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The Nikon Coolpix P950 is a powerful superzoom compact camera, built around a 24-2000mm equivalent zoom lens. Successor to the wildly popular Coolpix P900, the P950 adds Raw capture, a greatly improved electronic viewfinder and 4K video.
Cameras that look like the P950 used to be described as 'bridge' models: as in, they formed a 'bridge' between the capabilities and of a conventional compact camera, and a D/SLR. With the birth of the superzoom class a few years ago, with their enormous zoom ratios, this description became meaningless. Despite its unusual ability to connect objects across enormous distances, the P950 isn't so much of a 'bridge' between anything. It's (almost) in a class of its own.
The superzoom class is pretty small, and refreshingly easy to navigate. Very simply, the more you pay, the more zoom you get, and the more likely it is that you'll get nice extras like OLED viewfinders, customizable controls and superior video.
If the P950 could be said to have any competition at all, it's mostly from within Nikon's own lineup. The cheaper Coolpix B600 offers a slightly less versatile zoom range of 24-1440mm equiv (and makes do without an EVF) while the Coolpix P1000 boasts an even longer telephoto setting (3000mm equiv) for those times when 2000mm just isn't enough. You know: those times. The original Coolpix P900 is still available if you look around, assuming you don't need Raw capture or 4K video.
|Nikon Coolpix P950||Nikon Coolpix P1000||Canon PowerShot SX70 HS|
|MSRP (at launch)||$800||$1000||$550|
|Sensor||16MP 1/2.3" CMOS||16MP 1/2.3" CMOS||20MP 1/2.3" CMOS|
|Lens (35mm equivalent)||
F3.4 - 6.5
|LCD||3.2", 921k-dot Vari-angle||3.2", 921k-dot Vari-angle||3.0", 920k-dot Vari-angle|
|EVF||2.35M-dot OLED||2.35M-dot OLED||2.35M-dot OLED|
|Burst rate at max resolution||7 fps for 10 frames||
7 fps for 7 frames
|Video||4K/30, FHD/60||4K/30, FHD/60||4K/30, FHD/60|
|Wi-Fi + Bluetooth||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Battery life (CIPA)||290 shots||250 shots||325 shots|
|Dimensions||140 x 110 x 150 mm||146 x 119 x 181 mm||127 x 91 x 117 mm|
|Weight||1005 g||1415 g||576 g|
Looking at other brands' offerings, only the Canon PowerShot SX70 HS comes close to matching the P950's abilities, with its 21-1265mm equivalent zoom range getting close to the P950 in the tele range while offering a wider field of view at the wide end. The SX70 HS can shoot slightly faster than the P950 (and has a similarly high-quality EVF).
Compared to the original P900, the P950's superior viewfinder is the most immediately obvious upgrade (alongside the automatic EVF/LCD switch, which was lacking in the older model) but the addition of Raw mode also makes the new camera more useful than its predecessor. For fans of videography, the addition of 4K recording may have a similar appeal. All of this helps justify the P950's higher cost at launch (the new model comes at a premium of around $200) compared to the older model.
The P950 is less a camera with a built-in lens, and more a lens with a camera bolted on. As such, Nikon deserves credit for making it impressively usable. The P950 doesn't operate exactly like a Nikon DSLR, but the experience of using it alongside (say) a D3000-series camera is close enough that anyone who's used to one should pretty quickly be able to get to grips with the other.
|The P950's main controls are all clustered on the upper-right of the top-plate. Despite its consumer-level positioning, Nikon provides an impressive amount of control customization.|
The P950's main control dial is positioned on the upper right of the top-plate, and is operated by the right thumb. There's a small sub-dial on the rear, and between the two you have full manual exposure control, should you want it. Personally I wish there was a proper front control dial, but you do have a side control wheel, on the left of the lens barrel. By default this operates as an exposure compensation wheel in PASM modes but can also be customized for direct control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO, or white balance.
ISO sensitivity can be set manually, from 100-6400, and there are five Auto ISO ranges (100-400, 100-800, 100-1600, 100-3200, 100-6400). It is possible to set a minimum shutter speed from a range of 1 to 1/125 seconds, but you don't get the more advanced 'slower > faster' dynamic options that you do in higher-end Nikon cameras. Typically, the P950 prioritizes lower ISO sensitivity settings where possible, leaning on its powerful image stabilization system to keep things sharp. This works well except in lower light with moving subjects, where you might find that you need to take manual control over shutter speed to avoid blur.
|From the side, you can see the P950's secondary zoom toggle (which is ideal for use when shooting video) and a customizable scroll wheel. The button to the left can be used to zoom out from extreme telephoto, for the purposes of accurate targeting if you lose your subject at 2000mm. When the button is released, the lens returns to its previous setting.|
That massive zoom lens can be controlled with either the main W/T collar-type control around the shutter release, or a simple rocker on the side of the lens barrel. The main zoom lever allows for slightly finer control, with two speed settings depending on how much force you exert. With the lever shifted all the way, it takes about three seconds to rack through the P950's zoom range. A gentler pull allows you to zoom more slowly, making the transition from 24-2000mm in about five seconds. The W/T control on the side of the lens has only one speed (full-speed) although you can customize it for low/medium/high-speed zoom in video mode.
Long telephotos don't only let you capture faraway objects, they also allow you to 'layer' images in ways that aren't possible at more conventional focal lengths.
ISO 100 | 1/2000 sec | F5.6 | 800mm equiv.
Framing scenes at very long focal lengths can be challenging, and to help, Nikon provides two tools: one is built-in, and one is an optional accessory. The built-in helper is a 'snap' zoom button on the lens barrel, which scoots the lens out from extreme telephoto to approx. 350mm equiv to help you re-frame a shot if you lose your subject at 2000mm. The second tool is the (arguably over-engineered but very cool) accessory 'dot sight', which clips onto the P950's hotshoe and provides an optical target-finder so that you don't need to rely on the EVF.
On a related note, if you tend to shoot mostly at one or other end of the P950's zoom, you can save time on startup by presetting your desired default focal length via the camera's menu.
When it comes to performance, the P950 is a mixed bag. Aside from the versatility of the zoom range, easily my favorite features are the image stabilization (more on that in a moment) and the electronic viewfinder. Offering 2.3 million dots, the OLED finder is bright, contrasty, and a world away from the P900's EVF, which was prone to 'rainbow-tearing'. It's a really impressive upgrade, even if it is probably one of the main things that contributed to making the P950 more expensive than its predecessor.
The P950's rated 5.5EV of image stabilization (or Vibration Reduction, to use Nikon's parlance) is unchanged from the P900, and still very impressive. The first of Nikon's modern superzoom compacts that I can remember using was the P500 (2011) and the 'snaking' in the viewfinder at long focal lengths, caused by the VR system trying to keep the image stable was literally nauseating. There's still some of that with the P950, but on the whole, provided you're not trying to handhold the camera at 2000mm in a gale, the stabilization is excellent. It's actually possible to get sharp shots at shutter speeds as long as 1/50 sec at the extreme end of the telephoto range with some experimentation, which is remarkable.
The biggest challenge to super-telephoto shooting is not stabilizing the lens, but focusing it.
Nikon claims that AF speed is improved over the P900, but there's only so much that its engineers can do with a contrast-detection system when it comes to overcoming a very basic, optical problem: contrast tends to drop when you're looking at distant subjects at long focal lengths, and the more you zoom in, the thinner the zone of focus becomes, which increases the amount of work that the autofocus system has to do.
You only need to zoom in on a distant subject on a sunny day with the P950 (exactly what I did in the pair of images above) to see in the viewfinder that what was a crisp, contrasty scene at 24mm has become a bluish mush at 2000mm. That's due to atmospheric distortion and is not the camera's fault, but it does mean that you will probably experience some focus 'hunting' in this kind of situation, from time to time.
At wider focal lengths and at closer subject distances, autofocus performance is actually pretty solid. It's certainly not as positive as a phase-detection system might be, but where I've had serious issues with accurate focus it's mostly been exactly where I would expect: with low-contrast subjects in poor light, or at the extreme telephoto end of the lens, with distant subjects on hot days.
The P950 can focus down almost as far as the front of the lens element, but for semi-macro shots, you'll get more attractive results by zooming in, and stepping back. This allows you to both improve cross-frame sharpness, and blur backgrounds (as well as avoiding the need to go face to face with any creepy-crawlies).
ISO 100 | 1/500 sec | F5 | 300mm equiv.
For general everyday shooting, 'Face Priority' AF works well. Human subjects are detected reliably and quickly, and in their absence, the camera uses a standard auto-area AF logic, which prioritizes the nearest object in your scene.
In situations where you need more direct control, multiple additional modes are available. By default, the P950 uses 'full-time AF' which aims to continuously maintain an in-focus image in the viewfinder. Most likely you'll never need to change this setting, but it can be easily disabled in the menu system if you prefer.
The big news on DPReview when the P950 was announced was the addition of Raw shooting. I ended up using Raw mode more than I expected to with the P950, but not because there's anything seriously wrong with its JPEGs, at least not at a pixel level. At low ISOs (100-400) the P950's JPEG output is perfectly acceptable in most situations, with the exception of poor edge sharpness at wide angles. Nikon has tuned noise reduction for maximum smoothness, which does come at the expense of fine detail even at low ISO sensitivities, but you'd have to be something of a pixel-peeper to notice.
The edges of this image (taken at 24mm equiv) are particularly soft, and definition is fairly low across the frame. Switching to Raw and spending some time in Photoshop will let you get the most out of the camera, but you're not going to get amazing edge-to-edge sharpness for landscapes.
ISO 100 | 1/320 sec | F6.3 | 24mm equiv.
Above ISO 400, noise becomes a factor, and increases in severity the higher up the ISO sensitivity scale you go. It's possible to achieve acceptable results above ISO 1600 if you don't intend to crop heavily or make large prints, but be aware that colors become desaturated at higher ISO settings as a result of in-camera noise-reduction (and there's not much you can do about this if you shoot Raw, either).
|This is a 100% crop (click to download the full-size original) of an image taken at ISO 1100 towards the end of the day, in failing light. The P950's lens and highly effective image stabilization system helped me get the shot, but even at such a moderate (by larger-sensor standards) ISO sensitivity setting, true detail is lacking and colored splotches caused by noise reduction are quite noticeable. That's just the reality of working with such a small sensor. I managed to get slightly better results out of the Raw file, but not much.
ISO 100 | 1/125 sec | F6.3 | 250mm equiv.
The reality is that the P950 uses a very small, not-particularly-new 16MP sensor. If your main requirement is a camera that will capture images that are good enough for sharing, desktop backgrounds or occasional prints for friends and family, it will do the job. More critical photographers will probably (like me) end up shooting in Raw mode more often than not, especially in situations where the P950 tends to stumble, such as shooting in mixed light or in poor light at high ISO sensitivity settings.
The P950's lens (like pretty much all lenses of this type) is best once you zoom in a little. This image was converted from Raw and I could probably have sharpened it a little more aggressively (and if I was intended to print it, I would) but cross-frame sharpness is nice and consistent. Shooting Raw has allowed me to get the white-balance exactly where I wanted it, reduce some minor blue fringing in the foliage against the bright sky, and recover a little detail from highlight and shadow areas.
ISO 100 | 1/60 sec | F3.2 | 50mm equiv.
The main reason I've ended up relying on Raw capture with the P950 is to fix white balance issues. The P950's automatic white balance system is pretty effective most of the time, but can get very wayward at long focal lengths, where contrast drops and there's less 'context' in the scene. Often in this kind of situation, I found myself looking at a warmish preview image in the camera's viewfinder, only to find that my captured photograph was very cool (or vice-versa). Shooting Raw lets me fix these occasional issues quickly, as well as pull a little more detail out of shadows than would be possible from a JPEG.
The downside of shooting Raw is that .NRW files eat up more card space and they take time (and a degree of expertise) to process. If you don't want the hassle, you can shoot JPEG and manually select white balance depending on your situation, from the usual range of presets, including daylight, cloudy and incandescent.
Interestingly, the P950's maximum shooting rate of 7 fps for ten consecutive images is the same regardless of what file format you shoot. While this is a useful framerate for shooting fast action in theory, it's not always useful in practice, since during the time that images are being written to the SD card, the P950 is 'locked-up', and won't even let you zoom the lens. Even with a fairly high-speed card (I used this one) this takes 5-6 seconds: an eternity if you're trying to follow a moving object. With a cheap no-brand SD card, you might be waiting as long as 15-20 seconds for the buffer to clear after a single burst of ten frames.
The P950's video feature set is competitive, without being particularly outstanding. At its maximum quality settings, you can record video footage at 4K, at 30p, with the option of 25p (sadly not 24p) and Full HD capture at 60, 30 and 25p. A microphone jack is provided, but there's no headphone jack for active audio monitoring.
At its maximum quality settings, video footage from the P950 looks very nice. Detail is good, and at wide angles, video is smooth and (assuming the camera isn't moved too rapidly) free from obvious distortion. The camera's built-in microphone does pick up some zoom noise, but it's not objectionable (and you have the option of an external microphone if it becomes a problem).
in the clip above, taken towards the wide end of the P950's zoom, you can hear the built-in microphone picking up the sound of raindrops falling onto the lens barrel and hood (and me)
Where quality drops is – again – at very long focal lengths, especially when directed towards distant subjects. Moisture and haze in the air (and optical softness) combine to give rather mushy results at 2000mm, but the Vibration Reduction system still does a good job of keeping footage stable, despite snaking about a little and 'grabbing' if the camera is moved. Rolling shutter can also be an issue when panning: especially against a cityscape or a scene with similar vertical elements.
As you can see from the clip above, the extraordinary range of the P950's lens makes it a powerful tool for videography nonetheless, which may go some way towards making up for these issues.
For $800, the P950 gives you enough zoom range to capture everything from landscapes to (at a pinch) the International Space Station. Plus this is coupled with an image stabilization system so effective that you'll rarely – if ever – need a tripod. Assuming you respect its inherent limitations, the P950 is a powerful tool and could be a very useful second camera to accompany a more conventional mirrorless ILC or DSLR setup.
Of course, a lot of people shopping for cameras of this type might not have any experience of shooting with an ILC, or even know what the terms Raw mode or 4K video mean. They just want a camera with a really powerful lens that they can take anywhere, and use to shoot whatever they find there.
If you recognize yourself in that description, and you're looking for advice on whether or not you should buy the P950, I'd say that it depends on what you're intending to shoot.
If you need the versatility of a 24-2000mm zoom range, and you want the comfort of knowing that you can shoot landscapes one minute, and heavenly bodies the next (I know the chronology of that doesn't really add up, but just go with it), the Nikon Coolpix P950 is your best option right now, without a doubt.
If you want the comfort of knowing that you can shoot landscapes one minute, and heavenly bodies the next, the Nikon Coolpix P950 is your best option
On the other hand, if you're looking for a decent camera to take with you on day trips, family excursions, or for extended travel, and you don't need massive telephoto reach, there are plenty of other options on the market which offer better image quality. Especially if you're willing to pay around $800.
The Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ1000 II, for example, can be found on sale for $800 for time to time, and though its zoom can't match the Nikon, it's no slouch at 25-400mm-equivalent. If you're after something more pocketable, the Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II is a bit more expensive, but it (like the FZ1000 II) comes with a much larger sensor for substantially better image quality, especially at high ISO settings. Of course, neither can match the P950's zoom range, and that's the trade-off. For $800 you could also look at interchangeable lens models, which might offer even better image quality although – again – at the expense of zoom range.
Let's be honest though: if you've read this far, it's because of that lens, right? In that case the matter is clear-cut. The simple fact is that pound for pound (and dollar for dollar), within the current crop of super-zoom cameras, the P950 represents the best value.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category. Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
Nikon Coolpix P950
Category: Super-zoom Compact Camera
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Movie / video mode
The only reason to consider buying the Nikon Coolpix P950 is its lens, which – covering an equivalent focal length range of 24-2000mm – is extraordinary. There are very few cameras that can match the P950's versatility, although you'll get better image quality and more advanced autofocus from several similarly-priced (but less ambitious) compact cameras.
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