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Nikon Coolpix P90 Review

12 Megapixels12 MegapixelsUltra-Zoom: At least 10X optical zoom.Ultra-Zoom: At least 10X optical zoom.Electronic View FinderElectronic View FinderStabilization: Compensates for tiny involuntary movements of the camera.Stabilization: Compensates for tiny involuntary movements of the camera.VGA Video: 640 x 480 or more but less than 1280 x 720.VGA Video: 640 x 480 or more but less than 1280 x 720.Manual Controls: Both fully-manual (M) and semi-automatic modes (T and V).Manual Controls: Both fully-manual (M) and semi-automatic modes (T and V).Custom White-Balance: Specifies exactly what should be white to the camera.Custom White-Balance: Specifies exactly what should be white to the camera.Action Photography: Shutter speeds of 1/1500 or more.Action Photography: Shutter speeds of 1/1500 or more.Night Photography: Reaches shutter-speeds longer than 4 seconds.Night Photography: Reaches shutter-speeds longer than 4 seconds.Spot MeteringSpot MeteringAccepts Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) and SD memory.Accepts Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) and SD memory.Neocamera detailed reviewNeocamera detailed reviewDiscontinued: No longer produced by the manufacturer. May still be in stock or found used.Discontinued: No longer produced by the manufacturer. May still be in stock or found used.

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 24X zoom implies that the sensor behind it must be very small. This is how they get the FLM large enough to reach 624mm. Despite this, the P90 shows mild distortion, mostly at wide-angle, and reasonable sharpness with good consistency across the frame and zoom-range.

The smaller the image sensor, the higher the image noise. Higher image noise is normally dealt with by using stronger noise reduction. The P90 shows a good deal of both as ISO is increased just passed the baseline. At all ISO settings, images are a little fuzzy from combined noise and noise-reduction.

With 12 megapixels and internally sharpened output, ISO 64 and 100 are very usable. ISO 200 is OK too. By ISO 400, images get softer and colors desaturate a little bit. These two problems increase along with ISO. By ISO 800 noise is really apparent . By ISO 1600, there is not much point shooting anymore. This shows definitely more noise than most recent cameras, particularly at low ISO settings.

Ignoring the color distortion which appears at high ISO, the Nikon P90 produces reasonably accurate image colors when its white-balance is properly set, either with presets or custom settings. Outdoors, automatic white-balance does rather well but under artificial light it does poorly. Even when it gets the color right, auto white-balance can take 1 to 2 seconds to get it.

Nikon Coolpix P90

The Nikon Coolpix P90 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 P90 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. Unfortunately, the Nikon Coolpix P90 relies too much on the frame center for its Matrix metering thus making overexposure very common. What this does is make sure a subject placed near the center of the frame is itself well exposed. When the background is brighter than the main subject, the background becomes over-exposed. Photographers know that this rarely works out to make a good picture as a bright background is distracting to viewers and weakens the subject.

Operating performance of the Nikon Coolpix P90 is good. The camera is generally responsive, with good startup, shutdown and zoom speeds. Focusing is OK but not so fast. In low-light though, this digital camera has a lot of trouble locking focus, often giving up after over a second. The zoom controller is not fine-grained. Most importantly though, shot-to-shot speed is good, just over one second.

Full-resolution continuous drive is not fast but still manages 14 frames at roughly 1.5 FPS. 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 customizable time-out, the P90 enters sleep mode which it wakes up from very quickly once the shutter-release is pressed.

Nikon Coolpix P90 Battery Compartment

The final measure of performance is battery-life. This is one aspect where the P90 is seriously limited with only 200-shots per-charge.

Conclusion

It is fun to have a stabilized wide-angle 24X optical zoom lens. The P90 is about freedom to frame anything from far away and have creative control on how to expose it. As such, the P90 definitely lives to its potential.

Nikon Coolpix P90

While it performs reasonably in some areas, and the lens is good for such a long range, this ultra-zoom has image quality problems which are hard to ignore given the competition. The main two problems are high noise levels and frequent over-exposure. When viewed closely, images have a fuzzy feel to them and require more EC than most other cameras. Other major downsides are poor EVF/LCD coverage and inability to focus in low-light.

This is truly too bad because in terms of performance the Nikon Coolpix P90 does quite well. Focusing is not the fastest, but shot-to-shot speeds are great and so are zooming, startup and shutdown times. This is one ultra-zoom that does not feel sluggish at all. The 24X lens is also an achievement in itself, with low distortion and good corner-to-corner consistency. Chromatic aberrations are high though.

Competition includes the Pentax Optio X70, Kodak Z980 and Olympus SP-590. No having seen any of these yet, we cannot know what compromises were taken by such 24X or 26X ultra-zooms. It is clear however that image-quality of the P90 is behind that of shorter ultra-zooms. The bottom line shows exactly this, an average overall performance for a camera with above average versatility.

Average
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By on 2009/07/11
1

Nikon P90 Facts

Large digital camera
12 Megapixels Ultra ZoomISO 64-1600
24X Wide Optical ZoomShutter 1/2000-8s
Built-in StabilizationFull manual controls
0.24" Built-in EVF 230K PixelsCustom white-balance
1.5 FPS Drive, 14 ImagesSpot-Metering
640x480 @ 30 FPS Video RecordingLithium-Ion Battery
3" LCD 230K PixelsSecure Digital High Capacity
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