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Nikon Coolpix S9400 Feedback

posted Aug 28, 2013, 1:45 PM by Victor Zakharov   [ updated Aug 28, 2013, 1:52 PM ]
I decided to drop some good words about this camera after my last (positive) experience with it. This will be an article from an average home user with a slight hardware/software background. I will provide my personal experience and opinion regarding use of this camera. Expect all statements to be supported by facts, but do not expect lots of research effort being put around each.

Okay, a little bit of history of my purchases. This was a retail box, which I got on sale (-50$ off MSRP), because S9500 started to appear in Canadian stores. I did not need all the new features that came in S9500, so I thought it's a good deal to get 50 bucks off.
I am using it with an Apex 20 AW Lowepro camera bag, and I always put a spare battery into an SD card compartment. If you put a battery where it's supposed to be, it often falls out. And no, I don't think I will ever have the spare SD card, with how card sizes are growing today.
I also purchased a supposedly genuine EN-EL12 Nikon battery (priced at equivalent of roughly 13 CAD) for my Coolpix S9400 from a Chinese seller on eBay. Kept as a backup for a while, it was assigned as a primary later on, to test its performance. I figured that I never had to use my spare, and this last trip finally made me use it.

I received the Chinese battery discharged to half (as shown in S9400), so after a couple test shots, I left it plugged in overnight. To my surprise it was not charged the next morning, still showing half of the charge. This was never the case with a retail Nikon battery (one that came with the package). After 24 hours the battery was finally charged at 100%. Sure enough, it got me suspicious about battery quality.

Last weekend we went on a trip to Toronto Islands. I did over 300 shots using this Chinese Nikon battery, approximately around 330 shots, IIRC. When taking pictures, I noticed uneven drain of the battery. Almost 300 shots were taken and battery showing at full. Then half-drained for some 30 shots, and then it died completely. I will keep an eye on its further performance, but it certainly is weird to me. IIRC, the native Nikon battery is more or less linear.

I did 450 total shots on that day, most of them were taken in a bright setting (outdoor, daylight) - I think flash fired only 10% of the time. I also captured 1.5min of video.

Overall, things I don't like about the camera, first to come into my head:
  • The flash pops out unexpectedly. You may think it's bright enough, but the camera thinks it needs a flash. The location of it is intrusive, so your left hand grab will feel uncomfortable, be sure not to drop the camera because of the sudden flash popup. To work around this issue, I figured you need to learn manipulating the camera with just the right hand. BTW, this gives you more options when taking shots, since you no longer need to have a camera in front of you. The camera is fairly lightweight, so you don't feel finger joint pain from one-handed grab, even after prolonged use.

  • After each shot the camera gives you an option to apply special effects, which I never used so far. Normally I would "Cancel" by pressing a "Menu" button, but sometimes it says something about "writing to the camera, please wait...", so you often need to wait 2-3 seconds between shots. Problem is that you don't know how many shots can be made in a row beforehand. So you may miss an important one. I also find it weird to have such slow write speed on a class 10 SD card. I mean <0.5sec is acceptable, but not as high as 2-3sec.

  • There seems to be a video recording delay. When you click to record a video, it pauses for 2 seconds, and only then starts recording. After the recording is done, there seems to be another delay of 5 seconds or so, while the video is being "finalized". This is another thing I am having trouble understanding. We are out of the CDs era, when you had to do lead-in and lead-out (finalize a session), and it took a while. In my understanding, flash storage should have more predictable behavior, i.e. both delays should be exactly 0.

  • Something I remember from another trip - improper compensation for wind noise (video recording). If the camera interprets wind noise as "too high", after internal compensation (this camera has such a feature), you could hardly hear anything in the video, like if the volume was heavily turned down. Yes, no wind noise, but then also no useful sounds. However, when you were there, you remember that you could hear everything clearly, and don't remember heavy wind blows. I guess it's a compromise being that camera's microphone is not as good as human ear. On my old point-and-shoot camera the noise is sometimes so high, that it's all you hear. Both are extreme points, and I prefer how Nikon handles this situation.
And here is something I liked about the camera:
  • Quality shots. Most important highlight, it really does produce great shots, comparable to that of a DSLR camera.

  • Long battery life (300+ shots per battery), comparable to that of a DSLR camera. Factor in the compact size, and it appears a very well balanced device. My other point and shoot takes around 120 shots on 1 charge. So I would have needed 3 spare batteries to succeed on my last trip (which don't fit into its camera bag).

  • 18x zoom (comes handy at times). With added image stabilization, it enables you to take great shots from afar, without a tripod. I found that trying to compensate for a natural hand shake makes the shot worse, more blurred, so just focus on taking the picture, and not your breathing etc.

  • Lightweight (200g with battery and SD memory card), fingers do not hurt after 450 shots, unlike my bigger Canon 450D (Rebel XSI).
Overall, I consider this to be a great purchase. I did not expect a point and shoot camera in this size & weight range to perform as good. My attitude to bad shots is often like "Cmon, what do you expect from a point and shoot camera? Want good shots - get a DSLR". Nikon S9400 breaks this stereotype and can be a good companion on a hiking trip with long walks, backpacking and similar. Compare 1kg of a DSLR + wide zoom range lens, to what this little 200g guy has offer.

Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as myself recollecting the thoughts together and putting them into a fairly organized article.