Prosumer Camera Group Test Q4 2008
Nikon Coolpix P6000
13.5MP | 28-112mm (4X) ZOOM | $430 US/ £290 UK
Nikon was once the undisputed king of the high end compact camera, with models like the original E900 and its successors setting the standard for image quality and features in late 1900's. The last true 'prosumer' Coolpix was the 8800 back in 2004; a year later the market for the $1000 compact was gone, replaced by the entry level digital SLR. Since then the Coolpix range has been filled almost exclusively with simple point and shoot models, with Nikon seemingly happy to leave the slim pickings at top of the compact camera market to Canon's G series. However this changed again with the launch of the P5000 (and later the P5100), the direct antecedents of this camera, the Coolpix P6000, Nikon's current flagship compact.
With its plethora of features and manual controls, the P6000 is clearly aimed at serious photographers and SLR users looking for a pocketable backup camera. As you would expect Nikon has increased the megapixel count on the new model, but fortunately hasn't stopped there. The lens now offers a 28mm wide angle (from 35mm on the P5100) and the P6000 is also one of the first digital cameras featuring a built-in GPS receiver for geo-coding your images, and even has wired LAN connectivity.
- 13.5 effective Megapixels
- 28-112mm equiv lens with 4x optical zoom and up to 4x Digital Zoom
- 2.7-inch LCD with 460,000 dots resolution
- Optical Viewfinder
- Optical Image Stabilizer
- ISO sensitivity up to 6400
- Face priority AF and D-Lighting
- 11 shooting modes, 16 scene modes
- Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Modes
- Built-in GPS and Wired LAN connectivity
- In-Camera Editing
- Available in Black
- Optional accessories available, including External flash and wide-angle converter lens
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The Coolpix P6000 looks and feels like a serious camera in a miniaturized format, and much more so than the P5000 / P5100 ever did. The body is made from magnesium alloy with a rubberized grip and thumb rest for optimized handling. There is also a wide range of external buttons and controls including a SLR-style control dial. The user interface integrates elements from both compact cameras and digital SLRs which makes the users of both types of camera feel at home on the P6000 pretty quickly. There is no 'quick menu' or equivalent as is often found on compact cameras, but the number of external buttons makes up for it. There is also a customizable Fn button which by default brings up the ISO setting.
The P6000 is Nikon's flagship compact camera and therefore, as you would expect, from a feature and specification point of view does not leave an awful lot to be desired. You get a hefty 13.5 megapixels of sensor resolution (if you need or even want them is another question) and a very useful zoom range of 28-112mm (35mm equiv.). With a maximum aperture of F5.9 at the long end the lens is not exactly one of the fastest around though, which makes the optical image stabilization even more useful.
At 2.7 inch the screen is fairly average sized for this class of camera but it comes with a very good resolution of 460K pixels and a decent refresh rate. When the light is too bright for composing your images on the LCD you can switch to the optical viewfinder. It's fairly small though and shows enormous amounts of pincushion distortion.
On top of the basics the P6000 boasts an impressive number of more gimmicky features. These include the usual suspects such as face detection, dynamic range optimization and in-camera editing, but also a (so far) fairly unusual built-in GPS receiver which writes location information into your images' EXIF data - our only complaint being that the GPS sometimes takes an awful long time to get a fix. In a second step you can then plot your image locations on a digital map such as Google Maps. This being a serious camera aimed at serious photographers it also sports RAW and JPEG shooting (though for some reason Nikon chose to use a new raw format that's not supported by its own flagship software, CaptureNX).
Finally the P6000 has a built in LAN (ethernet) port, and when wired in to your home network will connect to Nikon's MyPictureTown photo sharing site (you get 2GB of free storage). What you can't do is use the ethernet port to copy the pictures to a local computer, which might possibly have been a more useful option.
Image quality and performance
In terms of speed and performance the P6000 is a bit of a mixed bag. The camera is fairly quick in taking its first shot (approximately 1.4 sec from pressing the power button to recording the first image) and the shutter lag, at just over one 1/10 sec is short as well. However reading and writing the huge 13.5 megapixel image files obviously puts quite a strain on the processor and you'll find yourself looking at the flashing read/write light in the viewfinder quite often. Shot-to-shot time is 2.6 seconds for the first six shots after which the camera will take a break of several seconds (how long exactly will depend on the speed of your memory card). If you use the flash the shot-to-shot times extend to 3.1 seconds, and when shooting in RAW to 4.2 seconds, which makes the RAW format slightly painful to use for anything other than static subjects.
At about 0.4 sec at wideangle at 0.7 sec at the tele setting, the AF speed is not terribly quick but certainly doing an acceptable job. Focus times increase in low light and the P6000 gives up completely pretty early on when it gets too dim.
Given the P6000's positioning as the flagship of Nikon's Coolpix range you might be forgiven for expecting it to excel in the image quality stakes, whereas in fact it sits somewhere in the middle of the pack, with little to show for its high pixel count or premium pricing. We'll examine the P6000's image quality in more depth when we complete our full review (including a look at raw output), for now we'll stick with our overall impressions.
The good news is that exposure, color and focus (in good light) are excellent, and at normal print sizes the results are very appealing - and the lens seems to be quite a performer. Looking a bit closer you soon discover that the P6000 suffers from the same problem as the Canon G10 (even more so, actually); what used to be known in less enlightened times as 'nice legs, shame about the face' - or to be more specific; 'nice camera, shame about the sensor'. At a pixel level you can see smearing of fine detail even at base ISO, and at higher ISO settings this is joined by a generous sprinkling of noise. We also saw more highlight clipping that we'd like, suggesting that the P6000's dynamic range is a little tight.
Ultimately at standard print sizes the P6000 produces well balanced images in most conditions (though it most definitely prefers good light, as the focus struggles in low light and noise is a real issue). But if you were hoping that all those megapixels meant you could produce huge prints or crop to your heart's content you're likely to be disappointed, and the truth is you can get the same thing from much less expensive cameras. We're not talking huge differences for most uses, but compared to its most obvious competitors (the Canon G10 and Panasonic LX3) the P6000 is unquestionably bottom of the image quality pack.
The P6000 is the most accomplished 'enthusiast level' Coolpix we've seen for years. It's well built, has a comprehensive feature set with lots of control - including a command dial that gives it almost SLR-like handling, a superb screen, decent operating speed and a compact design that makes the Canon G10 seem like a brick in comparison. Image quality is more of a mixed bag though, with obvious smearing of fine, low contrast detail even at base ISO, poor high ISO output and highlight clipping on the one hand, but excellent color, exposure and lens performance on the other. And of course you get raw shooting if you want to take total control of the processing of your shots, which counters to some degree at least half our complaints.
Of all the cameras here the P6000 is the one that gets closest to delivering SLR style control and handling in a truly pocketable format. The sensor is obviously the weak link here, and as long as you don't except SLR-like images in anything but the most controlled shooting conditions, it's well worth a look. Like so many models at this level the P6000 can't quite produce results that live up to the promise suggested by the excellence of the camera taking them.
- We like: Comprehensive feature set, GPS tagging, compact size, well built, good controls, great screen, generally responsive
- We don't like: Soft, smeary low contrast details (though you can of course shoot raw), highlight clipping, high ISO performance, sluggish flash performance
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