A press of the top plate power button and in just over a second the camera readies itself for action. The rear LCD blinks into life and lens extends from flush to the body to maximum wideangle setting with a low mechanical whirr a fraction later.
With, as expected, no optical viewfinder to fall back on, photos and video are composed via the aid of the 3-inch screen, which betters most at this level via its huge 920k resolution (against the average of 230k). Nikon also claims its screen cuts down on reflection in bright sunlight – the usual nemesis of LCD monitors. We were using the camera on a bright spring day and didn’t have any compositional issues, so while we didn’t particularly notice it being any better or worse than rivals in terms of visibility, its manufacturer’s claim can at least be said to hold up to scrutiny.
In terms of handling the camera is as responsive as we’d hoped for from a pocket compact to each button press. A half press of the shutter release button and, roughly in the time it took us to blink, focus and exposure had been determined, signalled by the auto focus point glowing green and a loud confirming bleep. Take the shot and a full resolution, least compression JPEG is committed to SD, SDHC or SDXC card or modest internal memory in just under two seconds – respectably swift once again.
This being your typical point and shoot, albeit with a class leading lens and a dose of style, the accent is on user friendly operation. The S9100’s back plate buttons are few and so won’t flummox anyone trading up from a lower priced point and shooter. Delete, playback and menu get their own buttons, in addition to the video record button, with the largest control being a familiar four way control pad encircled by a scroll wheel. As you can press down on the edges of the pad to tab through menu options, you don’t have to use the wheel at all if you don’t want to, although it is faster. The fact that Nikon has given it a roughened surface at least ensures it’s less fiddly under the thumb than similar controls found on the Canon PowerShot range. Bascially, you have a best of both worlds’ set up.
In terms of image quality we felt the results bettered those from the 12 megapixel P500 we were playing with alongside it. The images were more colourful as a default straight from the camera, and the tones were truer. We were also pleased with the level of sharpness delivered, being less soft than those from the P500 at longer focal lengths. It is possible to shoot at extreme telephoto setting on the S9100 and get usable results as our test shots hopefully attest to.
Although there’s softening of detail to limit the appearance of image noise at ISO800 and above, we can live with that. Again, given the fact that this is a point and shoot model aimed at the general user rather than nit picking photo enthusiast.
At first glance the S9100 is slickly styled like a high end enthusiasts’ compact complete with top plate mode dial, sunken flash and stereo microphones. But while there is a smattering of creative options here, it’s pretty much an ‘auto everything’ point-and-shoot model.
If you do truly want everything in the one package, what it lacks to make it top dog in the travel zoom stakes is built-in GPS – and possibly a toughened shock dampening chassis – but then again that would add £50 to £100 to the price tag.
For those users who don’t require a whole host of features but who nevertheless see the value in a broader than average focal range, the Nikon Coolpix S9100 can hold its head, or rather lens, up amongst the industry leading Panasonic TZ models of this world. The price is fair, and for what’s being asked the performance is fair too.