Steve's Conclusion

Steve's SnapShot
  • 16MP CMOS image sensor
  • 83x optical zoom lens (24-2000mm equivalent)
  • 3.0" Vari-angle LCD display (921K dot)
  • 7 fps Continuous Shooting (with Autofocus)
  • Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
  • Side Zoom Control Button
  • Mode Dial & Command Dial
  • Fn (function) Button
  • Dual Detect Optical VR (Vibration Reduction)
  • Full 1080p HD Video
  • Stereo Audio Recording
  • Time Lapse
  • Zoom Microphone
  • 0.012-second Shooting Lag Time (at max wide-angle)
  • 0.75-second Shooting Lag Time (at max telephoto)
  • Scene Modes
  • Filter Effects
  • Special Effects
  • Picture Controls
  • Macro Mode
  • Wi-Fi & NFC
  • Nikon Snapbridge
  • GPS with POI (Points of Interest)
  • Pros
    • Largest optical zoom lens on the market in a fixed lens camera at 83x
    • Good vibration reduction system allows for hand holding the camera for some scenes, even with zoom fully extended
    • Fast autofocus performance at wide angle lens setting
    • Good autofocus speed even at maximum telephoto setting
    • Full range of manual control features
    • Popup flash unit has a good angle to the scene
    • Electronic viewfinder is a key feature in a large zoom camera
    • Both LCD and EVF have sharp displays
    • LCD is articulated
    • Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS features
    Cons
    • Small image sensor measuring 1/2.3-inch
    • Image quality and image sharpness just don't match up to other models in this price range
    • Low light image quality could be better
    • ISO range is limited to 6400
    • ISO performance is well below average versus other cameras in this price range
    • After shooting burst mode photos, camera requires several seconds to save the images, leaving camera unable to be used
    • No option for shooting in RAW
    • No hot shoe for external flash
    • Must charge battery inside camera through USB cable
    • Very heavy and large camera
    Timing Test Results
    • Power up to first image captured = 1.1 seconds
    • Shutter lag when prefocused = about 0.1 seconds
    • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 0.1 seconds
    • Shot to shot delay w/ flash = 1.6 seconds (review off), 2.3 seconds (minimum review on)
    • Shot to shot delay w/o flash = 1.0 seconds (review off), 2.0 seconds (minimum review on)
    • Low-Speed Continuous = 10 frames in 4.1 seconds at 16M
    • High-Speed Continuous = 7 frames (maximum can record continuously) in 0.9 seconds at 16M
    • High-Speed Continuous 60 fps = 60 frames (maximum can record continuously) in 0.9 seconds at 2M
    • High-Speed Continuous 120 fps = 60 frames (maximum can record continuously) in 0.6 seconds at 0.3M
    All tests were taken using a PNY Class 10, 16 GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, Flash off, Review on, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
    Bottom Line
    Considering it has a jaw-dropping 83x optical zoom lens, the Nikon Coolpix P900 is an attention-grabbing ultra zoom camera. No camera currently on the market can match the P900's zoom range of 24-2000mm. Unfortunately, this model's image quality is very similar to what you'll find with other ultra-zoom cameras, with some softness and lack of fine detail, meaning its photos don't stack up against other cameras that have a $600 starting point. The Coolpix P900 performs a bit faster than its peers, which is nice. This is a good camera, but its overall image quality holds it back from being great.
    Pick This Up If...
    You want the biggest optical zoom you can find in a fixed lens camera, you don't mind paying a premium for that zoom lens, and you can live with some image softness, which is common in ultra zoom models.
    Any photographer who has had experience with an ultra-zoom, fixed lens camera knows how great it can be to have a large optical zoom range in a camera. The ability to shoot photos of skittish wildlife without having to move close is difficult to match with any other kind of camera.

    But, such cameras also have typical drawbacks, including slow performance, blurry photos from camera shake, heavy camera bodies, and image quality that isn't pin sharp.

    The ultra-zoom Nikon Coolpix P900 has some good features and some disappointing features, following along the same path as other big zoom models ... until you see the optical zoom range of the P900, that is.

    The 83x optical zoom of the P900 almost seems like an unreal number, even in a camera as large as this one. The focal length range of 24-2000 mm is the largest you're going to find in the fixed lens camera market right now. For some photographers, having such a large zoom range allows them to look past some of the issues inherent in ultra-zoom models.

    One of the biggest problems ultra-zoom cameras have is a slight blurring of photos from camera shake. It's just extremely difficult to hand hold such a large camera steadily. And, any slight jarring of the camera when using the lens at the maximum telephoto setting is magnified in the final image. So you can count on needing a tripod a lot of the time with an ultra-zoom camera, including the P900.

    You can improve your success when hand holding the camera when you make use of the electronic viewfinder (EVF) that Nikon included with the P900, as it's easier to hold a camera steady when holding it against your face. The EVF is sharp and it has three brightness levels available, which is a nice feature.

    The P900's articulated LCD is also a very nice feature, offering a sharp display that has six brightness settings. You can twist the LCD up to 180 degrees, helping you to shoot odd angle photos. And having an articulated LCD is great when you're using the Coolpix P900 on a tripod, as you can tilt the screen to make it easier to see without having to stoop.

    If you choose to go without the tripod, I was impressed with the vibration reduction (VR) feature Nikon included in the Coolpix P900. I was able to hand hold the camera to shoot photos more often than I expected. The results weren't always perfect when hand holding the P900 at the maximum telephoto setting, but it is possible to record usable photos without a tripod in some scenes, as long as you aren't planning to print them at large sizes.

    Having said that, the overall image quality with the Nikon P900 is just average. Images are a little soft, especially as you use the zoom lens closer to the maximum telephoto setting. This camera can't quite record the detail in objects that you'll usually find with similarly priced models. Its photos will look fine when viewed on a computer screen, but if you try to make large prints, you're going to notice the flaws.

    And in low light, the Coolpix P900 struggles in terms of image quality more than I'd like to see. The camera's performance slows and its image quality suffers versus when shooting in adequate lighting. The P900's ISO is limited to 6400, and you're going to see problems with noise in images once you hit ISO 3200. Even at ISO 800 and 1600, you may notice some lines that aren't as sharp as you'd expect, because the P900 uses an aggressive noise reduction feature. Such problems are tough to see in a camera that has a starting price around $600.

    Most of the problems in low light photos for this camera result from its small 1/2.3-inch image sensor, which is the same size you'll find in the most basic point-n-shoot cameras. It's difficult to justify such a large starting price for a camera with such a small image sensor.

    Then again, you're paying for the large zoom lens with the P900, not its image sensor. It just would have been nice if Nikon had given this model a slightly larger image sensor to allow it to compete better with other cameras in its price range.

    One area where the Nikon P900 outshines other ultra zoom cameras is in its performance speeds. It starts up fast, and you can even set the starting position of the zoom lens up to about 5.5x, giving you the ability to shoot zoom photos faster upon startup.

    You can pick from several different burst modes with this model. However, after shooting your burst photos, the camera has to pause for several seconds to copy the images from the buffer to the memory card, leaving the camera unable to be used, which is frustrating. When shooting at the high speed continuous shot mode, for example, the P900 recorded seven 16-megapixel photos in less than 1 second, but the camera took another 7 seconds to save the photos before I could shoot again. When shooting at the high speed 60 fps burst mode, the camera shot 60 2-megapixel photos in less than 1 second but needed 13 seconds to save the photos.

    The P900's autofocus is a strong aspect of this camera's performance. When shooting at the wide angle setting on the lens, you won't really notice any shutter lag, thanks to the fast autofocus. And even at the maximum telephoto setting, the shutter lag can be as fast as half a second, which is a strong performance level for the autofocus feature in an ultra-zoom camera.

    You have access to a limited manual focus feature with the Coolpix P900, but it's a little awkward to use, so I'd only recommend enabling it when you're faced with an especially tricky focusing situation.

    Nikon did a good job giving the P900 a wide range of shooting modes, allowing it to work well in fully automatic mode or in full manual mode. You can shoot in aperture priority or shutter priority modes too. Unfortunately, there's no RAW image format available that you can pair with these manual control modes. You'll be limited to JPEG shooting at all times.

    Nikon chose to include both Wi-Fi and GPS connectivity with this model. The Wi-Fi works best when you've downloaded the free Nikon app to your smartphone or tablet, making it easier to share photos. The GPS feature does an accurate and quick job of finding your location.

    But if you choose to enable the Wi-Fi and/or GPS features, you're going to notice it in your battery life. Nikon estimates the P900 can record about 360 photos per battery charge, but my tests showed the "real world" number to be closer to 250 to 300 images, especially if you're using the LCD often to change settings or frame images. The battery life will be even less with Wi-Fi and/or GPS usage. If you're using the zoom motor to move the lens back and forth a lot, you'll drain the battery more quickly than expected too. After all, it takes some battery power to move that huge lens as quickly as smoothly as the P900 is able to do.

    I have to close by mentioning again just how large this camera is. At nearly 2 pounds, it outweighs some of the DSLRs on the market. And when the zoom lens is fully extended, it measures about 8.5 inches in depth. It's the largest fixed lens camera I've ever tested, and if you're carrying this camera around by hand for a few hours, you'll feel the fatigue in your hands and wrists by the end of the day. Fortunately, Nikon provides a neck strap with this model.

    Bottom Line - If you've ever looked at your current fixed lens digital camera and said, "I sure wish I had a little more zoom," I can guarantee you one thing: If you purchase the Nikon Coolpix P900, you'll never say that again. The P900 offers the largest optical zoom lens in a fixed lens camera on the market currently at 83x, featuring an almost unfathomable 24-2000 mm focal length range. The camera body itself has to be large to accommodate such a zoom lens, weighing nearly 2 pounds, so you'll often have to use the Coolpix P900 attached to a tripod to avoid camera shake. But, Nikon also did a nice job giving this model an aggressive vibration reduction feature, allowing you to obtain some usable photos while hand holding the camera. Overall, the Nikon P900's image quality is about average when compared to other ultra-zoom cameras, which typically struggle with low light image quality and which have some softness when the zoom lens is extended. The small 1/2.3-inch image sensor found in the P900 contributes to these problems. When stacked against other cameras that have a starting price of about $600, the P900's image quality doesn't compare well, should you want to make large prints. Despite some drawbacks though, this is still a good ultra-zoom camera. Images are decent in good lighting conditions, and the large zoom ensures that you'll be able to record some images over distance that simply aren't possible with other cameras. Now, how often are you in a situation as a photographer where you need an 83x zoom lens? That's probably the question you need to answer before you decide whether the Coolpix P900 is worth the money. If you're shooting a lot of wildlife photos or you need a big zoom to capture your son or daughter in the outfield on the baseball or softball field, the P900 definitely will allow you to record the photo ... and even likely a close-up or two.

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