For casual shooters and frequent travellers, some times all you need is a compact camera. Something small, and light that hopefully won’t break your back or neck after walking for a few hours. But then again, we always wished our compacts had that extra reach. Sure, cropping the picture is one way to achieve the zoomed in effect, but cropping too much may result in insufficient resolution when you want to print it.
The Nikon Coolpix S9100 fits nicely in between the heavy DSLRs and the prosumer compacts with its handy focal range of 25-450mm (that's 18x optical zoom). It also sports other niceties such as a 12.1-megapixel backside illuminated CMOS sensor and ISO sensitivity of up to 3200.
Let's be clear, the S9100 isn't an ultra-compact camera - so don’t expect it to have super slim dimensions. That’s not to say the S9100 is fat, just that the 18x optical zoom lens it’s packing results in a slightly bulkier body. Don’t be alarmed though, it’s still compact enough to carry in say, a lady's handbag. Weight-wise, it tips at scale at 214g (with battery and card loaded). Construction is also sturdy.
Over on the back of the camera, a 3-inch LCD screen occupies most of the space.There’s the scroll wheel which also can be used as a d-pad; we found this to be pretty useful as the scroll wheel helped us scroll through our photos quickly while the d-pad provided a measure of more precise control when adjusting the camera’s settings. There’s also a dedicated video record button, though we found the placement to be pretty annoying as our right thumb would press it by accident as we steadied the camera for a shot.
Despite looking pretty hi-tech for a compact, the S9100 is easy to use. There are the usual controls for self-timer, flash and exposure compensation, as well as auto-mode shooting and the other run-of-the-mill scene modes (which do produce some pretty good pictures if you ask us).
The S9100 takes two seconds to start up, which is fast for a compact camera. Focus is generally snappy and metering accurate. Image quality-wise, images are a tad on the soft side and could use some sharpening.
The S9100 also touts 1920 x 1080p (30fps) movie recording but it will show signs of judder in the video when zooming in or moving the camera about while filming. In general, it takes videos that are good to view on its LCD screen or on the web. You can even hook it up to a big-screen HDTV via HDMI.
The Coolpix S9100 does offer great zooming capability, but we don't see anyone using the camera at its 18x end without a tripod. Autofocus and starting up the camera are quick, and the user interface proved easy to use. However, image sharpness does fall short and it doesn't help that the image stabilization feature of the camera needs more work.