Originally Posted: May 18, 2010
Last Updated: May 27, 2010
The Nikon Coolpix P100 ($399) is a super zoom digital camera that offers a monster lens, sensor-shift image stabilization, an articulating LCD, plenty of manual controls, and a Full HD (1080p) movie mode. It's the follow-up to the Coolpix P90, and I've summarized the differences between the two models in this table:
It's not often when you see a new camera having fewer Megapixels than its predecessor, but that's exactly what Nikon has done here. The P100 has over two million fewer pixels compared to the P90, due to its Sony-designed back-illuminated CMOS sensor, which can be found on cameras from virtually every manufacturer this year. The ISO range is a lot narrower, as well, though you wouldn't want to use anything above ISO 3200 on the Coolpix P90 anyway.
The P100 has a number of other features that take advantage of its CMOS sensor, as well. They include super fast continuous shooting (up to 120 fps at 1.1 Megapixel), high speed movie recording (up to 240 fps at 320 x 240), and HDR and "advanced night landscape" modes which combine several photos into one (to reduce blur).
Perhaps the most notable feature on the Coolpix P100 is its 1080p movie mode. That means you can record up to 29 minutes worth of 1920 x 1080 video (at 30 fps) with stereo sound, use of the optical zoom, and continuous autofocus. Unfortunately, like on the P90 before it, the P100 cannot use the sensor-shift image stabilization system in movie mode (electronic only).
Is the Coolpix P100 the ultimate super zoom camera? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The Coolpix P100 has an average bundle for a super zoom camera. Here's what you'll find when you open up the box:
- The 10.3 effective Megapixel Coolpix P100 digital camera
- EN-EL5 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Charging AC adapter
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring Nikon Software Suite
- 24 page Quick Start Guide + 202 page full manual (both printed)
Like most cameras these days, the Coolpix P100 has memory built right into it -- 43MB to be exact. That holds just eight photos at the highest quality setting, which isn't much. That means that you'll want to buy a large SD or SDHC card right away. I'd recommend picking up a 4GB card if you'll be taking mostly stills, and an 8GB or 16GB for heavy movie usage. Speaking of which, if you'll be taking a lot of HD movies, then you'll want to ensure that your memory card is rated at Class 6 or higher.
The P100 uses the EN-EL5 lithium-ion battery, which has been around for ages. This battery packs 4.1 Wh of energy into its plastic shell, which is about average. Here's how that translates into battery life:
Nikon's compact cameras have never been great when it comes to battery life and, as you can see, it comes in second-to-last among this group of super zooms. In other words, you're going to want to buy a spare battery.
Speaking of which, I should mention a few things about the proprietary batteries used by the Coolpix P100 and several other cameras in the table above. First, they're pricey, with a spare EN-EL5 setting you back at least $28. In addition, should your lithium-ion battery, you can't pick something up at your corner store to get you through the rest of the day. If you want a camera with cheaper rechargeable batteries and emergency options, then you'll want to consider one of the four models above that use AAs.
When it's time to charge the battery, you can just pop it into... hey wait, where does the battery go? The Coolpix P100 doesn't use a traditional external battery charger. Rather, you charge the battery while it's inside the camera using this AC adapter and a USB cable. You can also connect the camera right into the computer over USB and charge the battery. Either way, it takes about 3.5 hours to fully charge the battery, which is on the slow side. If you want to have a traditional battery charger, Nikon would be happy to sell you one (see below).
As you'd expect, the P100 comes with a large lens cap and a retaining strap, to replace that monster 26X zoom lens.
Now let's talk about the software for Mac and Windows that comes with the Coolpix P100. The first part is Nikon Transfer, which you'll use to transfer photos from the camera to your Mac or PC. You select which photos are to be transferred, where they're going, and you're done. You can even have it transfer the photos to a second location for backup purposes. Photos can also be uploaded to Nikon's myPicturetown service using this program.
Once that's done, you'll find yourself in Nikon ViewNX, which you can use for organizing and sharing photos. Here you can see the usual thumbnail screen, where you can assign photos to various categories, e-mail or print them, give them "star" ratings, or just view a slideshow. Editing tools tools include adjustments for exposure, sharpness, contrast, D-Lighting, and color. It's no Photoshop, but it gets the job done for basic tasks.
Nikon includes both a Quick Start guide and a full printed user manual in the box with the Coolpix P100. While it won't win any awards, the manual is definitely more user friendly that most. There are lengthy, easy-to-read descriptions of most features, though you will find a lot of "notes" on each page. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your Mac or PC.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Using the Nikon Coolpix P100
It takes around 1.3 seconds for the Coolpix P100 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's not bad, considering the size of the lens.
Autofocus speeds were about average. At the wide end of the lens, the camera typically took between 0.3 and 0.6 seconds to lock focus. At the other end of the focal range, it usually took between 0.6 and 1.0 seconds (and sometimes slightly longer) to obtain focus lock. Low light focusing takes somewhere between 1 and 2 seconds, though the camera locked focus eventually in most cases.
I didn't find shutter lag to be an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.
Shot-to-shot delays were fairly brief. You'll wait about 1.5 seconds before you can take another photo without the flash, and for just under three seconds with it.
After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.
The Coolpix P100 has almost too many image sizes to choose from. I was surprised that, given the selection, they left out an "HD" 1920 x 1080 size. Anyhow, here's the full list of image size and quality settings.
Yes, you can really store 40,000 VGA/basic quality JPEGs on a 4GB memory card. That's a lot of photos! Otherwise, there's not much to say here, other than to note the four aspect ratios on the P100, and to point out the lack of support for the RAW image format.
A typical help screen in the menus
The Coolpix P100 has a fast, easy-to-use menu system. It doesn't really show off that high resolution LCD, and you have to spend more time in it than I'd like (due to the lack of a quick menu or direct buttons), but it gets the job done. The menu is divided into four tabs, covering shooting (or scene mode), movie, playback, and setup options. In most cases, you can use the zoom controller to get a description of the currently selected menu option. Keeping in mind that 1) some of these options may not be available in every shooting mode and 2) some other options may be available in other modes, here's what you'll find when the camera is in Program Mode:
Movie menu - more on this later
Playback menu - I will cover most of these later
I'll hit the movie and playback options a bit later, but let's talk about several of the items in the Shooting settings menu right now.
|The optimize image menu||The parameters you can adjust in custom mode|
The first thing to mention is the Optimize Image option. Most of the choices there are simple presets, with the last two options being the only things requiring some explanation. The custom option lets you adjust contrast, sharpness, and saturation, with a range of -2 to +2 (or Auto). The black and white option also lets you adjust the contrast and sharpening, adding in some virtual color filters (yellow, orange, red, green, sepia). You can also choose to have the camera take a color and black & white option at the same time.
The P100 allows you to use a white or gray card to set the white balance manually. Most of the WB settings (save for auto and custom) can be fine-tuned as well, in the blue or red direction.
Like all point-and-shoot cameras, the Coolpix P100 lets you set the ISO sensitivity manually (though note that the range starts at 160, which seems to be typical for this CMOS sensor). You can select from two Auto settings, one of which uses higher sensitivities than the other (1600 vs 800). You can also select a fixed range of 160-200 or 160-400, to have some flexibility without adding too much noise. Finally, you can set the shutter speed at which the camera starts to increase the sensitivity.
One of the nice things about the CMOS sensor used by the Coolpix P100 is its continuous shooting abilities. There are two speeds to choose from in the full resolution burst modes -- low and high. At high speed, the camera took six photos in a row at a whopping 10 frames/second (at the Large/Fine image quality setting). Do note that that the image on the LCD freezes when the burst starts, so you can't track a moving subject. In low speed mode, the camera can keep firing away at 2.5 frames/second, and you can track a moving subject with ease.
The Best Shot Selector feature has been on Nikon cameras for ages. This takes up to ten photos in a row, with the camera saving the photo with the most detail. The Multi-Shot 16 option takes 16 pictures at 30 frames/second and puts them into a 5 Megapixel collage.
The Coolpix P100 also features an interval timer (time-lapse) feature. The camera will take up to 600 photos at a set interval (30 sec, 1, 5, or 10 mins). The optional AC adapter is essentially required to use the interval timer.
While hard to see here, the camera did detect five of the six faces
What are those AF area modes all about? As its name implies, face priority AF is Nikon's term for face detection. In this mode, the camera will detect up to 12 faces, making sure they're properly focused (the closest face gets priority in most shooting modes). The P100 performed well with my test scene, easily finding five of the six faces. If the cameras can't find a face, it'll switch to 9-point auto mode. There are also center-point and manual AF-point selection options, with the latter allowing you to select one of ninety-nine possible focus points.
The last photo-related feature to talk about is Active D-Lighting, which aims to improve detail in highlights and shadows. This is different than the "regular" D-Lighting feature found in playback mode, which mainly brightens dark areas of a photo. By default this feature is off, though if you want to use it, you can select from low, normal, or high levels of ADL.
Active D-Lighting off
Active D-Lighting low
Obviously, the photo above is kind of a torture test, but it's one of the few ways in which Active D-Lighting can show its stuff. As you can see, the foreground is noticeably brighter, and that's with ADL set to low. That said, I didn't find that increasing the level of ADL past "low" made much of a difference.
One last thing you may want to seek out in the menu right away are the sound options. The camera has just one volume setting for the "beep" sound, and it's "very loud".
Alright, enough about menus, let's get to photo quality now!
The Coolpix P100 did not perform well in our macro test. The most obvious thing, that you can see from the thumbnail, is that the color of the red cloak is totally off. The cloak looks more hot pink than red, and I fooled around with every possible white balance setting I could find. I don't know what it is about my studio lights that the P100 doesn't like, but something's definitely amiss here. Only the reds are affected, though -- the blues and "skin tones" look fine. The figurine also has a fuzzy appearance, almost looking like a video capture. I'm not sure if this is a product of the noise reduction system or the CMOS sensor, but I don't care for it.
While I can tell you the minimum focus distances in macro mode, Nikon isn't terribly clear about when you can use them. There's a sweet spot about a third of the way through the zoom range at which point you can be just 1 cm away from your subject. Before that point, the distance is 10 cm. I can't seem to find what the focus distances are after the 1 cm spot.
The night scene turned out a bit better than the macro shot, though there's certainly room for improvement. The camera brought in enough light, as you'd expect given its manual control over shutter speed. Just remember that as the ISO increases, the slowest shutter speeds become unavailable. The color does seem a bit off here, too -- I think the P100's white balance system really struggles in artificial lighting. The buildings are on the soft side here, due to noise reduction, though you can still make a midsize or perhaps a large print at this sensitivity (ISO 160). There's a fair amount of highlight clipping, and purple fringing is strong in some parts of the photo.
Alright, now let's use that same night scene to see how the Coolpix P100 performs in low light at high sensitivities:
There's very little difference between the photos taken at ISO 160 and 200. At ISO 400 the image gains a greenish cast, and some hot pixels appear in the sky. I'd probably stop at that sensitivity, because details really start to go south when you hit ISO 800. The buildings appear smudged, looking more like a watercolor painting than a photograph. The ISO 1600 photo has even less detail and a lot more hot pixels in the sky. The last shot, taken at ISO 3200, looks like it was taken with a night vision camera (it wasn't).
|Night photos and discussion updated 5/28/2010|
One area in which the P100 does very well is redeye -- or rather, the lack of it. The combination of a pre-flash redeye reduction system and a relatively large distance between flash and lens, and you get the results you see above. Do note that there's no redeye removal tool in playback mode on the Coolpix P100.
Distortion correction off (default)
Distortion correction on
While many cameras have automatic correction for barrel distortion, this is a feature that you have to turn on with the Coolpix P100. As you can see, there's quite a bit of distortion at the wide end of the lens, and some mild vignetting too. I found both of these issues in my real world photos, as well. With distortion correction turned on (via a menu option), the results are much better, though do note that camera performance is reduced. I did not find corner blurring to be a problem with the P100 and its monster lens.
Above is our studio test scene, which aims to show you how the Coolpix P100 performs at high sensitivities. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare the results of this test with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. With the usual reminder to view the full size images and not just the crops, let's take a look at how the P100 performed:
As with the macro shot, the reds just seem a little "off" here, and the whole scene looks a bit dull in general. As for noise, you can see some mottled details in places, with little change at ISO 200. The test scene gets a bit softer at ISO 400, and even ISO 800 is good enough for a small print. I would save the ISO 1600 setting for desperation (and small prints) only, and would pass entirely on ISO 3200. I compared the photos above with those from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35, a super zoom camera that uses a traditional CCD. In my opinion at least, the P100 and it's back-illuminated CMOS sensor offer little-to-no advantage over the FZ35's 12 Megapixel CCD.
Overall, I was disappointed with the real world photo quality of the Nikon Coolpix P100. On the exposure front, I found that the camera had the tendency to slightly overexpose by 1/3 stop. The LCD doesn't help matters, either, as it often gives images the appearance of being totally blown out, even when they're not. The P100 is definitely a camera you want to use AE bracketing with! Like most compact cameras, the P100 clips highlights fairly easily, though at least there's the HDR feature that I told you about earlier. Images are definitely on the soft side, with a fuzzy appearance that reminds me of a frame grab from a video (I've said similar things about other CMOS-based cameras). To make matters worse, Nikon is very aggressive with the noise reduction on the P100, which eats away at fine details and mottles solid areas of color (these photos are prime examples of both). Now, if you're making small prints, you probably won't notice any of this stuff, but for larger prints or on-screen viewing, the lack of detail is hard to miss. In terms of color, the P100 did fine, except in my studio, where it fared poorly. Purple fringing levels were low to moderate in most situations.
Don't take my words as gospel, though -- have a look at our photo gallery for the P100. View or print the photos as if you took them yourself, and then I hope you'll be able to decide if the Coolpix P100's image quality meets your needs.
Probably the most significant feature on the Coolpix P100 is its Full HD movie mode. The camera can record video at 1920 x 1080 (at 30 frames/second) with stereo sound for up to 29 minutes. In case you're wondering, you'll need a 4GB memory card to hold that much video (and Nikon recommends a Class 6 or higher card for movie recording). If you want slightly longer recording time without giving up the 1080p resolution, then you can reduce the movie quality a bit (which lowers the bit rate from 14 to 12 Mbps). Other resolutions that are available include 1280 x 720, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240 -- all at 30 frames/second.
The P100 also has a high speed movie mode (similar to some Casio cameras) that can record at frame rates as high as 240 fps. The catch (you knew this was coming) is that the resolution goes down as the frame rate goes up. You can shoot 720p video at 60 frames/second, VGA at 120 fps, and QVGA at 240 fps. The way this feature operates is a bit weird -- you hit the movie record button and the camera starts recording at 30 fps. It's not until you press the "ok" button that the high speed recording actually starts (though there's an option in the movie menu to change this). You can take up to 10 seconds of high speed video per clip, though do note that sound will not be recorded. When videos are played back on the camera or computer, they'll be in slow motion, which is pretty neat. There's a feature which works in the opposite direction, as well. You can record 1080p video at 15 fps (up to 2 minutes worth), which then plays back at twice the normal speed.
The P100 lets you use its optical zoom lens while you're recording a movie, though I found that the lens moves too quickly. The camera can focus continuously if you'd like, though this (and the noise from zooming) will be picked up by the camera's microphone. One thing that you cannot use is the image stabilizer, and you're stuck with a relatively useless electronic VR feature instead (example). I should also mention that there's about a second of lag between the time you press the red movie recording button and when you actually see some action on the LCD, which I found a bit annoying.
The camera has a wind filter, and it needs it, as the microphone's location makes it prone to picking up wind noise. The wind filter could've been a bit more effective, in my opinion.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the efficient H.264 codec.
As you might imagine, I have a bunch of sample movies for your viewing pleasure. I've got both noisy and quiet 1080p clips, a good ol' train video taken at 720p, and a slo-mo bird video taken at 120 fps. Enjoy!
The Coolpix P100 has a pretty nice playback mode. Basic features you'll find here include slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, voice captions, and playback zoom (what I call zoom & scroll).
Images can be viewed one at a time, in thumbnails of various sizes, or with the calendar view you see above. Photos taken in burst mode are put into a "stack", which has VCR-style controls for playing them quickly or one at a time.
Photos can be rotated, resized, or trimmed right on the camera. There's a Quick Retouch option for instantly bumping up contrast and saturation, and there's also the shadow-brightening D-Lighting feature (see screenshot). If you want to remove wrinkles and blemishes from your people pictures, you can use the skin softening function. And, if you want to add a black border around a photo, you can do that too. One thing you can't do is remove redeye from a photo.
Despite the fancy movie mode, there are no video editing tools on the Coolpix P100 -- not even a "trim" option.
By default, the P100 doesn't tell you very much about your photos. Pressing the Display button gets you the screen you can see above-right, which offers a bit more info, plus a histogram.
The camera movies from one photo to another instantly.
How Does it Compare?
The Nikon Coolpix P100 is one of those cameras that sounds absolutely perfect when you read the spec sheet. It has a 26X zoom lens with a great focal range, image stabilization, a back-illuminated CMOS sensor, super-fast continuous shooting, lots of auto and manual controls, an articulating high resolution LCD, and a Full HD movie mode. But what good is any of that if the camera doesn't take decent quality pictures? That is where the P100 falls apart, and there are some bothersome design and interface issues that further reduce its appeal. Thus, unless you really need that Full HD movie mode, then I'd probably pass on the Coolpix P100 and find a super zoom camera with better photo quality.
The Coolpix P100 is a fairly large, SLR-style super zoom camera. The body is made out of plastic, though it feels pretty solid in most areas. The grip is large and made of a rubber-like material, so it's easy to hold the camera securely. Nikon didn't go too overboard with buttons on the camera, though this means that you'll spend a lot of time in the camera's menu system trying to get at things like ISO sensitivity. The P100 features a 26X optical zoom lens that I'm pretty sure is used on two other currently shipping super zoom cameras. This lens has a fantastic focal range of 26 - 676 mm, which covers any shooting situation that you may encounter. Naturally, you'll need an image stabilizer to go with that big lens, and the P100 uses a sensor-shift mechanism that does its job well (and there's a "hybrid" mode which adds electronic shake reduction for better performance). On the back of the P100 is a 3-inch LCD that pulls away from the camera body and tilts up or down. This allows you to have the camera above or below you, and anywhere in between. The LCD has a resolution of 460,000 pixels -- twice that of its predecessor -- plus good outdoor and low light visibility. I did find that images on the LCD often looked greatly overexposed, when in reality they were fine. The P100 also features a 0.24", 230,000 pixel electronic viewfinder. I found the EVF sharpness to be lacking, and low light viewing wasn't nearly as good as the main LCD.
The P100 is packed with features that should make about everyone happy (at least in theory). Point-and-shoot features include an auto scene selection mode (as well as a separate auto mode, for some reason), plenty of scene modes, face, smile, and blink detection, and help screens for most menu options. Enthusiasts will appreciate the manual exposure, white balance, and focus controls, but will probably be turned off by the lack of RAW support. The P100's back-illuminated CMOS sensor allows it to perform a lot of neat tricks, some better than others. A "backlit scene HDR" mode noticeably cuts down on highlight clipping by seamlessly combining three exposures into one. Less useful is the night landscape scene mode, which combines something like six exposures into a single image that's low on detail. The camera can also shoot continuously at very high speeds, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Perhaps the biggest benefit of this CMOS sensor is that it allows the camera to record videos at 1080p -- yes, 1920 x 1080, at 30 frames/second. Sound is recorded in stereo, you can zoom in and out all you want (though the lens moves too quickly and is not precise enough), and the camera can focus continuously. The bad news is that you can't use the image stabilizer (the electronic VR feature is a poor substitute) and that wind noise is easily picked up by the microphone -- even with the wind filter on. The P100 can also record at very high frame rates -- up to 240 fps -- allowing for some pretty cool slow-motion videos (albeit at lower resolutions).
Camera performance was mixed. The Coolpix P100 starts up quickly for a super zoom camera, taking 1.3 seconds. The camera focuses at an average pace in most situations, and focuses accurately (though a bit slowly) in low light. Shutter lag was not an issue, and shot-to-shot delays were fairly brief. As I mentioned, the P100 can shoot continuously at very high speeds. At full resolution, you can take up to 6 photos in a row at 10 frames/second, though the image on the LCD freezes after the first shot (not that it really matters at that speed). A slower, 2.5 fps mode is better suited for tracking a moving subject, since the screen doesn't freeze, and the buffer takes much longer to fill. If you want to shoot even faster, then head over to Sport Continuous mode, which can take pictures as fast as 120 frames/second (though the buffer fills up in 1/2 second). As with the high speed movie mode, you have to lower the resolution considerably in order to take photos at these frame rates. One performance-related area in which the P100 needs some help is with regard to battery life: it's well below average in the super zoom class.
Photo quality is perhaps the biggest disappointment on the Coolpix P100. To be frank, I'm yet to be wowed by the back-illuminated CMOS sensor that's been making the rounds lately. Sure, it's slightly better at high ISOs on some cameras (though not the P100) than cameras with traditional CCDs, but there's way too much noise and other artifacting at the base ISO for my taste. Fine details end up smudged, and things like the sky appear mottled -- again, at ISO 160. Those making small prints probably won't notice any of this until they get to ISO 800, but simply put, other cameras do a better job than this Coolpix when it comes to noise and detail. On the exposure front, the camera did overexpose occasionally (and the LCD doesn't help matters there), and it clips highlights like most of its competitors (the HDR feature helps get around this, though). Color was accurate in most situations, though under the artificial lights in my studio it was really lousy -- especially the red tones. The lens has a fair amount of barrel distortion, though you can turn on a correction feature to take care of that. You can expect to see some mild vignetting (dark corners), as well. One problem the P100 thankfully didn't have was redeye -- yay!
I've got a few more things to mention before I wrap things up, and I'm sure you've heard them before. The distance guide in manual focus mode isn't very useful, as it just shows the relative position between macro and infinity. You can't access the memory card while the camera is on a tripod. And finally, the battery must be charged in-camera, which may not be desirable to some folks.
As a point-and-shoot, small print camera/camcorder, the Coolpix P100 is good, but not great. As an enthusiast camera, it disappoints, mainly due to its mediocre photo quality, lack of RAW support, and menu-centric user interface. While the final decision on the Coolpix P100 falls to you, I personally would consider something else.
- "Okay" photo quality for small prints in normal lighting
- Huge 26X zoom lens with great 26 - 676 mm focal range
- Sensor-shift image stabilization
- Articulating, high resolution 3-inch LCD display (though see issues below)
- Full manual controls
- Auto Scene Selector mode, plus plenty of other scenes you can choose yourself
- Super-fast continuous shooting, though you're limited to 6 shots at full resolution (the low speed mode is no slouch, though); can shoot even faster at 1 and 2 Megapixel resolutions
- Full HD movie mode records at 1920 x 1080 (30 fps) with stereo sound, use of optical zoom and continuous AF
- Can also record high speed movies for cool slow-motion effects, though resolution is reduced
- Redeye not a problem
- HDR feature reduces blown highlights
- Help screens for most menu items; decent manual by digital camera standards
- Face, smile, and blink detection
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Photos are heavy on noise and noise reduction, even at base ISOs; this smudges fine details and mottles low contrast areas
- Occasional overexposure and highlight clipping
- Poor color accuracy (especially reds) in artificial lighting
- No significant improvement at high sensitivities compared to super zooms with traditional CCDs
- Images often appear overexposed on LCD, when they're fine in reality
- EVF not terribly sharp; low light viewing isn't great, either
- No RAW format support
- Electronic image stabilization only in movie mode
- Zoom movement not very precise; manual focus guide doesn't show actual focus distance numbers
- Lack of direct buttons or shortcut menu means lots of trips to the main menu system
- Below average battery life; in-camera battery charging not for everyone
- Can't access memory card when camera is on tripod
Some other super zoom cameras that you'll want to consider include the Canon PowerShot SX20 IS, Casio Exilim EX-FH25, Fuji FinePix S2550HD, Kodak EasyShare Z981, Olympus SP-800UZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35, Pentax X90, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1.
As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Coolpix P100 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our gallery to see how the Coolpix P100's photo quality looks!