Nikon COOLPIX S9500 Review - The S9500 comes veiled in clever kit, including a 22x NIKKOR zoom lens. We take a closer look and see how the camera gets on in the What Digital Camera Nikon COOLPIX S9500 review
Nikon COOLPIX S9500 Review – Features and Design
The Nikon S9500’s key spec includes an 18.1-megapixel backlit CMOS image sensor designed to help shooting some cracking images, even in low light, combined with accomplished Full HD 1080p video capture with sound. The S9500 also features a 3in OLED display although it lacks a viewfinder – optical or electronic.
The S9500 follows on from its predecessor, the Nikon S9300, but with some neat additional kit such as the longer lens and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. Nikon has incorporated a GPS antenna almost seamlessly into the body; the S9300 had a GPS antenna hump on its top plate that has gone completely on the S9500.
Another change focuses on the display technology. The screen is an OLED, which while offering improved performance in terms of brightness it has less resolution than that of the S9300 and it still has some of the same old problems around framing and critical focus assessment in brighter conditions.
The Nikon S9500’s AF system is sophisticated, combining a clever set of options such as a Target Finding AF set up, subject tracking AF and Face priority AF with manual AF point selection and centre-only AF in there too.
The boosted sensor resolution means the new camera has another two million pixels over its S9300 predecessor but I’m not so sure about that, since the sensor size is the same as that of the 16-megapixel S9300 and typically, image noise is worse on cameras with smaller, more tightly packed pixels and that is almost now the case here, as we’ll see.
Other kit includes a set of neat snapping modes that allow you to apply image “looks” such as monochrome, sepia and the like, but there are no Miniature or Toy Camera style filters here. These admirably restrained shooting effects are, arguably at least, photographically useful when opposed to being simple fun features to play around with.
But if it is fun you want, then there are other “fun” Quick Effects filters you can apply to images but only post shoot and these do include effects such as cross processing, the aforementioned Toy Camera mode, Fisheye to name a few.
True, they are all tucked away in the playback system, unlike most of its competitors where you can add the effect at the time of shooting, but it is here, in the Quick Effects system, you can tinker with various visual effects that can distort colour and pixels and more if you want.
The advantage of the Nikon post shoot application of such filters is simple, the camera creates a new file with the chosen edits loaded onto them, rather than applying an effect at the time of shooting and you get just one image with the effect. If you want the choice of with and without the effect on those cameras, you’re forced to shoot another image without the filter applied.
The Full HD video capture produces some great quality video, audio is good but use that wind cut feature to help reduce problems of audio being marred by wind noise.
The GPS enabled compass function means you can apply a very neat, active compass that’s displayed on the camera’s display alongside the normal shooting information. The location of the video record button, sat on the back right shoulder of the camera’s body (behind the mode dial) means it can be hit too easily when trying to sweep the mode dial to a new setting with your right thumb, which is rather frustrating but once used to the control layout, this becomes less of an issue.
There are a set of various scene (or subject) program modes, 17 of them no less, and they include all the usual suspects as well as 3D shooting (for compatible 3D TVs), sports, snow, dusk and dawn settings as well as a food and portrait mode t name a few. Each does its job well enough as does the S9500’s metering.
Two metering modes of a multi-pattern set up and centre-weighted metering are the two options with which you have to play; oddly there’s no spot metering choice, but there‘s exposure compensation in there too help out if needed.
The camera’s AF system and mentioned earlier, has some other tricks too, in that it combines both full time AF and single AF alongside the aforementioned Target Finding and face Priority modes, which make for a very fast, versatile combination and improves the camera responsiveness in terms of focusing while aiding its versatility.
Nikon COOLPIX S9500 Review – Handling
The Nikon S9500’s sleek lines are nice in the hand; a ridge on the front acts as a grip for the right hand and it is needed to get a good hold of the camera. Build is excellent; the camera is certainly sturdy although there are a couple of handling foibles. The top plate houses a small mode dial that gets you into all the main shooting modes, though there are no manual shooting options.
All the auto settings are on this mode dial as well as the effects and scene modes. A small shutter button is surrounded by a very small, fiddly to use, zoom lever and a recessed on/off button illuminates when activated and stereo microphones and a recessed, pop up flash join this group on the tip plate.
And here is the root of the first and second handling handicaps. First up, it is far to easy to cover the flash with a finger or two so it fails to pop up properly when needed without readjusting your fingers. And the second foible is it’s far too easy to cover the two microphones with your fingers so watch out for your audio being muffled.
The S9500’s lens jolts from the front of the camera when activated, the lens moves in a very sprightly fashion ready for action indeed and the lens zoom speed is particularly swift, making getting a good framing on a subject very fast.
The back plate meanwhile holds the direct movie record button and a set of four further controls. A rotating four-way button that scrolls through images or menus with equal gusto, its central “OK” button confirms menu choices or settings and its four “corners” activate the flash modes, exposure compensation, macro modes and the self timer functions.
A menu button does what it says on the tin, activates the menus, with each contextual menu displaying content based on the mode the camera is in; there are fewer options in iA mode than in the Program mode. The playback button sits above the four-way jog dial while a direct delete button, in the bottom corner of the S9500, completes an otherwise ordinary control ensemble.
The Nikon S9500’s back is dominated by the 3in OLED screen, its 614K dot resolution makes images and video look great, but as previously discussed it’s overly reflective in brighter conditions. A flap on the cameras base houses the EN-EL12 lithium ion battery pack and the SD/SDHC/XC storage; there’s an additional 23MB of internal storage to help you get started too.
There are separate HDMI and USB/AV ports under small flaps on the cameras right (from the back) shoulder, and another of the nicer elements of the S9500 is that you can elect (in menus) to have an option to charge the camera when plugged directly into a powered PC’s USB port; a neat extra touch.
Nikon COOLPIX S9500 Review – Performance and Image Quality
In terms of image quality, the Nikon Coolpix S9500’s lens puts in a sterling performance in almost all conditions. Apart from some rather dodgy flare when snapping test shoots from my studio into direct sunlight, the 25mm to 550mm Nikkor lens is crisp. Detail is good and refreshingly so, given the extra two megapixels ladled onto the new sensor when compared with the S9300.
However, image noise and issues around its suppression remain. Noise is negligible from the lowest sensitivity of ISO 125 up to ISO 400; noise is evident but not bad at ISO 800 with the noise suppression and smoothing working well at this setting, well enough to not make any real dramas other than a slight drop in detail.
At ISO 1600 and 3200 detail is progressively wiped away in increasing amounts, colour fidelity (typically excellent on “normal” shots at lower ISOs) drops away quickly; shadow detail fills-in and a splodgy-looking grain is all that is left of any finer detail that might otherwise require more finesse. But at least Nikon resisted the temptation to overload the ISO choices with even higher settings; 6400 is typical on most cameras of this class.
Metering is very good indeed though to be fair, the lighting was uniformly drab while I was snapping a lot of the shots for this camera’s test, I did not miss the spot metering mode, but it is still odd it’s not in there.
What is in there is a good shutter speed range, one ideal for faster moving subjects, and combined with the Vibration Reduction system built into the camera can give very stable pictures at longer focal lengths – avoiding the ISO 3200 setting.
Those shutter speeds are a fastest 1/4000 sec that will ably cover most subjects except in very low light; extended low light exposures are pretty much out of this camera’s remit given a lowest shutter speed of just 4-seconds.
The S9500’s 7.5fps shooting mode is impressive but I could not get it to go above 6fps though it varies between memory cards and subject and shooting conditions. Shot to shot times are a modest two seconds, but from switch on to first shot you’re looking at just under three seconds.
Setting up the Wi-fi is a little counter intuitive but once through the menu set up process it’s a straight forward process of sharing captured images and video but after installing the Nikon wireless app (on either Android or iOS devices) and then you can transfer your photographs or video to whichever smart device you have, and then share them all on one of the many social networks or to your mates or family.
The EyeFi connectivity can be enabled in menus too, so if you have EyeFi cards, that’s another addition to the wireless/sharing options open to you.
Nikon Coolpix S9500 Review – Verdict
The Nikon Coolpix S9500 is available in black, red, silver (tested here) and a brown colour. Its price tag is about right looking at competitors, but for that price you’d be forgiven for expecting few more manual shooting options
However, the S9500 still provides a good balance between automated snapping, post-shoot image processing (all in camera) and the wireless sharing that make it an important step up from its sibling, the Nikon S9300.
The new lens and sensor complement each other well, providing you don’t use sensitivities over ISO 800, where detail is scrubbed away by image noise processing. The focus system, the metering and the handling are okay with the usual caveats around such small camera bodies with such long focal lengths at their disposal, where camera shake can become an issue.
But looking across the otherwise superb image quality, versatility and overall performance, the S9500 makes for a cracking camera at its current price tag.
Nikon S9500 Review – Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of sample images captured with the Nikon S9500. For a full range of sample images, including a full range of ISO shots taken of the WDC Diorama, visit the Nikon S9500 review sample image gallery.