Nikon S9700 review
Sensor resolution: 16 megapixels, Sensor size: 1/2.3in, Viewfinder: No, LCD screen: 3in (921,000 dots), Optical zoom (35mm-equivalent focal lengths): 30x (25-750mm), 35mm-equivalent aperture: f/21-36, Weight: 235g, Size (HxWxD): 66x110x34mm
Packing a 30x zoom lens into a camera that's small enough to slip into a jeans pocket is an amazing achievement. Nikon isn't the only manufacturer to have done this in the last 12 months, though, so the S9700 needs to do even more to stand out.
The camera is off to a strong start thanks to a stylish body and an impressive list of features including Wi-Fi, GPS and slow-motion video recording. It also has an unusually generous 329MB of internal memory (so you'll be able to take a very useful 50 pictures even if you've forgotten to put a memory card back in), and comes with a two-year warranty.
The camera's mode dial includes priority and manual exposure control, scene modes, creative effects and a Smart Portrait mode that captures a photo as soon as it detects a beaming smile. There's no touchscreen but it's reasonably quick to move the autofocus point using the four-way pad. The rear wheel keeps shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation settings close to hand, but other functions such as white balance, ISO speed and continuous capture require a trip to the menu. There's a dedicated button to access a world map so you can see where GPS-tagged photos were taken – it's a shame this can't be reassigned to something more practical while shooting.
The S9700 didn't exactly blow us away in video tests. Details in 1080p clips looked a little coarse, although they were better than the Nikon S6800's clips. Colours were rich and flattering, and low-light videos weren't too noisy. The zoom motor was smooth and quiet, and the optical stabilisation kept handheld videos reasonably steady at the full 30x zoom extension. 1080p recording is at 25fps, but there's an option to record at 720p at 50fps, playing back at 25fps for slow motion.
The camera was initially a little slow to take photos, at 1.5s between shots. However, this fell to 1.1s after we disabled a Quick Effects feature that offered to apply a creative effect after each captured photo. Continuous shooting was at 5fps and lasted for just five frames, but with a fast SDHC card it was ready for another burst four seconds later.
We were initially unimpressed with the quality of photos, which exhibited the same slightly coarse details as videos. This meant the S9700 trailed behind its competitors for wide-angle and medium focal length photos taken in bright conditions, particularly for dense textures such as foliage and hair. The difference was only visible on close inspection, though, and not at typical on-screen viewing or print sizes.
^ There's nothing wrong with the lens's focus in this wide-angle shot, but fine details look coarse – we put this down to the JPEG processing engine – 1/800s, f/3.7, ISO 125, 25mm (equivalent)
^ The same is true at the long end of the zoom, but this is nevertheless a superb result for a compact-shaped camera – 1/250s, f/6.4, ISO 250, 750mm (equivalent)
^ There's a bit of detail smearing due to noise reduction at ISO 250, but once again it's an excellent result – 1/250s, f/6.4, ISO 250, 750mm (equivalent)
^ There's surprisingly little noise and still plenty of detail in this indoor shot – 1/40s, f/4, ISO 400, 36mm (equivalent)
^ The camera is unfazed by this strong backlight, producing balanced, flattering skin tones – 1/10s, f/4.5, ISO 400, 60mm (equivalent)
^ A very slow 1/5s shutter speed has still produced a sharp picture, and noise is controlled well – 1/5s, f/5.3, ISO 800, 99mm (equivalent)
Despite this poor start, the S9700's image quality proved to be remarkably resilient in more demanding shooting conditions. It delivered sharp focus at the long end of its massive 25-750mm zoom range, capturing the most detail in distant subjects we've ever seen from a compact-shaped camera.
Indoors, the S9700 was unfazed by a strong backlight, and captured warm, natural skin tones when shooting with the flash. It often used surprisingly slow shutter and ISO speeds in low light to minimise image noise, but its image stabilisation successfully minimised blur from camera shake. When we raised the ISO speed manually to 1600 and 3200, noise reduction obliterated fine details but produced images that looked presentable at modest sizes.
Image quality is a little disappointing in favourable shooting conditions, but the S9700 held its nerve in situations where other cameras faltered. With lots of features, nippy performance and a low price for a 30x zoom camera, this is the compact to get.
|Sensor resolution||16 megapixels|
|Focal length multiplier||5.55x|
|Viewfinder magnification (35mm-equivalent), coverage||N/A|
|LCD screen||3in (921,000 dots)|
|Photo file formats||JPEG|
|Maximum photo resolution||4,608x3,456|
|Photo aspect ratios||4:3, 16:9, 1:1|
|Video compression format||QuickTime (AVC) at up to 15Mbit/s|
|Video resolutions||1080p at 25fps, 1080i at 25fps, 720p at 25fps, VGA at 25fps|
|Slow motion video modes||720p at 50fps (1/2x), VGA at 100fps (1/4x)|
|Maximum video clip length (at highest quality)||29m 0s|
|Exposure modes||Program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual|
|Shutter speed range||8 to 1/2,000 seconds|
|ISO speed range||125 to 6400|
|Exposure compensation||EV +/-2|
|White balance||Auto, 5 presets, manual|
|Auto-focus modes||Multi, flexible spot, face detect, tracking, target finding|
|Metering modes||Multi, centre-weighted, face detect|
|Flash modes||Auto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, red-eye reduction|
|Drive modes||Single, continuous, self-timer, smile detect|
|Optical zoom (35mm-equivalent focal lengths)||30x (25-750mm)|
|Maximum aperture (wide-tele)||f/3.7-6.4|
|Closest macro focus (wide)||2cm|
|Closest macro focus (tele)||150cm|
|Connectivity||USB, Micro HDMI|
|Price including VAT||£229|