Nikon Coolpix P100 Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
With such an extensive zoom range in a small body, there are compromises to be expected. It is easy to understand that the lens' short length for a 26X zoom implies that the sensor behind it must be very small. This is how they get the FLM large enough to reach 678mm. Despite this, the P100 shows mild distortion, mostly at wide-angle, and adequate sharpness across the frame and zoom-range. There is strong softening at the extreme corners of images taken at wide angle but it really occupies very few pixels.
The Nikon Coolpix P100 shows both noise and noise-reduction artifacts to varying degrees even starting at the base ISO of 160. It seems that noise itself is well covered by processing as images get gradually softer with each stop of ISO. Up to ISO 400, the differences are small, allowing the camera to print some medium sized images up to 16"x12". ISO 800 shows increased softness, enough to reduce potential print sizes a bit. The top settings of ISO 1600 and 3200 are usable in case of emergency, for web use or small prints. There is noticeable blotchyness on a 4" x 6" but still subjects are recognizable.
The P100 produces reasonably accurate image colors with above average white-balance. The Normal setting is just slightly shifted towards blue saturation which is good for skies at the expense of duller yellows. Vivid is equally reasonable, having increased saturation while not being unnatural. More Vivid is the name of the over the top neon color setting. This digital camera captures consistent colors across its ISO range.
The white-balance system is much improved from its predecessor. In automatic, colors are very good under natural light, while a distinct yellow cast is seen under tungsten and CFL lighting. Using preset white-balance improves matters significantly with a only a slight cast visible under artificial light. Custom white-balance is spot on.
The Nikon Coolpix P100 features 4 metering modes: matrix, center-weighed, spot and spot-AF. The spot metering modes behave as expected with one of them using the frame-center and the other using the AF point to evaluate exposure. The P100 is helpful here in that it shows the spot or center area being used. The default metering mode is Matrix metering which is expected to produce pleasing results under most circumstances.
The Nikon Coolpix P100 is tuned to photograph rather bright images. This causes it to frequently overexpose by 1/3 or 2/3 EV. Occasionally more EC is needed but this is true of most cameras as well. It rarely seems to underexpose. Dialing in a permanent -1/3 EC gets it to give much better results more than half the time but it does mean more frequent underexposure.
Operating performance of the Nikon Coolpix P100 is good. The camera is generally responsive, with good startup, shutdown and zoom speeds. Focusing is on the slow side, taking about 1s for to lock under most conditions. It rarely misses and generally manages to lock even when light is low. The infinity focus mode is there for the times when the camera cannot focus on distant subjects. It does work but curiously it takes a bit of time to lock, almost as much as normal autofocus.
For a digital camera that has an fast CMOS sensor, the shot-to-shot speed is puzzling. It takes about 2.5s. This is slower than most. For fast action though, continuous drive works as advertised, up to 2.8 FPS in low-speed, up to 10 FPS in high-speed and 60 or 120 FPS at lower resolutions. The LCD only shows images after they are shot in continuous drive, so following a moving subject is next to impossible. Both 2s and 10s self-timer reset themselves after each use. It is rather annoying for the 2s self-timer to do that. The self-timers are also reset when either the mode-dial is rotated or playback more is entered. After a delay, the P100 enters sleep mode which it wakes up from very quickly once the shutter-release is pressed.
Videos from the Nikon Coolpix P100 look impressive, with sharp details and smooth motion. The zoom lens is usable during capture and it does attempt to keep things in focus after zooming, something that very few digital cameras do. A high-quality stereo microphone adds to the overall video performance, capturing sound louder and clearer than most built-in microphones.
The high-speed movie modes are intriguing and seem to perform as advertised, although we have no way of measuring this to confirm. Quality seems good though. Just remember that video at 120 FPS requires at least 1/125s shutter-speed, so high-speed video is not very suitable for low-light situations.
The final measure of performance is battery-life. This is one aspect where the P100 is seriously limited with only 250-shots per-charge.
Performance - How well does it shoot video?
The Nikon Coolpix P100 features several class-leading movie recording modes. The most significant one is the capture of full 1080p HDTV video. This is the maximum resolution allowed by the HDTV standard and captures wide-screen 16:9 aspect ratio movies at 30 FPS. A top-mounted pair of microphones records stereo sound. A dedicated video recording button is used to record.
There are high-speed video capture modes available at lower resolutions. In VGA mode, the maximum speed is 120 FPS. In Quarter-VGA modes, speed can reach up to 240 FPS. When a high-speed video is captured there is no sound to go along with it, as it would not be pleasant during playback. Playback always occurs at 30 FPS. Any video captured in high-speed mode therefore plays in slow motion. For example, 240 FPS video is played 8X slower since 240 divided by 30 equals 8.
A dedicated video button like on the Nikon Coolpix P100 often allows capturing still images while video is being recorded, but the P100 does not support this feature. At the same time, since the P100 does not have a specific mode for video, it does not know when video is about to be recorded. The issue with this is that one cannot set up the initial framing correctly when shooting HD video which has a different aspect ratio than still images. We suggest that Nikon at least adds a set of 16:9 guides in a firmware update. There is also a significant lag, in the order of 3s, before video-recording starts. Another delay occurs when video recording stops.
The Nikon P100 is about being free from distances and the ability to take that freedom along. The stabilized 26X wide-angle optical zoom lens means that anything can be framed without getting much closer. Manual controls give this camera added creative flexibility to expose most subjects in interesting ways.
What the P100 adds to distinguish itself from most long zoom cameras is its high-speed sensor that allows it to capture 1080p HD video and high-speed videos as well. The quality of video and audio from this digital camera is exemplary. The only issues to take note of here is that a significant delay when starting to record is troublesome for capturing spontaneous action and the inability to set up initial framing when capturing HD video means more guesswork for the user.
The still image features of the CMOS sensor were less successful, delivering high-speed continuous shooting without preview and slow shot-to-shot speeds. Focusing is on the slow side, making it difficult to use this camera when speed is needed. The LCD is also problematic in the same circumstances because it prevents accurate framing and evaluating exposure. This causes a lot of trial-and-error when attempting to make a shot. For still subjects, this slows the photographer down but moving subjects simply wont do.
Image quality is good overall with good color, low optical distortion and accurate focusing. White-balance is also better than most. Exposure seems to be just slightly off but overexposes considerably more often than expected. The noise performance is different than most fixed-lens cameras in that low settings are worst than normal but a slow increase means that higher settings are similar to its peers. The P100 remains usable until ISO 800 for typical print sizes.
There are certainly many areas where the Nikon Coolpix P100 performs well. Going for the P100 means having a powerful lens available for snapshots with minimal effort and bringing along a single device that captures both still and full HD video. The compromise in this offering is that it takes more effort to take capture precise images. Image quality is clearly good enough for common image uses, at least in good light and certainly when compared with other extreme zoom models.
Competition is thin, with only the Canon Powershot SX1 and Fuji Finepix HS10 offering CMOS-based ultra-zoom digital cameras with can record 1080p HD video. Canon was one of the first out with a CMOS sensor camera and that model is the SX1 which is two years older than the P100. The Fuji HS10 has not been seen yet but uniquely features a mechanical 30X ultra-wide zoom lens going from 24 to 720mm. The Fuji has very limited exposure range with a maximum shutter-speed of 1/4s, so that one will not be useful for night photography.
Nikon P100 Facts
|10 Megapixels Ultra Zoom||ISO 160-3200|
|26.1X Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/2000-8s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls|
|0.24" Built-in EVF 230K Pixels||Custom white-balance|
|10 FPS Drive, 6 Images||Spot-Metering|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|3" LCD 460K Pixels||Secure Digital High Capacity|
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