Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nikon Coolpix P100 Review

Nikon Coolpix P100
This post is a thinly veiled excuse to show a few more pictures from the summer, but I'll build it around a review of the camera I used to take all the photos.  This summer I was shooting with a Nikon Coolpix P100.  This is the third Coolpix that Lori and I have owned - the first one was lost in my luggage by Canadian North, so we bought a Nikon Coolpix P80 to replace it.  Lori needed that one in Labrador this summer, so I picked up the P100.  All three cameras were in the same price range; $400-$500 and I've liked each one more than the last.  Most of the photos on this blog that were taken before July 2010 were taken on the P80.

Nikon Coolpix P100 (L) & P80 (R)
The Coolpix P100 is the biggest digital camera that I've owned and although it looks like a SLR, it doesn't have interchangeable lenses, so its still basically a point-and-shoot.  It has all of the features that I liked about the P80, with 4 new features that I really love: 26x optical zoom, HD video, a movable monitor, and internal USB battery charging.
Caribou Lichen photo from the P100

Snow Bunting - They're too nervous to approach
26x optical zoom:  This was the single most important feature for me.  I knew that I'd be taking a lot of wildlife shots this summer and animals are always smaller in photos than they appear in real life.  The 26x zoom is one of the highest on the market at the moment - by comparison the P80 has an 18x optical zoom, which is still very handy.  Camera makers seem to be getting away from listing the digital zoom, which is a good thing, because its a misleading bit of information.  Digital zoom doesn't give you any increased detail in your photo, it just digitally zooms and crops the middle of your photo.  The only zoom that really makes a difference is the optical.

Polar Bear - I'm too nervous to approach
The P100s 26x zoom is very good and is best appreciated with a tripod and a stationary or slow moving subject.  By the time you zoom in that close on a subject your window on the world is very small, especially if you compound it by using the digital zoom as well.  Its like looking through a pinhole, so the slightest movement will nudge your subject out of the frame and its tough to reacquire your target without zooming out and in again.  The tripod helps a lot with that and using the timer helps get sharper images.  The slight pressure of pushing the shutter button is enough to affect the framing of the shot and cause motion blur at the highest magnification.

Hi Def Video:  This was not an option that I ever intended to use, but it turned out to be one of my favourite features. I especially liked using it to capture wildlife shots at 26x magnification with full digital zoom.  Its the first instance where digital zoom actually seemed to help make a better image.  In a photograph, at the highest magnification the photos would appear soft around the edges due to the digital zoom, but the HD video could record at full digital and optical zoom and the video would seem much sharper by comparison.
Ringed seals on ice.  This image is how the seals appeared at 26x optical zoom.

This is a detail of the seals taken from the image above.  I did this on the computer afterwards, but its basically the same result as using the digital zoom on the camera.  The video below was done using 26x optical zoom and maximum digital zoom. 

Screen capture from HD video
If there is a downside to the video files, its that they would tend to get quite large fairly quickly, but that's really only an issue for moving the files around or uploading them to YouTube.  I used an 8 gig memory card and would download my photos and videos every day and storage was never an issue.  The HD video is sharp enough that I've been able to take screen captures from individual frames that make good low resolution photographs, certainly good enough for online use.

The monitor flips out
Movable Monitor:  I never really understood cameras with a movable monitor before, but I can certainly appreciate them now.  By the end of the summer I was always flipping the monitor out so that it faced up and I would use the camera by looking down at it, just like an old fashioned box camera.  This was especially handy because I used a mini tripod and the camera was often low to the ground.  Rather than lie on my stomach to use it I could just flip the monitor out and see what the camera saw.  It was also nice to not have something in front of my face all the time.  When I was walking or riding in a helicopter I could have the camera on and ready continuously, but it never seemed to be in the way.  I could just glance down to operate it.
The movable monitor makes low angle shots like this photo of beluga bones much easier to compose.

The P100 charges while plugged into a computer
Internal USB Battery Charging:  This is such a good idea.  The camera is the battery charger and as long as its plugged into a computer it is recharging.  It saves having to use a separate battery charger and, more importantly, if you forget to turn the camera off after downloading your pictures you don't come back to a dead camera.  I used to do that all the time with the P80.  With the P100, if you forget to turn the camera off while its attached to the computer you come back to a fully charged battery.  That's such a nice difference.  There's also an AC adapter, so you can plug it in and charge it from a wall outlet, as well.  The P80 and P100 use the same batteries so I still have the external charger from the P80 around to use.  There's no more excuses for having dead camera batteries.

A scenic shot from the P100

This little endblade is 1cm wide at the base
There are many other features on the camera that come in handy in other situations.  Like the P80, it has very good macro capabilities for artifact pictures, panorama assist for landscape shots, and a good sport continuous mode (handy when you are bobbing in a boat trying or trying to take pictures of fast moving animals).  I was perfectly happy with the P80, and the four improvements that I outlined above; the 26x zoom, HD video, movable monitor and internal USB battery charging make the Nikon Coolpix P100 a very enjoyable camera to own and use.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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