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Nikon Coolpix P100
10.3MP | 26-678mm (26X) ZOOM | $340/£290

With the Coolpix P100 Nikon has sent us its third generation DSLR-like compact camera for this group test. Unlike most of its rivals, which in many cases are only relatively minor updates to their predecessors, the P100 represents a significant step forward from the P90. It offers an increased zoom range, at 460K pixels the highest resolution screen in this test and is the first Nikon camera to come with a 1080p HD video mode. Most importantly though the new model captures its images on a back-illuminated CMOS sensor that allows fast continuous shooting and high-speed video recording (resulting in super slow motion images when played back at the usual 30fps).

  • 10.3 effective Megapixels back-illuminated CMOS sensor
  • 26-678mm equiv lens with 26x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom
  • 3.0 inch vari-angle LCD with 460,000 dots resolution
  • Electronic Viewfinder
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • 1080p HD video
  • HDMI-output
  • Stereo microphone
  • 10 frames per second continuous shooting at full resolution
  • ISO sensitivity up to 3200
  • Face-priority AF and subject tracking
  • 11 shooting modes, 16 scene modes including backlit scene HDR
  • Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Modes
  • Subject tracking
  • Battery life: 250 shots

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Overview

The Nikon P100 is one of the smaller cameras in this group but with its textured plastic surfaces, soft rubber grip and ergonomic thumb rest it feels quite nice even in larger hands. With 460K pixels its LCD screen boasts the highest resolution amongst its rivals. It is also articulated to simplify shooting from the hip or above your head. The USB battery charger is a smart detail. It means you can charge the camera by connecting it to a laptop or computer via a USB cable - very useful for those of us who tend to forget packing their chargers (although it unfortunately uses a Mini-USB-cable rather than the 'standard' size which you'd be much more likely to carry with you).

The Nikon comes with a fair number of external buttons and controls including a very useful thumb dial on the rear of the camera. However, only Nikon's engineers know why the latter can be used to modify most settings but not exposure compensation. Disappointingly the P100 does not have a quick menu and you'll have to enter the shooting menu for access to white balance and ISO parameters. The dedicated movie button with its video mode switch is a nice touch. You can start and stop video recording by pressing it but there's also a switch which lets change between high speed and HD movie modes without entering the menus. However, despite of the customizable user mode, overall the Nikon's user interface is most suited for operation in Auto mode without too much manual intervention.

Like the Fujifilm HS10 the Nikon P100 offers 1080p full HD video recording with stereo sound. Flicking the movie mode switch lets you record high speed video at up to 240 fps. In stills image mode the back-illuminated CMOS sensor allows for a maximum of 10 fps at full resolution.

Key Features

The P100's lens barrel seems a little out of proportion on the camera's rather tiny body. Nevertheless, with its moderate weight and nicely rubberized hand grip the Nikon never feels off-balance.
The lens extends once the camera is switched on and, at the long end of the zoom, nearly doubles the depth of the camera. However, even at full tele setting the P100 is still one of the smaller packages in this test.
With the shutter button/zoom rocker combination, power button and the mode dial you find the usual control elements on the camera's top plate. The rear dial is great for browsing settings and the menus but for some reason cannot be used to change exposure compensation.
The back of the camera has all the buttons you'd expect to find here - a four-way controller, Menu, Play and Delete. The electronic viewfinder is flanked by buttons that change the display mode and choose between electronic viewfinder and rear LCD. Since the P100 does not come with a quick menu an ISO button would have been a nice addition.
The dedicated movie button is a smart detail. Not only does it start and stop video recording but by flicking the switch you can also swap between HD and High Speed movie capture without having to dive into any menus.
The P100's screen tilts for waist-level and overhead shooting. At 460k pixels it also has the highest resolution of all screens in this test.
Thanks to its back-illuminated CMOS sensor the P100 is capable of shooting high-speed video up to 240 frames per second. It also has a 1080p full HD video mode.
Like all cameras in this test the Nikon P100 comes with a selection of scene modes.

Image quality and performance

The Nikon P100 is one of the best specified cameras in this group test but only yields average results in our performance tests. At 2.3 sec the Nikon is one of the slower models to power on and 2.8 sec shot-to-shot times is comparatively slow as well (but of course you get 10 fps in continuous mode). The latter increases to 3.3 sec when using the flash. On the plus side, at 1.4 sec the motorized zoom is one of the quickest to run from wide angle to full tele. Image browsing and magnification times are also well within acceptable limits.

The AF time of roughly 0.4 sec at both the wide angle and long end of the zoom is very good. At wide angle there is no noticeable increase in focus time in low light and only a marginal one at the tele end (0.6 sec).

From an image quality point of view the Nikon P100 is located quite far up the table in this group test. Sharpness is good across the frame with only a little corner softness at extreme tele settings. The color response is on the cooler side of things but still natural. Metering is very good and focus and color don't usually create any problems either. On a pixel level you'll find the typical sharpening artifacts and grain that we're used to seeing in the output of cameras at this level. At 100% magnification the Nikon is not quite as good as the Canon and Panasonic but not too far off. In any case the difference is so small that it is hardly visible at standard print sizes.

In our flash test the camera performed very well with good exposure and natural skin tones. It also managed to keep the sensitivity at only ISO 200 which helps retaining fine detail. At higher sensitivities the same can be said as at base ISO. The Nikon P100 performs solidly but is not quite up with the very best in class. There is a lot of noise reduction and consequent loss of fine detail and noise 'blotches'. At ISO 1600 we also see some chroma (color) noise but overall the P100 is one of the better performers in low light.

The video image quality is excellent. The large output resolution makes for very detailed viewing and watching the P100 footage on a large screen is a pleasure. If your computer has got enough processing power motion is very smooth as well. Just keep in mind, due to the Nikon capturing its images with a CMOS sensor, you can, just like on the Fujifilm HS10 and Casio, find some signs of the so-called 'jello-effect' in the P100 movies if the camera is panned from side to side.

At a pixel level the P100 produces output that puts it in the upper mid-field of this group. At base ISOs there is some blurring of detail through noise reduction and a lot of sharpening that makes grainy noise more visible, but overall the distance to the best in class is not large enough to be spotted in standard size prints. High ISO output comes with a lot of smearing and also chroma noise but is again better than many rivals. On the plus side sharpness is fairly good at all zoom settings and exposure is usually very reliable.

Summary

The Nikon P100 is a real step forward from its predecessor and comes with one of the strongest feature sets in our group test. It offers a 26x zoom lens, 1080p stereo video, high-speed video and stills capture, an articulated 460k pixels screen and a fair number of electronic helpers such as subject tracking and high dynamic range modes, all at a very tempting price point of currently $340.

The camera's speed of operation is quite average but on the plus side the auto focus is one of the quickest in this test. From an image quality point of view the Nikon is not too far off from the the best cameras in this test on a pixel level and usually gets all the important stuff such as exposure, focus, white balance and color right.

Despite the abundance of features the P100's user interface is geared towards auto-mode users. So, if you want a camera that gives you lots of gimmicks to play with in a compact package the Nikon is a good choice. If you'd like the same thing but with a more DSLR-like user interface check out the Fujifilm HS10. It offers many more external controls and a very similar feature set to the Nikon, albeit in a larger and heavier body and at a higher price.

  • We like: Comprehensive feature set, good build quality, highest resolution screen (articulated), small and lightweight body, USB-charging, clever video button, good quality 1080p full HD video, high speed video and stills capture, fast and reliable AF, good metering, efficient image stabilization

  • We don't like: User interface not always 100% intuitive, no quick menu, slightly sluggish performance, no RAW format
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