When marketing its latest Coolpix P900, Nikon is very clear on its main selling point. With its zoom lens’ long reach, this camera will come in handy if you want a relatively portable shooter that still lets you capture subjects at distance.
On paper, the P900 has the basics right. It comes with a 16-megapixel 1/2.3 inch sensor and a good range for ISO sensitivity till ISO 12800 when using the special High ISO Monochrome effect mode.
Plus, of course, there’s the 83x super zoom lens that has an aperture of f2.8 at the widest 24mm equivalent to f6.5, at its furthest reach of 2000mm focal length.
Also onboard is an electronic viewfinder, which is essential when you want to plant the camera firmly to your face for more stability. You’re also helped along with the built-in vibration reduction via Nikon’s lens-shift mechanism.
However, with 921k-dot resolution, the viewfinder is not the best out there. From my tests, I feel it is not as sharp or responsive as the king of viewfinders – the Fujifilm XT1 or the Samsung NX1 at 2.3 million dots.
At times, I also found an unwanted internal light source that reflected off the plastic frame inside the viewfinder. This can be quite distracting and actually makes the viewfinder screen seem to lose a little contrast.
Ergonomics-wise, the P900 has the feel of a more expensive digital SLR. It has a good-sized grip so it’s comfortable to hold. Note, though, that the camera is front heavy, which is not surprising because of the extreme zoom lens it holds.
One area can be improved. When you try to balance the camera on a tripod, the position of the tripod plate screw hole is at the bottom left corner of the camera. Usually, the tripod head should align to the centre of the lens, to help with panoramic shots.
Given that the P900 doesn’t let you change up lenses, the tripod hold can be placed somewhere along the lens barrel for optimal balance on the tripod.
This isn’t the case with the P900. So, if you need a tripod, just make sure you get a sturdy one with a strong tripod head to hold the camera in place.
What I do like is that the P900 has two control wheels, both accessible using the right thumb. This makes it easier to change settings, compared to other super zoom cameras in the market.
Things are not perfect, of course. When I need to focus manually and change the ISO, I still have to dive into the menu.
Okay, I can get around this by customising the settings – like having the Fn (Function) button on the top plate control ISO levels and the zoom lever at the side of the lens barrel control my manual focusing – but perhaps these should have been made as default.
When it comes to image quality, the P900 performs quite well. This is down to its sensor, which is larger than most in its class except for the 1-inch types found on high-end compacts and super zooms such as the Sony Cybershot RX100 and the RX10.
When it comes to focusing, the P900 locks on quickly when shooting at the 24mm focal length, its widest in good light. But its performance can definitely be improved. Indeed, you have to be patient in more challenging shooting environments.
One evening, I tried shooting the moon and the camera only locked focus after numerous tries. I will put it down to lack of experience of this camera but even after shooting with it for days later, it is not in the category of a speed demon that’s for sure.
If you need the long distance zoom, focusing speed takes a hit. The P900 will take time – around two seconds – to extend the lens to its maximum 83x zoom.
Sure, the lens can be automatically extended out to 800mm focal length quickly when in “bird-watching” mode, but the P900 won’t react quickly for you to take that shot especially when you are doing street photography.
When the lens is at its maximum zoom, focusing performance can get a little erratic. At times, the camera even tells me subject is in focus when the whole screen is a blur.
Having the super zoom lens has its pitfalls. Not only is the camera slower in terms of operation and focusing, the image quality may take a hit. Yes, I could take a nice sharp picture of a woodpecker hollowing out a tree, but its feathers are not as defined.
In light-starved areas, the Coolpix P900 has issues. With ISO at 3200, the noise can get quite obvious. I’d only use these pictures for sharing on the Net and not for shots that matter a lot to me. I would not venture beyond ISO 1600.
So where does this place the P900? Even with its eye popping zoom, it gets a bit tired after a while, if you don’t use the zoom often.
When it comes to shooting nature, like birds in the wild, I’d need a quicker camera as well as a bit more image quality. Detail is what I’d go after, besides a good zoom.
To be fair, the P900 is not expensive at S$889. But that’s only if you can look beyond its shortcomings and appreciate the reach that the lens affords you.
This camera is geared towards those who want a camera to do almost anything in a single package. In exchange, you’d have to compromise on image quality and speed, important factors which also determine if you can get a good picture.