Barely a year after introducing the Coolpix P90 superzoom, Nikon is back with another "performance series" big-lens model, the Coolpix P100. Where the P90 (which remains on Nikon's website as of this writing) featured a 24x optical zoom spanning the 26-624mm focal range (35mm film equivalent), the P100 goes to 26x and 26-678mm.
Here's what that focal range looks like:
The big end of the telephoto can get you close to critters and other subjects that might not ordinarily hang around to let you get in range (or when conditions don't allow you to physically approach) with a standard compact digital. The lizard was on the other side of a fence and Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were back for their fourth or fifth annual spring visit to our backyard pool.
The Nikon Coolpix P100 also gets a drop in resolution to 10.3 megapixels (versus 12.1 megapixels in the P90) on a slightly larger 1/2.3-inch (vs. 1/2.33-inch) sensor. Pixel fans tempted to write off the P100 for lower resolution need to hang in there a bit longer; there's more to the P100 than a little more lens and a little less resolution. The slightly larger sensor is a new backside illumination (BSI) CMOS type and the P100 is the first Nikon Coolpix to incorporate that device. Very generally, BSI involves placing the light sensor for each pixel on the back side of the entire sensor wafer instead of the front side along with other circuitry. Isolating the sensors from the circuitry reportedly increases sensor efficiency (signal to noise ratios) since less light is scattered before reaching the image sensor. Nikon's EXPEED processing technology is onboard as well.
Other improvements to the P100 include doubling resolution on the 3.0-inch LCD monitor to 460,000 dots, a continuous shooting rate of up to 10 frames per second (fps) at full resolution - but sadly for only a portion of that second for still images - and 1080p HD video at 30 fps. There is about 43MB of internal memory and the camera uses SD/SDHC memory media (but is not compatible with MultiMedia Cards). Nikon includes a battery and charger, USB and A/V cables, camera strap, lens cap, and CD-ROM software with each camera.
With the new sensor and lowered resolution suggesting improved noise performance over its P90 sibling, the P100 is off to a good start, at least on paper. Let's see how things go once the shooting begins.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The Nikon P100 follows the virtually standard industry script for the ultrazoom class and is configured as a mini DSLR. Nikon P90 owners will be hard-pressed to tell the two apart; the P100's only external differences from the earlier model are a stereo microphone atop the viewfinder housing and a movie record button on the camera back. It has a composite body with some strategically positioned tacky material in the handgrip and thumb rest areas. Materials, fit, and finish are typical for the class and price point.
Ergonomics and Controls
The deeply sculpted handgrip portion of the body leaves space from the lens barrel for average size fingers, but folks with big hands may find it snug. The index finger falls naturally to the shutter button and lens zoom control, and spacing/positioning of other controls is unlikely to promote inadvertent activations. The overall control layout is simple and straightforward.
Menus and Modes
There are four major menus accessed via the menu button: shooting, movie, playback and setup. If there aren't images or video captured on either the camera's internal memory or memory media, the playback menu is unavailable. The shooting menu includes settings for most image quality issues (size, white balance, ISO sensitivity), along with camera settings like exposure bracketing, continuous or single shooting rates, noise reduction, AF area and focus modes. The distortion control and active D-lighting features are also located in the shooting menu, and we'll discuss those more depth later in the review.
Like other cameras of this class, shooting modes have a heavy emphasis on automatic and pre-programmed scene modes. Aperture, shutter, program auto and manual exposure options favored by more experienced users are also in the mix. Additionally, the P100 has a few interesting modes you don't see often: subject tracking, sport continuous and backlit scene HDR.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor has been upgraded to a 460,000 dot composition and is adjustable for five levels of brightness. It can be articulated to about 160 degrees of motion along its horizontal axis when positioned away the camera body. At times, the monitor was difficult to use in bright outdoor conditions for image capture or review depending on sun location and reflections. But the ability to move the monitor helped minimize these occasions. Coverage is about 97% for image capture and 100% for playback.
The electronic viewfinder has 230,000 dot composition and offers diopter adjustment for eyesight variations. Coverage is about 97% for capture and 100% for playback.
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