Nikon Coolpix P1 Review
The P1 is the latest addition to Nikon's very popular Coolpix line. Its features include an 8-megapixel imager, Nikkor 3.5x optical zoom lens, 2.5-inch LCD as well as standard 802.11b/g WiFi (wireless) connectivity. This simple to use point-n-shoot offers various automatic exposure modes for beginners and also features 16 pre-programmed scene modes (including several scene-assisted ones) to help them capture great shots its wide variety of different shooting conditions. And for those novice users who enjoy taking a little more control over the exposure process, it also includes Aperture priority.
Ergonomics are surprisingly good. Although it is very compact, what we consider an "ultra- compact", the enlarged hand grip makes for a comfortable feel in you hands and its various controls are laid out well and easily accessed by your fingertips. The only issue I found was with the Mode dial, it's too easy to rotate and accidentally changed modes on me more than once. The 2.5-inch color LCD is used for image review, preview, accessing the Menu system and serves as the camera's information display. It worked well in just about every lighting condition, outside in the bright sunlight and indoors at night. The live image "gains up" when shooting in dim lighting and makes framing your subject easy. The color LCD takes up nearly 2/3 of the back, there is no optical viewfinder, so it's good that it functions well in a wide variety of conditions.
The Nikkor 3.5x optical zoom lens covers a focal range of 36 - 126mm (35mm equivalent) and helped the P1 produce sharp results. It has noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle but virtually no pin cushioning at the telephoto end. I also noticed that there was very little chromatic aberration (purple fringing) around objects with high contrast in our sample images. The lens moves smoothly, and quietly, through its zoom range; I counted 10 steps between wide angle and telephoto, adequate for most shot composition needs. The zoom range is typical for most consumer models, offering a sufficient field of view for landscape and indoor shots, and a telephoto range useful for portraits and to bring your subjects a bit closer.
The WiFi features were simple to setup and use. Using the supplied software it was easy to get the camera to talk to my D-Link 802.11g router and transfer photos. It really does work as advertised as long as you are within the operating limits of your router. You can read all the WiFi details on page five of this review if you missed it.
The P1's shooting performance was average. Power up to first image captured measured just under 4 seconds. Shutter lag measured less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 3/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot to shot delay averaged about 2.2 seconds between frames without the use of the flash and between 2.5 and 4.5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance. There are five Sequential shooting modes to choose from; Continuous H, Continuous L, Multi-shot 16, Ultra HS, and 5 shot buffer. Continuous H mode was impressive; I was able to capture 5 Large Fine JPEG images in 1.6 seconds. Using Continuous L mode allowed me to capture 5 shots in approx. 2.1 seconds. Multi-shot mode captures 16 frames in 8.8 seconds and combines them into single 8M/Fine image. Ultra HS changes the image size to TV Normal and snapped 100 frames in just 3.1 seconds! 5 Shot buffer mode captures images continuously at 1.1 second intervals while the shutter button is depressed; only the last 5 images captured before you release the shutter button are saved, this is when a optical viewfinder would come in handy, because the LCD viewfinder briefly displays the last image captured in all Continuous modes. All of our tests were done using a Sandisk Extreme III 1GB SD card, using 8M/Fine size/quality, Program mode, welcome screen off, preview off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
I was pleased with the outdoor image quality results when using its 8-megapixel Fine mode. The majority of our samples were sharp with good overall exposure, however I did notice some softness to them. This is preferable over being too sharp, and you can manually adjust this via the record menu (Auto, Normal, Low, and High settings available.) The white balance and exposure system did well under various lighting conditions, producing beautiful sky detail (when there are some clouds in the sky.) Noise levels were low, especially at ISO speeds of 100 or lower, becoming more detectable as you increase the sensitivity. We see this on just about every consumer model we test and I have found that even some of the more noisy ISO 400 images still make good 4x6-inch prints; which is normally what a large majority of users print.
Our indoor results were mixed. While it did produce sharp, well exposed images (as long as you are within the flash's range), its slower performance indoors stopped us from capturing some spur of the moment candid shots. The autofocus system did well in low light situations, thanks, in part, to the inclusion of an AF-assist lamp. When shooting portrait shots, skin tones were very natural and flash exposure was good from a range of about 4 to 6 feet (when using the mid telephoto capabilities of the lens.) The Face-priority focus mode worked very well, focusing directly on the subject's face nearly every time. I noticed average amounts of red-eye when using the Auto flash mode, but this can be easily altered by switching to its dedicated red-eye reduction mode of post processing the image later. The P1 also includes Nikon's exclusive D-lighting feature, which we feel works great. Skin tones do tend to get noticeably warmer and Noise does increase, however, images are still usable and make for some pretty pleasing prints. I tried to adjust the mimic D-lighting in ThumbsPlus Pro and even though there was less noise, I preferred the shots that were changed in-camera.
The P1 can record QuickTime video with three image size choices: 640x480, 320x240 and 160x120. The frame rate is fixed at 15fps for the two smaller formats, when using the TV mode (640x480) you can choose either 15 or 30pfs. Sound is recorded thanks to the built-in microphone; as a result, the optical zoom can be used to compose movies before recording starts, but not during recording. The Digital zoom can be used, but image quality will be degraded. It also features electronic vibration reduction, which is very helpful as it is hard to hold such a small camera still when recording video. Overall, I was pleased with our movie samples, with the only drawback being the microphone is very sensitive and will pick up even the slightest gust of wind.
Power is supplied by a tiny and proprietary EN-EL8 3.7v 730 mAh Lithium ion battery. Nikon claims you can capture up to 180 shot on a full charge using the CIPA standard testing methods. We found battery life was pretty good when you consider how small the battery is. We were able to capture 120 images and performed some other tests before the low battery warning was displayed. Batteries are charged out of the camera with the supplied MH-62 charger, so we suggest you pick up at least one extra battery and keep it charged and handy.
Bottom line - Nikon's Coolpix P1 is a nice ultra-compact digicam that produces good quality 8-megapixel images and VGA sized movies; and lets not forget its 802.11 b/g certified. I liked just about every feature on this model, and was only annoyed when trying to capture spontaneous moments of friends and family indoors. However, outdoors or when shooting under very good lighting, it will keep up with similar models in its class. At about $399, it offers a good value and will make a great choice for family, business, or tourist users and is sure to please the WiFi geeks who hate wires.
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