Winter is over and digital cameras like the Nikon S9300 are very popular gifts for Spring events like Graduation, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and everyone likes having a new camera for those once in a lifetime summer trips. The auto-exposure-only Nikon Coolpix S9300 replaces last year’s popular S9100. Nikon has made a couple of noteworthy changes – the S9300 boosts resolution from 12 megapixels to 16 megapixels and adds a new GPS receiver. Many camera reviewers took last year’s S9100 to task because the similarly priced/featured Panasonic ZS10 and Canon SX230 HS digicams offered GPS receivers while the S9100 didn’t – Nikon listened to those critics and corrected that minor shortcoming.
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 generally 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 S9300 is a stylishly understated little digicam and its user interface is uncomplicated and logical. The control layout is traditional and fairly basic - sufficiently similar to every other compact point-and-shoot to provide shooters with a comforting sense of déjà vu. Buttons are logically placed and come easily to hand for right-handed shooters, but they are all rather small. In fact the on/off button is so small that it generally necessitates a couple of attempts to turn the camera either on or off.
I’ve been a street photographer for most of my adult life so I really like compact point-and-shoots – they’re small enough to drop in a shirt pocket, tough enough to go just about anywhere, they dependably 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 absolutely amazing focal length range for such an easily pocketable little camera. Compact ultrazooms have traditionally offered focal length ranges in the 7x to 10x range, so a shirt pocket digital camera with an 18x zoom can radically increase both reach and stand-off distance for shooters. A DSLR shooter would need a large camera bag full of heavy lenses to cover the same range. The only thing preventing the S9300 from becoming the perfect darling of the min-cam demographic is its lack of manual exposure capabilities.
Consistently capturing sharply focused pictures with a tiny camera that sports a zoom as long as Pinocchio’s nose offers some unique technological challenges. Nikon claims the S9300 can counter involuntary camera movement (like that caused by trying to keep an 18x zoom locked on a distant subject) in seven ways including Hybrid VR (Sensor-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 Portrait Mode, Night Landscape mode, and HDR (high dynamic range) backlight mode also decrease image blur by improving low light performance. The S9300 captures HD video at 1920 x 1080p at 30 fps and the 18x 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 HDTVs.
I’ve only had the S9300 for about a week, but I’ve used the camera heavily enough to form some initial impressions. Outdoors, 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 on reasonably equal terms with its competition. Virtually anybody can shoot super pictures and excellent HD video with the S9300. Those consumers seriously considering the S9300 should be aware that remaining stocks of the almost identical S9100 are available for less than half what they’ll have to pony up for the S9300. So, if you like the S9300 and don’t need GPS capabilities (and if you move quickly) you may be able to score a first rate shirt pocket camera with an 18x zoom for substantially less than two hundred bucks. Check back soon for our full review of the Nikon Coolpix S9300.