Nikon Coolpix S9300: Performance

by Howard Creech Reads (427)
Editor's Rating
7.50

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 7
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 7
    • Performance
    • 7
    • Total Score:
    • 7.50
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Performance

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 does not provide advanced shooting modes like Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or full Manual exposure, in fact the S9300 doesn’t even feature a Program mode. The S9300 does feature one of the best auto exposure systems I have ever used. This digicam relies on its very capable basic auto exposure mode, Auto ISO (ISO125-ISO 3200 range), auto WB mode, default 256-segment matrix metering system, and snappy AF performance to capture reliably very good to excellent images in a broad range of shooting scenarios.

Shooting Performance
The S9300 leads the parade in AF Acquisition times and Continuous shooting mode rates and is competitive in terms of shutter lag. Simply put, the S9300 is fast enough for just about anything its target audience is likely to try – quick enough to capture the decisive moment in everything except the most extreme cases.

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix S9300 0.14
Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR 0.14
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 0.18
Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS 0.21

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Nikon Coolpix S9300 7 7.0
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 14 5.5
Fujifilm FinePix F600EXR 4 3.5
Canon PowerShot ELPH 520 HS 8 2.4

In addition to being as quick or quicker than most of its competition, the S9300 consistently produces properly exposed images even in lighting that would challenge many compact P&S digicams with almost no effort on the part of the shooter. Outdoors, the S9300 does a great job. Image quality is dependably very good to excellent and noticeably better than average for cameras in this class – except at the long end of the zoom. Exposures are consistently accurate, but lots of sky in the image often results in slight overexposure (the sky turns from blue to white) so getting great landscape shots on bright pretty days may require some judicious exposure compensation experimentation.

The S9300’s 9 AF-point Auto Focus system is identical to that of its predecessor. The S9300 is the quickest camera to acquire AF in the DCR sampling and in my opinion, this camera’s contrast detection AF system is as speedy as many entry-level DSLRs which are driven by inherently faster phase detection AF systems.

The S9300 features a new GPS system with built-in electronic compass to record position information when shooting still photos or recording video. The S9300 also features a log function for geo-tracking position (even when the camera is off) and provides access to point-of-interest data for (according to Nikon) about 1,700,000 locations worldwide.

The S9300’s multi-mode pop-up flash provides a tiny bit more distance from the lens than the built-in flash units of most itsNikon Coolpix S9300 competitors – to help avoid the dreaded red-eye. The flash is very small and a bit on the weak side, but it provides an adequate selection of artificial lighting options, including Auto (fires when needed), On (fill flash), Red-Eye Reduction, and Off. Flash coverage is even at the short end of the zoom and flash-lit images are as close to natural looking as it is possible to get with an on-camera flash.

Consistently capturing sharply focused pictures with a tiny camera that sports a zoom as long as Pinocchio’s nose offers some unique optical engineering challenges. Nikon claims the S9300 can counter involuntary camera shake (like that caused by trying to keep an 18x zoom locked on a distant subject) in seven ways including Hybrid VR (Optical lens-shift IS and Electronic Vibration Reduction combine to reduce the effects of camera shake), High Sensitivity (up to ISO 3200) reduces the risk of blurred images with faster shutter speeds, Motion detection compensates for subject movement, Best Shot Selector (BSS mode) automatically selects the sharpest of up to 10 sequential shots, Night Landscape mode, and HDR (high dynamic range) backlight mode also decrease image blur by improving low light performance.

The S9300 draws its power from a 3.7V, 1050mAh Nikon EN-EL12 lithium-ion battery. Nikon claims the S9300 (with a fully charged battery) is good for about 270 exposures. I do a lot of shoot, review, delete, and re-shoot so I don’t really keep track of exposures, but I only charged the battery twice while I had the camera and I shot a lots of stills and half a dozen video clips – plus the S9300’s suffers a slight, but continuous power load from the GPS receiver – so I’d have to guess that Nikon’s power duration claims are fairly accurate. The EN-EL12 lithium-ion battery is charged in-camera and requires about two hours for a full charge from standard house current. The S9300 can also be charged via USB, very useful for charging from your laptop’s battery when in the field.

The S9300 saves images and video to SD, SDHC or SDXC memory media, plus 74MB of built-in memory.

Lens Performance
In the final analysis everything comes down to the S9300’s 18x zoom, since that is this little camera’s real claim to fame. When the S9300 is powered up, the lens automatically telescopes out of the camera body. When the camera is powered down, the lens is fully retracted into the camera body and a built-in iris style lens cover closes to protect the front element. Not so long ago most compact P&S digicams sported 3x to 5x zooms, so the S9300’s f/3.5-5.9, 4.5-81mm (25-450mm equivalent) zoom is the star of the show The S9300’s 18x zoom permits shooters to cover everything from real wide-angle landscapes and large groups to tightly framed environmental portraits, backyard wildlife shots, distant subjects, and up-close macro images.

The f/3.5 maximum aperture is a bit slow for shooting indoors, but should be more than fast enough for outdoor shooting – at least in decent light. The S9300’s diminutive footprint and impressive reach make this camera almost ideal for travelers and candid/street shooters. Center sharpness is pretty good overall, but at the wide-angle end of the zoom corners are slightly soft. I didn’t notice any vignetting (dark corners) and both barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) and pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center) are visible, but both seem reasonably well corrected.

Contrast is balanced (but a little flat) and colors are hue accurate, though slightly oversaturated. Chromatic aberration is remarkably well-controlled, but some very minor color fringing is present, especially in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds. Minimum focusing distance (in Macro mode) is 1.6 inches. Zooming is smooth, and fairly quick, but there is more motor noise than I expected ?€? especially considering that the massive 18x zoom can be used during video capture.

Finally, the S9300’s 450mm (equivalent) maximum telephoto setting can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing. Nikon’s engineers did a really good job creating a small pocketable P&S digicam with an 18x zoom, however there really is no free lunch. S9300 users will be able to handhold the camera for shots at maximum telephoto and many of their pictures will be sharp enough for 4×6 prints or VGA web shots. Decent enlargements will require the use of a tripod, since even the best image stabilization system currently available will not render tack sharp handheld images at 450mm. The bottom line here is that all handheld shots at maximum telephoto will be somewhat soft. Users who expect to be shooting regularly at the S9300’s maximum telephoto setting should plan on carrying a tripod.

Video Quality
The S9300 captures HD video at 1920x1080p at 30fps and the 18x super zoom can be used during filming. This camera also provides an HDMI out so that users can watch their HD video clips on their wide screen HD TVs. S9300 users can also opt for 720p at 60fps, iFrame (a digital video editing format developed by Apple), 1080p at 15fps, High-Speed 240 fps (QVGA), and 120 fps (VGA) slo-mo video resolutions – plus shooters can enable creative effects like Selective Color or B&W/Sepia at any resolution or frame rate.

Most digicams utilize the same optical or mechanical Image Stabilization system for videos and still images, but not the S9300 – Nikon utilized a higher sensitivity and faster shutter speeds electronic VR system to control blur in video mode. I did notice fairly pronounced “jitter” (difficulty holding focus on the subject) at the telephoto end of the zoom in video mode. It’s going to be a subtle difference with an 18x zoom, but the jitter would probably have been less noticeable with a standard (optical or mechanical) image stabilization system.

Image Quality
The megapixel wars seem to continue unabated with a never ending parade of tiny new cameras that generate huge image files, but the S9300’s boost in resolution is not necessarily cause for celebration. Continually crowding more pixels onto tiny sensors typically results in noticeable increases in image degrading noise. Hopefully, consumers will eventually realize, that everything else being equal, larger pixels have better light gathering capabilities than smaller pixels – so larger sensors are actually more important in the image quality equation than more pixels.

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 utilizes a new 16 megapixel 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor to capture images. Like most compact P&S digicams, image files produced by the S9300 are optimized for the bold, bright colors and slightly flat contrast that many veteran shooters refer to as “consumer” color. Recorded hues are accurate but noticeably more intense than in real life – reds are warm, blues are bright, and greens/yellows/oranges are very vibrant.

The bottom line is that the S9300’s color interpolation, while a bit more intense than neutral, is consistently and dependably hue accurate. The colors I saw on my monitor when I reviewed the images I shot with this camera were the colors I saw when I shot the pictures.

Outdoors, in good light, the Nikon S9300 consistently captures very good to excellent images with almost no effort on the part of the shooter, although there is a slight tendency toward over exposure. Indoors, the camera performs a little better than the competition, at the wide angle setting, but most photographers won’t use the S9300’s awesome zoom indoors because the further you zoom the worse image quality gets. Virtually anybody can shoot very good pictures and decent HD video with the S9300 outdoors, but it is going to require magical powers to get excellent telephoto images outdoors without a tripod or indoors (under any circumstances) with the S9300.

The S9300’s Auto White Balance mode is dependably accurate over a wide range of lighting conditions. In fact, it’s one of the best auto WB modes I’ve seen in a camera in this price range – essentially equal to Canon’s G12 and S100 digicams in terms of color accuracy. The S9300’s Auto WB mode also handles indoor color with aplomb. In addition to the auto setting there are user selected Manual, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, and Flash settings available.

Nikon S9300 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

The S9300 provides an adequate range of sensitivity options, including auto (ISO 125-ISO 800) and user-set options for fixed ISO auto (ISO 125-ISO 400), and ISO 125 to ISO 3200. ISO 125 images are very sharp with intense colors, very low noise levels, and balanced but slightly flat contrast. ISO 200 images were also very good, but with a tiny bit less pop. At the ISO 400 setting, noise levels are beginning to rise and there’s a very minor, but perceptible loss of fine detail.

Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 125
Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 125, 100% Crop
Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 200
Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% Crop
Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 400
Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% Crop
Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 800
Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% Crop
Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% Crop
Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Nikon S9300 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% Crop

Indoor image quality is excellent, on par with much more expensive digicams, but as sensitivity (automatically) rises to overcome lower levels of ambient lighting, noise levels rise exponentially and color intensity (saturation) suffers a bit. Noise levels are quite reasonable up to ISO 400, but they increase dramatically after that.

Additional Sample Images

Nikon S9300 Sample Image Nikon S9300 Sample Image
Nikon S9300 Sample Image Nikon S9300 Sample Image
Nikon S9300 Sample Image Nikon S9300 Sample Image


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