Head to Head: Pentax X90 vs. Nikon Coolpix P100

by Reads (418)

Features and Specs
The Pentax X90 is equipped with a 12.1 megapixel, 1/2.33-inch CCD sensor and the P100 a 10.3 megapixel 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS sensor. That gives the P100 a definite speed advantage. The X90’s sensor is carried over from the previous model, while the P100’s sensor is completely new to the Nikon ultrazoom series.

Zoom-wise, the cameras are almost evenly matched. The Pentax’s f/2.8-5.0 26x lens covers an equivalent focal range of 26-676mm. The Nikon lens covers 26-678mm with the same maximum aperture range of f/2.8-5.0. Nothing to give an advantage there, so let’s dig deeper. They each focus as close as 0.4 inches in their respective macro modes, and both systems use a combination of sensor-shift and electronic image stabilization.

Pentax X90
Pentax X90

We’ll have to look elsewhere to give one of these cameras an edge in the specs department. Unfortunately for the X90, that’s where the P100 shines – other goodies. It has a higher-resolution 3.0-inch 460k-dot tilting LCD to the X90’s merely fixed 2.7-inch 230k-dot monitor. Both systems have an electronic viewfinder, with the P100’s slightly higher in resolution at 230k to the X90’s 200k-dot EVF.

Nikon Coolpix P100
Nikon Coolpix P100

The P100 has a lot more to offer in terms of video capture as well. It’s armed with 1080p HD video recording capability at 30 fps with stereo sound (ala left and right microphones on the top of the camera). It will also record slow motion 320×240 video at 240 fps, 640×480 and 120 fps, and 1280×720 at 60 fps. The CMOS sensor also handles full-resolution burst shooting at 11 fps for up to six frames.

The X90’s video resolution tops out at 720p at 30 fps. That’s not exactly a bad thing, though it doesn’t offer nearly as many video options as the P100. Depending on your interest in different video capture modes, 720p might be just fine for your needs. However, it lags behind in burst shooting speed too, capturing five full-resolution frames at 1.4 fps.

We have to hand it to Nikon, they packed a lot of good stuff into the P100’s relatively small camera body.

Advantage: Nikon Coolpix P100

Ease of Use
The Pentax X90 and the Nikon Coolpix P100 have relatively similar ergonomics and control layouts. So how did they handle in the field? DigitalCameraReview contributor Jim Keenan said of the X90:

“Controls are arranged in a simple, logical manner. The shutter button/lens zoom lever, exposure compensation button, power switch and shooting mode dial all sit atop the camera body.”

Reviewing the Nikon P90 (virtually a twin control-wise to the P100) he called the layout “straightforward.”

He found that both cameras’ LCDs were very difficult to view in bright sunlight. Here’s where the P100 has another slight advantage: the tilting LCD can be adjusted for a better angle of view in sunny conditions. Users of the X90 will just have to hope for the best.

Nikon Coolpix P100

For the user looking for relatively quick access to video, the P100 would seem a logical choice with a dedicated video start/stop button. However, we noticed a significant delay between pushing the button and the actual start of video recording that put a little extra guess-work in capturing videos on the fly. Given the advanced video capabilities, it seems a nice option to have on hand, but in practice doesn’t save much time.

Both cameras are equipped with reliable, fairly quick AF systems. We clocked the Pentax X90’s auto focus at 0.43 seconds in our studio test, though Keenan notes that “AF acquisition time gets slower at telephoto, a common occurrence in the class, but the X90 seems among the slower cameras in this respect.” We timed the P100 neck-and-neck with the X90 at 0.44 seconds.

While it could be argued the larger buttons and text on the Pentax X90’s control deck make it a less aesthetically-pleasing choice, it does make for a better user experience if you’re familiarizing yourself with a camera. The X90 is also tailored more to a beginner’s needs by offering the green “easy” button to remove almost all shooting options in favor of a complete auto mode.

That’s not to say the P100 is out of reach for beginners. It’s equipped with sixteen specialized scene modes and an auto selector scene mode, photographers at any level of experience will be able to pick it up and start shooting without much trouble. If your preference is for larger and well-labeled controls though, you’d be better served by the X90.

However, for overall usability, the P100 edges the X90 out. Pentax’s interface is a little bit dated, and performing tasks like applying artistic filters to images individually is time consuming. Another advantage to the P100.

Advantage: Nikon Coolpix P100

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