Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
    Nikon S9700 275 wide.jpg
  • 16-megapixel BSI CMOS Image Sensor
  • 30x Optical Zoom Lens
    • 60x Dynamic Fine Zoom (digital)
    • 25-750mm (35mm equivalent)
  • Lens Shift Vibration Reduction (VR)
  • 1080/60i HD Video Recording
  • Hybrid Vibration Reduction (VR)
  • 3.0-inch OLED Display (921K-dot)
  • Built-in Wi-Fi 
  • Built-in GPS
Pros
  • Extremely sharp images in most shooting conditions, even at full telephoto setting
  • Hybrid Vibration Reduction feature works very well
  • Versatile camera with plenty of useful features
  • 30x optical zoom lens is impressive in this thin of a camera
  • Shot-to-shot delays are minimal
  • Shutter lag is not noticeable
  • Continuous shot modes are impressive with varied options
  • OLED display screen offers extremely sharp images
  • Built-in GPS and Wi-Fi included
  • Good battery life when shooting still images 
  • Ability to charge camera using USB cable while connected to computer
Cons
  • Image quality is good, but lags some other models in this price range
  • ISO 800 and higher photos will show noise
  • Chromatic aberration is noticeable in high contrast photos
  • No touch screen or articulated display screen
  • Those who won't use GPS and Wi-Fi capabilities won't receive as good of a value
  • Wi-Fi and GPS functions can be a little confusing to set up and use
  • Playback features are a bit odd
  • Camera's shooting interface could be better designed
  • Menu structure could use an updated design
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 1.9 seconds
  • Power up to first image captured with welcome screen on = 3.7 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused = about 0.1 seconds
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 0.1 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay w/ flash = 1.5 seconds (review off), 2.3 seconds (minimum review on)
  • Shot to shot delay w/o flash = 1.1 seconds (review off), 1.9 seconds (minimum review on)
  • Continuous Shot High = 5 frames in 0.8 seconds at 16M
  • Continuous Shot Low = 10 frames in 4.6 seconds at 16M
  • Pre-Shooting Cache = 25 frames in 1.1 seconds at 1M
All tests were taken using a PNY Class 10, 16 GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, Flash off, Review on, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
Having a 30x optical zoom lens in a camera that measures only 1.4 inches in thickness makes the Nikon Coolpix S9700 a model well worth considering, as few thin cameras can match such a large telephoto option. The S9700 also works extremely fast with minimal shutter lag and shot-to-shot delays. Throw in built-in GPS and Wi-Fi capabilities, and the S9700 is a great option for travel photography, as it's easy to carry, creates good photographs, and it has plenty of flexibility to meet almost any type of photography situation. The S9700 struggles a bit in low light photos, and a larger image sensor would allow this model to shoot photos that could be printed sharply at large sizes, but it's still a very nice camera that's good for shooting vacation photos.
Pick This Up If...
You want a thin camera that will fit in a pocket but that provides plenty of flexibility, including a large zoom lens, sharp images throughout the zoom range, and extremely fast performance levels.
Although the Nikon Coolpix S9700 looks like a basic performer at first glance, this model has quite a few really nice features that make it a strong, versatile camera.

The one area where the S9700 struggles a little versus some other cameras near its suggested manufacturer's price tag of about $350 is in overall image quality. This Coolpix model does a nice job creating photographs that are of a good quality, but it lags a bit behind some of the other cameras in this price point; in large part because Nikon chose to include a smallish 1/2.3-inch image sensor with 16-megapixels of resolution inside the S9700.

Still, the Coolpix S9700's image quality is good enough that you probably won't notice flaws unless you're shooting with a high ISO or attempting to make large prints. As you can see from the images on our Samples Page, the Nikon S9700 creates some really sharp and well exposed images.

Even with a few issues with image quality in certain shooting situations, the S9700 has enough other extremely useful features that it justifies its starting price. And if you can find this model at a bargain price, it's well worth the investment because of those extra features, starting with the powerful 30x optical zoom lens.

Many thin ultra zoom cameras struggle a bit with image sharpness, especially when shooting at the maximum telephoto setting. With the Hybrid Vibration Reduction technology that Nikon included with the S9700, this model can record sharp images throughout the zoom range of its lens, even when hand-holding the camera. The Hybrid VR combines lens-shift VR with digital VR, and it seems to work very well.

Low light photos provide a bit of a mixed set of results with this model. If you can shoot with the popup flash, you're going to have very nice results most of the time. The popup flash only opens automatically when needed -- there is no flash button on the camera -- but you will have to close it manually. Nikon gave this popup flash extra hinges and springs that allow it to extend farther from the camera body versus what's found on other models, which reduces problems with vignetting (or shadows from the lens appearing in images).

If you have to rely on an elevated ISO setting to shoot in low light though, the results will be more disappointing. The Nikon S9700 only offers a maximum ISO of 6400, and such photos show significant noise. In fact noise is evident beginning at ISO 800, which is disappointing for a model in this price range.

Having a 30x optical zoom lens available in a camera that measures only 1.4 inches in thickness is a great feature that isn't common in the fixed lens camera market. You'll have quite a lot of flexibility when using the Nikon S9700 as an everyday type of camera or as a really good travel camera.

When shooting near the maximum focal length for the S9700's lens, you likely will notice problems with chromatic aberrations, primarily in areas of high contrast where light areas meet dark areas. Again this is a bit of a disappointment for a camera in the $300-plus price range.

One great feature of the Coolpix S9700 that you won't see at first glance is its fast internal processor. The S9700 can shoot its first photo within 2 seconds of pressing the power button (as long as you turn off the welcome screen in the camera's menus), and its shutter lag and shot-to-shot delays are minimal. You have quite a few burst mode options too, which all work well.

I found the Nikon S9700 to be a camera that's relatively easy to use, while also offering quite a few manual control options. So you can control the camera's settings as much or as little as you want with this model, making it a nice camera that can meet your needs as your photography skill level improves. 

One area that may be a bit confusing for photographers is the S9700's menu structure, which offers differing commands as you change shooting modes, sometimes making it tough to find the exact command you want to use. As with other Nikon consumer-level cameras, the menus aren't particularly well organized.

Nikon did not include any type of shortcut popup menu with this camera, meaning you have to work through the primary menus to make changes to most of the settings. In some shooting modes you can use the four-way ring to change the aperture or shutter speed, but overall it's a bigger hassle than it needs to be to change the camera's shooting settings.

Playback mode is a bit odd with this model too. You don't have much control over what information is displayed with each stored image, and you won't have access to histograms or detailed camera setting information unless you download the photos into a computer's image editing program. This can be disappointing when you're trying to test a variety of aperture settings while in the middle of a photography session for example, and you want to look back at the stored images to see what settings have been used. 

The Coolpix S9700 has a high-resolution 3.0-inch OLED screen that's sharp and bright. And it's easy to see even in the glare from sunlight, because of an anti-glare coating on the display screen. Unfortunately Nikon didn't give this unit touch screen capabilities, which would have made the camera even easier to use. 

Nikon included built-in GPS and Wi-Fi capabilities with this model, and while those features will drain the battery much more quickly than shooting photos and videos alone, having such options available enhance the flexibility of this camera. If you don't think you'll ever make use of Wi-Fi or GPS in your camera though, you likely will want to skip the Coolpix S9700 because you're paying extra for this camera because of these features. The Wi-Fi and GPS features can be a little tricky to set up and use, so be prepared to spend some time learning how to use them properly. You won't want to be wrestling with these features for the first time when you truly need them in the middle of a photography session.

Battery life is good with the Nikon S9700, other than when GPS and Wi-Fi are activated. Some thin ultra zoom cameras struggle with battery performance because the battery must remain small and thin to fit the camera body, yet also must power the zoom lens mechanism. The S9700 is above average in terms of battery performance compared to other thin ultra zoom models. And Nikon gives you the option of charging the Nikon S9700 through a USB connection to your computer, which is a really useful option. Nikon included a USB cable and an adapter with this model, meaning you must charge the battery while it's inside the camera, so you may want to consider purchasing a second battery.

Movie quality is good with the S9700, and the full zoom range is available. Nikon provided an HDMI port with this camera, and numerous video resolution options can be used.

Bottom Line - Nikon has created a versatile ultra zoom camera with its Coolpix S9700. Nikon has paired a relatively thin camera body with a 30x optical zoom lens, which gives the S9700 usefulness in a variety of shooting situations. With an MSRP of $349.95 it does have a bit of a high price point, considering it only includes a 1/2.3-inch 16MP image sensor. Images recorded with the Coolpix S9700 are extremely sharp throughout the lens' zoom range, as the Hybrid Vibration Reduction feature Nikon included with this model works well. The S9700's image quality isn't quite as good as some other cameras in this price point, especially if you must increase the ISO setting to the middle of the range. But the camera's overall image quality is still going to be easily good enough for everyday photography. Unless you plan to make extremely large prints, you likely won't notice the S9700's flaws regarding image quality. Perhaps the best feature of the Nikon S9700 versus other thin ultra zoom cameras is this model's fast response times. Shutter lag is not really noticeable and shot-to-shot delays are minimal, which isn't common in these types of cameras. All of the S9700's features make this an almost ideal travel camera. You can place it in a pocket, but it still creates images that are sharp enough and of a high enough quality that you can trust this camera with important vacation photos. And the 30x zoom will undoubtedly come in handy many times while traveling. Whether this camera will be a good value for you will depend in large part on whether you plan to use the GPS and Wi-Fi features, which do add a bit to the cost of the Coolpix S9700 versus other thin ultra zoom models.

Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.

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