Nikon Coolpix P900 Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Performance starts with image-quality which is the main criteria used here to rate digital cameras. To achieve its class-leading 83X optical zoom, equivalent to a 24-2000mm, while actually being a 4.3-357mm lens, Nikon uses a tiny 1/2.3" BSI-CMOS sensor with 16 megapixels squeezed into it. This is exactly how almost every ultra-zoom gets a long reach.
There is a tremendous amount of versatility which comes from a 24 to 2000mm lens. With an ultra-wide angle suitable for architecture and a reach long enough to frame the moon tightly, the P900 is capable of framing pretty much anything. This unique 83X optical zoom lens starts with a respectable F/2.8 maximum aperture but necessarily dims down to F/6.5 at the long end. This means higher shutter-speeds and usually sensitivities are required to keep the final image sufficiently sharp.
The high-speed CMOS sensor used here has a sensitivity range of ISO 100 - 6400, one full stop more of the native range of its predecessor. From ISO 100 to 800, noise is barely visible. What is noticeable is a steady increase in noise-reduction starting at ISO 400. Maximum print sizes are possible at ISO 100 and 200. With 16 megapixels of resolution, this looks really good at 16" x 12" and acceptable up to 20" x 15".
ISO is slightly too smooth with the finest details appearing slightly smudged. This reduces print sizes a little, with medium sizes like 12" x 9" looking great and 16" x 12" still possible. ISO 800 is very similar, with noise-reduction cleaning up nicely while smearing more fine details. One can just pull off a mid-size print but that is it.
Resolution is clearly lost at ISO 1600 with aggressive noise-reduction. It can make some good looking small prints and shows only minimal luminance noise. ISO 3200 is clearly worst and passable for emergencies only in small prints. There is a noticeable reduction in contrast at that point too. ISO 6400 is really one step too far and should be avoided as much as possible.
Color rendition of the Coolpix P900 is set by what Nikon calls Picture Control. There are 3 color ones: Standard, Neutral and Vivid, plus on B&W one aptly named Monochrome. The color modes have adjustable Sharpening, Contrast and Saturation in 7 steps each. Instead of Saturation, Monochrome can filter for Yellow, Orange, Red or Green plus be tinted Cyan or Sepia in 7 levels.
None of the default Picture Control modes produce great results, so it is important to configure the camera before using it. Neutral colors are close to realistic but contrast is anemic. Standard mode has much better contrast but colors are too saturated. Vivid produces completely over-the-top colors. The best results where achieved in Neutral mode with +1 contrast. The default Sharpness setting of 2 provides the sharpest artifact-free output.
Digital cameras require correct white-balance in order to render colors as humans see them and the Coolpix P900 has a large number of options to control this. There are two automatic modes, one which manages pretty well under most conditions and one which attempts to preserve the warm color-cast of tungsten lighting. In real world tests, both these settings work well within the expectations they set. For tough situations, the Custom WB setting does a good job.
The Matrix metering of this digital camera is generally reliable and consistent. Given the dynamic-range of the P900 is not great though, exposures often clip small highlights and deep shadows. Positive or negative EC is therefore regularly needed but rarely more than ±2/3 EV.
The 83X optical zoom lens on this Nikon is extremely impressive. Starting at around 10cm in length, it only needs to extend out 9cm more to give the same angle-of-view as a 2000mm super-telephoto lens. The lens appears to have good sharpness which it maintains with good consistency. Some softness is probably hidden by noise-reduction but it is impossible to tell the difference since there is no RAW mode on the P900.
The Nikon Coolpix P900 provides two modes for its optical image stabilization. There is an extremely effective Normal Vibration Reduction mode which provides up to 4 stops of stabilization over hand-holding. This mode automatically detects panning and compensates for shake away from the panning direction. Another mode, Active Vibration Reduction, is more aggressive at compensating for movement. Nikon recommends using the Normal one except when the photographer is in motion such as shooting from a car or boat. Neither mode detects tripod mounting, so VR can be turned off too.
The Nikkor lens exhibits only a tiny amount of pincushion distortion at wide angle. This may be the result of in-camera distortion correction but - needless to say - the output is truly impressive. Chromatic aberrations are nowhere to be found, even at the edges of light sources, so are probably removed by image processing.
The Coolpix P900 remains responsive during most operations. Dial and button actions are usually immediate. The only occasion when one must wait long is to flush the internal buffer after shooting a continuous burst of images. The menu is quick to navigate, as are options offered by the cardinal points of the 4-way controller. Exposure parameters can be changed quickly in all modes.
The following performance numbers characterize the performance of this camera:
- Startup: Under 1½ seconds. Very good for its class.
- Shutdown: Between 1 and 5 seconds, depending on the lens position. Average to slow.
- Zoom: 4 seconds for the entire 83X zoom range using the zoom-controller around the shutter-release, 7s with the other. Slow.
- Autofocus: About ½s in good light, typically around 1s in dim lighting, although it can take 2+ seconds towards the telephoto end of the zoom. Below average.
- Shutter-Lag: Instant with ¼s blackout. Quite good.
- Shot-to-Shot: Just over 1 second. Good.
The P900 is faster than its predecessors in every aspect. The shutter-lag has been largely eliminated and the autofocus system is now faster and almost on-par with the competition. Shot-to-shot speeds are notably improved too. Video performance is decent except for a one second lag at the start of recording. Still, this is much improved.
The Nikon Coolpix P900 uses a proprietary Lithium-Ion battery which supplies 360 shots per charge according the CIPA standard. This is much better than before and now roughly average among modern ultra-zooms. The battery charges in-camera via a supplied USB power converter or, optionally, by a computer USB-port.
The 83X optical zoom on the Nikon Coolpix P900 is far ahead of the competition, covering an ultra-wide 24mm to a super-telephoto 2000mm focal-length, besting not only other ultra-zoom but also any lens on the market, even when considering crop-factor! As the flagship of Nikon's P-series, the P900 provides a versatile feature set with a straight-forward interface. Its dual control-dials, dual zoom-controllers and function button provide more usability than typical ultra-zooms.
Optically, the Coolpix P900 does an amazing job at keeping sharpness consistent with minimal distortion and virtually no chromatic aberrations. The astronomic zoom reached by this camera is extremely well matched by a highly effective optical image stabilization system.
The 16 megapixels BSI CMOS sensor in this digital camera shows good image quality for its size. ISO 100 and 200 are completely usable with low noise and only a hint of softness. The internal processor does an excellent job at smoothing out noise until ISO 1600 at the gradual expense of some details, allowing for nice mid-size prints until ISO 800 and small ones at 1600. Color accuracy, white-balance and metering are all reasonably good too.
The performance of the P900 is roughly average for its class. Shutter-lag is nearly instant with good shot-to-shot speeds. The improved AF system is now comparable to its peers. Video unfortunately takes one second to start though.
The incredible 83X optical zoom on the Nikon Coolpix P900 is clearly unmatched and makes this an highly versatile digital camera, particularly for wildlife lovers and amateur bird photographers. Its rich feature-set and generally efficient controls, other than a constantly resetting self-timer, make this ultra-zoom easy to use for creative photography.
Nikon P900 Facts
|16 Megapixels Ultra Zoom||ISO 100-6400|
|83.3X Ultra-Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/4000-15s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|0.20" Built-in EVF 920K Pixels||Custom white-balance|
|Automatic Eye-Start sensor||Spot-Metering|
|1 Axis Digital Level||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|7 FPS Drive, 7 Images||Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|1920x1080 @ 60 FPS Video Recording|
|3" LCD 920K Pixels|
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