The P600 captures 16-megapixel images, and in offering such a powerful lens it aims to satisfy photographers who want SLR-like features, but don't want to lug around a big heavy camera and multiple lenses. The P600 is not small, but considering the power of its zoom lens, the roughly 5 by 3.4 by 4.2 inch body is compact. Also, the P600 is lightweight, at 1 pound, 4 ounces; though this makes the plasticky body feel a little vulnerable to rugged use.
The lens employs optical image stabilization, or lens-shift vibration reduction, to battle camera shake. This is extremely important at higher magnifications, and the P600 pulls it off very well. With the exception of the studio photos taken of our M&M man, all the photos on the Samples Page were taken handheld. There are many taken at full telephoto, including one of an early evening moon, and they all look quite sharp. Using a tripod would likely improve the result.
This Coolpix camera offers SLR-like features that give you a good amount of control offer the look of your images and put those settings within easy reach. For example, you get full manual mode in addition to aperture- and shutter-priority modes. Within the Custom Picture Control settings, you can set the desired amount of sharpening, contrast, and color saturation within each setting: Standard, Neutral, Vivid and Monochrome.
On the top panel behind the shutter-release button, there's a programmable function (Fn) button that you can assign to pull up one of nine menus (continuous shooting is the default). You also can set the secondary zoom control lever on the lens barrel to launch manual focus (a zoom ring also surrounds the shutter-release button). The thumb dial at the top of the back panel and the multi-selector four-way dial are helpful tools for navigating menus quickly and making changes to shutter speed and aperture; depending on the mode you are using.
You get a decent assortment of scene modes - 21 in all if you include Scene Auto Selector mode - with three of them given their own position on the mode dial: Night landscape, Night portrait, and Landscape. In addition, there are nine effects you can apply to your images, either during shooting or after the fact in playback mode.
The high-resolution LCD (921,000 dots) swivels outward and can be rotated 90 degrees downward and 270 degrees forward, which allows you to frame shots on the LCD while taking self portraits. This also allows you to fold up the LCD against the camera body to protect it. You also can frame your shots using the electronic viewfinder. This is only a good option in a pinch, however, such as when bright sunlight obscures the LCD. For me, looking at the electronic viewfinder is like peering through a small opening at a tiny TV set - maybe in part because I wear glasses, which put me at a greater distance from the EV screen.
Alternatively, you could use your Android or iOS smart device to take photos, and to view them. With the built-in WiFi, you simply install the dedicated software on your mobile device to control the camera remotely.
Overall image quality was impressive in our testing. On the Samples Page you will see that when mounted on a tripod (shooting the M&M man), the P600 does an admirable job in low light, with distortions kept to a minimum, even at some of the higher settings. However, when shooting handheld, the low light performance was not as impressive. Indoor shots taken at modestly high ISO settings, such as ISO 1600, showed a quite noticeable amount of digital noise.
A bigger disappointment, though, was the built-in flash. Despite its rated range of 24 feet at wide angle, I noticed a distinct drop-off at roughly 10 feet - not enough to illuminate a small room, leaving much of my shot in shadows. This could be easily remedied if the P600 had a flash shoe, but it does not. You're stuck with what you've got. Another SLR feature this camera lacks is support for the RAW format - the P600 only captures JPEG images.
If those were the P600's only failings, it would still be very highly recommendable. But, it has a couple other handicaps that are frustrating, depending on your photography needs. Number one, this camera is slow to process images. Following the capture of a seven-shot burst at full resolution (the limit at high-speed), the camera takes roughly 30 seconds to process the files. You can miss a lot of action in half a minute, especially at a sporting event.
The other Achilles' heel (can you have more than one?) is the auto focus. First, the focus has trouble at near full telephoto, and can swim in and out trying to lock on to your subject. That would be somewhat forgivable considering the very generous 60x magnification if you're shooting handheld. But it also has a tendency to swim in and out when the focal distance isn't changing, at wide angle. You will see this in video footage on the Samples Page - even when not zooming, distant objects are going in and out of focus.
And though the camera offers continuous auto focus, it doesn't work in burst modes - the focus and exposure lock on the first shot and do not adjust to changing conditions, which in my testing ensured that I had entire bursts of blurry shots because the AF didn't lock on in time.
Like the slow processing, the burst modes are not ideal for trying to capture a lot of fast-moving action, though they are adequate for light use. The high-speed burst mode stops at seven shots, and did so at a modest 5.8fps in my testing. The low-speed burst mode creeps along at 1fps, but it can go and go up to 200 images.
The zoom motor is a bit noisy, and you can hear it singing away when zooming in while recording video - its blips and beeps actually have a somewhat musical quality to them. The camera records 1080p video, and when it looks good, it looks quite sharp, but unreliable auto focus tends to distract. You can not trim your videos in the camera, nor apply any of the filters that are available for still images.
Bottom line - The Coolpix P600 offers top-shelf magnification and good overall image quality with a couple big trade-offs. The iffy auto focus is the biggest detractor, and the lack of RAW shooting and a flash shoe (in light of a weak flash) will deter serious shooters. But if you're patient enough for slow processing and your shooting needs rarely include fast action, this super zoom could meet your needs.
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