Nikon Coolpix P90 Review
By Mike Flacy
As the new big gun in Nikon's CoolPix Performance series, the P90 brings one huge feature to the table, a massive 24x (26-624mm, 35mm equivalent) optical wide-angle lens with Nikon's Optical VR Image Stabilization. As one of the biggest optical zooms on the market, this will allow you to capture images that most pocket digicams could never handle. This is not the only upgrade from last year's P80 either. They have also added a 12.1-Megapixel imaging sensor, 3-inch vari-angle LCD, 4-way VR Image Stabilization, Nikon's smart portrait system, a new sports continuous scene mode and complete control with full manual shooting mode.
Helping you handle the extreme zoom of the telephoto end, the 4-way VR Image stabilization system works with you to keep your images sharp. Optical image stabilization keeps the lens steady, even when your hand is not. Using motion detection, the camera can automatically raise the ISO up to 6400 to keep motion blur out of your image. You also have the option of using Best Shot Selector (BSS), which will take multiple pictures as you hold down the shutter release, but will only save the sharpest. All of these features are helpful, but when you get to the full 624mm of the telephoto end, even with the optical image stabilization, it can be difficult to keep the camera steady enough to properly frame your image without a monopod or tripod.
With the additional zoom from the P80 comes additional size to the camera body. With dimensions of 4.5' x 3.3' x 3.9', it is nearly as big as the Nikon D40 dSLR camera, but still a bit lighter. This extra size is necessary to house the larger zoom and 3-inch LCD. Don't worry though, its design allows for easy, one-handed operation, and very simple camera controls.
Viewing and framing your images can be done either with the new 3-inch vari-angle LCD or the EVF. Both feature approx. 230,000 dots and have 97% frame coverage in shooting mode. Although they are both easy to see outside on a bright sunny day, you will have an easier time with the EVF as it allows for better color judgment. The LCD also has its advantages, allowing multiple people to see the screen at once, as well as the ability to tilt up and down 135�.
Performance from the P90 is very good. It takes the camera 2.6 seconds before it can capture its first image after being turned on. When the camera is pre-focused, shutter lag is less than 1/10 of a second. When allowing the auto focus to work, it is a little slow, taking 5/10 to 8/10 of a second to focus and capture the image, depending on distance and light. In single shot mode, I was able to capture 5 images in 8 seconds with the flash and 5 images in 6.7 seconds without. The camera also features 2 continuous shooting modes. First is the standard continuous mode, which allows the camera to capture 10, 12-Megapixel Fine images in just 6.3 seconds (approx. 1.6fps) and filled the buffer after 15 images. Second is the new sports continuous mode, allowing for the capture of 10, 3-Megapixel images in just 9/10 of a second (11.1fps) and did not fill the buffer until 37 shots. The flash is not available for use in either of these shooting modes. All of our tests were completed using a 2GB RiDATA 120x Pro SD memory card, 12-Megapixel fine quality, Program mode, flash off, ISO auto and all other settings at the factory defaults. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Our outdoor image sample quality is very good, showing good exposures and colors that are excellent, as you would expect from a Nikon. The camera does have a little trouble with a cloudy sky, as it slightly over exposes the clouds. Chromatic aberrations are controlled very well throughout most of the zoom range. At the full telephoto end of our eagle close-up, we noticed more aberrations than normal in high contrast areas. Nikon's 24x 26-624mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens makes this camera more versatile than any other digicam out there. The very wide 26mm allows you to capture vast landscapes and group portraits of even the largest families. On the other end, you will be able to get closer to a distant object than anyone else, while the Optical VR makes it possible to use this extreme telephoto zoom handheld.
The quality of our indoor images is outstanding, showing excellent exposures, crisp from edge to edge and vivid colors. Noise is controlled very well up through ISO 400, where you can still see some of the stitching detail in flag of our M&M man shot. The built-in, popup, flash has a range of up to 26ft at the wide end and up to 16ft on the telephoto end at ISO auto. When using the telephoto end of the zoom, this range will shrink drastically as the zoom increases.
Whether shooting in the Portrait scene mode or program mode, the camera picks up faces quickly and has no difficulty following them as long as they do not turn away from the camera. Our portrait shot shows an excellent exposure with natural, realistic skin tones. As part of the Smart Portrait system, you also have the ability to set the camera to smile shutter which automatically captures an image when detecting that your subject is smiling. Blink detection and in-camera red eye fix, both concentrate on the eyes of the subject to make sure that they are open and also to give you the ability to remove red eye for better looking portrait shots.
Movie mode allows you to capture video with sound in the AVI format. The full 24x optical zoom is available to be set before you start shooting, but is not able to be adjusted during. To help with the telephoto end, the Optical VR is also an option during movie mode. Exposures during video capture are pretty good, although in direct sunlight you will have some overexposure. In low light, there will be a little noise visible. The built in mic is very sensitive and can pick up sound from a good distance, however, this also allows it to pick up any background noises present. This includes an air conditioner or furnace if you are shooting inside and the wind if you are shooting outside. These sounds will be much more noticeable when you play them back than when you were shooting, so be careful where you position yourself to shoot.
Powering the P90 is a big 3.7V, 1100mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery. Nikon's claim of 230 shots (CIPA) is very reasonable, as I captured 200 images on a single charge while completing our tests. This is good for a short day of shooting, but if you want to take this on a weekend trip, the included external battery charger will make it very easy to keep a second battery charged and on hand at all times.
Bottom Line - If you are looking for the biggest zoom possible without the expense of a dSLR and large lenses, look no further. With a 24x optical zoom and Optical VR stabilization, this is the way to go. Another feature you will not see on too many other cameras is the tilting screen, making it easier to shoot in some difficult situations. With decent performance and very good image quality, the MSRP of US$399.95 is a good deal for the versatility of the camera.
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