First megapixels increased. Then cameras began to shrink. Next LCDs ballooned in size while batteries eked out just a few more shots. Each new generation of camera saw one additional scene mode or on-camera image enhancement feature. To be blunt it hasn't been so interesting. What is needed is a feature that really raises eyebrows and the Nikon Coolpix P2 has it: Wi-Fi access for picture transfers. Nikon certainly wasn't the first, but they were likely a close second or third. Adding wireless connectivity just makes sense and should make photography easier. But does it? Read on.
In The Box
This Coolpix is extremely small and light. This used to be a hindrance in the past for cameras. Small size equated to small features. Not so anymore. The P2 is loaded. 5 Megapixels, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, a multitude of scene modes, a 30 fps movie mode, and a 2.5" LCD. Just six months ago to find a 2.5" LCD was to find the pirate's treasure. Today it is -- thankfully -- as common as FM radio in a new car.
There are a multitude of manual controls including aperture, shutter, ISO, white balance, and auto-focus modes. Unfortunately, manual focus is not one. The closest the user can get is to set the camera into Manual' mode. However, the user selects from on 99 areas on the screen the camera should auto-focus on. In that respect it's manual. This is probably not a huge loss because the P2 is not meant to replace a D-SLR. Different than other cameras in this category, the P2 allows users to set the sharpness and noise reduction levels that should be applied to photos that are shot.
Scene modes can be accessed by rotating the dial on the top of the camera. These modes include:
As far as wireless concerned, Nikon did not skimp on features. The camera integrates an 802.11 b/g compliant radio. In the case of 802.11g you can connect at rates up to 54 Mbps (though actual throughput will always be lower). From a security standpoint, the user can select from None, WEP, and TKIP (WPA). WEP is the original security added to the 802.11 standard. The key is static and can be easily broken. TKIP takes things a step further by changing the key dynamically with each packet of data that is sent making eavesdropping and packet insertions very difficult.
The camera also supports multiple wireless profiles. The profiles allow the user to specify SSID, encryption type, and so on. So, you can have one profile for home, another for work, and third from neighborhood Starbucks. Unfortunately, these profiles must be created on a PC and transferred to the camera. This poses a bit of a challenge if you come across a Wi-Fi that you want to use and hadn't planned on using.
[Ben: Since our reviewer (ssbihli) had some difficulty setting up wireless profiles on the camera, I took a crack at it and was able to get things working, my comments are below.? I have no doubt that if you have difficulty, Nikon will do as much as they can in order to get things working.? I have seen other reports where users have had difficulty as well, but I'm sure the "bugs" will get ironed out.]
Once the wireless profiles were set up on the camera (by using the Wireless Setup Utility and connecting the camera via USB to the computer), things moved along quite nicely.? To use the wireless, you must first move the dial to the blue wireless icon and then choose your profile.? If it's a non-printing profile, you can choose from several modes.? A useful?Easy Transfer mode compares images on the camera to images that have already been transferred to the computer and only transfers the images that are new.? I used the Shoot & Transfer mode which immediately transfers an image, after capture, to the computer, and displays it within the Nikon Picture Project software.? (This would make a great party mode).? Also, you can choose to transfer all images or only marked images with other transfer modes.? The wireless was effective, but I was kind of disappointed that I can't use the wireless to "shoot & transfer" if I want to use other shooting modes.? Once you change the mode dial, the wireless radio is disabled.? I assume that Nikon did this to preserve battery power.? For example, if you want to use "P" mode, you just have to settle to use a transfer mode after you're done shooting several images.
The P2's size and weight belie the camera's expansive feature set. This is a compact camera weighing?around 8 oz with the battery and memory card. This brushed silver plastic camera fits very nicely in your hand with a pronounced grip for easy one-hand operation.
The physical interface to the camera is limited for simplicity's sake. Eight controls comprise the entire interface: on/off button, shutter release, mode knob, zoom rocker, three interface buttons, and a five-way rocker for selecting menu items. This camera should not be intimidating to anyone.
While no means a killer to the overall camera's value, some of Nikon's user interface and human design factor choices baffle me. For example, the knob on the top of the camera that changes modes on just about every other camera on the planet does more than just change modes. There is a setting for 'Setup', changing resolution, ISO, and white balance settings. There is also a setting to enter wireless mode to begin photo transfer. An inexperienced user could become very confused if the camera slips into ISO mode, the camera stops taking pictures, and the user is asked what ISO they want to shoot. Strange.
Further, setting the camera to 'Setup' pops up a tabbed interface on the LCD. Sounds fine, right? Well, there is only one tab and this one tab has twelve options. One option is to set the welcome screen. Really? Do we need to waste a setting for this? There is an icon of a clock that is labeled 'Date' and -- get this -- an icon of the word 'Date' that I could not select. What? I reeaaallllyyyy thought we were past Interface Design 101 about 10 years ago.
Oh, but it gets better. Another icon simply shows you the version of firmware (waste). Many of the options once inside tell you to press 'Ok' to confirm. For example, do you want AF Assist On or Off? Press 'Ok' to confirm. Once you do confirm, you're not taken back to the Main Menu nor does the interface tell you what button to press to do so. Finally -- and then I'll stop -- another option tells you to press 'Back' and shows a picture of a backwards triangle to leave that particular screen. There is no 'Back' or triangle on the camera. Again, all this said, you'll still figure the camera out. It's just perplexing or maybe I mean that it's an adventure.
Image Quality and Performance
This Coolpix has about a 2.5 to 3 second startup time -- not the quickest. Shutting the startup screen off on one of the Setup screens will drop about a full second from this time. The time to fully focus and shoot was quick. When pre-focused the P2 snapped the picture in less than .1 seconds -- very quick. Overall, performance was very good including low light.
The Nikon P2 takes a very pleasing image -- not too sharp and not too soft. Compared with A95, the P2 take a similar photo in terms of sharpness and color saturation. It bests the A95 in image noise. Photos taken in darkened rooms with the ISO set at 200 had noticeably less noise than the A95.
[Ben: One additional performance issue that I was disappointed about was the cycle time between images.? It was much slower than other cameras in its class.? While the image is written to the memory card, you get an hourglass icon on the LCD and you have to wait until it's done before even framing your next shot.]
Canon A95 at ISO200 [larger] [fullsize]
Nikon P2 at ISO 200 [larger] [fullsize]
Macro [larger] [fullsize]
Extended Specifications (From nikoncoolpix.com)
The Nikon P2 is an excellent camera with a long features list, large LCD, above average movie mode, and wonderful wireless. With the exception of some hiccups getting wireless in gear and a strange and non-intuitive interface, I can recommend the P2 for its simplicity and picture quality.