2015 Superzoom Camera Roundup
Nikon Coolpix P900 ($597/£473/€539)
- 16MP BSI-CMOS sensor
- F2.8-6.5, 21-2000mm (83X) equiv. lens
- 3" fully articulating LCD w/920k dots
- EVF w/920k equiv. dots
- 7 fps continuous shooting
- Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS
- 1080/60p video
While the megapixel race appears to be over (for compact cameras, at least), the zoom race has ramped up in recent years. Just as 50-60X was starting to feel 'normal', Nikon upped the ante with the Coolpix P900, which boasts an incredible 24-2000mm (83X) lens. Whether you're capturing landscapes or photographing the moon, the P900 has the capability to do it.
It's paired with what is likely the same 16MP BSI-CMOS sensor used by a few other cameras in this group, a fully articulating LCD, electronic viewfinder with an eye sensor, 1080/60p video, Wi-Fi with NFC, and GPS. In other words, it's feature-packed.
If you thought a typical superzoom camera was big, wait until you see the Coolpix P900. With dimensions of 140 x 103 x 137 mm, the P900 is essentially the same size as Nikon's D7200 with a kit zoom attached. It's also quite heavy, weighing about 50% more than its peers.
As soon as you pick up the P900, you'll know why it's so large and heavy. The gigantic lens has a lot more glass than the other cameras in this group, and the whole camera is very well built.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the Coolpix P900 is its 83x zoom lens, which is also why it has a substantial price difference over the other cameras in this group. Its wide end starts at 24mm - average for this group - but it goes all the way to 2000mm, easily besting the Canon SX60, which up until now had the longest lens available. While the other superzooms let us get a close-up shot of Seattle's Space Needle, the P900 allows you to see the people inside.
|24mm @ ISO 100, 1/2000 sec, F2.8||2000mm @ ISO 100, 1/250 sec, F6.5|
It goes without saying that you're going to need a ton of image stabilization at the long end of the zoom. Nikon says that its VR system offers 5 stops of shake reduction (CIPA standard), and based on our experiences, that sounds pretty accurate. We were impressed at just how well the camera did for both still and video shooting. In fact, it was the best of the bunch with respect to image stabilization.
The LCD on the Coolpix P900 is 3" in size and has approximately 920k dots. Its fully articulating - handy for video recording and overhead shooting - and bright enough to see outdoors. The electronic viewfinder is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's the only superzoom in the group with an eye sensor, so you don't need to hit a button to toggle between it and the LCD.
The bad news is that it's another field sequential system EVF, which means that some users may see rainbows or other color weirdness when panning the camera. Or, if you're sensitive to 'the rainbow effect' of certain displays (like DLP), the EVF image will break up into different colors as your eyes dart around. While the viewfinder has a '921k-dot equivalent LCD', only a third of those (~300k) are actually visible at any instant and, hence, the qualifier 'equivalent'. In addition, the P900's EVF is very small, though this is an issue with all five of our tested cameras.
The Coolpix P900 has twin control dials: one on the top plate above the thumb rest and the other toward the bottom of the rear. In the top-down view you can also see the customizable Fn button (described in more detail below) and mode dial.
Despite all of the real estate on the camera, some of the controls on the rear of the body feel a bit small. The rear dial feels quite plasticky - in fact, all three of the P900's dials do.
|The P900's flash nearly hits the ceiling when you pop it up, since it has such a large lens to clear.|
Despite the size of the camera, there's no hot shoe available. The built-in flash has to pop up incredibly high in order to clear the P900's enormous lens. We were hoping that this flash might be able to control off-camera Speedlights, but that's not the case.
For easy zooming during video recording, there's a side-mounted lever. The button to the right of the lever is similar to what's on the Canon SX60 and Fujifilm S1 in that it 'backs up' the lens so you can relocate your subject and then zoom back in when the button is released. Something that some folks may find useful is a customizable step zoom feature, which allows you to select the focal lengths the camera 'jumps' to when either level is pressed.
The I/O ports on the P900 are limited to USB and HDMI. If you're looking for a mic or headphone jack, you won't find one here.
The menu system gets mixed reviews. The 'normal' menu system is responsive and easy to operate. The function (shortcut) menu that you open via the button of the same name is, on the other hand, a bit of a mess and caused some confusion in the office. You can choose the setting that you want to adjust, but if it's something with a lot of options, then you have to scroll all the way through the list if you want to change another.
|ISO 800, 1/100 sec, F6.3. Shot at an equiv. of 1200mm. Photo: Dan Bracaglia|
The Coolpix P900 has a nice assortment of manual and automatic features. For those who want to tinker with settings there are full manual exposure controls. With twin dials, adjusting these settings is easier than on the other cameras. Commonly used settings can be stored to the 'U' spot on the dial. One feature that advanced users would like that isn't here is Raw support.
Point-and-shooters will find scene modes, special effects, and easy panorama creation as well as retouching tools when viewing your photos. In addition to recording regular videos (more on that later), the P900 can also capture both high and low frame rate clips.
The built-in GPS is one of the P900's standout features. To get started you'll want to download the A-GPS file from Nikon, which will reduce satellite acquisition times. In addition to saving your location, you can also embed point-of-interest information, such as country/state/city and even specific landmarks. The GPS can also be used to set the camera's internal clock.
The P900 has built-in Wi-Fi with NFC, which Nikon brands as 'SnapBridge'. To get started you need to download Nikon's Wireless Mobile Utility for iOS or Android. Those with Android devices equipped with NFC can simply tap it against the right side of the P900 and the two will pair. Those without NFC (or crippled NFC, as is the case on iPhone 6) will need to enter the SSID manually. Connecting devices is all that NFC is used for on the Coolpix P900 (you can't tap to transfer photos, as you can on some Sony cameras, for example).
The WMU app allows you to remotely control the camera, as you can see in the screenshot above. There's really nothing you can do in the app, aside from zoom or take a photo. One issue we had with the D5500 is that touch-to-focus did not work on Android devices, and that continues to be the case on the P900. In addition, you have to force quit the Android version when you're done - otherwise it'll stay in your notification bar forever.
You might think that it'll take a while for the camera to move all that glass, but the Coolpix P900 is ready to shoot shortly after you press the power switch. At full speed you can move from 24 to 2000mm in under four seconds.
The camera focuses fairly quickly and accurately in good light, and not surprisingly slows down in low light, but doesn't miss focus very often.
In burst mode you can shoot as fast as 7.3 fps (up to 7 shots) or, if you want to keep firing away, use the 'regular' continuous mode. which tops out at 2.2 fps. Do note that the camera will lock up for quite a while after you shoot a long burst while it records to the memory card.
|The P900's EN-EL23, 7.1Wh lithium-ion battery can take up to 360 shots per charge (CIPA standard). Keep in mind that using Wi-Fi or the GPS will greatly reduce battery life.|
The included EN-EL23 lithium-ion battery is good for 360 shots per charge, which is in-line with the non-Samsung cameras in the group. The battery is charged over USB, and an external charger is available for about $50.
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