Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Nikon Coolpix S9900

Nikon Coolpix S9900

A pocket-sized camera with a big zoom

We like slim cameras that fit into coat or trouser pockets. We also like cameras that take clear, detailed photos, and that have big zooms for shooting distant subjects. Sadly, you usually can’t have everything. Squeezing two of these qualities into a single camera is a tough technical challenge, and no manufacturer has successfully combined all three.

There’s no mistaking where the Nikon S9900’s strengths lie. It has a huge 30x optical zoom. At 40mm deep and weighing 289g, it’s no featherweight but it’s just about compact enough to fit into your pocket.

The S9900 is extremely easy to use. The rubber-textured handgrip makes it comfortable to hold, and the pop-up flash is sensibly positioned so there’s no risk of it being obscured by your finger. Best of all is the hinged screen, which flips out to the side and can rotate up, down and right around for self-portraits. This lets you shoot while holding the camera at waist height, which is much more comfortable than using outstretched arms, and puts the lens at the ideal height for taking photos of children.

There’s a mode dial with Auto mode, scene-preset and manual-exposure options, plus a command dial and rear wheel for quickly adjusting settings. A dedicated button launches the Wi-Fi functions, including wireless transfers to – and remote control from – Android and iOS devices. Another button reveals your current location on an impressively detailed world map. The built-in GPS also tags your photos with your location. The controls are generally well laid-out, but we would like to have seen dedicated buttons for key settings such as white balance and ISO.

A large zoom is perfect for sports and wildlife photography, but only if the camera is quick enough to keep up with the action. The S9900 ran at six frames per second (fps) in Continuous mode, but only lasted for five seconds and then kept us waiting for five more seconds while it saved them. That’s not ideal for unpredictable, fast-moving subject matter. Autofocus was at least very responsive, and it’s great that you can position the focus point anywhere within the frame – some rival cameras only offer a choice of focusing on the centre of the frame.

Nikon Coolpix S9900 rear lcd

Video quality was generally excellent with life-like colours and sharp focus, although there are other cameras that capture fine details more faithfully. The optical stabilisation did an excellent job of steadying handheld shots.

Photo quality was, sadly, little underwhelming. This is because the camera’s lens doesn’t capture significantly more light than a smartphone or cheap compact camera. We found that details looked a little blocky and subtle textures were lost, but this was only noticeable when we zoomed into the 16-megapixel photos – they looked perfectly adequate at typical viewing sizes. These problems were accentuated in photos taken in low light, but the camera still produced respectable indoor snapshots. The main problem in photos taken in poor light were blurred subjects. We had to set the shutter speed manually to capture moving subjects clearly. Focus was impressively sharp when taking photos at the full 30x zoom.

The Coolpix S9900 isn’t the only compact camera with a 30x zoom, but it’s the best we’ve seen for lens sharpness and we love the hinged screen. If a compact size and large zoom are priorities, and you’re willing to adjust settings manually for best results in low light, it’s an excellent choice.

It doesn’t excel at everything, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better camera with a 30x zoom for under £300.

16-megapixel sensor • 30x zoom (25-750mm) • 3in hinged screen • No eyepiece • Accepts SD, SDHC and SDXC storage cards • 289g • 66x112x40mm (HxWxD) • Two-year warranty