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On my travels across the country and around the world, I suppose I'm more fussy than most people about getting not just good shots but great shots. And so it was on last fall's Viking Star cruise to Istanbul, Santorini, Athens, Dubrovnik and Kotor.
As we boarded our last tender and neared our final destination, Venice, I chatted with the editor of Frommer's about his photo experiences during the trip. He whipped out a Nikon Coolpix S9900 point-and-shoot camera and said, "This is all I need. It's the perfect travel camera."
So I contacted Nikon and they sent me the S9900 to try out during my next trip, a weeklong cruise down the Mexican Riviera aboard Ruby Princess (I know, tough life!). I also took my Canon 5D, along with the usual 50mm prime lens and 70-200 telephoto lens to compare the results.
The bottom line: The Coolpix S9900 (retail price: $255 to $300) is one terrific lightweight camera that captures high-quality images in good lighting conditions. It's a breeze to tuck into your pocket or purse, and much more convenient to bring along on an arduous hike. For the vast majority of consumers, it's a terrific step up from your smartphone camera for any special images you want to capture. And for serious photographers, it's a nice complement to — though not replacement for — a digital SLR camera. (Just about all of my 10,000+ photos on Flickr were taken with a DSLR).
The main drool-worthy feature that attracted me is its 30x optical zoom — that is to say, 30 times more powerful that my iPhone6's lens. For walking around, there's nothing more convenient than a smartphone. But we've all seen those zillions of photos where the subject is way ... too ... far ... away. ("Is that Aunt Marge?" "I can't really tell.")
The camera feels comfortable in your hands and its design is sleek intuitive. The interface is understandable, though all of these camera could use a better UX when trying to pair with a wi-fi enabled device; after a little while I was able to download my photos just fine.
But you're not here to read a lengthy review. Below are the results: You be the judge. All were taken with the Nikon Coolpix S9900.
One under-appreciated feature of the Coolpix S9900 is that it records the exact location of each shot you take — handy for the new generation of mapping apps just getting off the ground that let users relive journeys and compare trips with other travelers.
The S9900 also has a pretty good video recorder built in, but I didn't capture anything compelling to share here.
Now, the bad news. In some low-light situations, I had trouble using the S9900's Full Auto (green camera icon on top control dial) and P settings for the aperture, so had to switch it to shutter or aperture priority for it to get a decent result. In very low light, as expected, shots came out dark and pixelated.
The final bit of bad news was that a good 15 percent of my shots came out corrupted, like the example below. This may have been due to the SD card rather than the camera, but it was disappointing to see a couple of dozen shots like this:
On the whole, though, the Coolpix S9900 gets a big thumbs up. Let's call it a solid, sensible and well-priced solution for the modern traveler. Depending on your needs, you might call it the perfect travel companion.
Note: As a tech writer and former columnist for Engadget, I have reviewed dozens of tech products over the years from brands such as Apple, Samsung, Nokia, Nomad and many others.