Nikon Coolpix S9300 £299.99
17th Aug 2012 | 15:00
Great 16MP travel zoom features but several flaws
Back in 2006, Panasonic introduced the digital travel zoom compact camera with its Lumix DMC-TZ1. Ever since, travel zooms have acquired increasingly longer zooms and ever smaller bodies.
Keen to establish a foothold in the travel zoom market, Nikon has launched the Coolpix S9300, which replaces the year-old Nikon Coolpix S9100 and competes with the new Panasonic TZ30 (and its predecessor the TZ20) and the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS.
The Nikon S9300 sports a 16 megapixel CMOS sensor (compared to its predecessor's 12MP unit) and introduces GPS logging and 3D photo capability.
It has an 18x optical zoom that extends from a usefully wide 25mm to an impressive 450mm and features relatively wide maximum apertures of f/3.5 at 25mm and f/5.9 at 450mm.
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 offers Full HD 1080p video recording with stereo sound and full use of the zoom, a 3-inch 921,000 dot LCD screen and fast autofocus. It can also take 360-degree panoramas and create HDR images, and includes optical vibration reduction.
Sitting at the top of Nikon's Style range, the Nikon Coolpix S9300 has a recommended UK price of £300 and US price of $350. Nikon makes the bold claim that the Coolpix S9300 is "perfect for use in any situation" citing travel, sports events and concerts as its natural habitat.
This new model features a compact body considering its 18x optical zoom, and thrives on point and shoot simplicity with 19 scene modes, a Scene Auto Selector mode and no manual or semi-manual modes.
The absence of manual controls is odd, considering that Panasonic and Canon's similarly priced models offer shutter and aperture priority plus manual control – all in addition to numerous scene modes. Therefore those wanting any manual control over images should bypass the Nikon Coolpix S9300 and consider Panasonic or Canon's offerings.
Build quality and handling
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 is a chunky compact camera with a tough metal chassis, a pop-up flash and 3-inch high resolution screen.
The camera is larger than the Panasonic TZ30 in all dimensions, and is taller and wider than the Canon SX260 HS, but slimmer and lighter. When fully zoomed in, the lens extends two inches from the body, making the Nikon Coolpix S9300 feel bulky, although it will fit in most pockets.
The top of the camera features a recessed on/off button, a zoom rocker that surrounds the shutter release and a rotary control for different automatic modes.
The back is dominated by the 3-inch screen and a four-way control pad with shortcuts for the flash, self-timer, exposure compensation and macro focusing. There's also a dedicated video button and image playback, menu and image delete buttons.
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 feels well built with no flex in the body and a sturdy lens, although it does feel heavy. The battery/SD card cover and A/V connector port cover also feel durable.
However, during testing the camera completely froze on four separate occasions, refusing to switch off, with the lens only retracting after the battery had been removed and reinserted. For a premium model from a respected manufacturer, this performance is extremely disappointing.
Another irritation is the pop-up flash that rests under the natural position for your left index finger.
The rotary dial provides easy access to Auto mode, Scene Modes, Scene Auto Selector and several other options. Annoyingly, though, to change settings or choose between Scene Modes you must use the main menu, which feels unnecessarily convoluted. Altering flash, self-timer and exposure compensation settings is simple, however, thanks to dedicated buttons.
Overall, the Nikon Coolpix S9300 is enjoyable to use, feeling comfortable and having a very sharp, clear and large screen and responsive performance.
The high resolution screen flatters images, making them look better quality than they really are, however. The screen is generally visible in direct sunlight, but is susceptible to fingerprints.
Nikon ambitiously claims that the Coolpix S9300 is perfect for any situation.
Thankfully the lens lives up to Nikon's hype, catering for everything from expansive landscape images to paparazzi-style telephoto shots. It also benefits from relatively wide maximum apertures, making it possible to take telephoto shots in lower light than some competitors, without camera-shake issues.
Additionally Nikon's effective vibration reduction system enables you to take sharp images at low shutter speeds, recording sharp photos at full zoom down to speeds of 1/60 second, if you have steady hands.
Autofocus is quick, accurate and quiet, while continuous shooting is speedy at 6fps. Focusing is slower at the telephoto end, especially in lower light, but is still good.
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 focuses well on macro subjects and feels responsive, and the flash is reasonable.
Both metering and auto white balance systems are reliable, performing well in a variety of conditions, both indoors and out. Saturation is also good, with rich but accurate colours and similarly punchy contrast levels.
Despite reliable metering, many images feature blown highlights and murky shadows, highlighting the Nikon Coolpix S9300's limited dynamic range in comparison with an SLR. The HDR mode somewhat addresses this, brightening shadows and darkening skies, but results are inconsistent.
Noise is another issue. Even at ISO 125 some noise is visible in daylight shots when viewed at 100 per cent, and fine details are smeared. Daytime images at ISO 400 are also a little noisy, while ISO 3200 is only suitable for small images.
The camera features a Night Landscape mode that takes several shots and merges them together to reduce noise. Although it successfully reduces noise, images are also very soft.
Overall sharpness is limited and images have a textured look when viewed at 100 per cent. Sharpness is low in telephoto images, although this isn't surprising, considering the generous zoom range. Distortion is generally not noticeable, although there is slight barrel distortion at 25mm.
The Nikon Coolpix S9300's HD video performance is a mixed bag. Picture quality is generally good, but the vibration reduction and autofocus systems can be slow to kick in, especially at longer focal lengths. Stereo sound quality is passable, but the sound of the lens zooming is obvious in quieter scenes.
The inbuilt GPS accurately logs locations and shows a real-time compass, but rapidly drains the battery in as few as 90 shots (and one 10 second video). For a camera designed for travel, this is very poor.
You can coax out around 200 shots out of it, but this is still low. Compounding the issue, charging takes a lengthy four hours.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon Coolpix S9300, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 125 the Nikon Coolpix S9300 is capable of resolving up to around 14 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 125, score: 14 (Click here for the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 18 (Click here for the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 16 (Click here for the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 14 (Click here for the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 10 (Click here for the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 10 (Click here for the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
JPEG images from the Nikon Coolpix S9300 show that noise is handled well compared to results from the Nikon Coolpix S9100, Fuji F770 EXR and Sony HX20V, producing the best signal to noise ratio at ISO 200.
This chart indicates that the Nikon Coolpix S9300 compares consistently well against the Fuji F770 EXR at all sensitivities. It produces similar results to the Nikon Coolpix S9100 and Sony HX20V at ISO 200, 800 and 1600, with a dip down almost to the Fuji's level at ISO 400.
The 18x optical zoom and effective vibration reduction system enable you to take engaging close up shots from far away.
The HDR mode does a good job of increasing dynamic range in backlit scenes, but can overexpose shadows and sometimes doesn't darken highlights enough.
In Auto mode, the Nikon Coolpix S9300's metering system produces consistently well exposed images both inside and out.
The camera produces nicely saturated but realistic colours and makes it easy to alter saturation in Auto mode.
Despite accurate metering, highlights are quick to blow, and noise and smearing of detail can be seen even in ISO 125 images when viewed at full size.
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 benefits from quick and accurate autofocus and takes decent macro shots, thanks to the 5cm minimum focusing distance.
This mode provides inconsistent results and failed to pick out just the yellow writing in this image as desired.
The D-Lighting function brightens underexposed images but has increased noise and reduced the saturation in this image.
The High Contrast Monochrome setting creates attractive photos from otherwise drab lighting.
The option of 180 and even 360 degree panoramas is great, but final image quality is disappointing, though images are well stitched together.
The 25mm wide angle provides a noticeably wider angle of view than traditional 28mm or 35mm lenses.
The 450mm lens enables you to take photos of very distant subjects, although ultimate image quality is compromised.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 125 image. See the cropped (zoomed to 100%) versions below.
As a travel zoom camera, the Nikon Coolpix S9300 offers a very compelling zoom range and many great features, including Full HD video, GPS and speedy autofocus, plus reliable metering and white balance.
However, the camera is afflicted with poor battery life, particularly with GPS on (and why pay for a camera with GPS if you don't use it) and suspect reliability considering the four times it completely froze during a week in our hands.
Furthermore, basic image quality isn't great, the camera isn't quite as user friendly as it could be and it doesn't have any form of manual control.
The Nikon S9300 sports a huge zoom range with both a usefully wide 25mm wide angle and an impressive 450mm telephoto reach. Autofocus, white balance and metering are all reliable, and the camera benefits from GPS, Full HD video recording and 3D photo capability.
The Nikon Coolpix S9300 froze four times during the week we tested it, battery life is poor (especially with GPS activated) and overall image quality isn't as good as it could be. The camera has no manual control, and rival models from other manufacturers seem to offer a more compelling overall package.
These problems, allied with the hefty price of £300/$350, make it hard to recommend the Nikon Coolpix S9300, despite its many strengths.
It's especially hard considering the fact that the Panasonic TZ30 costs just a little more in the UK, and the same in the US. The Panasonic TZ30 is smaller and lighter, has a better battery life, an even wider and longer zoom and more sophisticated video functions.
Or if you don't want to pay the extra money and are happy with a 16x zoom, the Panasonic TZ20 currently sells for about £90/$100 less than the Nikon Coolpix S9300, and has similar features.
Nikon has crammed a wide range of valuable features into the relatively slim body of the Nikon Coolpix S9300. Overall it is an enjoyable camera to use and feels sturdy. However, the underwhelming battery life, imperfect general image quality and questionable reliability make rival models a wiser choice.