When the weather starts turning nice, the sales pitches begin. Cameras are very popular gifts for Graduation, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and the summer travel/vacation season. Every winter, major camera manufacturers (and most of the minor leaguers) attend trade shows to tout their new products. Nikon introduced eight new Coolpix P&S digicams this past winter; one of the most interesting of those eight new digicams is the compact Coolpix S9100, which updates last year's popular Coolpix S8100.
At first glance, Nikon's newest "S" model doesn't seem much different from its predecessor, but on closer inspection, the S9100 ups the ante dramatically in the travel zoom digicam class. The Coolpix S9100 looks a lot like the S8100 and features the same 1/2.3-inch 12 megapixel backside illuminated CMOS sensor, the same Expeed processor, and the same 3.0-inch (921k-dot) LCD screen as the S8100.
So what's different? The S8100 featured a 10x (30-300mm equivalent) zoom, but the S9100 features a new 18x (25-450mm equivalent) zoom - which not only increases coverage at the wide-angle end of the zoom, it also substantially extends the camera's reach at the telephoto end. That's really a lot of zoom capability for such an easily pocketable little digicam that weights in at only 7.6 oz.
Unlike some of its competition (Canon's SX230 HS and Panasonic's ZS10) the S9100 completely eschews manual exposure options, relying instead on a tweakable Auto mode (which is really more like Program mode), a Scene "auto-selector" mode (which is really more like a "smart auto" mode), and several mode dial (Portrait, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Backlighting, Continuous Shooting and Special Effects) scene modes. The Nikon Coolpix S9100 does provide the ability to incrementally make subtle exposure adjustments via the exposure compensation mode (which has a dedicated position on the compass switch), but this is an auto exposure only digicam; user input into the exposure process is severely limited.
In addition to the S9100's dearth of manual control options, it also lacks the GPS capabilities of the SX230 HS and ZS10. The very latest crop of pocket-friendly travel zooms have all offered long zooms, HD video, and GPS capabilities - evidently somebody at Nikon didn't get that memo.
Stylewise, the S9100 is an attractively understated digicam available in black, red or silver. The S9100's user interface is uncomplicated and fairly straightforward. The control layout is relatively basic and sufficiently similar to other current digicams in the compact travel zoom class to provide most users with a comforting sense of déjà vu. Buttons are logically placed and come easily to hand for right-handed shooters, but are all rather small.
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