Nikon COOLPIX S9100 450mm zoom camera 12mp

Nikon COOLPIX  S9100 is the perfect size and feel for a pocket camera. It looks to be all plastic, but the type of plastic and the quality of the build makes it look and feel like the best small cameras made these days. Startup time is about one second, and going from minimum zoom to maximum zoom takes about two seconds. Image quality is very good for a camera with a 1/2.33-type sensor, but certain very fine details like hair, or a bird's feathers in a low-contrast part of the bird's body may be smeared somewhat. This is apparently caused by the noise reduction software in the camera, which can't be turned down or off. On the other hand, my Canon SX-210 (which I replaced with the S9100) does not reduce noise much if at all, and the end result is a compromise between the two systems. I think the Nikon S9100 wins in that compromise though, since the images on average look better than the SX-210's. Pocket cameras that have much larger sensors (and consequently much less zoom) can often produce a better image with less noise, but you have to give up the long zoom, or put up with a much larger camera.

In my tests of the S9100's videos, using the highest quality 1080x1920 (1080p) setting, I did not see any clear superiority over the 720p videos from the Canon SX-210, or the Panasonic ZS3 that I also own. The ZS3's and SX-210's videos use about 3mb per second of filespace for the 720p movies, yet the Nikon S9100 uses only about 1.8mb per second to record 1080p movies at highest quality, day or night. Even if the S9100's video software is much more efficient, it doesn't account for such a disparity. 1080p is 2.25 times bigger than 720p in resolution, so I would expect 6.75mb per second if using the same video codec as the 720p cameras, or perhaps 3.5mb per second if the S9100's codec is twice as efficient. In any case, I don't see a major problem with video quality on the S9100 - where I have a problem is holding the camera steady when shooting movies at maximum zoom. Still photos are not much of a problem in good light, because the shutter speed will be high enough and the image stabilizer will help out. So I would recommend using a tripod, or bracing the camera against a solid object when shooting videos, especially at maximum zoom. If you use a tripod, or place the camera on a solid object so that there is no camera movement at all, you have to remember to turn the image stabilizer off or the video will not be sharp and clear.

Note: Many of the comments I've seen about blurry images from the S9100 could be due to using the camera on a tripod or placing it on a firm surface, and forgetting to turn the image stabilizer off. Then of course, you have to remember to turn it back on.

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Using the S9100 is easy enough, since the menus and controls are pretty well common to most pocket cameras these days. I especially like the separate video button, which has saved me from a lot of missed opportunities. There are a few nitpicks I have with the S9100, which I wish Nikon would fix in a probably more expensive camera. I would prefer an optical image stabilizer to the sensor-based stabilizer, I would like to have Spot Focus as an option on the menu, and I would like to have the option to adjust the amount of noise reduction, in case I wanted to do noise reduction on the computer with extra software.

Battery life with the S9100 is rated about average for a pocket camera, which I find is good enough for about three hours of use in the local parks, shooting 100 to 300 photos. How many photos you get on a battery charge depends on how many you shoot close together. If you have the camera on most of the time and keep it activated, and take very few shots, the battery will still run down in a few hours due to the LCD screen, to the image stabilizer, and other electronic features that are active when the camera is active. If you don't want to run out of power when you're out shooting photos, you should get a second battery (never, ever get anything except a genuine Nikon battery) and make sure both are charged up before heading out.

I gave the Nikon S9100 only four stars because it's not perfect, but in fact it's a very good camera - the best pocket zoom camera I know of, and a bargain I believe at the standard price. If a person learns to use the S9100 properly, accounting for its particular features and requirements, they should get excellent photos that in many cases would compete with photos from high-priced DSLR's.

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