Composition and screen
Like other all-in-one cameras with long zooms, the S9500 offers the choice of composing with either a colour LCD screen or electronic viewfinder (EVF). The 0.44in, 230,000-pixel EVF is large and detailed, matching that on the Panasonic FZ30. The S9500's main screen is smaller and less detailed than its rival though, measuring a fairly modest 1.8in with 118,000 pixels. A button to the right of the viewfinder switches between the EVF and main screen.
The main screen is hinged at the top and bottom, allowing it to be flipped 90 degrees upwards for waist-level shooting, or tilted back by about 40 degrees. Sadly, it can't be twisted sideways, nor flipped back on itself to protect the screen's surface. In this respect it's nowhere as flexible as the fully-flippable screens of the Panasonic FZ30, Sony DSC-R1 or a number of Canon compacts, but it is at least more flexible than a conventional digital SLR.
The display button allows you to compose with three by three grid lines or view a shrunken image with thumbnails of the previous three shots running down the left side. An info button on the side of the camera fires up the live histogram or shows further shooting information.
There's an option to switch the refresh rate of the screen from the standard 30 fps to a 'High Speed' 60 fps mode. This is far preferable in use, delivering both a smoother image on the screen and greatly reducing the clicking sound as the camera adjusts the exposure for different conditions. It does however seem to eat through your batteries more quickly, again illustrating the need to get a set of decent rechargeables ASAP.
The S9500 is equipped with a long 10.7x optical zoom with a 35mm-equivalent range of 28-300mm and a focal ratio of f2.8˜4.9; the actual focal length is 6.2-66.7mm. Like most high-end all-in-ones these days, the zoom is operated by a tactile mechanically-linked ring; this extends the barrel by 33mm when fully zoomed-in. A lens hood is supplied, and the front lens element doesn't rotate during focussing, allowing the easy use of polarising filters.
A dial on the side of the camera switches between continuous, single and manual focussing modes, with a separate macro button below it which selects between normal and Super Macro mode. Like most all-in-ones, the S9500 employs an electrically assisted manual focussing ring, although again like most all-in-ones, it's not a patch on manually focussing with a genuine optical SLR.
The Super Macro mode can focus as close as 1cm, which while impressive, is virtually impossible to exploit without casting shadows on your subject. That said, even if you retreat to around two or three cm, you can still enjoy excellent close-up capabilities.