Nikon Coolpix S9100
1/2.3in 12.0-megapixel sensor, 18.0x zoom (25-450mm equivalent), 214g
The Coolpix S8000 marked Nikon's surprisingly late entry to the compact ultra-zoom market, but it struggled to compete with the more established ranges from Panasonic, Canon and Samsung.
One year and two revisions later, the S9100 is a much more credible contender. It retains the S8000's elegant, contoured styling and superb 3in, 910,000-pixel screen, but the zoom range has almost doubled to 18x – the biggest ever to be squeezed into a compact-shaped camera.
Another big improvement is the switch from a 14-megapixel CCD sensor to a 12-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS. Excessive noise is a major problem for virtually all ultra-zoom cameras because of their tiny, excessively high-resolution sensors. This one's slightly lower resolution and back-illuminated design (which uses an innovative sensor layout to increase sensitivity) both bode well for noise levels.
It's an extremely responsive camera, taking just 1.6 seconds to fire up and capture a photo. We measured an average of 1.5 seconds between shots in normal use, while the continuous mode ran at a lightning-fast 10fps, albeit for just five frames. There's an alternative continuous mode that goes slower and lasts longer, plus even faster modes up to 120fps at reduced resolutions. It can record slow-motion video clips too, with a range of options to offset capture frame rate against resolution. As we've stated many times before, we love a bit of slow-motion video, and this implementation is as good as it gets.
The menus were quick to navigate, with the five-way pad doubling as a wheel for making adjustments. We'd have liked to have seen more immediate access to ISO and white balance settings plus manual exposure options on the mode dial, but the camera is otherwise well populated with useful controls including a spot focus option that can be positioned anywhere in the frame. We also really appreciate the release catch for the pop-up flash, which meant it only fired when we actively requested it.