DCRP

Nikon Coolpix P100 Review

Look and Feel

With a few exceptions, the Coolpix P100 looks just like its predecessor, the P90. That makes it a fairly large super zoom camera, made mostly of plastic. While some parts feel a bit cheap, overall build quality is good. The lens does "rattle" in place a bit, though I've found this to be common on ultra and super zoom cameras.

The P100 has a large, rubberized grip, giving it a secure feel in your hand. The important controls are easy to reach, and most of them perform just one function. That said, there aren't many direct buttons on the camera, which means that you'll have to did through the menu system to adjust things like the ISO sensitivity.

Alright, let's see how the camera compares to other super zooms in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon Powershot SX20 IS 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.4 in. 58.3 cu in. 560 g
Casio Exilim EX-FH25 4.8 x 3.2 x 3.3 in. 50.7 cu in. 483 g
Fuji FinePix S2550HD 4.3 x 2.9 x 3.2 in. 39.9 cu in. 337 g
Kodak EasyShare Z981 4.9 x 3.3 x 4.1 in. 66.3 cu in. 519 g
Nikon Coolpix P100 4.5 x 3.3 x 3.9 in. 57.9 cu in. 481 g
Olympus SP-800 Ultra Zoom 4.2 x 2.9 x 3.3 in. 40.2 cu in. 416 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 4.6 x 3.0 x 3.5 in. 48.3 cu in. 367 g
Pentax X90 4.4 x 3.3 x 4.3 in. 62.4 cu in. 400 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 4.6 x 3.4 x 3.6 in. 56.3 cu in. 453 g

The Coolpix P100 is above average in the bulk department. As for weight, it's one of the heavier cameras. Obviously the P100 won't fit into your small pockets, but I did manage to fit it into my jacket pocket with room to spare.

For what it's worth, it appears that the P100 is very similar to the Pentax X90. They use different sensors and the Pentax doesn't have the articulating LCD, but if you compare photos of the two cameras, you'll see that everything is in the exact same place.

Alright, let's tour the P100 now, beginning with the front view!

Front of the Nikon Coolpix P100

One of the biggest features (no pun intended) on the Coolpix P100 is its monster 26X optical zoom lens. This "Nikkor" lens appears to be exactly the same one as the "Pentax" lens on their X90 and the "Schneider-Kreuznach" lens on the Kodak EasyShare Z981. Who knows what company actually makes the lens. Anyhow, this F2.8-5.0 super zoom lens has a focal length of 4.6 - 120 mm, which is equivalent to an incredible 26 - 676 mm (and there are cameras with even more zoom power out there). The lens isn't threaded, so conversion lenses are not supported.

At the other end of the lens is a 10 Megapixel, back-illuminated CMOS sensor. I'm assuming that this is the same Sony-designed sensor that has been making its way from manufacturer to manufacturer over the last year. The back-illuminated design allows for more light to hit the sensor which, in theory, allows for better high ISO performance. And, being a CMOS sensor, you also get super-fast continuous shooting and HD movie recording capability.

You absolutely, positively need image stabilization on a super zoom camera, and the Coolpix P100 uses a sensor-shift IS system (which Nikon calls Vibration Reduction). The camera detects the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos, especially in low light, or at the telephoto end of the lens. The P100 shifts the CMOS sensor itself to compensate for this motion, which increases the probability of a sharp photo. In addition to standard sensor-shift stabilization, the P100 also has a "hybrid" mode, which takes two exposures and combines them into one, with the hope of giving you even better stabilization.

I've two examples of the image stabilization in action. First up is a macro shot, taken at 1/6 second, with and without vibration reduction:


Vibration reduction off


Vibration reduction on (standard mode)

You should be able to see a difference between the two photos!

Now here are two photos taken at full telephoto, at a shutter speed of 1/10 sec. This compares regular Vibration Reduction and the hybrid mode:


Standard vibration reduction


Hybrid vibration reduction

While not what I'd call a scientific test, at least in this instance -- the hybrid VR system produced a sharp (though slightly noisy) photo that I could not get with regular VR (despite repeated attempts).

Something I didn't like about last year's Coolpix P90 was that you could not use the image stabilizer in movie mode. Unfortunately, the same is true on the P100. You're stuck with an electronic VR system, which doesn't do a whole lot (see example later in review).

Directly above the lens is the P100's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The flash is quite powerful, with a working range of 0.5 - 10.0 m at wide-angle, and 1.7 - 2.5 m at telephoto. Do note that, as always, those numbers are calculated with the ISO set to Auto, which can lead to noisy photos. You cannot attach an external flash to the Coolpix P100.

The last item of note on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, which is located to the upper-left of the lens. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it has a range of 10 m at wide-angle and 3.5 m at telephoto. This lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

One nice feature that's carried over from the Coolpix P90 is a 3-inch articulating LCD display. While not quite as nice is a flip-out, rotating screen, this articulated display still allows you to take overhead and ground-level photos that would be otherwise very difficult. The screen pulls away from the body and can til 90 degrees upward and 82 degrees downward. You can also put the screen in the more traditional position that you can see below.

Back of the Nikon Coolpix P100

While the LCD may look the same as the one on the Coolpix P90, it actually has double the resolution. Instead of 230,000 pixels, this display has 460,000. That means that everything is nice and sharp, for the most part. While the screen was easy to see outdoors, photos often looked overexposed on it, when in reality they were not. Low light visibility was good, with the screen brightening automatically in those situations.

Directly above the LCD is the camera's electronic viewfinder (EVF). This is essentially a small 0.24" LCD that you view as if it was an optical viewfinder. The EVF shows the same things as the main LCD, includes menus and image playback, and you get 97% frame coverage. Of course, an EVF isn't nearly a sharp or as bright as a real viewfinder. The viewfinder has 230,000 pixels, though it seemed pretty grainy to me. Low light visibility wasn't as good as the main LCD, either. You can adjust the focus of the EVF by using the diopter correction knob to its left. Next to that is the button which toggles between the EVF and the LCD.

To the right of the EVF you'll find the Display button, which toggles the information shown on the LCD. Next to that is the dedicated movie recording button, with the movie mode switch below that. This switch lets you choose between HD and high speed movie recording -- but more on that later.

Continuing to the right, you can see the P100's command dial, which you'll use for adjusting manual settings and navigating through menus.

Now let's take a look at the items to the right of the LCD. The first thing here is the button for entering playback mode. Under that is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, reviewing photos you've taken, and also:

  • Up - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash off, fill flash, slow sync, rear-curtain sync)
  • Down - Focus mode (AF, macro, infinity, manual)
  • Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs)
  • Right - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Center - Set/OK


Manual focus (frame enlargement on)

One of those macro options activates the P100's manual focus feature. With this you can set the focus distance using the up and down buttons on the four-way controller. While the center of the frame is enlarged, the focus distance guide isn't terribly useful, since it doesn't display any numbers (it's all relative).

The last buttons on the back of the camera are for entering the menu system and deleting a photo.

Top of the Nikon Coolpix P100

The first item of note on the top of the P100 is also one of the big changes since the P90, and that's the stereo microphone. You wouldn't expect anything less from a camera that can record 1080p video, right? I found that the placement of the microphone makes it prone to pick up wind noise.

Moving to the right, we find the camera's mode dial, which is packed full of auto and manual options. They include:

Option Function
Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with some menu options locked up.
Program mode Still automatic, but with access to all menu options. A Flexible Program (Program Shift) feature lets you select from several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the command dial.
Shutter priority mode You choose the shutter speed, and the camera picks the aperture. Shutter speed range is 8 - 1/2000 sec.
Aperture priority mode You choose the aperture, and camera picks the shutter speed. The aperture range is the usual F2.8 - F8.0.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself (same ranges as above).
User mode Save your favorite camera settings to this spot on the mode dial
Subject tracking mode An automatic mode that lets you select a subject and have the camera follow them as they move around the frame
Smart Portrait mode Combines face and smile detection with skin retouching
Scene Auto Selector The camera selects a scene mode for you, choosing from auto, portrait, landscape, night portrait, night landscape, close-up, and backlight.
Scene mode Here's where you can manually pick a scene mode. Select from portrait, landscape, night portrait, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, food, museum, fireworks show, copy, backlight, backlit scene HDR, and panorama assist.
Sport continuous mode Shoot at frame rates as fast as 120 fps, with a catch (or three).

Lots to talk about before we can continue the tour. Let's start with the auto modes. I was a bit surprised to see separate auto and auto scene selector modes -- usually there's just one. The scene modes themselves may appear to be standard-issue, though a few are worth a mention:

  • Night landscape: The camera takes several photos in rapid succession (I'm not sure how many) and combines them into a single exposure. In theory, this should allow for blur-free photos in low light, but in reality, photo quality was mediocre at best.
  • Food: Puts the camera into macro mode and displays a slider that lets you adjust the white balance in the red or blue direction
  • Backlit scene HDR: Also combines several exposures into one, this time to improve dynamic range. Camera also saves a single exposure that was enhanced with Active D-Lighting
  • Panorama assist: Helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching on your PC

The backlit scene HDR feature takes advantage of the camera's CMOS sensor, combining three exposures into one for improved contrast. I'm happy to say that this feature works as advertised, as you can see in this comparison:


Active D-Lighting


HDR

As I mentioned, the backlit scene HDR mode records two photos: one with Active D-Lighting, and the second HDR shot which is made up of three exposures (which you don't see). I've put both of them up there, you can see that the HDR shot has fewer clipped highlights than the photo taken with D-Lighting. The shadow detail is more impressive with Active D-Lighting, though.

The Smart Portrait feature will detect any faces in the frame and, by default, take a photo when one of your subjects smiles (you can turn this off). Another part of this mode is skin softening, which reduces blemishes and wrinkles. You can select from low, normal, or high softening, or you can turn the whole thing off. A third feature (which cannot be used when the Smile Timer is on) is Blink Proof, which takes five photos in a row and saves the one in which your subject's eyes are open.

The Sport Continuous mode takes advantage of the P100's CMOS sensor. This allows you to take photos at 60 or even 120 frames/second, for up to 25 and 60 photos, respectively. The catch is that the resolution is lowered to 2 Megapixel for 60 fps shooting, and just 1 Megapixel for 120 fps. A continuous auto mode will vary the frame rate depending on the lighting conditions. There's also a pre-shooting cache, which takes 25 photos at 15 fps, and saves the last five photos that were recorded before the shutter release was let go, as well as the twenty photos that follow.

The Coolpix P100 also has full manual exposure controls, though I should mention two things. First, the slowest shutter speed available is 8 seconds -- not quite as long as on most cameras. Second, as the ISO increases, the available shutter speed range shrinks. At ISO 800, you can't go any slower than 4 secs. At ISO 1600 it's 2 seconds, and at ISO 3200 the longest exposure is 1 second. I figure that these two things won't affect most people, but they're worth a mention.

Alright -- back to the tour now! To the right of the mode dial is the camera's power button. Above that is the zoom controller, which is wrapped around the shutter release button. The lens can move at two speeds (normal and fast) depending on how much you press the zoom controller. At full speed, it takes the lens just 1.3 seconds to travel the entire 26X zoom range. I counted 28 steps in the zoom range, which doesn't allow for a whole lot of precision.

Side of the Nikon Coolpix P100

On this side of the P100 you can see the flash release button, the speaker, and the I/O ports. The I/O ports, which are under a plastic cover, are for HDMI and USB + composite video output.

The lens is at the full wide-angle position here.

Side of the Nikon Coolpix P100

There's not much to talk about on the other side of the P100. That little flap at the bottom-left is where you'll pass the power cable for the optional AC adapter through. It's also worth mentioning that the lens is at the full telephoto position here.

Bottom of the Nikon Coolpix P100

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the Coolpix P100. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount (partially obscured in this photo), as well as the battery/memory card compartment. The door over this compartment is of decent quality, and it includes a locking mechanism to prevent accidents. As you can probably guess, you won't be able to get at what's inside this compartment while the camera is on a tripod.

You can see the EN-EL5 lithium-ion battery on the right side of the photo.

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