More and more, manufacturers have been making cameras with larger model numbers that cost less than their larger-numbered brethren. For example, Nikon's Coolpix S9 can cost anywhere up tp £70 less than the Coolpix S5, depending on the store you choose. Both have 6-megapixel sensors, 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screens and 3x optical zoom lenses. Yet there are some rather subtle differences between the two cameras.
The two main differences are in the cameras' LCD screens and lenses. The S5's LCD screen has 230,000 pixels, while the S9's has just 153,600 pixels. This difference makes the S9's LCD appear slightly more coarse than the S5's screen -- you may notice that diagonal lines and curves appear jagged. Though this has almost nothing to do with the cameras' actual captured images, it's a small black mark against the newer S9.
The S5's lens covers a range from 35mm to 105mm, with an aperture range of f/3 to f/5.4. The S9's lens covers a range from 38mm to 114mm, with an aperture range of f/3.5 to f/4.3. This means that the S9 can't achieve quite as wide an angle of view as the S5, but it does reach slightly further with its zoom. (Though most people won't notice much of a difference, since it's less than 10mm on either end.)
The difference in aperture at the telephoto (aka far) end of the two zooms is more important, though still minor. The S9 lets in more light, which means you could potentially use a slightly faster shutter speed when zoomed all the way out, under the same lighting conditions. This time, the edge goes to the S9, as it has more potential to positively affect your actual images.
The S9's design dispenses with the click wheel that Nikon includes on its S5, S6 and S7c. It's a shame, since the wheel provides quick navigation through Nikon's sleek, intuitive menu system. As with most slim, ultracompact cameras, one-handed shooting isn't really possible. The best you can do is to use two hands when changing settings, and then switch to one hand while pressing the shutter. Of course, if you want steady shots, two-handed shooting is always a good idea. The camera's button layout is comfortable to use, but we found the placement of the zoom rocker (to the right of the shutter button) unfortunate, since it's easy to nudge while you're waiting to press the shutter.
As usual with ultracompacts, which are geared toward snapshooters, the Coolpix S9's feature set is simple. You won't find manual exposure controls, though there are 15 scene modes that configure the camera for various shooting conditions. Nikon includes exposure compensation, up to plus or minus 2 EV, so you can tweak exposures when shooting difficult scenes.
If you're shooting a tricky scene and you don't want to use a flash, you may want to consider Nikon's Best Shot Selector (BSS) mode, of which there are four versions. The first shoots up to ten exposures, then selects the one with the least blur. The other three versions are grouped together under a separate heading in the BSS submenu called Exposure BSS -- they're called Highlight BSS, Shadow BSS and Histogram BSS. All three capture five shots each time the shutter is pressed. From the five, Highlight BSS selects the shot with the least areas of overexposure, Shadow BSS selects the one with the least areas of underexposure, and Histogram BSS selects the one with the best balance of the two.
While the S9 includes a manual white-balance feature, in addition to the usual assortment of presets and auto choices, Nikon has renamed this feature 'Preset white balance'. When you see it, don't be confused -- even though we were at first. The camera also includes three continuous shooting modes: one is a normal burst mode, that continues to capture images as you hold down the shutter button, a second captures 16 images and arranges them in a grid as part of one 2,816x2,112-pixel image, and the third captures up to 1,800 images at intervals of 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes or 10 minutes. Like almost all cameras on the market today, you can also choose from a handful of colour modes, including black and white.
The Coolpix S9 was neither the fastest nor the slowest ultracompact we've seen. It took 2.6 seconds to power up and capture its first image, 2.7 seconds between subsequent images without flash, and 3 seconds between images with the flash turned on. Shutter lag measured a speedy 0.7 seconds in our high-contrast test, which mimics bright shooting conditions, and 1.7 seconds in our low-contrast test, meant to mimic dim shooting conditions.