The Bottom Line
Nikon's Coolpix S9100 camera is a nice model that has a feature you don't see every day: An 18X optical zoom lens inside a relatively small camera body. This type of telephoto power is really rarely found in a camera that measures only 1.4 inches in thickness, as does the S9100.
However, I thought the S9100 had just enough design quirks that it's tough for me to give this model the highest possible rating. All of the quirks are pretty minor but, when taken together, they add up quickly. This camera's autofocus isn't consistently sharp enough, either.
At less than $300, the 18X zoom in the Coolpix S9100 will make this a popular camera, and it will perform adequately for most people. However, I would give higher recommendations to a larger camera that has a 36X zoom lens -- the Nikon Coolpix P500 -- and to a slightly older camera with a 15X zoom lens and a small body -- the Fujifilm FinePix F300EXR.
Photos shot with the Coolpix S9100 tend to have very realistic colors. Outdoor photos and flash photos are of pretty good quality most of the time. However, I thought the low light performance without a flash of the S9100 was a bit of a disappointment.
The biggest image quality problem with the S9100 is its lack of a consistently sharp autofocus result, primarily with indoor photos. The images with this camera just aren't focused as sharply as they should be often enough when shooting indoors.
When the S9100's autofocus mode works correctly, as it tends to do with outdoor photos, images are very sharp, yielding outstanding results. However, this just doesn't happen often enough for my liking.
Nikon only included six resolution options and only a 4:3 aspect ratio option with the S9100, which is a bit of a disappointment. I'd like more resolution options. This is especially disappointing when you consider Nikon included nine different resolutions for shooting movies with this camera. You start and stop movies using the dedicated movie button, and a limited zoom is available. The movie quality with this camera is above average, compared to others in this price range.
One really nice feature with the S9100 is the ability to do some minor adjustments to the images as you're preparing to shoot them. Using the exposure menu, you can adjust the hue or make the colors more vivid, which is great.
Obviously, the star feature of the Coolpix S9100 is its 18X optical zoom lens. Having such a large zoom lens in a small camera is a great feature. The zoom lens moves pretty fast through its range, but it isn't as smooth as I'd like to see.
I did notice that the S9100 suffers from a little bit of camera shake when you're shooting at the maximum zoom. You also may notice some slight delays and problems with the autofocus, as well as some shutter lag, when shooting near the maximum zoom level. These are common problems with inexpensive large zoom models, though, especially when shooting in low light.
The Coolpix S9100's on-screen menus are pretty easy to use and understand. The special effect options include sepia, high contrast black and white, and selective color. They are fun to use. Nikon included 15 different scene modes with this model, including macro, panorama, and black and white.
One aspect of the camera that may be a bit confusing for beginning photographers is the fact that you can turn the mode dial to select a mode, but, to select your options within that mode, you must press the menu button on the back and use on-screen menus. No explanation of this appears on the screen, which is a little confusing. The options on the mode dial are a little odd, too, giving shortcuts to settings such as special effects, night portrait, and night landscape. It would have been better to include the macro and panorama settings on the mode dial, rather than in the scene modes, in my opinion.
Nikon did not include a specific manual mode with the S9100, but you can make a few manual settings adjustments by setting the ISO and white balance from almost any mode.
At first glance, you might think the S9100 is a bit of a chunky camera, and it does measure 1.4 inches in thickness, which is a bit thicker than many of today's colorful, stylish point and shoot cameras. However, considering the S9100 has such a large zoom lens, this model is actually pretty thin compared to other ultra zoom models.
I thought this camera was extremely light and easy to use one-handed. Nikon included a slightly raised area on the front of the camera, along with an open space on the back, making it easy to pinch the camera between your right thumb and middle finger. Using this camera one-handed can help you to avoid blocking the popup flash unit, which is in the upper right corner (as seen from the front). It can be a little tough to hold the S9100 with your left hand without blocking the flash.
The S9100 features three different color options -- red, silver, or black -- and the back of the camera is black. The top panel includes a mode dial, power button, and zoom ring. The back panel has movie, image playback, menu, and trash buttons, as well as a four-way button with a spin dial. The S9100 has a nice number of buttons and controls.
Most of the back panel is occupied by the LCD, which is extremely sharp and is obviously a high-quality unit. The LCD is a little slow to refresh when you are moving with the camera while trying to frame a shot or while shooting a movie. Nikon included five brightness settings with the Coolpix S9100, which is great for using the camera outdoors in direct sunlight. When looking at this camera's overall design, it just felt to me like the LCD should've been larger, but, measuring 3.0 inches diagonally, it's a nice-sized screen.
You'll find both a USB slot and an HDMI slot with this camera. Nikon placed sturdy latch doors on this compartment, as well as on the battery compartment.