I’ve been a street photographer for most of my adult life so I really like compact P&S digicams – they are small enough to drop in a shirt pocket, tough enough to go just about anywhere, they generally produce first-rate images with little effort on the part of the shooter, and they are un-intimidating to subjects.
The S9300’s 18x (25-450mm equivalent) zoom provides an amazing focal length range for such an easily pocketable little P&S digicam. Compact digicam zooms have traditionally featured focal length ranges in the 3x to 10x range, so a shirt pocket digital camera with an 18x zoom radically increases both reach and stand-off distance for shooters. A DSLR shooter would need a camera bag full of heavy (and expensive) lenses to cover the same range. In fact, there are only a couple things preventing the S9300 from becoming the darling of the mini-cam demographic – its lack of manual exposure capabilities and its soft telephoto images.
The S9300’s target audience prefers auto exposure cameras, so the lack of manual controls won’t put them off, however the S9300’s soft handheld images (at the telephoto end of that awesome 18x zoom) may cost Nikon a few customers. Realistic expectations are absolutely mandatory because, simply put, no compact camera with an 18x zoom is going to produce images that are as good as the images from a similar digicam with a 3x or 5x zoom.
Here’s why – it is impossible (even with image stabilization) to handhold a 450mm (equivalent) zoom steadily enough to guarantee sharply focused pictures. Factor in the dismally slow maximum aperture at the telephoto end of that 18x zoom, the higher noise output of the tiny 16 megapixel sensor, and the inherent difficulty contrast detection AF systems have locking focus on an unsteady subject at a substantial distance from the camera and the probability of getting a sharply focused telephoto shot with the S9300 (without a tripod) is better than your chances of winning the lottery, but not by a large margin.
On the positive side of that equation the S9300 does a remarkably good job, even at maximum telephoto, given the unavoidable compromises that Nikon’s camera design folks were saddled with going in. However most focus faults won’t be obvious in the 4×6 prints or VGA resolution Facebook pictures most of the S9300’s purchasers will use this camera for.
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 would be an almost ideal choice to replace an aging/broken/lost/stolen first digital camera, an excellent choice as a family camera, and a very good choice for travelers who want a small tough, easy to use digicam with lots of reach. A final note: If you like the idea of a point-and-shoot with an 18x zoom, but you don’t want/need GPS the new Nikon S9200 is about fifty dollars cheaper than the S9300 and identical to the S9100 (12 megapixels and no GPS receiver). For real bargain hunters, remaining stocks of S9100s are going for less than $200, so if you can find an S9100 you can save $100 over the virtually identical S9200 and $150 over the 16 megapixel S9300 with GPS receiver.
- Compact 18x zoom
- 1080p movie mode
- Large, hi-res 3.0-inch 921k-dot LCD
- No manual exposure options
- Fuzzy images at the telephoto end of that awesome 18x zoom