That's the role Nikon's Coolpix S9900 (MSRP $349.99) fits nicely in. A fairly pedestrian point-and-shoot with a long zoom and articulating screen, the S9900 can do a little bit of everything, but its $350 pricetag is quite steep for what you're getting.
But if you do want this kind of zoom, and you don't mind paying for it, the S9900 isn't a bad choice—just wait for it to go on sale, if you can.
Boring isn't always bad
For all intents and purposes, the S9900 is a very compact travel zoom with only a few standard features to write home about. It's got a very typical 16-megapixel sensor, a 30x zoom, and a smattering of connectivity features to meet smartphone users halfway.
However, Nikon threw a bone to its more advanced users with the control scheme. Despite being approachable enough for a beginner, a full PSAM mode dial and dual control wheels allow for some control of your shots—if you're as picky about your settings as I am. This is especially welcome given that this camera—as a more entry-level option—doesn't shoot in RAW.
A little brick-like, the boxy body of the S9900 is quite easy to handle. It doesn't have a viewfinder or a hot shoe, but those are rare on pocketable point-and-shoots. Sony's RX100 II has one, but it's very expensive.
Instead, you'll be using the 921k-dot live view to frame your shots. It can be a little tough to see in direct sunlight, but the fully-articulating screen makes shooting at off angles a snap, and videography a breeze. Usually you don't find this kind of feature on this type of camera, so it's very appreciated.
Nestled inside the guts of the camera are a WiFi antenna for easy photo sharing and remote control, and an NFC antenna that allows easy pairing with the tap of your phone. First time setup is a bit of a pain, but once you do it everything should go smoothly. You can also make use of the AGPS in conjunction with your smartphone to tag photos with coordinates, and designate points of interest. You may never use this feature, but it can be fun if you're planning on taking a road trip.
Color accuracy is decent, if a little oversaturated for the most part. We measured a ∆C 00 (saturation corrected) error of 2.58, with an overall saturation of 114.9%.
That's not too bad, and most won't really have many feelings about the oversaturation other than "cool looking photo!"
White balance is a bit trickier, with notable errors in fluorescent lighting and tungsten lighting. Though errors never really top 800 kelvin, you will notice a green hue to your shots in fluorescent lights, and an orange one in incandescent lights.
But the real trouble here is that it takes a good long while for the camera to catch up to new lighting conditions, and it can sometimes lead to really huge errors in white balance where there shouldn't be any.
Obviously, this isn't a DSLR. Nor is it a camera that anyone would mistake for "professional." However, there are some ins and outs you should be aware of if you're looking for the best bang for your buck. Namely, that zoom comes with a massive tradeoff.
When you zoom in, image quality takes a nosedive, resulting in soft-looking photos. Most point-and-shoots like this one will have this problem, but sharpness halves once you reach full zoom. Digital zoom makes things even worse, so you really want to rein that in as much as possible.
Beyond that, though, the camera will give you shots on par with what you're probably already accustomed to if you have a semi-modern point-and-shoot. The hardware isn't all that different from cameras from the last yew years. The S9900 makes the most of it, but that only gets you so far.
Color are accurate—if a little oversaturated—breathing a bit of vividness into your shots. You might notice some yellows looking a little weird compared to the rest of the photo, but otherwise the S9900 does a decent job of keeping colors in line.
White balance is decent enough for your day to day shooting, but you're gonna want to shoot outside as much as possible. You might notice some orange tint to your shots if you stay indoors under incandescent lights, but outside everything will look about how you'd expect it to.
Video isn't all that amazing, but the sharpness issues in stills also show up on your TV. You'll notice some strobing, and definitely strange artifacts in motion. Additionally, the camera doesn't work all that well in low light—needing a surprisingly high amount of ambient lighting to record a usable image.
Sharpness is okay... until the maximum aperture crosses f/6. Beyond that point, it takes a nosedive due to diffraction limiting.
That issue in conjunction with extremely aggressive noise reduction means that your shots will look blotchy and ill-defined the more you zoom. It's a common problem with travel zooms, but it's particularly pronounced on this model. I'd be willing to give it a pass if it didn't also use between 10-27% software edge enhancement.
Taking this camera out in the field is interesting, to be sure. While this isn't anything like my usual interchangeable lens companion, it's a fairly familiar experience—especially given that the menu system is so bare-bones. Really, you don't have to put in any effort into shooting that you don't want to. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.
Turning the camera on, the lens will immediately extend out of the body, and you can start shooting in relatively short order. The zoom is very fast, and even though the camera isn't the most premium option on the market, it behaves as well as a more expensive option should. However, the automatic white balance takes a long time to figure out the correct reading.
I did often get frustrated with the autofocus missing quite a lot. Even in situations where you think that the S9900 should have no problem nailing its target—situations where you can clearly see the right focus is within your grasp—the camera simply cannot lock on. Putting the S9900 into macro mode by tapping the bottom button in the control cluster helps for close subjects, but you can still bank on missing a few shots here and there.
If you want to edit your photos in-camera, you'll also have to get used to the weird decision to bury the editing menu in the normal one. Once in playback mode, hit the menu button and you'll be able to use the super-secret image editing options, including added effects, red-eye correction, and a handful of other fairly basic touch-ups.
Those of you with children in your life probably would be better off with another model. Though the S9900 definitely has a lot to offer for the right consumer, the burst mode is very weak. Even that of cheaper Nikon cameras can sometimes outperform the S9900—as you can read in our Nikon Coolpix L840 review. The buffer also can only handle five shots at a time, which isn't going to work for most.
Noise is a problem, but not because it stains your shots—it's a problem because the camera goes hog wild in seeking it and destroying it. We mentioned that sharpness takes a hit due to the noise reduction algorithm, but it's really a sight to behold.
Because of this, we never measured more than 2% noise at any one time, but the noise reduction will leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Not exactly a value pick, but could work for the right buyer
At the end of the day, many of the shortcomings of the Nikon Coolpix S9900 are minor, but they add up. It's definitely not a bad little shooter, but $300 is a tough pill to swallow for this kind of camera. I'd say if you can find it on sale for about $250, that's a good price for this little guy.
It's not a bad camera—few modern models are—but you can do better for the money. For example, the Panasonic Lumix ZS60 offers better performance and features, while the Canon PowerShot SX710 can be found online for less—and with a better menu system to boot. You could also save yourself roughly $100 and pick up a Nikon Coolpix L840 if you're okay with a bulkier camera.
You may also want to check out different kinds of cameras altogether. Lots of people see "travel zoom" and automatically assume that's the camera for them, when they may be better off with a waterproof or sealed unit instead. For that, I recommend checking out the Olympus TG-3 or TG-4. Though it doesn't have much zoom, it'll withstand a lot more abuse—and open up a different world of shooting options for you.
Also available online is the Nikon 1-series cameras like the Nikon 1 J5. While these are interchangeable lens cameras, Nikon built them to be completely intelligible to the point-and-shoot crowd—all while offering much better image quality. However, you will have to dig deep to grab one of these cameras, as they are a step up in every sense of the word.
Video is decent considering what the S9900 is. In bright light, it's able to resolve about 575 line pairs per picture height (LP/PH), while only resolving about 400 in low light (60 lux).
The best quality you can muster with the S9900 is the same old 1080/30p you've probably been using for years now. There's nothing wrong with that, but many point and shoots in this price bracket have started offering better. Motion is relatively smooth, and frequency interference isn't all that bad.
You may notice some artifacting in high-contrast edges, but that's about it. The low sharpness is easily the most notable thing about the video.
Meet the tester
Staff Writer, Imaging@cthomas8888
A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.
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