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Nikon S9700 Review -- First Impressions

Preview posted

With the Nikon S9700, an interesting alternative is presented to last year's S9500. Both cameras are an easy fit for a coat pocket or purse, and they might even just slip into your pants pocket, if you're lucky. But the 16-megapixel S9700 trades away just a tiny bit of resolution and lens brightness, giving you instead a little more zoom range, a little greater sensitivity, a fair bit more display resolution, and a generous splash of internal storage. And it gives you those extra features without raising the list price by one cent.

To our mind, the reduction in resolution is -- on paper at least -- probably a good thing. Given that the 1/2.3-inch, BSI CMOS sensor is the same size as that in the earlier model, photodiode size should have increased, and that means a slightly better signal to noise ratio at each photodiode, all other things being equal. So perhaps you get a touch less resolution, but it should come accompanied by a touch less noise. The increase in maximum sensitivity -- a range from ISO 125 to 6400 equivalents is now available -- suggests that the theory has likely played out in the real world.

The Nikon S9700's lens offers 35mm-equivalent focal lengths ranging from a generous 25mm-equivalent wide-angle to a powerful 750mm-equivalent telephoto -- not too shabby for a pocket camera. Maximum aperture across that zoom range is rather dim, though, starting at f/3.7 and falling to f/6.4 by the time you reach the telephoto position. The optical formula of the lens includes 13 elements in 11 groups, with three ED elements amongst their number. The aperture diaphragm has just three blades. A 99-point contrast-detection autofocus system with face-priority, subject-tracking and target-finding functions is employed, and the closest focusing distance is just 0.4 inches (1cm) at the wide-angle position.

If that's not enough telephoto reach, what Nikon calls Dynamic Fine Zoom -- essentially, a more intelligent variation on digital zoom -- will take you out to an effective 1,500mm-equivalent, although fine detail is bound to suffer, and you'll want to shoot on a tripod with this powerful a telephoto. Thankfully, a hybrid of lens-shift type and electronic Vibration Reduction is included, which will help fight blur from camera shake.

Together with the unbranded image processor, the Nikon S9700's image sensor is capable of shooting at a rate of 6.9 frames per second for 5 shots (or a little under three quarters of a second). Sensitivities range from ISO 125 to 1600 equivalents ordinarily, and can be extended as high as ISO 6400 equivalent in Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, or Manual modes.

And yes, we did mention Program, Priority, and Manual shooting. Also catering to those of us who like a little control are a choice of matrix, center-weighted or spot metering, +/-2.0EV exposure compensation in 1/3EV steps, and seven white balance modes including preset manual. Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to 8 seconds, although the actual range available depends on aperture, ISO sensitivity, and drive mode. There's no external flash connectivity, sadly, but a built-in popup flash has a range of 19 feet at wide angle or 11 feet at telephoto, using Auto ISO sensitivity.

Beginners and amateurs are welcome too, thanks to a selection of 19 user-friendly Scene modes, including a Scene Auto Selector function that takes the guesswork out of deciding which scene type is appropriate.

You'll be framing and reviewing your images and movies on a fixed-position Organic LED monitor. It's a 3.0-inch, anti-reflective type with a high resolution of 921,000 dots.

As well as stills, the Nikon S9700 is a video capture device, capable of recording at up to Full HD (1080p/i; 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution with a rate of 60 fields or 30 frames per second. You can also shoot at a reduced rate of 15 or 12.5 frames per second for accelerated playback, or drop the resolution to VGA (640 x 480 pixel) resolution for frame rates as high as 120fps and slow-motion playback. Videos use H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC compression, and include LPCM stereo audio.

If you want to get your photos off your camera and online as quickly as possible, you'll be pleased to hear that the Nikon S9700 has built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. Simply transfer your images to your smartphone or connected tablet, and getting them onto social networks for friends and family to see is a snap! It also boasts a GPS receiver that can not only be used to geotag your images for quick recall on a map once you get home, but also offers track logging, point-of-interest, and electronic compass functions.

The Nikon S9700 draws power from an EN-EL12 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack, said to yield around 300 shots on a charge. Connectivity includes USB 2.0 High Speed data, NTSC / PAL standard-definition composite video, and Type-D Micro HDMI high-def video. Images and movies are stored on SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory cards, or in an unusually generous 329MB of built-in storage.

Available from February 2014, the Nikon Coolpix S9700 ships in two body colors: black or red. List pricing is set at around US$350.