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DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix P6000  
   

Front of the Nikon Coolpix P6000

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: January 17, 2009
Last Updated: March 9, 2009

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The Coolpix P6000 ($499) is the flagship camera in Nikon's compact digital camera lineup. It features a 13.5 Megapixel CCD, a 4X wide-angle zoom lens, image stabilization, 2.7" LCD display, full manual controls, a hot shoe, and RAW format support. In addition to all that, the P6000 also has two very unique features: a built-in GPS receiver and an Ethernet port. Yes, you read that right, an Ethernet port, which is used to transfer photos to Nikon's My Picturetown service. Don't worry, the P6000 has a USB port, too!

The P6000 certainly offers a lot of bang for the buck, and it's the only camera that supports geotagging straight out of the box. How does it perform? You'll have to find out by reading our review, which starts right now!

What's in the Box?

The Coolpix P6000 has an average bundle. Here's what you'll find inside its box:

  • The 13.5 effective Megapixel Nikon Coolpix P6000 digital camera
  • EN-EL5 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • AC adapter
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Nikon Software Suite
  • 205 page camera manual (printed)

Like most cameras these days, the Coolpix P6000 has built-in memory, instead of having a memory card included in the box. The P6000 has 48MB of built-in memory, which is pretty good these days. Even so, that holds just 2 RAW or 7 high quality JPEGs, so you'll want to buy a large memory card right away. The P6000 supports SD and SDHC flash memory, and I'd suggest a 2GB or even 4GB card to start with. It's definitely worth spending a little extra to get a high speed card.

The Coolpix P6000 uses the familiar EN-EL5 lithium-ion rechargeable battery for power. This battery holds 4.1 Wh of energy, which isn't a whole lot for a higher-end camera. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot G10 400 shots NB-7L
Kodak EasyShare Z1485 IS 250 shots KLIC-8000
Nikon Coolpix P6000 260 shots EN-EL5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 380 shots CGA-S005
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300 300 shots NP-BG1

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The closest competitors to the Coolpix P6000 are the Canon PowerShot G10 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. The other cameras on the list don't have the hot shoe offered by those cameras, but they still offer high resolution CCDs and manual controls. In the group as a whole, the Coolpix P6000's battery life numbers are about 20% below average. Please also note that these numbers are derived with the GPS turned off. Using the GPS will dramatically reduce the P6000's battery life.

I should point out two things about the proprietary batteries used by the Coolpix P6000 and all the other cameras in the table above. For one, they're expensive -- an extra EN-EL5 will set you back at least $22. Second, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day when your rechargeable dies.

The battery is charged internally, via the included AC adapter. It takes about three hours to fully charge the battery. Do note that when you first plug in the camera, the My Picturetown upload screen will come up -- you'll have to cancel it to turn off the camera and start charging. You can get around this by turning off the Picture Bank feature in the setup menu. If you want to charge the battery outside of the camera, then you'll need to pick up the external charger listed below.

Nikon Coolpix P6000 in the hand

The Coolpix P6000 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no clumsy lens cap to deal with.

There are a host of accessories available for the P6000, and I've compiled them into this table for you:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Wide-angle lens WC-E76 From $160 Reduces the focal length by 0.76X, bringing the wide end of the lens down to 21.3 mm. Requires conversion lens adapter below.
Conversion lens adapter UR-E21 From $25 Required for the conversion lens above; apparently not threaded for filters
External flash

SB-400
SB-600
SB-900

From $104
From $175
From $400
Get more flash power and less chance of redeye with these Speedlights.
Wireless remote control ML-L3 From $15 Another expensive way to take photos without touching the camera
Battery charger MH-61 From $24 For when you want to charge the battery outside of the camera
Leather case 9656 $30 Protect your camera, in style.
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

A pretty good selection, if I do say so myself. If I had one wish, it would be for a telephoto conversion lens, since the P6000 is pretty weak in that department.


Nikon Transfer

There are several software products included with the Coolpix P6000. The first 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 whether you want a backup), and you're done. You can also upload photos directly to Nikon's My Picturetown online photo sharing service using this software.


Nikon ViewNX

Once that's done, you'll find yourself in Nikon ViewNX, which you can use for organizing and sharing photos. Here you can the usual thumbnail view, and you can assign photos to various categories, or give them "star" ratings. ViewNX lets you see the focus point used on a photo, listen to voice memos, and convert RAW images to JPEGs.

If you took a photo with the GPS on, then you click the Geo Tag button to see a map showing that location (you can manually assign one, too). Naturally, you can upload your pictures to My Picturetown from ViewNX, as well.

For some bizarre reason, Nikon decided to use a totally different RAW format on the Coolpix P6000, known as NRW. Why they switched from NEF is beyond me -- it was supported in almost every image editing application. To view NRW files on your computer, you'll need to be running the latest version of Mac OS X 10.5 or Windows XP SP3/Vista SP1. Nikon's own ViewNX software can view these RAW images, but it cannot edit them. Their premier RAW editing application, Capture NX 2, doesn't even support this format. Huh?

If you want to edit NRW files, you'll need to use something like Adobe Photoshop. Grab the latest version of the Camera Raw plug-in for CS3 or CS4 and you're ready to go. Other, third party RAW conversion software may work, as well. Let's hope that this is a one-time deal -- NRW has pretty much been universally panned on the Internet.

Oh, and what's the big deal about RAW, anyway? RAW images contain unprocessed data straight from the camera's sensor. This allows you to (at least in theory) adjust things like exposure, sharpness, and white balance, without reducing the quality of the image. The downsides include large file sizes, slower camera performance, and the need to process images on your computer in order to convert them to a standard format (though you can do this on the P6000 itself).


ArcSoft Panorama Maker 4

Also included with the camera is ArcSoft's Panorama Maker software. You can use this to stitch together several photos into a single panoramic image. Using the P6000's panorama assist mode will help ensure that everything's lined up properly.

Nikon includes a lengthy, detailed manual with the Coolpix P6000. It's not as user friendly as I would've liked, but it should answer any question that you may have about the camera. Documentation for the bundled software is installed onto your PC.

Look and Feel

The Coolpix P6000 is a compact (but not tiny) camera, made mostly of metal. It's well put together, with even the door over the battery/memory card compartment feeling sturdy. The camera has a rubberized grip, giving it a secure feel in your hands. The important controls are easy to reach, though the power button could be a little bit larger, in my opinion. Something else that bothered me is the location of the pop-up flash. Once it's up, there's nowhere to rest the fingers on your left hand. This also makes it pretty easy to accidentally shut it when you're taking a photo.

Now, here's how the P6000 compares to similar cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot G10 4.3 x 3.1 x 1.8 in. 24 cu in. 350 g
Kodak EasyShare Z1485 IS 3.5 x 2.5 x 1.5 in. 13.1 cu in. 164 g
Nikon Coolpix P6000 4.2 x 2.6 x 1.7 in. 18.6 cu in. 240 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 10.9 cu in. 229 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300 3.7 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 9.4 cu in. 156 g

The Coolpix P6000 is the second biggest camera in the group, with only the massive PowerShot G10 ahead of it. While the P6000 isn't what I'd call a "jeans pocket" kind of camera, it does travel well in a jacket pocket or small camera case.

Enough about that, let's start our tour now, shall we?

Front of the Nikon Coolpix P6000

Considering that it's Nikon's flagship Coolpix camera, the P6000's lens is unremarkable. Sure, it has a nice wide end plus image stabilization, but it lacks any real telephoto power. It's also a little slow (in terms of aperture) at the telephoto end of the range. This F2.7-5.9, 4X zoom lens has a focal range of 6 - 24 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 112 mm. The lens itself isn't threaded, but you can remove the metal ring around the lens barrel and attach the optional conversion lens adapter. This allows you to use the wide-angle conversion lens (also optional), but apparently not filters.

Inside that lens is Nikon's optical vibration reduction (VR) system, which I usually call image stabilization. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of the camera that can blur your photos, especially in low light or telephoto shooting situations. The camera shifts an element in the lens to compensate for this motion, which makes a sharp photo a lot more likely. Keep in mind that image stabilization systems can't work miracles. They cannot freeze a moving subject, and they certainly don't allow for handheld multi-second exposures. Want to see the VR system in action? Have a look at this:


Vibration Reduction off


Vibration Reduction on

Boy, you can't get a better example of image stabilization in action than what you see above! Both of those photos were taken at 1/5 second, and as you can see, the VR system did its job nicely. I should point out that the VR system can automatically detect when you're panning they camera in one direction. In those cases, it will only reduce shake on the axis perpendicular to the one you're panning on. You can also use image stabilization in movie mode, as illustrated in this brief video clip.

To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's pop-up flash, which is released manually. As I mentioned before, it's pretty easy to accidentally close the flash back down when you're holding the camera, so be careful. The working range of the flash is pretty good; it's 0.3 - 6.0 m at wide-angle, and 0.3 - 3.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). If you want more flash power and a smaller chance of redeye then you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.

What are those three round things to the upper-left of the lens? They include the AF-assist lamp, remote control receiver, and optical viewfinder. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it doubles as a visual countdown for the self-timer. Just above the Coolpix logo is the camera's microphone.

Back of the Nikon Coolpix P6000

The first thing to see on the back of the camera is its 2.7" LCD display. This screen has 230,000 pixels so, as you'd expect, everything is nice and sharp. The LCD displays 97% of the frame, a little less than the 100% you usually see on a compact camera. I found outdoor visibility to be pretty good, and in low light situations the screen brightens automatically, so you can still see your subject.

Directly above the LCD is the P6000's average-sized optical viewfinder, which displays 80% of the frame. The viewfinder doesn't protrude very much from the camera, so your nose will likely smudge the LCD. You will be able to see a small portion of the lens when it's at the wide-angle position. There's no diopter correction knob either, a disappointment on this $500 camera.

Just to the left of the viewfinder is the release for the pop-up flash. On the opposite side you'll find the Display button, which toggles the information shown on the LCD (and turns it off altogether, if you wish).

To the right of the LCD you'll find the camera's four-way controller. You'll use this for navigating menus, reviewing photos, and also:

  • Up - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash off, fill flash, slow sync, rear-curtain sync)
  • Down - Focus (Auto, macro, infinity, manual) - see below
  • Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 sec self-timer, 0, 2, or 10 sec remote control)
  • Right - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Center - OK


Manual focus

In manual focus mode you'll hold down the manual focus button (to the left of the LCD) and rotate the command dial to set the focus distance. The center of the frame is enlarged, and a guide showing the current focus distance is shown on the LCD.

Under the four-way controller is the button for deleting photos.


Pressing the My Menu brings up this customizable menu screen

Moving now to the buttons on the left side of the LCD, we find:

  • Function - customizable button works with the command dial to quickly change settings
  • My Menu - up to six of your favorite menu items can be stored here
  • Manual focus - described earlier
  • Playback mode
  • Menu

And that's all for the back of the camera!

Top of the Nikon Coolpix P6000

The first thing to see on the top of the Coolpix P6000 is its hot shoe. As is usually the case, you'll get the best results by using one of the Nikon Speedlights that I mentioned back in the accessory section of the review. These flashes will sync with the camera's metering system, so everything is automatic. While the flash's power zoom will work, you can't use high speed sync, AF-assist, and a few other features. If you've got the SB-800 or SB-900 attached, you can use them as the "commander" for wireless flashes. Using a non-Nikon flash? Then you'll probably need to set it up manually.

Next up is the mode dial, which has these options:

Option Function
Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with most menu options locked up
Program mode Point-and-shoot, but with full menu access; a Flexible Program (Program Shift) feature lets you select from various aperture/shutter speed combinations by using the command dial
Shutter priority mode You select the shutter speed, while the camera picks the appropriate aperture; shutter speed range is 8 - 1/2000 sec; do note that the fastest shutter speed is only available at full wide-angle
Aperture priority mode You select the aperture, while the camera picks the shutter speed; the aperture range is F2.7 - F7.7.
Full manual (M) mode You select both the aperture and shutter speed; aperture range is the same, while shutter speed range expands to 30 - 1/2000 sec. No bulb mode is available.
Movie mode More on this later
Scene mode You select the situation and the camera chooses the proper settings. Select from portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach/snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, museum, fireworks show, copy, backlight, panorama assist, voice recording
GPS Manage GPS settings -- see below for more
Picture Bank

Use the Ethernet port to upload photos to My Picturetown -- see below for more

U1 / U2 Your favorite camera settings, stored right on the mode dial

There's a lot to talk about before we move on. First, as you can see, the camera has both an automatic mode plus numerous scene modes.The one scene mode that I want to mention is panorama assist. This helps you line up photos side-by-side (you can shoot vertically as well) for later stitching into a single panoramic image.

If you want manual controls, you'll find a complete selection on the P6000. I should point out that you can only get at the full range of shutter speeds by shooting in "M" mode. There are also two separate spots on the mode dial where you can store your favorite camera settings.

That brings us to two of the most unique features on the Coolpix P6000: GPS and Picture Bank. The GPS allows you to "geo tag" your photos, so when you upload them to your computer or popular web photo sharing sites, you can see precisely where they were taken.


Geotagged photos as seen on Nikon's My Picturetown website

The screenshot above shows you where I took photos on my ferry trip from Oakland to San Francisco. Pretty neat.

That said, the GPS implementation on the P6000 leaves something to be desired. It takes an eternity for the camera to locate satellites, especially when you first power it up (think 10-15 minutes). Even once you're up and running, it can take several minutes for the camera to find its bearings. The GPS isn't terribly sensitive either -- it won't work indoors, in big cities, or anywhere where there isn't a very clear view of the sky. As you'd expect, the GPS also puts a major strain on your battery, and don't repeat my mistake by leaving the camera on in GPS mode -- it'll run until the battery dies.

The menu in GPS mode lets you manually update your location, set the current time, select how often the GPS updates, and turn the feature on and off.

Picture Bank menu Selecting photos to transfer Transferring photos

The other feature I wanted to mention is Picture Bank, which takes advantage of the camera's Ethernet port. To access this feature you can simply plug in the AC adapter, or switch the mode dial to the Picture Bank spot. If your network assigns IP automatically, then set up is a breeze. If it doesn't, then you can adjust network settings manually. To upload photos to the Picture Bank, you'll need an account on My Picturetown first. You'll also need to input a unique key provided by the camera onto the website. Once that's done, you can picture which photos you want to upload, and off they go. All this without needing a PC. I did get a fair number of "connection errors" while using this feature, for no apparent reason. I

You can retrieve the photos and movies stored in the Picture Bank from any PC with Internet access. You can also share them with friends and family (like with any other photo sharing site), or transfer them over to Flickr.

The remaining items on the top of the Coolpix P6000 include the command dial, the power and shutter release buttons, and the zoom controller. You'll use the command dial for adjusting manual settings, navigating through menus and photos you've taken, and focusing manually. The zoom controllers moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 0.7 seconds. I counted fifteen steps in the P6000's 4X zoom range.

Side of the Nikon Coolpix P6000

The only thing to see on this side of the P6000 is its GPS receiver. The lens is at the wide-angle position here.

Side of the Nikon Coolpix P6000

On the opposite side of the P6000 are its I/O ports, which are protected by a plastic cover. The ports include DC-in (for the optional AC adapter) and USB + A/V output (one port for both). As you'd expect, this pricey camera supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

The lens is at the full telephoto position in this photo.

Bottom of the Nikon Coolpix P6000

On the bottom of the camera you'll find the speaker, metal tripod mount, battery/memory compartment, and Ethernet port. While the door over the battery/memory compartment is fairly sturdy. you won't be able to get at that memory card while the camera is on a tripod. For those who are wondering, that's a 100Base-T Ethernet port.

The included EN-EL5 battery can be seen at right.

Using the Nikon Coolpix P6000

Record Mode

The Coolpix P6000 takes about 1.4 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's about average.


Amazingly enough, Nikon's flagship compact camera lacks a live histogram

Autofocus performance is good, but not spectacular. The P6000 locks focus in roughly 0.3 - 0.5 seconds at wide-angle, and 0.6 - 0.8 seconds at telephoto. Low light focusing was accurate and responsive (relatively speaking), with focus times usually staying under a second.

I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.

Shot-to-shot times depend on what image format you're using. If you're shooting JPEGs, you can expect to wait for just under two seconds before you can take another picture. If you're shooting RAW, you'll wait for upwards of five seconds -- pretty slow. Bringing the flash into the mix didn't noticeable affect these times.

After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.

Now, here's a look at the numerous image size and quality options on the Coolpix P6000:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 48MB onboard memory # images on 2GB memory card (optional)
13M
4224 x 3168
RAW (NRW) 24.0 MB 2 83
Fine 6.9 MB 7 292
Normal 3.4 MB 14 583
Basic 1.7 MB 29 1208
3:2
4224 x 2816
Fine 6.0 MB 8 333
Normal 3.0 MB 16 667
Basic 1.5 MB 32 1333
16:9
4224 x 2376
Fine 5.3 MB 9 375
Normal 2.5 MB 19 792
Basic 1.2 MB 39 1625
1:1
3168 x 3168
Fine 5.3 MB 9 375
Normal 2.5 MB 19 792
Basic 1.2 MB 39 1625
8M
3264 x 2448
Fine 4.0 MB 12 500
Normal 2.0 MB 24 1000
Basic 1.0 MB 48 2000
5M
2592 x 1944
Fine 2.5 MB 19 792
Normal 1.3 MB 38 1583
Basic 600 KB 75 3125
3M
2048 x 1536
Fine 1.5 MB 31 1292
Normal 800 KB 60 2500
Basic 400 KB 114 4750
2M
1600 x 1200
Fine 1.0 MB 50 2083
Normal 500 KB 96 4000
Basic 300 KB 171 7125
1M
1280 x 960
Fine 600 KB 77 3208
Normal 300 KB 140 5833
Basic 200 KB 256 10667
PC
1024 x 768
Fine 400 KB 114 4750
Normal 200 KB 205 8542
Basic 100 KB 342 14250
TV
640 x 480
Fine 200 KB 256 10667
Normal 100 KB 385 16042
Basic 100 KB 616 25667

That's quite a list! As you can see, the RAW images on this camera are enormous, though in practice the file sizes were closer to 21MB than to the 24MB approximated above. You can take a RAW image by itself, or along with a JPEG at the size of your choosing. Do note that you cannot shoot at any of the "aspect ratio" resolutions in RAW+JPEG mode.

I told you the good and bad points of the RAW format (and specifically NRW) back in the software section of the review.

Images are named using the following convention: DSC_####.JPG (or .NRW), where #### is 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained ever if you switch or erase memory cards.

The shooting menu A help screen is available for most options

The Coolpix P6000 has an attractive, easy to navigate menu system. It's broken into three tabs (in most shooting modes), offering options for shooting, playback, and setup. The only thing that bugged me a little was that there's a noticeable pause when you switch tabs. Should you have a question about a menu option, you can press the zoom controller in the telephoto direction, and a help screen will be displayed. Here's what you'll find in the P6000's shooting menu:

  • Image quality (see chart above)
  • Image size (see chart above)
  • Picture Control - see below
  • Custom Picture Control - see below
  • White balance (Auto, preset, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, flash) - the preset option lets you use a white or gray card to get accurate color in any lighting
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, high ISO auto, fixed range auto, 64, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 2000, 3200, 6400) - see below
  • Metering (Matrix, center-weighted, spot, spot AF area) - that last option meters on the focus point
  • Continuous (Single, continuous, Best Shot Selector, continuous flash, multi-shot 16, interval timer) - see below
  • Auto bracketing (Off, ±0.3, ±0.7, ±1.0 EV) - camera takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure
  • AF area mode (Face priority, auto, manual, center) - see below
  • Autofocus mode (Single, continuous) - the former locks focus when you press the shutter release halfway; the latter has the camera focusing constantly, leading to better focus times, but lower battery life
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Flash control (Auto, built-in off) - whether the onboard flash fires when an external flash is attached
  • Noise reduction (Auto, on) - hard to figure out the difference between these two options; regardless, it's for slow shutter speeds
  • Distortion control (on/off) - reduces barrel distortion, but reduces the shooting area; default setting is off
  • Wide-angle converter (on/off)
  • Active D-Lighting (Off, low, normal, high) - see below
  • Save user settings - save current settings to either of the custom spots on the mode dial
  • Reset user settings - set the custom spots on the mode dial to default settings
Adjusting a Picture Control This "grid" shows you how the Picture Controls compare

There's lots to talk about before we can move on to the photo tests. First up is the Picture Control feature, borrowed from Nikon's digital SLRs. A Picture Control contains parameters for sharpness, contrast, saturation, filter effects, and toning (the last two items are for monochrome shooting only). There are four built-in Controls, which can be edited, and there are two custom spots as well. Here's exactly what can be adjusted in a Picture Control set:

  • Image sharpening (Auto, 0 to 6)
  • Contrast (Auto, -3 to +3)
  • Saturation (Auto, -3 to +3)
  • Filter effects (Off, yellow, orange, red, green) - only for monochrome
  • Toning (Black & white, sepia, cyanotype) - only for monochrome

You can quickly adjust the first three items on that list by using the aptly named "Quick Adjust" option.

Next up are the various ISO options on the P6000. There are three Auto options to select from: regular (which tops out at ISO 800), high ISO (which goes to 1600), and fixed range. This last option lets you select the range used, with 64-100, 64-200, and 64-400 are your choices. Naturally, you can also choose a fixed sensitivity, from ISO 64 to 6400, though the two highest settings are only available at 3 Megapixel and below, and for JPEGs only.

There are quite a few options in the continuous shooting menu that need to be mentioned. First up is the good old continuous mode, which is available for JPEGs only (sorry RAW lovers). In this mode, the camera took 5 fine quality JPEGs in a row at a sluggish 0.8 frames/second. There's a noticeable blackout on the LCD between each shot.

The Best Shot Selector is a classic Nikon feature. It takes up to ten photos in a row, and saves the sharpest one. Continuous flash mode takes three flash photos in a row, again at 0.8 frames/second. Multi-shot 16 takes sixteen photos in a row (at 1.1 fps) and compiles them into a single 5 Megapixel collage. The last continuous shooting option is interval timer mode, which is better known as time-lapse. The camera will take a photo at the interval you selected (which ranges from 30 seconds to 60 minutes). You'll want to use the AC adapter for this particular mode.


The camera found four of the six faces here

Now let's move onto the AF area modes available on the P6000. Auto mode selects from nine possible focus points automatically. Manual mode lets you select one of 99 possible focus points in the frame, which comes in handy when you're shooting on a tripod. There's also a center-frame focus mode. And finally, as you'd expect, there's face detection. The Coolpix P6000 can detect up to twelve faces in the frame, making sure that they're in focus and properly exposed. The P6000 did a good but not spectacular job at finding faces in our test scene. Usually it found 2 or 3 faces, but I happened to hit the screen capture button right as it found 4 of them.

Nikon cameras have had D-Lighting in their playback modes for a long time. That feature allows you to brighten dark areas of a photo with the push of a button. In 2008, Active D-Lighting arrived, which allows for improved overall contrast while a photo is actually taken. By default, Active D-Lighting is set to off on the Coolpix P6000. You can select from low, normal, and high settings. Here's what it looks like in real life:

Off Low Normal High

The original image is a flash shot, and as you can see, the flash can't cover the whole frame. Turning on Active D-Lighting brightens the scene, and I think normal is just about how I'd like things to look. You might want to use this feature on a case-by-case basis, as it does increase shot-to-shot delays, and it may increase image noise, as well.

Those are all of the items in the shooting menu that I wanted to mention. Now, here's a list of what you'll find in the setup menu:

  • Welcome screen (None, Coolpix, select an image)
  • Date - set the date, time, and time zone
  • Brightness (1 - 5)
  • Date imprint (Off, date, date & time, date counter) - the last item prints the number of days that have passed since a set date
  • Vibration reduction (on/off) - you'll want to turn this off when the camera is on a tripod
  • AF assist (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - always a good idea to keep this off
  • Sound settings
    • Button sound (on/off)
    • Shutter sound (on/off)
  • Auto off (30 sec, 1, 5, 30 mins)
  • Format memory / memory card
  • Language
  • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
  • FUNC button - customize what this does; pretty much any option from the shooting menu can be put here
  • Customize My Menu - set up your own menu, accessible via the My Menu button on the back of the camera
  • Reset all
  • Firmware version

Alright, I've had it with menus, so let's move onto our photo tests now!

The Coolpix P6000 did an excellent job with our macro test subject. The colors are spot-on -- the camera's custom white balance feature handled my studio lights without any trouble. The subject is a little on the soft side, and if you agree, you may want to boost the sharpening via the Picture Control tool. I don't see any significant noise or noise reduction artifacting in this photo.

To get as close as possible to your subject, you'll need to put the lens into its "macro sweet spot", which is near the wide end of the focal range. You'll know when that happens with the little "macro flower" on the LCD turns green. Once you're there, the camera can focus on objects just 2 cm away.

The night shot turned out fairly well, though I wish I had exposed it for just a little bit longer. If you're shooting in shutter priority mode (as I do for this test), the slowest shutter speed is 8 seconds. If you want to go slower (as I should've), you'll need to enter full manual (M) mode. Aside from the photo being a little darker than I'd like, I can tell you that it's a bit soft, with some evidence of noise reduction here and there. Highlight clipping is visible in many places, which isn't surprising, considering how small this high resolution sensor is. There's some purple and cyan fringing in places, but it's fairly minor.

Now, let's use that same scene to see how the camera performs at higher sensitivities. I left out the ISO 3200 and 6400 images, since they'll be low resolution and of poor quality. Here we go:


ISO 64

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 400, RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

ISO 400, RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR) + Neat Image

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 2000

There's not a huge difference between the photos taken at ISO 64 and 100. The effects of noise reduction are a little more visible at ISO 100, but you have to look pretty hard to find it. At ISO 200 there's a bit more detail smudging, but it's still clean enough for midsize and perhaps large prints. Things start to go downhill at ISO 400, where the image starts to get a "speckled" appearance, and details really begin to vanish. I threw in a RAW conversion (using Photoshop CS4), including a shot that I've cleaned up with NeatImage and then sharpened. As you can see, you can extract a little more detail by doing this, but don't expect miracles. Image quality continues to deteriorate at ISO 800 and above, and I don't think there's much you can do with the photos taken at these sensitivities.

We'll see how the Coolpix P6000 performs in better lighting in a moment.

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the P6000's 4X zoom lens. You can see what barrel distortion does in the real world by looking at this photo. The P6000 does have a distortion correction feature, but I unfortunately did not get a chance to test it thoroughly. I didn't corner blurring or vignetting (dark corners) to be a problem on the camera.

The Coolpix P6000 reduces redeye in your flash photos in two ways. First, it fires off several preflashes, which helps to shrink your subject's pupils. After the shot is taken, the camera analyzes the photo, looking for redeye. If it finds some, it removes it digitally. As you can see, there's no redeye to be found here, which is great news.

Now it's time for our studio ISO test. Since the lighting is consistent in this test, it's comparable between all the cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise levels at each ISO setting, viewing the full size images is always a good idea. I didn't include the lower resolution ISO 3200 and 6400 shots in the table, but if you want to see them, here you go: ISO 3200, ISO 6400.


ISO 64

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 800, RAW -> JPEG conversion (ACR) + NeatImage

ISO 1600

ISO 1600, RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage


ISO 2000

Everything looks great at ISO 64 and 100. At ISO 200 you can pick up the slightest hint of detail smudging, but it's not nearly enough to concern me. At ISO 400, the images start to take on the same "speckled" appearance that you saw in the night shots, and there's a drop in color saturation as well. That trend continuous at ISO 800, and I threw in a retouched RAW conversion to show you that yes, there is a benefit to shooting RAW at this point. The ISO 1600 JPEG is pretty nasty, and even the retouched RAW conversion still has a substantial amount of noise. I wouldn't bother with ISO 2000, or anything about that (which, again, is taken at 3 Megapixel).

Overall, the Coolpix P6000 produces images of good (but not great) quality. While exposure was generally accurate, the camera did have the tendency to clip highlights. I've got no complaints about color -- everything is nice and saturated. Images are on the soft side, especially fine details, due to the heavy amount of noise reduction being applied to these 13 Megapixel images. This same noise reduction makes solid areas of color (AKA low contrast detail) appear fuzzy and mottled -- even at ISO 64. I think this photo illustrates what I'm talking about quite well: there's mottling in the shadows, the trees aren't very sharp, and the grass looks like a solid green blob. You can get back some of this detail by shooting RAW, though that requires extra work on your part. I figure that you can safely use the camera up to ISO 200 in low light, and ISO 400 in good light -- after that, you'll notice the noise and detail loss. The camera does a good job at keeping purple fringing under control.

Now, I invite you to have a look at our extensive photo gallery. View the full size images, maybe printing a few if you can, and then you should be able to decide if the Coolpix P6000's image quality meets your needs.

Movie Mode

The Coolpix P6000 has the standard Nikon movie mode. Sorry, no HD movies here! You can record videos at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound, until you hit the 2GB file size limit. It takes about 30 minutes to reach that limit at the highest quality setting.

Need to record continuously for longer than 30 minutes? Then you can use the 640 x 480 (15 fps) or 320 x 240 (15 fps) modes, though the video will be choppy. You can also record in black and white or sepia at the 320 x 240 resolution.

The P6000 also has a unique time-lapse movie setting, which works in the same was as the interval timer option that I told you about earlier. The camera will take photos at a set interval (ranging from 30 secs to 60 mins) and when you're done, it will put them into a VGA-sized video (without sound).

As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens while you're recording a video. The image stabilizer is still available.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's a sample movie for you. As you'll see, the P6000's movies have the same A/V sync problem that I've been complaining about for years. Why they haven't fixed this yet is beyond me.


Click to play movie (14.2 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The P6000 has a pretty nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, voice captions, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last features lets you enlarge an image by as much as 10 times, and then scroll around. This comes in handy for checking for open eyes, proper focus, etc.

List by date view Calendar view

Images can be viewed one at a time or by date (in two different ways, as you can see above). You can rotate, resize, and crop your photos, right on the camera. You can also add a border around your photos, presumably for printing. There are no movie editing tools on the camera.


Previewing the effect of D-Lighting

There's also a "regular" D-Lighting feature in playback mode, which you can use to brighten up dark photos. It does an effective job, though keep in mind that noise levels will increase when you use this feature. You can select how much D-Lighting is applied, and you can preview the results on the LCD. Here's an example of this feature in action:


Original image
View Full Size Image


Image after applying "normal" D-Lighting
View Full Size Image

The difference is very obvious, though the D-Lighting photo is brighter than it actually was in reality.


RAW editing menu

The P6000 has a basic RAW conversion feature in its playback mode. Here you can adjust the exposure compensation (though only in full stops), white balance, Picture Control, and the image size and quality. The resulting image is saved as a new JPEG file on your memory card. In terms of noise level, the resulting images look exactly the same as if they were shot as JPEGs.

By default, the camera doesn't tell you very much about your photos. Press the Display button, however, and you'll see a little more, including a histogram.

The Coolpix P6000 moves from photo to photo almost instantly.

How Does it Compare?

Trying to come up with a conclusion for the Nikon Coolpix P6000 has proven a bit challenging. On the one hand, it's a compact, easy to use camera with a wide-angle lens, good-sized LCD, full manual controls, customizable buttons and menus, and a hot shoe. It also offers two very unique features: a slow, but useful GPS receiver, and an Ethernet port that most people will probably never use. That said, as the flagship camera in Nikon's compact lineup, the P6000 has quite a few negatives. They include soft images with heavy noise reduction (that get noisy at higher ISOs), a clunky new RAW format, an unremarkable movie mode (complete with audio sync issues), and below average battery life. Do I recommend the P6000? Yes, but not with a whole lot of enthusiasm.

The Coolpix P6000 is a fairly compact camera, that'll be most comfortable in a small camera bag or in a jacket pocket. The body is made mostly of metal, and it feels quite solid in your hands. The rubberized grip makes the P6000 easy to hold onto, though the location of the flash makes it hard to hold the camera with two hands when it's popped up. Another design annoyance is a common one: you can't access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod. The camera has a 4X optical zoom lens, with a focal range of 28 - 112 mm. The lens is slow at the telephoto end, where the maximum aperture is F5.9. Inside the lens is Nikon's Vibration Reduction (VR) system, which does a pretty good job at reducing the effects of "camera shake" (it works for movies, as well). The VR system is able to automatically detect when you're panning the camera, adjusting its stabilization settings appropriately -- a nice touch. On the back of the camera is a sharp 2.7" LCD display with good outdoor and low light visibility, plus an optical viewfinder.

As I mentioned, the P6000 has a built-in GPS, which you can use to automatically "geo tag" your photos. While it's a good concept, I found it quite frustrating in practice. It takes an eternity for the GPS to find any satellites, it requires a lot of open sky (more than one would expect), and it lowers battery life considerably. Still, if you want a camera with a built-in GPS, the P6000 is the only game in town. The other unique feature on the camera is an Ethernet port, which allows you to upload photos to Nikon's My Picturetown service, without touching a computer. The feature works well enough, but quite frankly, I don't see many people using it. I think that Wi-Fi would've been a much smarter choice.

While it's geared mostly toward enthusiasts, the Coolpix P6000 does have features that beginners will appreciate. They include an auto shooting mode, face detection, D-Lighting, auto redeye removal, and an in-camera help system. The D-Lighting feature can be used to improve overall contrast as you take a photo (Active D-Lighting), and brighten up photos you've already taken (regular D-Lighting), and it works quite well. There's also a time-lapse feature, that can save individual images, or combine them into a video. If you're a power user, then you'll like most of what the Coolpix P6000 offers. There are manual controls for exposure, focus, and white balance, a customizable button, and a "My Menu" that you create yourself. While the P6000 can record RAW images, Nikon's choice of the NRW format is baffling. The file sizes are enormous (pushing 21MB), shot-to-shot times are lengthy (5 seconds), continuous shooting is unavailable, and perhaps most importantly, Nikon's own software can't edit them! The P6000's movie mode gets mixed reviews. On the positive side, you can record roughly 30 minutes of uninterrupted VGA quality video, with image stabilization active (but no optical zoom). However, the audio cuts out early (Nikon cameras have had this problem for years), and the lack of HD support is a bit surprising on this flagship Nikon camera.

Camera performance is a mixed bag. The P6000 starts up at an average clip, taking 1.4 seconds to "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. Focus speeds were also about average, though they almost always stayed under a full second, even in low light conditions. Shutter lag was not an issue. Shot-to-shot speeds ranged from around 2 seconds when shooting JPEGs, to 5 seconds when taking a RAW image. The P6000 isn't great at continuous shooting. You can take up to five JPEGs in a row (three if you're using the flash) at 0.8 frames/second, and there's a noticeable blackout on the LCD between each shot. The camera's battery life is below average for its class.

The Coolpix P6000 also gets mixed reviews in terms of photo quality. Overall, exposure was accurate, though the P6000 and it's tiny CCD tended to clip highlights here and there. I have no complaints about color -- everything looked great in that regard, even under my studio lights. Images are on the soft side, due to the heavy amount of noise reduction being applied. Fine details and solid areas of color appear smudged or mottled, even at ISO 64. When the ISO hits 400, photos start to get "speckles" throughout, and things go downhill rapidly from there (in other words, forget about using ISO 2000). The P6000 is at its best at ISO 64 - 200 in good light, especially for those of you making large prints. Shooting RAW helps, though you'll reach a point where images are too noisy to be saved. On a more positive note, the camera doesn't have a problem with purple fringing, and its two-pronged approach to redeye removal is very effective.

All things considered, the Coolpix P6000 is a decent camera, but not a great one. It has a lot to live up to as the flagship of Nikon's compact lineup, and in that respect, it disappoints. While the P6000 is worth a look, I think the competition from both Canon and Panasonic are better choices.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality at low ISOs, and in good light
  • Well built, fairly compact, easy to hold (for the most part)
  • Optical image stabilization (known as Vibration Reduction here)
  • Sharp 2.7" LCD is visible outdoors and in low light
  • Full manual controls
  • Customizable menu and button
  • Support for the RAW image format (though see issues below); camera can convert RAW to JPEG in playback mode
  • Built-in GPS for easy geotagging
  • Active D-Lighting improves contrast in images as they are taken; regular D-Lighting brightens shadows of photos you've already taken
  • Redeye not an issue
  • Time-lapse photo/video feature
  • In-camera help system
  • Support for a wide-angle lens, wireless remote, and an external flash
  • Ethernet port allows for easy uploads to My Picturetown -- but will anyone use it?

What I didn't care for:

  • Noise reduction smudges fine details and solid areas of color, even at lowest ISO; noticeable detail loss at ISO 400 and above
  • Occasional highlight clipping
  • Lens is slow at the telephoto end
  • Unusual RAW format has huge file sizes, slow shot-to-shot times, and cannot be used in continuous shooting mode; Nikon's own software cannot edit the RAW files
  • No live histogram in record mode
  • GPS is very slow at acquiring satellites, and requires a lot of open sky to function
  • Below average battery life; using the GPS makes things even worse
  • Unimpressive continuous shooting mode (slow, no RAW support)
  • Lack of an HD movie mode a disappointment; audio cuts out early in videos (can't they fix this already?)
  • Pop-up flash leaves nowhere for your fingers to grip the camera
  • Cannot access memory card slot while camera is on a tripod

Some other cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot G10, Kodak EasyShare Z1485, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300.

As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Nikon Coolpix P6000 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

There are plenty of sample photos to enjoy in our extensive photo gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.