Though the S9's manual says that the camera can capture up to 5 frames at a time in its standard burst mode, we found that as long as you hold the shutter button, the camera keeps capturing images, although the speed slows down after the first five images. (This is probably because the camera must wait for the buffer to clear enough room to capture the next image.) Nikon quotes a speed of 1.7 frames per second based on its stated five frames. We were able to capture 42 VGA-sized images in 32.8 seconds, for an average of 1.28 frames per second, and 42 highest-quality 6-megapixel images in 34.8 seconds, for an average of 1.21 frames per second.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
||Typical shot-to-shot time||
||Time to first shot||
||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The Coolpix S9 produced pleasing images with accurate-looking and adequately saturated colours, though the images weren't quite as sharp as we've seen from some other ultracompacts, such as Sony's T series. We saw small amounts of barrel distortion at the lens' widest setting and even smaller amounts of pincushion distortion at its longest telephoto setting, though you'll probably not see it in your photos unless you're shooting an object with many straight lines -- for example, a modern high-rise building with lots of glass windows.
The automatic white balance served up very slightly warm images with our lab's tungsten lights, though still well within the usable range -- you might even like the warm effect. The tungsten preset was more neutral, but had a minor greenish cast. The manual or Preset white balance we created gave us the most neutral results.
Strangely, Nikon includes only centre-weighted, rather than matrix, metering in the S9. In our tests, it seemed to weigh the very centre of the image more heavily than some similar metering systems we've seen. When we tested the camera's ability to balance fill flash, the S9 struggled when the lamp in our test scene was turned to the highest of its three brightness settings, and it didn't provide enough flash to illuminate the entire scene. When we lowered the lamp to its lowest setting, the camera did better, making us think that it gave too much weight to the object in the centre of our image, which caught just enough light from the lamp to confuse a metering system that apparently doesn't take into account a large portion of a scene.
Nikon manages to keep noise under control throughout the S9's sensitivity range, but we noted that the camera's sensitivity maxes out at ISO 400, which is far below what you'll find in many ultracompact cameras. At the very least, we'd have expected the camera to reach ISO 800, though ISO 1,600 would've been better if Nikon wants to remain competitive.
At its lowest setting of ISO 64, we saw very little noise, which likely won't be noticeable in prints, though you'll probably notice it when viewing on a monitor. At ISO 100, noise grew slightly. By ISO 200, noise was very noticeable on monitors. Though Nikon's noise-reduction algorithms help minimise noise in prints, they also rob much of an image's finer detail. ISO 400 showed plenty of noise, though again, not-so-detailed prints should be okay at smaller sizes. In addition to sacrificing finer details at this highest setting, darker portions of our images, such as the face of a plush ape in our test scene, plunged even deeper into darkness, obscuring detail in shadows as well as smoothing the noise reduction.
Overall, Nikon's Coolpix S9 is a decent ultracompact, but its lack of high ISO or image stabilisation, as well as substandard noise performance make us think twice. If you're looking for a snapshot camera, you may be better served with something such as Canon's IXUS 60 or IXUS 65. Or perhaps take a step up to Nikon's Coolpix S7c. Sony's T-series cameras, such as the Cyber-shot DSC-T9, have also done well in our tests, but tend to be rather pricey compared to this Nikon.
Edited by Lori Grunin
Additional editing by Nick Hide