Cameras

Nikon Coolpix S9300 Digital Camera Review

Nikon's new Coolpix S9300 is only a subtle upgrade from the S9100.

Credit:

Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.

Introduction

Current Coolpix 9100 users may be tempted to yawn at Nikon's new S9300, a direct replacement in the company's travel zoom lineup that adds more megapixels, GPS, and not much else. We're inclined to agree, but of course reserve judgement until the test results are analyzed in full. With such a similar feature set, this camera needs to rely entirely on image quality and performance to win our favor. In some cases, that's exactly what happened; in others, not so much.

Video Review

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

Lens & Sensor

The thin, plastic barrel extends almost comically far away from the rest of the body. It does so rather quickly, but the action is imprecise and made framing our test shots difficult. Zoom control is also slow to turn back on after taking a shot, so you'll need to wait around for a few seconds if your subject is in motion.

Display(s)

A gorgeous 3.0 inch, fixed position LCD monitor dominates the rear panel. Screen resolution clocks in a 921,000-dots, which is above average. Onscreen images are rendered true to the final product (perhaps with a little extra contrast), and the monitor itself is covered by an anti-glare coating which, aside from do its job, also gives the screen a very professional-looking blueish tint.

Flash

The S9300's flash emitter springs up from a housing on the left side of the top panel whenever extra illumination is called for. Unlike some other recent Nikon models, this version can be manually depressed back into position with your finger, which should leave beginners a little less confused. We applaud Nikon for trying new things though.

Flash Photo

Don't be surprised when this guy comes flying out of your camera.

Connectivity

Both connectivity ports reside underneath a plastic compartment cover at the top of the right panel. There's a miniHDMI port here, as well as a microUSB port for USB or A/V output. This is also how the battery is charged (using an included USB wall socket adapter), and it is possible to charge the camera by connecting it to a computer.

Image Quality

The S9300's image quality is a mixed bag, with color accuracy coming in above the baseline, but sharpness falling way behind. This sort of thing is very common for compacts that feature ambitious travel zoom lenses, and is the chief reason we always recommend consumers weigh the true necessity of telephoto shooting.

Related content

Sharpness

The S9300 cannot match the resolution of many of the best travel zoom cameras out there. It lags way behind the Sony HX9V, as well as the Casio ZR100 and the Fujifilm F600EXR. The reason for this is the cumulative score across the focal range. At times, we recorded over 2300 MTF50s of detail at the widest focal length. However this figure dropped to an average of just over 800 at 18x zoom.

We often see this trend from travel zoom cameras. The optics are just too strained at the maximum focal length to produce clean images. If optical zoom isn't essential for your shooting style, don't fall for this extra long lens, there are significant drawbacks. And as always, for best results with the S9300, zoom out. More on how we test sharpness.

Science Section 1 Images

Image Stabilization

This camera's lens-shift Vibration Reduction is sufficiently effective that we do recommend leaving it turned on when shooting from the hand. However you shouldn't expect an especially drastic difference when using the feature. Our shaker test recorded a 13% improvement in sharpness when using VR, not an amazing improvement, but not worthless either.

Color

The S9300 has no color modes, leaving the user with no options to change or improve the color gamut. That's not so bad, because the camera's handling of color is above average. We recorded a minimum color value of 2.85 in our accuracy test, 0.15 points better than the 3.00 average. Saturation was over by about 12%, so we've slightly reduced the score accordingly. More on how we test color.

Blues are by far the most problematic shades of the gamut, although skin tones also have some trouble. So be aware that human subjects may not appear as lifelike as they would with a more expensive camera.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Again, Sony's HX9V leads this category as well, posting a score that's quite a bit better than the S9300. The least accurate travel zoom of our comparison group is actually one of the newest, Panasonic's ZS20.

White Balance

We were extremely impressed by the S9300's custom and automatic white balance. Like every camera, this one has trouble automatically balancing incandescent light, but under daylight or fluorescent the reading is almost perfect. In fact these two temperatures are even more accurate than their custom white balance equivalents.

Custom white balance is of course much better for incandescent light, and in fact that reading is almost perfect too. That means we have in-camera options for near perfect white balance in any lighting situation. The rule for this camera: custom white balance under yellow incandescent light, automatic otherwise.

Noise Reduction

Noise reduction is one of this camera's best features, with performance that's in lock-step with the best this category has to offer. Artifacting rates, first of all, are very low. In fact the only ISO level in which we recorded more than 1.00% noise was the maximum, 3200. Noise, when it does occur, isn't quite as ugly as most digital noise. This type of noise has a grain to it, instead of the hideous smudging and pixellation that's common. More on how we test noise.

Science Section 3 Images

ISO Options

The ISO sensitivity spectrum extends from 125 to 3200, pretty standard for a camera of this class. A Night Portrait scene mode is available, but this does not unlock any extra ISO levels, even at the expense of resolution.

Chromatic Aberration

Here we go again. Since this tiny lens reaches out to an extremely ambitious 18x zoom ratio, the optics just cannot avoid chromatic aberration. Fringing is present in all high-contrast areas at all focal lengths, but especially the middle and telephoto end of the range. In the crops below, notice how the effect worsens incrementally as zoom increases. This problem is also clearly visible in our sample photos.

Distortion

Distortion is thoroughly compensated for by the time image data reaches the memory card. As a result, distortion never rises above 1.00% at any focal length. We measured the least distortion at the middle of the focal range, so if this is a concern (perhaps for portrait shooting) be sure to zoom in halfway.

Motion

Videos shot with the S9300 do not move smoothly, especially in areas with patterns. In the sample below, notice the squint-inducing effect produced by the black and white pinwheel. Moving objects that don't repeat, like Molly the tank engine, don't judder or skip, but there's a subtle bit of trailing due to the low frame rate. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video Sharpness

The S9300 boasts above-average sharpness for video content, resolving 600 lw/ph of detail both horizontally and vertically. While this performance is sufficient for most applications, those with an interest in some light videography should look to the Panasonic ZS20, which ran away with this test. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low Light Sensitivity

In this test, we record the least amount of ambient light a camera requires to collect 50 IRE of video data. The S9300 requires 24 lux. That's better than some point and shoot cameras, many of which require 45 lux or more. But it's still a paltry score compared to any camcorder.

Usability

Unlike many cameras, we don't get a true "green" mode in this one, but otherwise shooting is quite simple. Our biggest disappointment in this section is actually handling. Although the body seems grippy and stable, it isn't.

Automatic Features

Only one automatic mode is available on the S9300, and it's a little misleading. Usually green icons on the mode dial are reserved for fully automated shooting. This camera's green mode is closer to Program Auto, with full customization of image size, white balance, metering, ISO, and all the rest. That is, except for shutter and aperture, which cannot be manually controlled.

Buttons & Dials

All buttons have strong tactility, but their flat profiles make them difficult to find when shooting in the dark. The shutter button is particularly well-designed, with a long stroke for a compact camera and a very defined focus lock stage.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

Picture effects get their own position on the mode dial, but only six effects are available: Soft, Nostalgic sepia, High-contrast monochrome, High key, Low key, and Selective Color. Scene mode options are more extensive, with settings like Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Party/indoor, Beach, Sunset, Food, Museum, and more. There's also a Scene auto selector setting that attempts to automatically detect the proper scene mode based on your subject.

We really love the button quality on this camera, so it's a shame the menu can't keep up. Design of this tab-based interface is actually fine, but responsiveness is sluggish, especially when swapping between tabs. There's no "quick" menu, like you might find on Canon cameras for example, but that omission would've been okay if this menu was a little bit faster.

Instruction Manual

A printed Quick Start Guide comes boxed with the S9300, though it's fairly brief and unhelpful. For the purposes of this review, we had to pop in an included CD-ROM and use the electronic copy of the full Reference Manual. This document is indexed for easy searching and contained almost all the information we needed.

Handling

We never had any outright problems handling the S9300, but certain features could've been more effective. The entire surface of the front panel is designed for extra grip, but offers little benefit in practice. Neither does the vertical plastic line off to the right hand side.

Handling Photo 1

One-handed shooting is shockingly average.

On the rear panel, we notice a wider rubberized thumb rest arranged diagonally between the playback and movie buttons. This area is great at first, but soon begins to soak up oil from the skin and become slippery. Ultimately, we ended up cradling the S9300 at the base of the thumb while pinching it between the thumb and middle finger. It's true this arrangement is no better or worse than most ultracompacts, we just expected more from this camera's numerous built-in ergonomic features.

Handling Photo 2

Jeremy's got some monster hands.

Buttons & Dials

All buttons have strong tactility, but their flat profiles make them difficult to find when shooting in the dark. The shutter button is particularly well-designed, with a long stroke for a compact camera and a very defined focus lock stage.

Buttons Photo 1

The shutter release has great tactile feedback.

The rotating directional pad is also excellent, and the OK button protrudes sufficiently from center to allow comfortable use with the thumb.

Buttons Photo 2

In fact all buttons are robust and easy to use.

Display(s)

A gorgeous 3.0 inch, fixed position LCD monitor dominates the rear panel. Screen resolution clocks in a 921,000-dots, which is above average. Onscreen images are rendered true to the final product (perhaps with a little extra contrast), and the monitor itself is covered by an anti-glare coating which, aside from do its job, also gives the screen a very professional-looking blueish tint.

Image Stabilization

This camera's lens-shift Vibration Reduction is sufficiently effective that we do recommend leaving it turned on when shooting from the hand. However you shouldn't expect an especially drastic difference when using the feature. Our shaker test recorded a 13% improvement in sharpness when using VR, not an amazing improvement, but not worthless either.

Shooting Modes

All shooting modes are accessed via the excellent hardware mode dial on the right side of the top panel. Along with Auto mode (which is really Program Auto) there are dedicated modes for continuous shooting, scene selection, effects, smart portrait, backlighting, and night landscapes.

Focus

Recording Options

Six different shooting resolutions are available, plus an extra setting at maximum resolution with improved compression quality. Lossless RAW encoding is not supported.

Speed and Timing

Continuous shooting gets its own stop on the mode dial and the suite of options is extensive. There are settings for high speed and low speed continuous modes, as well as pre-shooting cache mode, high speed video at up to 120 frames per second, best shot selector, and Nikon's "Multi-shot 16" feature.

At full resolution and minimum ISO, we clocked the S9300's high speed continuous mode at 6 frames per second, for as many as 6 shots in a row. But we also noticed speed increased slightly with ISO. By boosting sensitivity up to 3200, we were able to coax 7 frames per second from the camera. The low speed continuous mode is slower, but can handle nearly 50 shots in a row.

Although these are strong numbers, our only complaint is the time it takes for this camera to recover from a burst. Data writing is rather slow, so if you miss the moment on your first burst, expect it to be long gone by the time the camera is ready to try again.

Self-timer options, sadly, are quite minimal, with only 10 second and 2 second countdowns available.

Features

We've yet to see a truly compelling use case for in-camera GPS, but if you really have to have it, Nikon's implementation is one of the market's most complete. Otherwise, great burst mode and video scores add to this camera's value.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

Picture effects get their own position on the mode dial, but only six effects are available: Soft, Nostalgic sepia, High-contrast monochrome, High key, Low key, and Selective Color. Scene mode options are more extensive, with settings like Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Party/indoor, Beach, Sunset, Food, Museum, and more. There's also a Scene auto selector setting that attempts to automatically detect the proper scene mode based on your subject.

Other Features

GPS Transceiver

The S9300 features a very robust GPS package, including points of interest, clock synchronization, and an electronic compass. This implementation is much better than many of the industry's attempts last year, most of which barely worked at all. Unfortunately, this feature has a tendency to drain the camera's battery, so we kept GPS turned off when we weren't testing it.

Recording Options

Video may be recorded in 1080p, 720p, or 480p, at either 30 or 15 frames per second. 720p and 480p also include high speed options: 60 and 120 frames per second respectively. iFrame shooting, for playback on iOS devices, is also supported. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

Zoom

Optical zoom is unlocked while a recording is in progress, though speed is reduced to cut down on mechanical noise. This is the only manual control available during a recording.

Focus

A handy menu option allows the user to decide between locked or continuous focus during video. This option is independent of the equivalent setting for still shooting.

Audio Features

Two small stereo microphones flank the GPS module on the top of the camera. Both are sufficiently far away from the most comfortable hand positions to avoid getting covered by accident. Wind noise reduction is supported and may be toggled in the video tab of the menu.

Conclusion

The Coolpix S9300 fails to sufficiently distinguish itself from competing models in the crowded travel zoom space. None of our test results were high water marks for the category, though none were among the worst either. Despite design and looks to the contrary, this is a strictly-average camera.

On the plus side, the S9300's noise reduction performance came within striking distance of the outstanding Casio ZR100, as well as the Sony HX9V, our highest rated travel zoom. Nikon's automatic and custom white balance algorithms are also freakishly accurate in this camera, posting some of the smallest error values we've ever seen; and that goes for all cameras, not just compacts.

Sadly these details aren't enough to excuse some severe and systematic problems with many of our most important ratings. Sharpness and chromatic aberration, for example, are particularly poor. We see this all too often with travel zoom and ultra zoom cameras, manufacturers squeeze extra long lenses onto tiny cameras and the glass just can't keep up. It seems not even Nikon is immune to this temptation.

The S9300 has a textbook case of zoom-itis. Furthermore, the increase in megapixel resolution does not result in especially sharp stills, and while the new GPS module is better than most, it's only a distraction from lackluster image quality. For $350 there are better options out there. Buy them instead.

Up next