Nikon P600 Hands-On Preview

by Reads (993)

The new Coolpix P600 is Nikon’s latest ultrazoom digital camera, a rather chunky looking P&S digicam; too utilitarian and practical to be considered stylish. The P600’s main claim to fame is its 60x zoom (24mm to 1440mm equivalent) currently the longest P&S zoom range available.

In addition to that monster zoom, the P600 also features 16 megapixel resolution, a vari-angle (921k) 3.0 inch LCD monitor, manual exposure control, 1080p HD video capture with stereo sound, and wi-fi connectivity. 

The P600 provides a solid handgrip for improved handling and camera stability and a secondary zoom control (positioned on the left side of the lens barrel) for zooming in vertical format. The P600 also features a user interface that is dependably logical and a control layout that is unashamedly traditional and sufficiently similar to every other P&S digicam ever manufactured. This provides anyone who uses this camera with a comforting sense of deja vu–all buttons, knobs, and switches are logically placed and easily accessed by right-handed shooters.

I’ve reviewed “ultra-zoom” digicams built by Nikon, Olympus, Canon, and other manufacturers and not only do all of them share remarkably similar designs, they all share remarkably similar shortcomings – slow maximum apertures, complex zoom formulas, noticeable barrel distortion (at the wide angle end of the zoom) and soft images at the telephoto end of the zoom. 

The P600 is, at heart, a Nikon Coolpix P520 with a new zoom. Miraculously, though, the P600’s new 60x zoom actually seems better 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 that I tested about this time last year and a Nikon P510 (42x zoom) that I reviewed in 2012. My P600 shots, at full 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, images shot with the P600 were noticeably (and consistently) sharper than images from the previously listed cameras. Nikon’s optical and mechanical engineers did a surprisingly good job on the P600’s new monster zoom–the lens is reasonably compact and much sharper (at the telephoto end of the zoom) than expected.

Is the P600 perfect? Of course not – I did notice a lag (about 1 second) after pushing the start/stop video button, before video capture actually begins or ends and Nikon continues with their absurd practice of not having the exposure compensation function return to zero when the camera is turned off.  There is absolutely no logical reason to have the camera commit to memory the solution to a temporary ambient lighting problem. Unfortunately the only way to get the exposure compensation function back to zero, is for the user to remember to zero it out after their shooting session concludes. 

For many years camera manufacturers have been working to perfect an ultrazoom camera that will satisfy the needs of photographers and in my opinion, the Nikon Coolpix P600 comes closer to filling that order than any of the other ultrazooms I’ve tested. I’ve had the P600 for a bit less than a week, but so far I’m quite impressed with just how easy this camera makes it to capture the images you’ve visualized–and with more than forty years of experience as a photographer, I am not easily impressed.

There really is no free lunch, so photographers who purchase the P600 will need to have realistic expectations. Any camera with a 60x zoom is bound to be the result of countless mechanical, optical, electrical, and functional/operational compromises, and every one of those compromises is going to affect image quality in some way. Overall, the P600 does a remarkably good job of making those compromises palatable. I’ll go into more detail regarding image quality, ergonomics, and usability in my full review of the P600, but based on my experiences with the camera over the past few days I’m very favorably impressed, with the Nikon Coolpix P600.

Here’s a few sample images I took this week. I’m impressed!

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