Nikon Coolpix S9900 Review: Made for Travel

At $300, the 16-megapixel Nikon Coolpix S9900 is one of the more expensive compact cameras we tested, but it's well worth every penny for someone who wants a small camera that's good for traveling. With its wide focal range, articulating LCD and fast autofocus, it's great for close-ups in Cleveland or panoramas of Paris. Regardless of how you use it, though, the S9900 is one of the top compact shooters available.

Design

At 4.5 x 2.6 x 1.6 inches and 10.2 ounces when fully loaded with a battery and SD card, the S9900 is highly portable. It's a little too heavy and large for a shirt pocket but easily fits into a jacket pocket (or pants pocket as long as you're not wearing skinny jeans).

Although the S9900 lacks a viewfinder, its high-resolution, 3-inch articulated LCD makes up for that omission, as it allows you to easily shoot from overhead or low angles (and take selfies with the whole gang). Plus, it folds into the camera to protect the screen when it's not in use.

One of the S9900's many travel-friendly features is the image-stabilized 30x optical zoom lens, which has a 35-millimeter-equivalent focal range of 25 to 750 mm. That's wide enough to capture architecture in Rome and long enough to zero in on exotic wildlife while on a safari.

Features

Built-in GPS can be used to append location data to images, which can later be displayed via Google Maps and social media so that you'll always know where you were when you took a specific shot. A built-in map, with points of interest, will help you find cool places to take pictures while you're on the road. The camera is also equipped with NFC/Wi-Fi for remote shooting and sharing via mobile devices.

Beyond its travel-friendly persona, the S9900 offers a long list of photo features that cover all the bases, from basic shooting options to manual exposure modes and everything in between.

MORE: How Many Megapixels Do You Really Need?

Performance

Generally, the Coolpix S9900 took excellent images, regardless of the conditions. Scene modes and Auto offer no-brainer shooting, and both work quite well to deliver spot-on exposure, seen in this midday photo of wildflowers (and a few weeds).

f/6.0 1/400 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitasf/6.0 1/400 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano NikitasColors, like those of these irises, are rendered beautifully with rich but natural tones. And automatic white balance worked surprisingly well even in the shade.

f/4.2 1/320 sec, ISO 800 Credit: Theano Nikitasf/4.2 1/320 sec, ISO 800 Credit: Theano NikitasAnd if you want to get a little creative after the shot is captured, just apply one of seven special effects to your images in playback. The S9900 also offers basic in-camera retouching, but we decided to apply the Cross Screen effect to add a little sparkle to this barn (before and after images below).

f/4.8 1/20 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas (Before)f/4.8 1/20 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas (Before)

f/4.8 1/250 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas (After)f/4.8 1/250 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas (After)With an f/stop range of f/3.7-6.4, the lens isn't particularly fast. But its image stabilization works well, so you'll be able to take blur-free shots at slower shutter speeds. When you're shooting at the far telephoto end, mount the camera on a tripod, if possible, and use the free Nikon iOS or Android Wireless Mobile Utility (WMU) app to trigger the shutter to ensure camera shake is alleviated.

The lens also captured crisply focused details, as seen in the wood slats of this barn.

f/4.8 1/250 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitasf/4.8 1/250 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano NikitasThe camera offers an ISO range of 125 to 1600 (3200 and 6400 are available in Program and Manual Exposure modes). It's best to keep the ISO at 1600 or below for the best quality. At ISO 1600, the S9900 was able to maintain details on the straw hat; higher ISOs resulted in soft, noisy images.

f/3.7 1/160 sec, ISO 1600 Credit: Theano Nikitasf/3.7 1/160 sec, ISO 1600 Credit: Theano Nikitas

The image-stabilized 30x optical zoom lens is wide enough to capture architecture in Rome and long enough to zero in on exotic wildlife while on a safari.

Video

On the motion side, the S9900 offers a number of options, from full-HD movies (1920 x 1080 at 30/25p or 60/50i) to VGA 640 x 480, as well as a couple of high-speed options for slow motion.  Like its still images, the S9900's video is crisp, with accurate but rich colors. The stereo microphones picked up the sound of the running water quite well.

Full HD (1920 x 1080 at 30fps). Credit: Theano Nikitas

MORE: Camera Recommendations for All Kinds of Photographers

Battery Life

Rated at 300 shots per charge or a total of 1 hour of video, the S9900's battery life is pretty good for a small camera. Because I didn't use the flash and rarely spent time reviewing images on the LCD or scrolling through menus, the battery lasted for more than a few days of regular shooting.

Bottom Line

The Nikon S9900 offers excellent image quality, travel-friendly features, and enough simple and advanced options to keep both snapshooters and experienced photographers happy. We also really like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500 ($298), which lacks an articulating screen but is more compact and has a wide range of apps with which you can add effects to your photos. But the Nikon's wider zoom range makes it the better companion for vacations near and far.

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