Technology

A Nikon Pick for the Camera Shy


Nikon_s9_110x100
Editor's Rating: star rating

The cool-looking CoolPix S9 performs small miracles in the hands of novice users, producing fabulous pictures for a fair price

I'm not a photographer by any stretch. In fact, I'm relatively positive that if there exists a 'who's who' of the world's worst photogs, you'll find me in it.

But I still try to get a decent picture now and then, whether I'm wandering through Central Park or on vacation somewhere like Florida or Southern California. The camera I had been using stopped working, so I was eager to try the smart-looking $250 Nikon CoolPix S9 (rarely does a camera get me excited on sight) for the first in a series of reviews on affordable digital cameras timed for spring holidays and graduations.

Size and Other Matters

What intrigued me right away is the device's size. My last camera was rather thick and awkward to carry in my pocket. I carried the S9 with me during a weekend of car shopping, snapping pictures of the various vehicles I test-drove. In a few cases I forgot I had the camera entirely—in part because it fit so comfortably and unobtrusively in my jacket pocket.

The pictures I took were by and large terrific, mainly because the S9 is one of those cameras that takes much of the guesswork out of the process—in particular, by eliminating settings that make no sense to nonphotographers like me.

Another welcome difference compared with other cameras I've used is the S9's viewfinder, a large 2.5-inch LCD screen on the back of the camera. No more holding the camera up close to your eye to line up a shot. Since having switched to digital a few years ago, I've come to prefer setting up a shot with an LCD viewfinder, and this is one of the best that I've seen.

Pushing Buttons

The S9's outer controls are pretty straightforward. The power button is small and initially hard to find, but when pressed the camera is ready to shoot in about two seconds. Most controls are easy to understand, but not all. One I like is the macro close-up option, activated by pressing an icon of a tiny flower on the lower part of a four-point wheel-button. In hindsight, the flower should have been obvious, but I did have to consult the manual to decode its meaning.

This close-up feature lets you get really close while remaining in focus. This is welcome because sometimes I like to take pictures of small objects shot very close up, and am rarely happy with the results. Usually, I blame my own lack of expertise, but with the S9, the results were uniformly terrific.

Another setting I like on the S9 is "BSS," or best shot selection. This is the ultimate "for dummies" type of setting. When enabled, the camera takes a bunch of pictures at once, compares them, and then picks the best one of the bunch.

Red-Eye Removal

Some other external controls are worth noting. Take the automatic portrait feature. A tiny button turns on a little box in the viewfinder that focuses on the subject's face. When the picture is taken, problems like red eye are automatically corrected in the shot. In my experience, using this feature yielded better portrait shots, but I experienced a somewhat frustrating lag in shooting.

Other settings—including ISO speed, exposure, and white balance—are harder to find, nestled within a software menu rather than an external hardware control, though they tend to be less important to novices like me in the first place.

Overall, I like this camera a great deal and have no trouble recommending it, especially given its reasonable $250 suggested retail price.

Hesseldahl is a reporter for BusinessWeek.com.

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