Nikon's Coolpix P600 is, at heart, a Nikon Coolpix P520 with a new 60X zoom. The new zoom seems better in most areas than the 42X zoom that graced the P520. I was surprised at just how sharp my telephoto images were, especially when I compared them to images from the similar (50x zoom) Canon Powershot SX50 HS and the Nikon P510 (42x zoom).
My P600 shots, at telephoto, were noticeably sharper than similar shots I had made with either the SX50 HS or the P510, even factoring in lighting and other environmental issues.
The optical rule of thumb has always been, 'the longer the zoom, the softer the images.' Nikon's optical and mechanical engineers did a surprisingly good job on the P600's new monster zoom -- the lens is much sharper, especially at the telephoto end of the zoom, than expected.
But photography has always been about compromise. In this case, P600 users are going to have to give up some capabilities at the wide-angle end of that monster zoom.
The 60X zoom that graces the P600 takes a slightly different design path than the long zooms on other ultra-zoom digicams by significantly improving telephoto performance, but that comes at the expense of the wide-angle. Simply put, the P600 has the worst parallax/barrel distortion function of any ultra-zoom I have used to date.
At the 24mm (equivalent) end of that 60X zoom, shooters will find it almost impossible to shoot an image with straight lines, like in shots where buildings are prominent. The effect is similar to keystoning in image projection, where the building will appear trapezoidal (or, wider at the bottom than at the top), rather than square. This is not an uncommon lens fault with long zooms, but other manufacturers correct more heavily for this problem, and those corrections reliably affect performance at the other end of those long zooms. The P600 isn't totally useless at the wide-angle end of the zoom -- users will just have to step back a bit and zoom out to about 30mm (equivalent) to correct the issue. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean.
The P600 is a rather utilitarian-looking entry-level DSLR-sized digital camera. It looks very similar to most of its competition. In fact, it bears a striking resemblance to its predecessor, and stretches the P520's zoom by almost 500 millimeters (24mm - 1000mm vs. 24mm - 1440mm) without radically altering the camera's dimensions.
That 60x zoom (24mm to 1440mm equivalent) is its claim to fame, and is currently the longest point-and-shoot zoom range available on any P&S digicam. In addition to that monster zoom, the P600 features 16-megapixel resolution and Wi-Fi connectivity. The device provides a robustly constructed metal-alloy/polycarbonate body and adequate dust/weather/moisture seals.
Ergonomics and Controls
The P600's control layout is efficiently designed. Its buttons/knobs/switches are logically placed and come easily to hand for right-handed shooters. The top deck features a standard mode dial and a large raised shutter button (with zoom toggle surround).
Nikon's function button is not like Canon's "func" button, which calls up a shortcut menu to directly access often changed settings. Rather, the Nikon "Fn" button provides direct access to one user-selected function, whether it be image size, picture control, WB, metering, continuous shooting mode, ISO, or AF area.
The P600's control pad functions in the familiar compass switch configuration, and the rotating dial around the OK button makes for super-fast menu scrolling and function selection. Where Nikon's nifty rotary multi-controller really shines is in its easy back-and-forth review and comparison of saved images.
The P600's one-touch video Record/Stop button, meanwhile, is a bit smaller than it should be and it's somewhat awkwardly positioned -- but it can still be used without requiring the shooter to look away from the LCD/EVF when starting or stopping video.
The device provides a solid handgrip for improved handling and camera stability, as well as a secondary zoom control positioned on the left side of lens barrel for zooming in vertical format.
The user interface is unashamedly traditional, and similar enough to every other P&S digicam to provide most users a comforting sense of deja vu.
Sadly, the P600 continues the frustrating Nikon practice of not having the exposure compensation function return to zero when the camera is turned off. There is no logical reason for this as the lighting problems it addresses tend to be temporary. Unfortunately, the only way to get the exposure compensation function on the P600 back to zero is to manually do it after wrapping up a shooting session.
Menus and Modes
The P600's four tab menu system is reliably logical, user-friendly, and easily navigated. The large, high-resolution LCD and reasonable font size make reading menus simple -- even for older shooters.
Here's a breakdown of the P600's shooting modes:
Like most currently available ultra-zooms, the P600 provides an electronic viewfinder, so shooters can use either the LCD screen or the EVF for framing/composition, image review, and menu access chores. It features a large 3.0-inch LCD monitor with 921K resolution. The wide viewing angle TFT display is sharp, bright, hue accurate, and fluid.
The default info display provides all the information this camera's target audience will likely need. The LCD gains up (i.e., automatically increases brightness) in dim lighting, but individual shooters can also adjust brightness to their preferences. The anti-glare/anti-reflection coating (applied to both sides of the LCD's protective cover) is substantially better than average for digicams in this class too.
Finally, the P600's Vari-angle LCD flips and folds out, which is useful when shooting macro or high-angle shots. And unlike its predecessors, the P600's LCD also swivels.
The P600's EVF is a 0.2-inch unit with 200K resolution; and, finally, Nikon included a diopter adjustment for bespectacled shooters. The EVF is a nice retro composition tool, especially useful in bright outdoor lighting. The viewfinder button, which is located directly to the right of the EVF, allows users to switch back and forth between LCD and EVF.
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