Nikon S9 Review
|Dimensions:||3.6 x 2.3 x 0.8 in.
(91 x 58 x 20 mm)
|Weight:||4.1 oz (115 g)|
Nikon Coolpix S9 Digital Camera
by Dan Havlik
Review Date: 12/08/2006
Nikon continues to add to its popular S-series of Coolpix cameras with the new 6-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S9, a lower priced (and lower-end) model that keeps the attractive slim look of its predecessors while eliminating some noteworthy features. Retailing for $250 -- about $100 less than what the Nikon S5 debuted at -- the Nikon Coolpix S9 combines a prism-folded Nikkor ED-branded 3x optical zoom lens (38 - 114 mm in 35mm equivalent) with a six megapixel image sensor, a 2.5" LCD display, and 15 beginner-friendly scene modes.
The Nikon Coolpix S9 also includes a One-Touch Portrait button which uses "D-Lighting" exposure correction technology, face-priority autofocus, and an in-camera red-eye fix function -- all working together to capture the best possible portrait image. Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode, which automatically chooses the sharpest from a series of images, is also included, along with an AE-Best Shot Selector mode that chooses the best-exposed image from a series.
Along with being able to record movies with sound at 640 x 480 resolution at 30 frames per second, the Nikon Coolpix S9 adds an unusual new stop-motion movie function that lets you make wacky live-action animated shorts. The feature is fun and fairly easy to use, with the Nikon S9 creating a Quicktime video of your stop-motion short right in the camera during playback.
To get that low $250 list price, however, the Nikon Coolpix S9 has given up several key features showcased on its S-series predecessors, including the easy-to-use jog wheel on back; the excellent Pictmotion multi-media slideshow function; and a significant decrease in resolution on the camera's 2.5-inch LCD screen. Read on to find out if this is just a case of trimming some fat on this ultra-slim camera or excessive corner cutting to meet a bottom line.
Nikon Coolpix S9 User Report
Slimmer Still. The Nikon Coolpix S9 keeps the attractive ultraslim design of the S-series while shaving off a fraction of an inch in length to make it 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.8 inches (91 x 58 x 20 mm). As I said in my review of the Nikon Coolpix S5, I like the flowing "wave-like" design of these latest S-series cameras because along with being wafer thin, the slight curve in the camera's beautiful silver chassis to accommodate the folded 3x zoom, makes it easier to hold. The Nikon S9 is also slightly lighter than the S5 at just 4.6 ounces (133 grams) with the proprietary lithium battery and SD Card installed. Because the camera uses folded optics, the lens does not extend even when zoomed out to 3x, which maintains its slender profile.
Ride the Wave. The luxurious wave design of Nikon's S-series Coolpix cameras continues on the lower-end Nikon Coolpix S9.
While the Nikon Coolpix S9 -- like the S5 -- sports what is perhaps the smallest power button on the market, either I've gotten used it or its become more touch sensitive on the S9. I no longer felt I needed the end of a paper clip to power on this camera. I still had a hard time figuring out where to position my fingers when shooting with the Nikon Coolpix S9 and several times mistakenly got one of my digits in a shot. Though, at first glance, the back of the camera looks very similar to the S5, the S9 has traded in the very fast and efficient jog wheel for a lower-end ring-shaped multi-selector button. That's a shame. I really liked the S5's wheel for easily getting around the camera's features and speeding through images in playback. Otherwise, everything looks pretty much the same on the back and front of the S9, with a slight rearrangement of the buttons.
Screen Stumble. Power on the Nikon Coolpix S9, take a few quick shots, and you'll notice there's big difference between this S-series budget model and its higher-end counterparts. While I praised the jumbo 2.5-inch screen on the S5 -- which had a wide viewing angle and several brightness adjustments -- the Nikon Coolpix S9's screen is mediocre by comparison. Even though the LCD is the same size, it only has 153,600 pixels of resolution on the S9 which produces slightly grainy images during live preview and pictures that looked blown out and blurry during playback.
With the inferior screen, Nikon was perhaps wise to not offer the multi-media Pictmotion slideshow function in favor of a basic slideshow playback. While Pictmotion looked pretty cool on the S5, with the lower resolution screen on the S9, it might have been disappointing.
Not Built for Speed. Since it's obviously designed as a snapshooter, the Nikon Coolpix S9 is no speed demon. So if you're looking to capture anything more than slow moving action, I suggest a different model. Though the S9 powers on fairly quickly, it's quite slow shot to shot and there's noticeable shutter lag even when you pre-focus. Our tests clocked the camera taking nearly a full second to capture a shot without half-pressing the shutter button at the widest focal setting. When pre-focused, the Nikon S9 still took a quarter of a second to capture a shot which is frustratingly slow if you're trying to capture candids.
The Nikon Coolpix S9 also defaults to a Blur Warning setting which, while useful, will slow you down if you're trying to snap pictures quickly. With Blur Warning on, a prompt on the screen will inform you if a picture you have taken is blurry and will then ask you if you want to save it. Unless you have a very small memory card in the camera, I'd advise turning that setting off immediately, because many images taken in low-light without a flash will trigger the blur warning.
The Nikon Coolpix S9 also suffers from early shutter penalty, which is when a camera refuses to snap another shot if you release and press the shutter too quickly in Single Shot mode. This can be particularly frustrating if you want to capture a sequence of images. When using this camera at a recent wedding in Austin, Texas I had to be very careful I didn't press the shutter button too quickly while trying to photograph the bridesmaids and groomsmen strolling down the aisle. In Continuous mode, the Nikon Coolpix S9 can capture approximately 1.7 frames per second which is below average for a camera in this class.
Nice By Day, Noisy at Night. Though the Nikon Coolpix S9 tended to overexpose images and blow out highlights in daylight, the camera's 6 megapixel sensor and Nikkor ED glass lens (f/3.5 - f/4.3) produced rich color and nice detail when shooting under optimum, well-lit conditions. Using the camera's One-Touch Portrait button which combines "D-Lighting" exposure correction technology, face-priority autofocus, and an in-camera red-eye fix function, I was able to get some nice portraits of the bride and her mom as well as of the Mariachi band which provided the music.
Under darker conditions, however, the Nikon Coolpix S9 was very disappointing. Light sensitivity on this model ranges from ISO 64 to 400, though 200 and above produced images with unusually high levels of noise. I wouldn't recommend using ISO 400 on this camera at all, even for email pictures, because of the heavy incidence of chroma noise. I noticed this particularly in shots of the groom's dark Burberry jacket which was speckled with multi-colored dots of image noise. The flash on the Nikon Coolpix S9 was also underpowered and failed to provide enough light in even moderately dark shooting environments such as during the wedding reception.
Stop-Motion Movie Mode. Though Nikon has cut some corners with the Coolpix S9 to make it more affordable not everything has been left out. Along with keeping the One-Touch Portrait function and Best Shot Selector mode, the camera has a fun new Stop-Motion movie feature for creating live action animated video shorts.
To use the feature, all you need to do is pose an object you want to animate -- toys and stuffed animals work great -- take a picture, reposition the object, and photograph it again. To guide you in your animation, opaque versions of previous shots are shown on the LCD to help line up your shots. Once you've finished, the Nikon Coolpix S9 automatically creates a silent Quicktime video of the animated short right in the camera. (The stop-motion movie will also work on your computer if you have Quicktime.) You can put together a total of 200 shots to make your movie, and frame rates can be set to 5fps, 10fps, or 15fps.
While making silly little stop-motion films that are perfect for YouTube is one option with this feature, if you have more time (and patience), this feature would be great for creating elaborate nature-oriented movies such as flowers opening or butterflies emerging from cocoons.
Another change on the Nikon Coolpix S9 is that the camera kit does not include Nikon's Coolstation Dock, which along with serving as a battery charger, also included USB and Audio Video connectivity for transferring images to a computer. While the dock is pretty cool, I actually prefer the small battery charger that comes with the S9 since like the camera, it offers good portability. According to CIPA standards, the camera's proprietary lithium-ion can take approximately 190 pictures on a single charge.
The Bottom Line. The Nikon Coolpix S9 is the budget model in Nikon's stylish S-series cameras and while it maintains the attractive slender looks of its predecessors -- and even manages to shave off a fraction of an inch in size -- the camera drops several of the other Coolpix S models' key features. Items dropped include the easy-to-use jog wheel on back and the excellent Pictmotion multi-media slideshow function. Nikon has also significantly decreased the resolution on the camera's 2.5 inch LCD screen. More significantly, image quality on this model -- particularly when shooting at ISO 400 -- lags behind most competing models in this class, with pictures showing excessive chroma noise in shadow areas. While the Nikon Coolpix S9 was obviously designed more for style than picture-taking, some of its imaging deficiencies are inexcusable. Even if you want to save a few bucks by buying this camera, there are better competing models for the same price.
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Nikon Coolpix S9
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- Rechargeable Li-ion battery
- Battery charger
- PictureProject CD-ROM
- Quick Start Guide and Instruction Manual
- CD-Rom Software
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card, 512MB to 1GB
- Soft camera case
- Additional battery pack
Though the attractive and slender Nikon Coolpix S9 looks a lot like its more expensive S-series counterparts, Nikon has cut corners on this model and made it significantly inferior. For one, this 6-megapixel camera produced excessively noisy images, especially when shooting at ISO 400. Shots I took of a bride and groom saying their wedding vows under a shady tree were riddled with chroma noise at ISO 400, especially in the groom's black suit jacket. Though the camera fared much better in brighter, daylight conditions, it had a tendency to overexpose images, so much so I had to crank exposure compensation down nearly half a stop to prevent blowing out highlights.
I was also disappointed that the camera did not have a jog wheel like other Coolpix S-series cameras as well as no Pictmotion slide show feature. The camera's LCD, while large, lacked the adequate resolution to produce crisp live preview and decent image playback The camera was also a rather slow all-around performer and demonstrated noticeable shutter lag and pokey shot-to-shot performance. On the plus side, it's nice that Nikon kept the handy One-Touch Portrait button on this model as well as Best Shot Selector mode. I also found the Nikon Coolpix S9's stop-motion movie function to be easy and fun to use. Overall though, this camera does not have enough going for it to qualify as a Dave's Pick. See the Nikon Coolpix S5 or Coolpix S7c for better image quality, and a better bargain in the long run.
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