Reviewed by Mark and Leslie Degner
A camera with a 24 to 2000mm superzoom lens (equivalent 35mm focal length) is sure to catch the attention of most photographers, but then most will quickly dismiss it as more of a gimmick that really can’t possibly be that good optically. That was our first thought, but the more we looked into the camera, the more our interest piqued. The camera in question is the COOLPIX P900, one of the latest in the Nikon COOLPIX compact camera series. This camera is designed for photographers looking for one camera that can do it all, but can it deliver? Let’s find out.
Although the P900 is in Nikon’s COOLPIX compact digital camera series, it’s not very small or compact, but about the size of a small DSLR. Both of us found it was comfortable to hold and seemed lightweight for its size at 899 g with a battery and SD memory card.
The lens on the P900 is an 83X optical zoom with NIKKOR ED glass made up of 16 elements in 12 groups and has a variable ƒ2.8-6.5 aperture. With focal lengths extending from 24mm to 2000mm (equivalent 35mm focal length) you can truly shoot the moon. In fact, at 2000mm the moon will fill most of the image frame and the P900 even comes with a special Moon Scene Mode. If 2000mm doesn’t give you enough reach, you can switch to the Dynamic Fine Zoom mode, which provides focal lengths up to 4000mm or straight digital zoom for focal lengths up to 8000mm. We were pleasantly surprised at the overall image quality that the P900’s lens is capable of producing up to about 1500mm; however, image quality falls off as focal length is increased more. At the wide-angle end of the focal length range, there was a little barrel distortion and the edges were a little soft, but all things considered it performed nicely.
The P900 has a 1/ 2.3” 16 MP CMOS image sensor that will capture images up to 4608 x 3456. Although it’s a relatively small sensor, overall the image quality was pretty good. We were pleased with the results we got with it and were able to produce good quality 11”x14” prints. In terms of video, it’s capable of producing full HD 1080p video with stereo sound.
We were disappointed that the file format is JPEG only; we would have liked to see the availability of RAW file format as well. Also, it would have been nice if there was the option to have the Adobe RGB colour space in addition to just the sRGB colour space. Having these two options would allow photographers the ability to get the most out of the sensor. Granted the P900 is designed as a camera for “amateur” photographers, most of whom want simplicity, but it would be nice to have more choice in file format and colour space. This would definitely make the camera more attractive to a wider range of photographers. However, just because the P900 has only JPEG and sRGB doesn’t mean you can’t get good images, it just means your camera needs to be properly set and work within its limitations.
The P900 has the standard shooting modes (P, S, A, M), along with a variety of Scene and Effect modes. It also has exposure bracketing and exposure compensation. It has an ISO sensitivity of 100 to 6400, but we found that the noise quickly increased above ISO 400 and recommend trying to shoot at ISO 100 or 200 whenever possible.
The contrast-detect AF system performed very well with most subjects that we photographed. Moving the focus point using the multi selector dial was easy and fast. In normal mode the P900 has a minimum distance of 50cm at 24mm and 5 metres at 2000mm. The macro close-up mode worked surprisingly well, making it easy to get close to the subject and even when the subject was about 2.5 cm from the front of the lens, it still focused well.
The lens zoomed quickly between focal lengths, but a shortfall is that no focal length values are visible; all you see is a sliding indicatory, so you don’t know what specific focal length you’re using.
The vibration reduction worked quite well overall, but as you increased the focal length to its upper range it wasn’t quite as effective. Handholding the camera at 1000 to 2000mm and keeping it steady can be a little bit of a challenge, so we recommend for maximum sharpness that you use a tripod whenever possible at focal lengths of 1000mm and higher.
The 921k-dot LCD electronic viewfinder (EVF) provides approximately 100 percent image coverage and is adequate, but it would have been better if it came with a higher resolution EVF since we found we were using it a lot when photographing, especially at longer focal lengths. We really like that the 7.5 cm (3”) LCD monitor was fully articulating, making it very versatile, especially when shooting from a low or high position, and its 921k-dot resolution is adequate. A touch sensitive LCD monitor would be a wonderful addition.
The P900 has a built-in pop-up TTL flash, but no hot shoe. There are many other features with this camera, too many for us to cover them all, including GPS, a virtual horizon, Wi-Fi and NFC. Its battery provides about 360 shots per charge, but there’s no external charger included so the battery has to be charged via a USB cable while in the camera. Charging the battery this way is slow, so we recommend purchasing the optional external battery charger and a spare battery.
For many amateur outdoor photographers the Nikon COOLPIX P900 with its 24-2000mm superzoom lens may just fit the do-it-all-in-one camera requirement, especially considering its $669.95 price. Given its constraints it’s capable of producing pretty good quality images at focal lengths up to around 1500mm, especially at lower ISOs. More advanced/demanding photographers may find the missing features like RAW and Adobe RGB disappointing as this limits the control that the photographer can have on the final image. It’s not perfect, but the P900 performs far better than we expected. As Leslie said at one point while using with the P900, “it’s a fun camera to shoot with.”