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Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review

Matt Grayson takes a look at the new Nikon Coolpix P90.

| Nikon Coolpix P90 in Compact Cameras
After the Nikon Coolpix P80 received a chilly review from ePHOTOzine, have Nikon improved on the superzoom model?

The Nikon Coolpix P90 has been replaced with the Nikon Coolpix P100.

Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 front viewNikon Coolpix P90: Specification
  • Zoom: 24x optical
  • Resolution: 12.1Mp
  • Sensor size: 1/2.33in
  • Sensor type: CCD
  • Max. image size: 4000x3000
  • File type: JPEG
  • Sensitivity: ISO64-6400
  • Storage: 47Mb internal, SD, SDHC cards (MMC not accepted)
  • Focus types: Face detection, auto, manual, centre spot
  • Normal focusing: 50cm-infintiy
  • Close focusing: 1cm-infinity
  • Metering types: Matrix, centre-weighted, spot, spot AF area
  • Exposure compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 8sec-1/2000sec
  • Flash: Built-in
  • Monitor: 3in articulated LCD
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 114x99x83mm
  • Weight: 460g excl. battery and card
The Nikon Coolpix P90 has a 24x optical zoom, 12Mp and a 3in articulated screen. The Olympus SP590 UZ at £329 offers a 26x optical zoom, 12Mp and 2.7in LCD screen while the Canon Powershot SX1 IS at £399 has a 20x optical zoom, 10Mp and a 2.8in LCD screen.
Nikon Coolpix P90: Features
It's been ten months since I reviewed the Nikon Coolpix P80 and it received a cool verdict because of it's noise results. It's worth seeing if the P90 has improved on image quality because a camera can have all the bells and whistles but if the images aren't up to scratch, there's no point.

Design-wise, the camera has the same layout albeit on a slightly larger shell which is to house the increased optical zoom of 24x from 18x.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 rear screen
The new 3in screen is articulated to 90 degrees up and 45 degrees down.
One thing that is different is the bulky screen on the rear of the camera. It's been increased in size from 2.7in to 3in and it's now articulated meaning it can flip down by 45 degrees to help shield from the sun or up by 90 degrees to assist with low level photography.
Nikon have increased the number of pixels on the sensor from 10Mp on the P80 to 12Mp on the P90 which could spell a disaster in the noise test considering the sensor is the same size. This will depend on whether the processor can compensate for the type of noise generated from pixels sitting too close to each other when they get warm.
They've also fitted the P90 with four variations of image stabilisation to ensure your images are sharp. These include sensor shift VR (Vibration Reduction), High ISO, Motion Detection which will compensate for camera and subject movement and BSS (Best Shot Selector) which will save the sharpest of ten sequential shots.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 lens
The lens on the P90 has been extended from 18x on the P80 to 24x optical.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 articulating screen degree
A side view of the camera shows the 45 degree angle of the articulating screen.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 top plate
The command dial has added features and the power button lights up green.
Despite a larger body, it's still relatively small and the huge lens barrel still holds a smaller lens within. The built-in flash crouches over the lens with the electronic viewfinder situated directly behind it. There are loads of things to do on the top plate of the camera where the shutter release is including the command dial which has had the amount of features increased. There's now an extra favourite scene mode and two user modes. The favourite scene mode will remember your most used scene so you can simply flick over to it instead of scrolling through the vast menu of preset modes.
The user modes allow you to custom set your camera from every option in the menu system. When you switch back to other options such as program or aperture-priority, the modes you've set will resort to what they were before you went into the user mode. Switching back in will change the camera to your settings.
Nikon Coolpix P90: Build and handling
Despite being a little more bulky than the last model, it's by no means large. It still fits snugly into medium sized hands and the grip shapes nicely for groping fingers finding purchase. Buttons and a thumbpad are laid out ergonomically and my only issue is that the screen feels as though it gets in the way. It doesn't and I think it's simply down to the fact that it sticks out more than normal because of its pivoting capability.
Battery technology has certainly improved along with power consumption as the new Li-Ion batteries get smaller with every release of a camera. Memory cards are inserted into a small gap next to the battery and interestingly, the P90 doesn't take multimedia cards. Could this spell the end of MMC as a format with SD taking complete control? It's a distinct possibility as it's already the weaker of the two and with SDXC on the horizon, MMC will simply look archaic.
The Nikon Coolpix sports a built-in flash and doesn't have a hotshoe for attaching external flash. However the built-in flash has a range of 0.5m-8m at wide angle and 1.7m-5m at telephoto with the ISO set to auto.
Nikon Coolpix P90: Performance
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 colour chartI really like the colours in the colour test chart, they're punchy and clear. Primary colours jump out of the screen, especially blue with the earth brown being reproduced richly. I'm unsure of the forest green, I think it looks a little tepid and the skin tone tile, while satisfactory, could do with a fraction more warmth.

Pastel colours aren't coming out as much as I've seen but the mono tones are nicely balanced.

I'm also impressed with the portrait result. It's warmer than I expected after the colour test chart with good detail and soft shadows. There's a little under exposure in program compared to the portrait mode but it's just as warm and sometimes a slightly darker image can look better.

Adding flash has increased light and evened out the skin while adding catchlights to bring the eyes to life. Unfortunately, it's given a cast that is bordering on light yellow. Standing alone the image looks great but when comparing it to the cast of the images without flash, it's definitely there.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 portrait mode
Portrait mode has a good exposure and nice detail.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 portrait in program
Switching to program shows little difference except a small amount of under exposure.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 portrait with flash
Adding flash is great and looks like it hasn't been used but for tell tale signs such as catchlights. A nasty cast has been added to the image though.
I thought this may be down to the white balance setting which was set to auto at the time. The Nikon Coolpix P90 doesn't have a white balance setting for flash which is unusual. I'm guessing that the flash could be daylight balanced but the manual mentions nothing about it. Exposure is spot on, though and I can't fault the camera for it.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 low level photography
The articulated screen allows low level photography and this shot of the daffodil was taken with the camera laid on it's back propped up by the screen swung out so I could see it. I put it on a self timer so that my head wasn't in the shot.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 macro
Specifications for the camera suggest that it's capable of 1cm macro but I had problems getting that close. The nearest I could get was around 5-6cm away which isn't as good but still recorded the vintage camera in fine detail. Looking closely at the macro image shows a lot of colour fringing  and some blown out highlights which is unfortunate.
I'm certainly impressed with the continuous shooting mode of the P90 as it managed 13 shots in the ten second time limit giving a performance result of 1.3fps which is pretty good. There are also three other shooting modes called BSS (Best Shot Selector) which saves the best shot out of the sequence for you, Multi-shot 16 which takes 16 images and records them all as small sized thumbnails on one image. I have no idea as to a decent reason for using this although there must be something. Finally is the interval timer which is great for doing sped up timelapse video over a long period or for photographing the moon in it's various stages throughout the night. You can choose from 30 seconds, one, five or ten minutes.
I tested the shutter lag and I'm pretty amazed. I managed to record a lag of 0.04sec which is the fastest I've ever seen on a compact.

Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 landscape test

Looking at the landscape image and the exposure is balanced with good colours being reproduced. I like the detail of the grass in the foreground but not that the camera shifts slightly out of focus towards the middle distance.

I tested the zoom capabilities of the P90 and placed them here. It's certainly impressive and if you're going to need this kind of pull then it's a worthy camera to look at.

Remember that with a zoom this size, the closer you are to the subject, the more that any shake will be amplified so a tripod may be necessary.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 wide angle
At the widest, plenty of landscape is shown.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 zoom
At full zoom, the barge can be clearly seen.
Nikon Coolpix P90: Noise test
This is the area that the P80 really fell down in. So far I'm quite pleased with the results of the P90 in terms of picture quality with the exception of the fringing in high contrast areas.

We start at ISO64 which gives a lovely smooth result with plenty of detail in the petals, much as I'd expect at this low setting. I think there has been some improvements in noise control because it doesn't start showing until ISO400 which is a step higher than the previous camera.

However when you get to ISO400, the noise is pretty aggressive with coloured blotches appearing in the grey card area and detail in the petal beginning to drop. ISO1600 is the last sensitivity setting with full resolution and the image is pretty bad. Hardly an ounce of detail and bad colour invasion all over.

In an attempt to control it, the resolution is knocked to 5Mp for ISO3200 and ISO6400. It's a worthy attempt but the noise is simply too much for the camera to control and the picture is fuzzy and bleak.

Maybe it's just me but I think maybe with the camera being bigger, they might have been able to fit a bigger sensor in to combat the problem. I'm sure they have their reasons for not doing which is a shame.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 ISO64 test
The ISO64 test.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 ISO1600 test
The ISO1600 test.
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: Nikon Coolpix P90 ISO6400 test
The ISO6400 test.
Nikon Coolpix P90: Verdict
Nikon Coolpix P90 Digital Camera Review: I've kept the review of the P80 open while I did this so I can compare not only what it did in the test but also what I said about it to see if I was repeating myself. I think the three major changes of zoom, resolution and articulated screen are good and the image stabilising options have been increased with the motion detection system.

I still think there's room for improvement in image quality especially in colour fringing and noise control. That said, I mentioned the P80 as the camera for everyone and that wasn't strictly true. It wasn't perfect for low level photographers and now the P90 has covered that base as well.

Nikon Coolpix P90: Plus points
Big zoom
Good build
Nice colour rendition
Articulated screen
Fast shutter lag

Nikon Coolpix P90: Minus points
Colour fringing can be quite bad
Noise control still isn't very good
Macro wouldn't focus below 5cm





The Nikon Coolpix P90 costs around £380 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Nikon Coolpix P90

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Photographs taken using the Nikon Coolpix P90

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19 Mar 2009 8:59PM
I ordered one when it came out and got it Tues. and took two images and quit. Wouldn't do a thing. Took the battery out and put back in and it turned on again. Then took two images and they were all purple and it quit again. Took the battery out and put back in and it shot three perfect images and stopped working. Called the company where ordered and I got a returns slip to send back and get another. Hope thats better. I had the P80 prior and sold that and found this to be bulkier and new features on dial. I'm sure I'll like it when I get another that works.
MattGrayson 15 622 3 England
20 Mar 2009 3:00PM
Good luck! Smile
29 Dec 2009 2:59PM
I think my P90 Coolpix is a great camera and have used mine a lot.

I particularly love the close up shot ability it has and the continuous shoot mode.

It's been very reliable and is quite robust.
joshwa Plus
12 927 1 United Kingdom
26 Apr 2011 9:20PM
The new model of the Nikon Coolpix P90 is the Nikon Coolpix P100:

and the most recent model is the Nikon Coolpix P500, with 36x optical zoom:

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