatic shooting modes that allow anyone to capture fun and creative images in any situation. Combine these features with excellent shooting performance and great overall image quality, and you have an appealing and incredibly versatile compact digicam. With a MSRP of US $329.95, this is great option for anyone that plans on traveling, or just shooting in everyday situations.
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