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Nikon Coolpix Cameras for Travel Review

The quality of the photos on VagabondJourney.com have improved significantly over the past year. The reason for this is simple: I began using a real camera, I’ve began using a Nikon Coolpix S8100. At this stage of digital photography it is often a folly to credit a camera with good photos alone — for the [...]

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The quality of the photos on VagabondJourney.com have improved significantly over the past year. The reason for this is simple: I began using a real camera, I’ve began using a Nikon Coolpix S8100.

At this stage of digital photography it is often a folly to credit a camera with good photos alone — for the most part it is the photographer that takes good photos, not the camera. But I have an extreme case: prior to picking up the Nikon Coolpix S8100 I’d been using heavy duty, waterproof, “indestructible” cameras — like the Olympus Stylus Tough — that all too often sacrificed quality photos for durability. This is no longer an acceptable trade off in the travel blogging profession.

So last year I chose to go for a high quality point and shoot camera, knowing well the risks associated with doing so as well as the potential benefits. I went with a Nikon Coolpix S8100.

Why I chose it

There are three elements that I look for in a travel camera: speed, durability, and photo quality. Taking a photo means nothing if it comes out blurry, a good quality photo means little if the camera takes so long to turn on that the prospective subject is long gone or has completed the key action, and the above two factors mean absolutely nothing if the camera is broken.


The Nikon Coolpix S8100 is not the most durable camera in the world — it could easily be broken — but, for a standard point and shoot, it is tough enough for travel. The camera’s body is metal, and it feels solid in the hands. It has a main knob selector on the top and some pretty basic buttons on the rear. I’m sure if I submerged it in water it would fry, but, as it is a standard camera, I need to respect its parameters.

I’ve dropped this camera on pavement, had the body crack open, and put it through the rigors of world travel — often carrying it in my vest or pant’s pocket — and it is still working nearly a year later. I’m actually impressed.

Fast speed

I document culture. I rarely will ever set up a photo with people posing. I need a camera that’s as fast as the streets it’s being used in. I need to be able to whip out my camera, flip it on, and take a photo within a second or two, and the Nikon Coolpix S8100 allows me to do this in full.

“It’s the only point and shoot that’s even rated for speed,” the salesman told me when I bought it.

I remember timing the speed of nearly every camera in Best Buy last year. I would turn it on and gauge how long it took before it allowed me to snap off a photo, how long the recovery time was between shots, how long it took to spring back to action from hibernation mode, and how long it took to auto-focus. The DSLRs were, of course, the fastest, but there is no way I was going to cart a big boner camera around the world. So I had to go for fast compact.  Of these, the Nikon Coolpix S8100 was clearly the fastest. Nikon claims that this camera starts up and is ready to go in half a second, which is truly fast for a point and shoot. This camera has even been described as “DSLR like” in many reviews.

Photo quality

I can’t complain. I’ll put it like this: when I point a camera at something, push the shutter button, and the photo comes out looking like what I’m looking at in real life I call it good. The only problem is that the flash of this camera seems to be a little too strong, and white out photos in darker situations are common.


Taking video on this camera is an incredibly straight forward process. There is even a video record button on its rear. You just point the camera at what you want to video and push record. Done. There are various video settings, with 1080 HD being the highest. I can’t complain about the quality of the videos that I’ve been taking with this camera.


The S8100 uses a lithium-ion battery that has a relatively long life. I use this camera regularly throughout each day but have found that I only need to recharge it about twice per month. The recharge is done “in-camera,” meaning that you need to plug the entire camera into the USB port of a computer or a wall outlet. This is a little annoying, as I use multiple batteries (so I have a backup for longer trips into remote areas), and would prefer to charge one battering while using the other. But, in the end, this inconvenience is not worth complaining too loudly about.

Specs — if they mean anything to you

  • 10x zoom lens
  • A versatile focal range of 30-300mm
  • 12 megapixels
  • Back-illuminated CMOS sensor
  • High resolution 3 inch LCD screen
  • Takes full 1080p high-definition videos with stereo sound
  • Lens-shift vibration reduction
  • 1cm macro mode
  • In-camera HDR imaging

Design flaws?

The only real design flaw that I feel the camera has is that the tripod attachment is at the far edge of one side. This means that you can’t set the camera up on a mini-tripod and expect it to stand on its own. But remedying this problem is easy: you just find a block, a cup, something to prop it up with.


The Nikon Coolpix S8100 is an excellent travel camera. It is durable enough, takes high quality photos, and is incredibly fast. It’s good for us travelers who perpetually keep our cameras on the “auto” setting. But I have my doubts whether the photo quality would be up to par for a professional photographer — but that’s a whole other game in and of itself. In all, the Nikon Coolpix S8100 is an excellent point and shoot camera, a traveler needs nothing more complex than this.


I paid $400+ for my S8100, but this was a year ago and they are now going for as low as $130.

Buy one from Amazon right now!


Filed under: Cameras, Electronics, Travel Gear

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

4 comments… add one

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  • Martin Pietrzak May 26, 2012, 2:57 pm

    I agree the Nikon coolpix is a great choice for the everyday shooting, but I would still recommend to get a digital SLR for the more vibrant and pro look in your travel pics. Also we bought Pentax w90 for its durability and ability to take it into the water. The quality is not great, but we took some great underwater shots and photos. Do you know of any good alternatives for underwater cameras?

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    • Wade Shepard May 26, 2012, 8:49 pm

      Hello Martin,

      That’s really funny about the “indestructible” underwater cameras: they seem to take better photos underwater than they do above it haha. I’ve been through three of these cameras now. I would say the Canon D10 is probably the best of the indestructibles, although I’ve only tested it and have never owned one. Check out the review on the site for the Canon D10.

      If you know how to use a DSLR I think they could be a benefit, but it’s my impression that most travelers don’t really know how to get the most out of them.

      Thanks for the comments.

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      • Martin Pietrzak May 27, 2012, 2:47 pm

        Thanks for the tip. I will have a look at the d10. I think you are right about dslrs and travellers. I just think it’s worth the time to learn but then again so are many other things in life.

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        • Wade Shepard May 29, 2012, 7:00 am

          I agree. Some people can use them really well and it shows. I really like their fast reaction time, but other point and shoots are starting to rival this attribute. Still though, even the S8100 that I’ve been using seems slow compared to a good dslr.

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