The S9 comes equipped with stop-motion and time lapse video options, but
ultimately offers more style than substance.
When you take the Nikon Coolpix S9 (street $210) out of its box, the immediate impression is of an antique, elegant cigarette case from one of those 1940's black and white detective films. Small in size with gently sloping, speckled chrome on the body and highly polished chrome sides give it a sophistication and style that will appeal to just about anyone. Aimed squarely at the style-conscious snapshooter, Nikon designed this ultra-compact 6MP camera with features including macro, 15 different scene exposure selections, auto exposure, panoramic assistant, and BSS (Best Shot Selector) that makes four exposures of one image and allows you to choose the best frame, along with some really cool video features.
Nikon has implemented some clever engineering into the S9 as well. To keep the slimness in the body design to eight-tenths of an inch, Nikon uses what it calls a "Right angle zoom" to keep the 3X zoom (a 38 -114mm f/3.5- 4.3 35mm equivalent) EDIF lens completely contained within the camera body at all times. The end result of this is that even with the zoom fully "extended," the camera keeps its slim and stylish profile.
On the software side, Nikon uses a way-cool panoramic assistant that makes shooting multiple image shots a breeze. By selecting panoramic in the scene selection, you can choose which way the camera will pan and after the first shot, a ghost image will appear in 33% of the LCD screen, allowing you to overlap the frames and matching up the details with high precision. There's also a built-in portrait setting that highlights the face or faces in an image and focuses and exposes for these selected areas. This setting also works well for group shots and if you make a lot of people shots, the portrait setting could be your "main" image exposure mode.
The S9 also shoots video at up to 640X480 at 30fps, but the video options don't stop there!
Two specialized video modes are stop-motion and time lapse. To the casual observer, these may seem like the same thing, but there are some important differences. The stop-motion video function is designed for small animations up to 200 frames and gives you the choice of 5, 10 or 20 frames per second playback speeds. When you shoot a frame in this mode, it superimposes the image on the LCD screen and ghosts any movement you make, so you can compare the movements before and after in real time. It's a pretty sophisticated feature and outputs a high quality MPEG movie that's ready for viewing or sharing online.
Time lapse is designed for video sequences of blooming flowers, sunsets, and such. You have the option of shooting up to 1800 frames and can set constant intervals that range between one frame per second to one frame every 10 minutes. This feature also combines the frames and outputs them as an MPEG file that is ready for viewing. It should be noted that using flash in Time Lapse mode will decrease your number of shots dramatically.
Outside of these items, there's not much else to get excited about with the Coolpix S9 for the serious shooter. Because of the small size, the camera itself is ergonomically challenged. Fingers don't fall into place naturally like they do on many other cameras, and to make matter worse, the lens is placed in the extreme upper left corner (when held to take pictures); I often found that my fingers would lay naturally over a portion of the lens while framing a shot.
The thought that went into the placement of the controls is also flawed. A good example of this is the placement of the shutter release button. Using your index finger, you must straddle the zoom toggle in order to reach the shutter release. In shooting, this can cause the zoom to creep if you touch it while trying to expose the image. The control buttons, like most other features in the camera, are small and sometimes hard to depress. I found the power switch to be particularly hard to use and finally resorted to carrying a pen with me to power it on and off.
The menu system on the S9 is also not as intuitive in comparison to other Nikon cameras and lacks that simplicity of navigation that makes other Nikon camera menus so user-friendly. An example of this is that when selecting settings for a particular scene, we had to choose "scene" and then go to menu to see the settings -- why not make all of the settings accessible under each scene listing?
The LCD screen is vital to the S9, since there is no optical viewfinder. The LCD is a generous 2.5 inches, but at 153,600 pixels, is lacking the resolution of many comparable compact cameras. The images also appeared dark and coarse, making critical focusing in macro mode difficult. In some instances, the subject was difficult to see when shooting in bright sunlit conditions. (It's almost as if Nikon had a few hundred thousand outdated LCD screens in inventory and decided to use them on the S9!) Another LCD and software issue that's troubling is that the camera has a habit of showing an image on screen directly after the image is captured, and in every instance the image appeared to be out of focus. The final images proved to be much sharper, but if you were to preview the images on screen, you may think that there is a problem with the camera's focus when in fact nothing is wrong.