Nikon Coolpix S9300 review
1/2.3in 16.0-megapixel sensor, 18.0x zoom (25-450mm equivalent), 215g
For years we've moaned and groaned about camera manufacturers raising the megapixel ratings of cameras, something that gives extra detail that we don't particularly need and extra noise that we definitely don't want. Then came cameras like the Nikon S9100 with its modestly rated 12-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor. This kind of sensor tends to produce much less noise than CCDs, and the S9100 marked the first time we'd seen one in a pocket ultra-zoom camera. Finally, here was something we'd wanted for years, a camera with a big zoom for outdoor photography and low noise for indoors.
Sadly, Nikon seems to have forgotten what made the S9100 such a success. The updated S9300 uses a back-illuminated CMOS sensor, but the resolution has been increased to 16 megapixels. Its photos may be bigger than the S9100's but they exhibit more noise, even in brightly lit shots, and there's no appreciable increase in detail levels. By ISO 400, the S9300's output is significantly scruffier, with multi-coloured blotches in darker parts of images. By ISO 1600, the older model exhibits both lower noise and sharper details thanks to the liberal amount of noise reduction applied by the S9300.
The higher resolution and bigger files also take their toll on performance. Shot-to-shot times remain reasonably quick at 1.5 seconds, but continuous mode has dropped from 10fps to 6.3fps and now takes 16 rather than six seconds to save a batch.
It's important to compare the S9300 with its rivals, but this doesn't do it any favours. It exhibited slightly less noise than cameras with 16-megapixel CCDs, such as the Samsung WB150, but fell well short of the Canon SX260 HS and Panasonic TZ25, both of which use a 12-megapixel CMOS sensor.
There's not much visible grain here, but a synthetic gloss and spidery edges around the eye is evidence of heavy noise reduction processing - click to enlarge
The S9300 uses the same 18x zoom lens as the S9100, but by today's standards it's not so impressive. It delivered sharp focus at wide-angle settings but deteriorated as we zoomed in. Details looked a little hazy even after we'd resized photos to around 1 megapixel to fit a computer screen.
Focus in this telephoto shot is extremely soft - click to enlarge
It's a big disappointment because there's plenty to like about this camera. Its 3in, 921,000-dot screen is extremely sharp, for instance, its metal navigation pad doubles as a wheel, and adjusting settings is a breeze thanks to excellent menus. It doesn’t have manual exposure controls, but it’s possible to move the autofocus point around the frame.
GPS is built in, and its ability to stay active for a 24-hour period so that you can keep a log of the route travelled greatly impressed us, but of the hundreds of photos taken with this camera, only four were geo-tagged.
Nikon clearly knows how to make high quality cameras, but this effort to impress hapless shoppers with large megapixel ratings is a big disappointment, especially at this premium price.