The evolution of the super zoom camera that resulted in the Nikon Coolpix P1000 reminds me of the development of rollercoasters over the last twenty years. Every year, amusement parks would try to out-do the competition. Bigger drops. More inversions. Faster speeds. Sitting, standing, flying. At some point you just can't go any further without putting riders in danger.

The Coolpix P1000 won't put anyone in danger (I hope!), but it does symbolize the culmination of manufacturers trying to make their cameras harder, bigger, faster, stronger (with apologies to Daft Punk). I've been in the digital camera business since the beginning and recall when breaking the 10X zoom barrier was a big deal.

Out of camera JPEG | ISO 110 | 1/400 sec | F6.3 | 1700mm equiv.
Photo by Jeff Keller

After manufacturers seemed to pause at 50X zooms, Nikon went for broke with its Coolpix P900, which had an 83X lens that topped out at 2000mm equivalent. When Nikon first told us about the Coolpix P1000, with its 125X, 24-3000mm equiv. lens, I didn't know how to respond. I do, however, recall thinking "wow... but why?".

After getting my hands on a P1000, my initial feelings were unchanged: it's cool, but why does one need so much zoom? The P1000's lens is so prominent that the camera got attention everywhere it went, whether at a wildlife refuge, the zoo or a random tourist attraction in Vancouver, where a man walked up to me and asked, "is that a P1000?". (Turns out he was a DPReview fan and knew his stuff.)

The people to whom I showed the camera weren't asking about sensor size, viewfinder resolution or video. They wanted to see what that lens could do. So, I'd have them point it toward an object in the distance or, in the case of the zoo, at a monkey that could barely be seen with the naked eye, to see for themselves. It's a great party trick.

Out of camera JPEG | ISO 560 | 1/400 sec | F7.1 | 2600mm equiv.
Photo by Jeff Keller

I spent over a month shooting with the Coolpix P1000 while writing its review and grew to really enjoy using it for the same reason as those who asked me about it: the lens, and what it could do. During those weeks I took photos of zoo animals, birds, cruise ships and, of course, the moon. It felt a bit awkward crossing paths with other photographers at a nearby bird refuges who were each carrying two high-end DSLR bodies, with huge telephoto lens attached, while I was holding a 'Coolpix' that had a much longer focal range. What I'm getting at here is that the P1000 inspired me to take photos that I never would (or could).

While shooting around with the P1000 was a blast, I usually had to make a decision about whether I wanted to haul it around with me. The camera weighs over 1.4 kg (3 lbs), so if I didn't think that I needed a lot of zoom (which was most of the time,) the P1000 stayed home. The P1000 also taught me that, despite owning what I thought was a good tripod, I needed something much more robust, since the camera is so front-heavy that my tripod head would slowly tilt downward. My first attempt at moon photos were essentially timed for the moment when the moon entered the frame as the tripod sagged.

Out of camera JPEG, cropped to taste | ISO 180 | 1/500 sec | F6.3 | 1800mm equiv.
Photo by Jeff Keller

One downside of a lens as long as the P1000's is that atmospheric distortion is a problem. You could easily see 'waves of haze' in my long telephoto shots, but I reminded myself that even the most expensive telephoto lens would see the same. The camera's noise reduction system exacerbates the problem, turning distant subjects into an impressionist painting. And, despite having Raw support, the P1000's small sensor didn't give me a lot of detail to work with.

Out-of-camera JPEG | ISO 100 | 1/500 sec | F5.6 | 1300mm equiv.
Photo by Jeff Keller

Ultimately, none of that mattered. I wasn't shooting for National Geographic, I was shooting for me. And these days, that means social media rather than 11" x 17" prints on my wall. Would I take it on a trip to Southeast Asia or a night out on the town? Certainly not. But would I go somewhere in the Pacific Northwest to photograph things that I normally wouldn't? You bet.