- Review Date: 5/1/2014
- Bottom line: The Nikon Coolpix S9700 camera packs a 30x zoom lens into a compact body with Wi-Fi. Its image quality earns Editors' Choice honors.
- Pros: Sharp lens. Good image quality through ISO 800. In-camera image filters. 5.7fps burst capture mode. 30x zoom range. Sharp LCD. GPS. Wi-Fi.
- Cons: Pricey. Wi-Fi could be more functional. External charger not included.
If you're in want of a long zoom lens in a pocket-friendly form factor, the Nikon Coolpix S9700 ($349.95) is a serious contender for your dollar. The 16-megapixel compact packs a 30x zoom lens, full manual control options, integrated Wi-Fi, and a GPS. On paper it's very similar to the Canon PowerShot SX700 HS, but the Nikon delivers detailed images with less noise when you push its ISO to higher levels, and earns our Editors' Choice award for compact superzoom cameras.
Design and Features
The S9700 is slim enough for most pockets, measuring 2.5 by 4.3 by 1.5 inches (HWD), and weighing just 8.2 ounces. Its edges are rounded, and while there's a ridge on the front face to help you better hold it, it's not quite as comfortable in the hand as the Canon SX700, which features a more substantial hand grip. The lens is a 30x (25-750mm f/3.7-6.4 equivalent) design, which is very close to the field of view captured by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40's 24-720mm lens.
The camera's top plate houses a retractable flash (it raises automatically when it's enabled), as well as the power button, shutter release and zoom rocker, and a mode dial. The other controls are on the rear panel, to the right of the OLED display. There's a dedicated button for video recording, a flat control dial with four directional presses (they control the flash output, exposure compensation, macro focus mode, and self-timer) and a center OK button, a World Map button, and the standard playback, delete, and menu controls.
The mode dial houses the expected Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Program modes, as well as a fully automatic setting (represented by a green camera icon), and positions for Scene modes, color filters, and a Smart Portrait setting. There's no fancy Creative Shot mode like you'll find on the Canon SX700 and SX600, but you do have the option of applying filters to any photo you've shot with the S9700. By default the camera prompts you after each picture to do so, but I quickly turned this feature off—you can always apply filters when reviewing images on the card.
Nikon opts for a full menu that obscures the Live View feed for settings adjustment. This is contrast to other cameras that opt for an translucent overlay menu. Exactly which settings are available vary based on the mode in which you're shooting; if you are in P, A, S, or M, you'll have the most control available to you. You can adjust the amount of compression applied to images (we set the camera to Fine mode—there's no Raw shooting available as there is with the Panasonic ZS40), the output resolution, white balance, the metering pattern, the burst shooting mode, ISO, the autofocus mode and area, whether or not you're prompted to apply Quick Effects to images, and what your Live View feed will look like in Manual mode. When the M Exposure Preview is set to On, you'll get a real time view of what your output image will look like, which is helpful for those times when you're shooting a scene with mixed lighting and want to nail the exposure perfectly.
The rear display is a 3-inch OLED with a 921k-dot resolution. It's very sharp and I had no issues using it outdoors on a bright day, but it lacks touch input. There are other cameras in this class that support touch, which is a useful tool for selecting a focus point, including the Samsung WB350F and the Panasonic ZS40.
Wi-Fi is built in, which is a welcome departure from other Nikon cameras that require the WU-1a add-on device. It's possible to transfer images to your iOS or Android device via the free Wireless Mobile Utility application, and to control the camera remotely using the same app. Options are limited when using your phone to control the camera—you can adjust the zoom, activate the self-timer, and fire the shutter. Other settings, such as the flash output, have to be set from the camera, but you can only do that prior to starting the remote shooting session. Nikon is a few steps behind the competition in its Wi-Fi implementation. I'd like to see a few more controls available when shooting remotely, including exposure compensation. There's also no way to post directly to social networks from the camera, as you can with Canon, Samsung, and Panasonic models.
The S9700 has an integrated GPS. When enabled it adds geographic coordinates to your photos—many photo sharing sites and workflow applications will recognize that data and display your photos on a map. The GPS locks onto a signal in about 40 seconds, and the camera has its own world map that displays nearby landmarks.
Performance and Conclusions
The S9700 starts and shoots in just about 1.8 seconds, and can lock focus and fire in 0.1-second. It's got a few continuous shooting modes; one captures a burst of five full-resolution images at 5.7fps, and it can also shoot continuously at 1.2fps. There are some additional burst modes that have trickled down from the Nikon 1 series into the S9700; these include 60 and 120fps burst modes at reduced resolution, a Best Shot Selector (which captures images as long as you hold the shutter button down and saves the one that the camera feels has the best composition and focus), and the Pre-Shooting Cache setting that constantly buffers 1-megapixel images from the Live View feed, so you can capture action a moment after it has passed by holding down the shutter button. The Canon SX600 HS doesn't have quite as many whiz-bang burst shooting features, but it holds its own in normal modes; it starts and shoots in 1.6 seconds, focuses and fires in 0.1-second, and can fire off shots continuously at 1.6fps.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness that the S9700 is able to muster at its widest angle and aperture. It scores 2,688 lines per picture height on our center-weighted sharpness test, which is well above the 1,800 lines required for a sharp photo. The resolution does dip a bit as you move away from the center of the frame, but it holds up until you get to the very edges, which is typical for a compact camera; they show 1,448 lines. The S9700 outresolves the 18-megapixel Panasonic ZS40; it scores 1,955 lines on our center-weighted tests, showing lower numbers at all parts of the frame.
Imatest also checks photos for noise, which can hurt image quality as the sensitivity to light (expressed numerically as ISO) is increased. The S9700 keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 800, jumping from 1.4 to 1.7 percent at ISO 1600. I took a close look at images from our ISO test sequence on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display and was happy to see that, while there is some smudging, detail held up fairly well through ISO 800. It shows a lot more detail than the Canon SX700, which also keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 800; at ISO 400 the two cameras are much closer to each other in image quality.
Video is recorded at 1080p30 quality in QuickTime format. The footage is sharp with rich color and details, but it does show some rolling shutter effects during camera movement. This effect causes moving objects in the frame to advance more quickly at the top than at the bottom, so that they appear to bend in a wobbly manner. There's a micro HDMI port to connect to an HDTV, and a micro USB port that doubles as a charging port. There's an AC adapter included to plug the camera directly into the wall to charge its battery; if you want an external battery charger you'll have to buy it separately. SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported.
The Nikon Coolpix S9700 is one of the better compact superzooms out there, and as such earns our Editors' Choice award. The lens covers a huge 30x range, there's built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, and full manual controls are available. Its images are sharp and it outshines the otherwise similar Canon SX700 HS when pushed to ISO 800. If you have deeper pockets and prefer to shoot in Raw mode you may be happier with the Panasonic ZS40, but the S9700 betters its JPG output. For photographers who want to shoot images without having to worry about post-processing images, the S9700 has a lot to offer.