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Nikon’s Coolpix P100 is a superzoom compact that tries to bring some of the handling characteristics of a digital SLR to the compact camera market. While such cameras are larger than other types of compact camera, they are often feature-rich allowing more creative approaches to photography. Reading the specification sheet for the P100, reveals this is no exception to that rule, either.
The Coolpix P100's headline-grabbing feature is its 26x optical zoom, which covers focal lengths equivalent to 26mm to 678mm on a 35mm film or full-frame digital camera. That’s an impressive feat of engineering considering the lens unit is smaller than most standard DSLRs. Unsurprisingly this is accompanied by a Vibration Reduction system to help hold the camera still at such magnifications, as well as Nikon’s Best Shot Selector, which takes ten images and keeps the sharpest.
The 10Mp CMOS sensor is fast enough to allow high-speed photography too, with the P100 boasting the ability to shoot high speed sequences of still images at up to 240 frames per second. A focus tracking system is also present, which intelligently tracks a subject around the frame as the user waits for the right moment to fire the shutter release.
These days HD video is a de facto requirement in a digital camera, and you’ll be pleased to know the P100 offers this too. The camera can capture moving images at up to 1080p resolution, with settings for 720p, QVGA and VGA too - all at 30 fps. Impressively you get to use the full length of the P100’s mighty zoom while recording and a choice between AF that locks when you start recording or focus that changes and tracks during capture.
One glaring omission in the P100 is the ability to shoot Raw files. This is disappointing; Raw capture is finding its way onto compact cameras much lower in price and specification than this.
Nikon Coolpix P100: Handling and features
The Coolpix P100 is very lightweight for a machine of its capability, but despite this it feels well put together with no play in the controls or creaky panels or switches. While its grip is not as large as you would find on a DSLR, it is bigger than you’ll find on the average compact camera, making this a good choice for those of us with bigger hands. The top of the camera is home to a large, chunky mode dial where users can choose between the usual P, A, S, M modes as well as a Scene modes, Smile mode (which trips the shutter when it detects that your subject is happy enough), Focus Tracking mode and a dedicated High Speed Sports mode which captures at up to 240 frames per second for slow-motion analysis.
Also present here is a zoom control and a power switch. Nearby, on the back of the camera are controls for starting and stopping video capture (surrounded by a collar for selecting HD mode), and a thumbwheel for controlling apertures and shutter speeds. A familiar four-way control is used for navigating the camera’s menu and reviewing images, while doubling up as shortcuts to flash mode, macro, exposure compensation and self timer settings. It’s a familiar set up that works well, and Nikon have avoided some all too common mistakes by making sure these controls are large enough to operate in the cold with big fingers, as well as labeling them white on black for ease of readability.
The rear of the camera is also home to a 3in viewscreen used for reviewing images and displaying menus. This contains 460,000pixels and performs well in most conditions. This is a variable angle LCD screen which can be angled up and down, but sadly not swung horizontally or turned around and faced inwards for protection.
Nikon Coolpix P100: Performance
Compact and bridge cameras are always going to be slower in operation than their DSLR cousins, and the Coolpix P100 is about average here - no better and no worse than other bridge cameras we’ve seen. While the CMOS sensors allows for some neat high-speed photographic trickery, the camera still backs out for over a second between shots, takes a second and a half to power up, and exhibits a noticeable (but not crippling) shutter lag. AF performance is on the sluggish side too, although the focus tracking option seemed to work well, following a subject around the frame with relatively good accuracy. While the camera’s powerful zoom and high-speed modes do make it suited to sports photography, it won’t cope with action in the same way a DSLR would.
Despite getting the exposure right, the Coolpix P100 struggled to hold highlights in sunny, contrasty conditions.
The P100 handles more delicate scenes better, recording subtle colour gradients like this without introducing JPEG artifacts.
The P100's exposure metering was disappointing, with over exposure being a common occurrence. By the end of my time with the camera, I found myself nearly always applying some form of negative exposure compensation, although this was never the same from shot to shot. The camera also really struggled with dynamic range, blowing highlights very easily indeed. With no Raw capture mode, it’s impossible to rescue these in post production.
As a consequence of these problems colours sometimes looked washed out too, and images from the Coolpix P100 exhibited a very plasticky, over-processed look – almost like frame-grabs from a video camera. Noise is well controlled at ISO160, the lowest sensitivity, although this looks like the result of aggressive noise reduction processing (that would certainly explain the overtly digital look of the camera’s images). Over ISO400 though, it’s a different story with images being noisy and only really suitable for small use of the web.
The P100 runs from a single, small rechargeable battery, and we’d recommend keeping a spare on you at all times: the unit in our test sample hadn’t got the longest life in the world and, strangely, the camera’s battery indicator only comes on when battery is about to need replacing. A bit more warning, in the form of a regular battery gauge split into increments of: full, three-quarters, half, one-quarter, and nearly dead would be much appreciated.
Image quality in the video department is not hugely impressive either. The same blown highlights are present, although motion is recorded smoothly and without any jerkiness. The large stereo microphone on top of the camera pics up sound well, although this sadly includes any zoom or focusing activity too.
It's frankly amazing that the Coolpix P100’s lens can do what is does in such a small package, and obviously there have been design compromises to get to this point. All megazoom compacts show less-than-stellar lens optical performance and the P100 is no exception. We saw a fair amount of flare in sunny conditions (there's no lens hood), and chromatic aberration, in the form of purple fringing, is significant at longer zoom settings. You’d expect to see distortion in a lens like this, and sure enough there is plenty of pin-cushion at the telephoto end and barrel at wider settings.
A shot using the P100 at the widest zoom setting.
Zooming in using the gargantuan zoom keeps rowers close by.
Nikon Coolpix P100: Verdict
There are many megazoom compacts on the market and the image-quality problems we’ve described here are common to many of them – not just the Coolpix P100. There are always compromises associated with cramming a feature set like this into a tiny body, and that’s the choice you make when you buy such a camera. The P100 offers an amazing amount of features and is a very enjoyable camera to use. You can do a lot with it and it should appeal to the gadget fan who is more into specification than pixel-peeping.
That said, while the 26x zoom lens is impressive as a concept, I think it might be a case of ‘feature-greed’. When zoomed to the equivalent of 678mm any camera is almost impossible to hand hold. Even if the vibration reduction features do their job, it’s still very difficult to frame a scene with any accuracy. Reducing the zoom magnification ratio may also help improve image quality, which is sadly lacking on this camera.
Nikon Coolpix P100: Pros
Lightweight and small.
Decent build quality
Amazing zoom ratio
HD video capture
High speed settings
Nikon Coolpix P100: Cons
Dynamic-range problems – easily blown highlights
Lens performance issues
Pictures display an overly digital, plastic feel
Short battery life
Nikon Coolpix P100: Specification
|Sensor size||1/2.3in (6.16 x 4.62mm)|
|Max image size||3648x2736|
|Focusing system||50cm to ∞, or 1cm to ∞ in Macro mode|
|Focus type||Contrast detection|
|File types||JPEG; MOV|
|ISO sensitivity||160 - 3200|
|Shutter speed range||8 to 1/2000sec|
|Flash sync speed||Unknown|
|Image stabilisation||Dual sensor-shift and electronic|
|Monitor||Yes, vertical swivel type|
|Media type||SD, SDHC (not MMC)|
|Power||EN-EL5 lithium ion rechargeable battery|
|Weight||481g inc battery|
The Nikon Coolpix P100 costs £350 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Nikon Coolpix P100