Looking slick in its black incarnation at least, the S9100 has an attractively tactile rubberised non-slip surface to its faceplate and upper edges. The user's grip is further aided by a narrow strip running down the front of the camera to stop fingers sliding around, plus a thumb pad with 12 raised nodules at the back. Despite this, it still felt like the camera could easily slip from our grasp if we weren't using both hands to steady it. You'll want to do this anyway for added support at longer focal lengths.
Otherwise, the camera feels solid and reasonably weighty gripped in the palm, and like it will withstand the odd knock or drop - as long as the vulnerable lens isn't fully extended at the time that is.
Shooting modes are located around one of the tiniest shooting mode dials we've ever seen, part recessed into the right hand corner of the top plate and ridged so it can be turned with the thumb, while the finger is hovering expectantly over the shutter release button. Included among the eight options on the dial, and subsequent to those mentioned in our intro, are night portrait and night landscape modes, program auto mode, a 'scene selector' auto mode which recognises your subject and compares it against on-board presets, a regular scene mode with manually selectable presets (such as portrait mode, landscape and the 'Easy Panorama' setting), backlighting mode (which prompts the user to raise the funky sunken flash to compensate), continuous shooting mode, and lastly among the eight options, a digital 'effects' mode.
Such digitally applied filters have been gradually creeping into compact cameras, Olympus being one of the first to market with its Magic Filters, but here on the S9100 they're a little more conservative. We get a 'soft' effect, nostalgic sepia (not only rusty coloured but softened too), high contrast monochrome (one of the most distinctive options), high key, low key and selective colour options. There aren't however any fripperies like toy camera or day-glo 'punk' modes here.
While these effects are applied at the point of capture, there's also a limited amount of retouching built in to this Coolpix, via an Auto Levels style 'quick retouch' option which automatically adjusts brightness and colour saturation to reduce the need for post processing later. In-camera red eye fix, blink warning, smile timer and skin softening options also compete for turning your portraits into photo perfection. Soft, selective colour, plus fisheye and miniature effect filters can also be applied post capture via the playback menu.
As now expected on any camera costing around £300, HDMI connectivity is provided under a side flap, while, rather than being located alongside, a separate flap for AV output and USB 2.0 connectivity has been shunted onto the base where it nestles next to the compartment for the lithium ion rechargeable battery. Nikon hasn't included a standard mains charger into which the battery slots; instead it's recharged within the camera itself and connected up to a USB-equipped plug via the supplied standard USB cable. Whilst this saves on additional power leads and packaging, the knock-on effect is that even if you bought a spare battery for heading off on your travels, when it came to charging, the camera would still be fully tied up. At east battery life lasts around 270 shots from a full charge, which is about average.