DigitalCameraReview.com
Nikon Coolpix P6000 Review
by David Rasnake -  10/14/2008

Advanced compacts are one of the most interesting segments of the digicam market at the moment, offering much of the power – in terms of exposure control, at least – of a DSLR in packages that are easier to tote along in a pocket or purse. We've seen several high-profile updates to advanced compact models during the second half of 2008, with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, the Canon PowerShot G10, and the Nikon Coolpix P6000 up for review today all building on the success of previous advanced models (the LX2, the G9, and the P5100, respectively).

Nikon Coolpix P6000


Last generation's P5100 announcement was met with high hopes at DCR, but when we got our hands on the final product we were openly a bit disappointed. Slow AF was a primary concern for the P6000's predecessor, which earned praise otherwise for a logical interface, excellent styling and build, and a solidly performing flash system. With this platform as a starting point, Nikon's road to making the P6000 a strong competitor seems clear and it begins at the auto focus system.

FEATURES OVERVIEW
FORM, FIT, AND FEEL
PERFORMANCE
IMAGE QUALITY
CONCLUSIONS
SPECIFICATIONS

FEATURES OVERVIEW
The Nikon Coolpix P6000 is a premium compact camera designed to appeal primarily to serious photographers looking for lots of control in a form factor that's more portable and convenient than a DSLR. Resolution in the latest advanced Coolpix has been upped to a DSLR-like 13.5 megapixels on a 1/1.7 inch CCD sensor, and the camera sports a 28-112mm f/2.7-5.9 Nikkor zoom lens.

Designed with serious shooters looking for serious exposure control and processing options in mind, the P6000 carries over several key features including EXPEED processing, manual exposure modes, advanced flash control, metal construction, and seamless GPS integration from Nikon's consumer and professional DSLR lines. On the processing side, Nikon's Coolpix Picture Control System allows users to select from a list of processing mode presets, or manually fine-tune parameters like contrast and saturation.

In addition to a range of JPEG processing controls, the P6000 also provides a raw shooting mode, but it doesn't use the familiar Nikon NEF file format developed for the manufacturer's DSLRs. Instead, a new raw format (NRW) appears to be designed primarily to process in camera (though the release of Adobe's latest version of Camera Raw means that the P6000 is now supported in Photoshop CS3 and in beta form in Lightroom 2). The ability to tweak a shot after the fact using the camera's Picture Control System options isn't a bad addition, but the use of this nonstandard raw format that's not compatible with Nikon's advanced workflow software may be a hang-up for long-time Nikonians. The fact that the camera takes a full five seconds to clear the buffer and ready itself for another shot after each NRW capture, combined with the fact that the files themselves are a healthy 20MB apiece, will probably dissuade most other shooters from shooting too many raws with the P6000 though the addition of the P6000 to Adobe's supported list is a big step in the right direction.

Basic shooting mode options on the Coolpix P6000 are as follows:

The P6000's mode dial also features two non-shooting modes: a network configuration position for file upload settings, and a position for accessing GPS options. Playback is accessed via a dedicated playback button, but the camera has to be powered on first via the power button.

Users looking for advanced video options will find the P6000 a bit disappointing. Maximum video resolution is 640x480 at 30 fps, meaning no HD video capture on this Coolpix. While AF can be set to work continuously while capturing video something not every still camera can do the zoom is locked during movie recording. Overall, the P6000's movies look fine and even sound alright, but this limited range of options may put off some power users.

GPS
If you're interested in appending geographic data to your images, the P6000 can oblige. The camera features a built-in GPS receiver that automatically feeds latitude/longitude information into the EXIF data of recorded images when the GPS function is enabled. This in turn makes it easy to sort images by where they were taken or add them to a map in geo-aware photo sharing applications.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

The inclusion of a "GPS" position on the P6000's mode dial is somewhat confusing insofar as there's no separate GPS shooting mode. Rather, GPS mode provides a home for the receiver's handful of settings and options. Kicking the P6000 into GPS mode and turning on the receiver for the first time after the battery has been out, the P6000 takes several minutes to update its data and acquire a position lock. Of course, the weaker your signal, the longer the initial update tends to take; a three-bar signal strength indicator tells you what your status is, and your best bet for acquiring an initial lock will be in a location with a clear view of the sky. Compared to a dedicated GPS unit, the P6000's weak receiver struggles indoors, in urban areas, or anywhere else that there's even slight interference.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

The system can be set to tag all recorded photos with geographic data simply by enabling GPS in the menu. A "Valid storage period" option allows you to set the window at which the GPS updates, ensuring that you automatically have correct data (if the P6000 can't update with new data in the specified interval, it doesn't append geographic data). Of course, this constant GPS check the default interval is one minute takes a toll on battery life, and the fact that the camera will automatically attempt to update geographic information periodically even when it's turned off if you enable GPS means a further juice drain.

Overall, performance of the built-in GPS system, while seamlessly and logically integrated, doesn't rival what you'll get from even a cheap GPS receiver/geotagging system in terms of its ability to acquire signal in difficult locations. The technology may prove to be sufficient for basic image geotaggging under ideal conditions, but we found it best to manually update the data as needed and enable GPS on an image-by-image basis in order to make the most of the P6000's already under-speced battery.

Ethernet
Recognizing that many photos these days go straight to the web as their final destination, Nikon has continued to push for better camera-to-internet integration with its Coolpix models. Unlike the manufacturer's Wi-Fi equipped S models, however, the P6000 gets an ethernet port for direct network connectivity instead.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

Connecting the port to a router allows you to upload images directly from the P6000 to Nikon's "my Picturetown" file sharing service, just like with the recently reviewed Coolpix S52c. Firing up the connection is as easy as either connecting the camera to both ethernet and AC power (or connecting the network and switching the mode over to the Network Settings position if you're working on batteries). There are a few initial configuration issues to address to make sure the images get routed correctly once they're uploaded, and for this you'll unfortunately have to enter text via the four-way controller.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

In terms of connectivity, unless your home network is drastically different from the norm (if you use a static IP, for instance), the automatic network profile should work just fine and connect through to Nikon's server with little fuss meaning less of that dreaded time entering network information without a keyboard. The P6000 uploads all images that have been flagged for the Picture Bank, and upload speeds are appropriately quick given the direct connection. It seems, however, that you're still only getting a downscaled version of the image on my Picturetown. If you're only planning to use the images on the web, this arrangement with the camera automatically uploading its files as soon as you plug it up to charge (assuming you remember to connect anethernet cable as well) may well make sense, but for storage or backup purposes, it's not really there yet.

Overall, as with the GPS receiver, the LAN connection provides an interesting connectivity option, but maybe not one that will get a lot of use from most of us. I for one would have been happy to give up the GPS receiver and the wired ethernet connection in exchange for a Wi-Fi radio and a more refined and less restrictive version of Nikon's wireless image upload system as seen on the Coolpix S cameras.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

Styling and Build Quality
Like a high-end DSLR, the P6000's delicate electronic innards come wrapped in a richly textured black magnesium shell. Visually and structurally, the P6000 is a gorgeous camera: its textured rubber handgrip is ideal in its size and feel, several knobs and a pop-up flash give off a decided "retro" vibe, and the Nikon's alloy construction lends an air of indestructibility to the whole thing. Building for serious photographers, Nikon has again succeeded in channeling classic small cameras of the past into its latest advanced P model.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

Although it visually has a lot in common with the P5100, eagle-eyed Nikon fans will note that the flash has been redesigned as a pop-up unit (and the hot shoe has moved to a more central location, providing better balance in hand with a flashgun mounted), the grip is thicker with a more gentle taper, and some minor fit-and-finish changes have been implemented all around.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

In basic black only, the P6000 has the air of a serious camera about it. Aesthetically, high-quality construction makes the P6000 pleasant to hold and use. In short, those looking for a back-up pocket shooter to go with their DSLR kit should feel right at home with the visual and functional package Nikon has put together in this case.

Ergonomics and Interface
Ergonomically, the P6000 has all of the advantages of a DSLR logical button placement, thoughtfully sized controls for those of us with larger hands, a great grip area, and excellent balance and overall handling without the bulk of an interchangeable lens camera. The P6000 has added a few more buttons compared to its P5100 predecessor, but the basic idea remains the same, with a four-way controller and a multi-function scroll wheel sharing menu navigation duties.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

The P6000 feels right at home in its manual exposure modes something few small cameras can claim thanks to that control wheel. The control wheel is the primary interface tool for advanced shooting, allowing users to adjust shutter speed and/or aperture as quickly and easily as on a DSLR. Even the full manual mode works surprisingly seamlessly, using the exposure compensation button to switch back and forth between adjusting shutter and aperture values (though I do wish the metering indicator stayed on-screen all the time in manual mode, instead of only popping up while you're changing settings).

Nikon Coolpix P6000

On the graphical interface side, Nikon's page-menu system is nothing spectacular, but nothing spectacularly difficult to use either. As a rule, the options are clear and grouped logically, keeping menu clutter throughout to a minimum. The system is a bit unintuitive where calling up and dismissing lists is concerned: the Function button option, for instance, which calls up the list of ISO settings by default, must be held down to keep the list on-screen while you use the scroll wheel (the d-pad doesn't work in this view) to make changes, which makes changing the camera's sensitivity setting a two-handed operation. Similarly, menus seem to dismiss differently depending on which menu you're in: sometimes the OK button does it, and sometimes it's the Menu key. After some time with the camera I still don't feel entirely comfortable with quickly navigating my menu choices, but maybe I'm just a slow learner.

If the interface itself isn't anything to write home about, where the P6000 bests any small camera that we've looked at (and most consumer DSLRs, to be honest) is in its customizability. Although there's a master menu that covers all available settings and options, primary access to commonly adjusted parameters can also be handled via a six-slot "My Menu." Yeah, it's a stupid name, but don't let that turn you off: the custom menu, which is accessed via its own button (second from the top in the row of dedicated buttons left of the LCD), is truly brilliant.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

Basically, an option in the setup menu allows you to choose what goes in each of the six open positions in My Menu. From the factory, the P6000 comes with adjustments for things like image quality and size, Picture Control setting (Nikon's color mode system), and white balance in the list. If you'd rather be able to access metering modes, AF modes, flash power compensation, or even noise reduction settings, though, it's a simple task to sub things out. In fact, the hardest part of the whole process may be making those crucial decisions about which six parameters constitute your My Menu. After a few weeks with the P6000, here's what I've settled on:

Nikon Coolpix P6000

Of course, you not only decide what goes in the list, but in what order as well. This level of interface customization is something we'd expect from a much more expensive camera.

Display and Viewfinder
Going up against the likes of the generally fantastic display that graces Panasonic's advanced Lumix LX3 compact, the P6000's 2.7 inch LCD fails to make a first-tier impression. The 230,000 dot screen claims to be a wide view-angle piece of hardware, and both vertical and horizontal viewability is exceptionally good crucial for up-high or down-low shot composition. But otherwise, things are merely alright with the P6000's LCD: the screen brightens automatically in low light, but struggles to keep up on the refresh side. Even shooting indoors with moderate light, moving subjects trail their way across the screen, and the P6000's display often lags for several seconds before catching up while the camera is focusing. It feels, overall, like the entire device is in need of a little more horsepower in handling the display for dark room shooting in particular.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

In good light, the screen works acceptably well, though you'll have to manually gain up its power to the highest setting if you want to use the display to compose shots outdoors in bright sun. Colors are accurate, and contrast appears to be about spot-on as well. There's plenty of on-screen exposure and settings information, though Nikon has a propensity to use cryptic icons on the screen and elsewhere that take a little getting used to if this is your first Coolpix. Switching display information on and off isn't as intuitive as with some other cameras I've used, and I'm especially disappointed that there's no live histogram option on the P6000. For a serious camera, I've come to take the availability of this kind of exposure aid as a given.

The P6000's coupled optical viewfinder gets points for showing up, but that's about it. The finder is dark and small, making it a chore to use if you're a glasses wearer, especially. Worse than that, it's one of the more notoriously inaccurate linked viewfinders I've had the displeasure of using, meaning that what you're seeing outside of the dead center of the viewfinder may or may not be what you're actually getting in the frame. Still, better to have a viewfinder, however limited, than not in my opinion.


PERFORMANCE

Timings and Shutter Lag
In order to provide context for comparing different cameras in the same class, the results of our basic timings tests will be presented in table form going forward.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300 0.02
Canon PowerShot A2000 IS 0.03
Fujifilm FinePix F60fd 0.05
Nikon Coolpix P6000 0.06
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 0.08

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Canon PowerShot A2000 IS 0.38
Fujifilm FinePix F60fd 0.42
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 0.46
Nikon Coolpix P6000 0.61
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300 0.67

For those who are familiar with the P5100, these numbers are nothing short of impressive. With pure shutter lag of more than 0.1 seconds and AF acquisition times of more than a second in good light, the last premium Coolpix P felt almost impossibly slow for a current high-end camera. Although it's numbers are still not class-leading, Nikon has at least made the P6000 competitive; as with the rest of the current Coolpix line, Nikon's crediting its revamped EXPEED processing concept with significantly improved performance on the basic shooting speed front.

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 4 3.1 fps
Fujifilm FinePix F60fd 3 2.5 fps
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300 10 2.1 fps
Canon PowerShot A2000 IS 5 1.6 fps
Nikon Coolpix P6000 5 0.9 fps

Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode. "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops to clear the buffer.

The P6000's continuous shooting options are somewhat more constrained, with the camera limited to a relatively slow five-frame burst at full resolution before stopping to clear the buffer.

The camera's lens can feel a little slow and unresponsive at times, as can the whole system (see the Flash subheading below for our primary gripe in this regard), but a respectable power-on to first capture time of 2.6 seconds isn't bad for a camera with retractable optics.

Auto Focus
Strong AF performance has not been a hallmark of Nikon's small cameras, but the company is working to change that perception. Certainly the P6000's controlled testing numbers suggest that this camera is well positioned to compete in its class something that definitely couldn't be said for its forerunner. With its strong AF assist light enabled, the P6000 carries its very solid focusing performance over into less than ideal lighting as well. Even with the assist lamp disabled, I found the Coolpix to do a decent job of locking focus; the camera does hunt at times when there's little contrast, but carefully choosing a focusing point can mitigate this issue somewhat. The P6000 was a bit prone to giving up or "erroring out" in low contrast situations, but not significantly more so than any other compact camera.

The P6000's auto multi-area system wasn't always my favorite choice: the point selection algorithm was inconsistent, to say the least, when it came to focusing on the front-most area in a scene. A 99-point manually selected mode, however, helps make up for this deficiency. The user controlled system is easy enough to use just press the OK button and the four-way controller can be used to move the focus point around as desired within a frame that covers about 75 percent of the total composition area.

The latest iteration of Nikon's most advanced Coolpix also pushes its manual focus functionality heavily, with somewhat mixed results. There's a dedicated MF button in the array next to the LCD, but for whatever reason, it won't jump you with one press into MF mode. Instead, you have to select manual focus from among the master focusing options (by pressing down on the d-pad), at which point the MF button becomes active. Press and hold MF while turning the control dial to move focus in or out and the P6000 calls up a zoomed-in view to allow easier focus confirmation. Without loads of screen resolution, however, it's still almost impossible to tell whether you're in focus or just close when working at any distance from your subject even within the focus zoom preview window. Also, the fact that you have to hold down the MF button to adjust focus is onerous, making it impossible to manually focus when shooting with one hand.

Lens and Zoom
Evaluating its physical construction, the P6000's 4x Nikkor optic is one of the most tightly built zoom lenses I've come across on a compact camera befitting the P6000's overall premium look and feel. There's absolutely no free play in the unit's two-stage metal barrel. A finely machined metal trim ring can be removed, allowing for the use of conversion lenses, hoods, or filters (though as with most of the P6000's accessories, a filter adapter wasn't supplied as standard equipment).

In use, the lens is both rapid and precise, moving from wide to tele in less than a second. There's very little pick-up lag when you grab the zoom toggle, and the zoom also nearly infinite position adjustment with its large number of steps (about 15, by my count) from one end to the other.

If the P6000's zoom has a weakness, it's the optic's slow f/5.9 maximum aperture at its comparatively short 112mm telephoto end. More limited light gathering abilities at the long end of the lens than has become the norm seem to exacerbate low light focusing issues at telephoto in this case.

In macro mode at full wide angle, the P6000 is capable of locking focus on objects as near as 0.25 inches from the lens. The ability of the camera to get a macro lock, however, seems to depend heavily on having a high contrast subject, often against a neutral background. Too much busyness behind the intended focus area, or too little contrast/definition in the focusing area, and the Coolpix will give a focusing error.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

Still, solid close focusing capabilities make the macro functionality one of this model's more appealing points.

Flash
The P6000's built-in flash unit covers a lot of ground in terms of control, which is as it should be for an advanced compact camera. In addition to auto, forced on, and red-eye reduction modes, the P6000 provides both first and second curtain slow-synchro support. Power compensation is available via the main menu (or My Menu, if you set it up for such).

Nikon Coolpix P6000

With a range approaching 20 feet at wide angle, the P6000's on-board unit is impressively strong even with sensitivity locked at ISO 64.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

Although this kind of power makes the P6000's strobe good for a range of flash situations, including outdoor fill with strong backlighting, the trade-off comes in the fact that the flash looks just a little harsh up close and prone to hot spots, though metering is spot-on as a rule.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

I found that dropping power back by 1/3 EV or so to help somewhat to keep things more consistently toned down when using flash for primary illumination.

The pop-up arrangement is certainly better than previous versions' flush-mounted flash lenses, which were easy to cover with a finger and (even more) poorly placed relative to the lens. However, the P6000's flash has one particularly off-putting tendency: on initial start-up, it doesn't begin to charge until you deploy the flash. What this means is that if you decide, spur of the moment, that you need a little fill light, for instance, you'll have to wait five seconds or more for the flash to charge initially before the camera will even begin to focus (as the P6000 locks down all functions while the flash is recycling). It's an annoying tendency that can lead to some missed shots if you don't plan your flash use in advance.

Likewise, recycle times with the P6000 are less than impressive. On average, the camera takes nearly five seconds to recover from a flash shot under indoor light, with a full-power recycle taking a whopping 13.1 seconds on a full battery. For a camera with lithium-ion power, this kind of serious sluggishness is simply unacceptable.

On the plus side, the P6000 uses Nikon's current i-TTL metering control, meaning that its built-in hot shoe is compatible with all Creative Lighting System flashguns. Not surprisingly, wireless control is limited and high-speed sync is not enabled, but throw Nikon's diminutive SB-400 flash unit on the P6000 and you have a well-balanced system capable of doing bounce or soft-boxing for smoother indoor illumination. While it doesn't make up for a lack of responsiveness on the part of the on-board flash unit, having the ability to add an external flash for better, faster results may mitigate the concern somewhat especially if you're a Nikon shooter who already owns a compatible flashgun.

Image Stabilization
The P6000 uses Nikon's Vibration Reduction (VR) optical image stabilization technology. VR is enabled or disabled (for tripod use, for instance) via a main menu option. Beyond turning the entire system on or off, however, there are no advanced controls for this particular IS system no panning-specific stabilization or continuous versus single shot modes. In spite of its lack of advanced options, the P6000's VR system seems to work as well as any optical stabilization technology, providing a solid two to three stops of additional speed for hand-held shooting at wide angle.

Battery Life
In spite of its 1100 mAh rating, the P6000's low voltage lithium-ion pack simply doesn't deliver the goods in terms of long-term power. In addition to the dragging flash recycle times seen above, we had no success in topping 200 shots per charge with the Coolpix, even after disabling the battery eating GPS synchronization functions.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

For a performance camera, the P6000's charging arrangement which requires you to buy an optional external battery charger if you don't want to charge the cell in-camera with the supplied AC adapter is also a bit irritating to say the least. On the one hand, you get an AC adapter (which most manufacturers make you buy separately) at no charge. On the other, in order to be able to charge one battery while heading out to shoot with another, you have to buy both a second battery and the wall charger. Humbug, I say!


IMAGE QUALITY
We generally come away underwhelmed with the images from a relatively small, high-res sensor like the one that powers that P6000. Compact camera lenses are often low-budget parts that take poor advantage of all of this resolution, and the added noise and lost dynamic range of putting more megapixels in spaces that aren't proportionally larger usually isn't worth the slight improvements in overall image size.

The P6000's images do a fairly decent job of challenging this line of conventional wisdom, providing crisp fine detail rendering, well-controlled noise at baseline ISOs, and even dynamic range that doesn't appear to lose a step when compared to its predecessor (though, it should be noted, limited dynamic range was one of our recuring gripes with the P5100).

Exposure, Processing, and Color
The P6000's color rendering is somewhat unique, with a strong push in rendering yellows, especially, that's clearly visible in our studio shot with the Standard picture style preset selected.

Nikon Coolpix P6000
Standard

Interestingly, this saturation tendency is mirrored to varying degrees in each of the P6000's default color modes.

Nikon Coolpix P6000
Neutral

Nikon Coolpix P6000
Vivid

The net result outside of controlled lighting environments, however, is a generally pleasant warmth that brings some life and vibrancy to images and imparts an almost vintage look. Although color accuracy pedants may be unimpressed (and, it should be noted, the camera's casty tendencies can make Caucasian skin tones look a little putrid under certain light), the overall output is, as a rule, very printable.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

This shot, in which the P6000 brings out the scene's late-in-the-day warmth, also shows the Coolpix's dynamic range at its best. Although extreme highlights are ever so slightly clipped, the camera does a good job with shadow details and presents this wide-range scene fairly evenly.

What controlled testing of the P6000 shows, however, is a camera with a bit more contrast than might be preferred for serious use a trait that no doubt leads the P6000 into some of the same kinds of clipped highlight issues that we noted in reviewing the P5100 late last year. To some measure, this tendency can be dialed back by rolling off some contrast, and the P6000's infinitely customizable Picture Control System in which presets can be further tailored to adjust sharpening, contrast, and saturation helps in this regard.

Nikon

Working from the Standard preset, I found that two clicks to the negative on the "Quick Adjust" area which tones down the P6000's slightly aggressive sharpening and aforementioned saturation, as well as seriously rolling off the contrast yielded a much more natural look with less of a propensity to clip by that makes sense for those of us who post-process everything we shoot as a matter of course.

It's also worth noting that in addition to an in-camera, post-shot D-Lighting option, the P6000 sports an Active D-Lighting setting just like its DSLR brethren. This dynamic range expansion system, which helps even out high-contrast scenes and mitigate the effects of strong backlighting by pushing shadow tones, can be set to one of three strength levels or disabled completely. Although I often prefer to manage my own contrast as in the shots above, I found the middle (Normal) setting to strike a nice balance and not intrude too much on the picture taking process though the final exposure that you get with Active D-Lighting varies slightly from what you see on-screen at the instant you capture a shot.

White Balance
Automatic white balance from the P6000 under incandescent light remains among the worst we've seen, presented with a strong yellow cast that's basically impossible to deal with in post-processing unless you shootraws.

Nikon Coolpix P6000
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light

Thankfully, most of the P6000's presets were somewhat more consistent across the board, providing good performance in shade and late in the day. Outside of its lackluster incandescent showing, the automatic system also wasn'tabysmal , neutralizing the often challenging greenish fluorescent overheads in our office without difficulty.

Nikon Coolpix P6000
Incandescent White Balance, incandescent light

However, even using the incandescent preset, the P6000 struggles with extremely warm incandescent light, leaving a yellow tint in some photos shot indoors with the appropriate preset.

Lens Faults
Although it doesn't have ultrazoom-rivaling range, the P6000's 4x Nikkor optic is a sharp lens with few issues of note.

Nikon Coolpix P6000
Wide Angle

Nikon Coolpix P6000
Telephoto

There is some fairly significant barrel distortion at its 28mm wide end, but this is without the P6000's Distortion Correction processing engaged. Turn on the unobtrusive Distortion Correction system and the difference is night and day.

Nikon Coolpix P6000
Distortion Correction disabled

Nikon Coolpix P6000
Distortion Correction enabled

Beyond this, the P6000's lens resists flare in all but direct light. Fringing is certainly there if you go looking for it, and the more wide open you shoot, the more of an issue it becomes.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

Nikon Coolpix P6000
100% crop

It's maybe more noticeable than sticklers will hope for, but we never found fringe to be a shot killer in working with the P6000. Plus, the ability to process the P6000's images in Adobe's raw conversion software gives you the option to control CA in post-processing if desired.

Overall, we were repeatedly impressed with the sharpness and smoothness exhibited by this lens. There's lots of crispness that takes full advantage of the P6000's serious resolution and extends nearly to the edges of the frame. Likewise, bokeh and fall-off into out of focus areas is extremely pleasing for a compact, working with great macro focusing distances and the availability of a hot shoe to further the P6000's case as an excellent small-form macro camera.

Sensitivity and Noise
The Coolpix P6000 sports a sensitivity range of ISO 64 to 2000 at full-resolution, with ISO 3200 and 6400 available at a significantly reduced pixel capture.

As I noted at the beginning of this section, there's usually a price to pay for the relentless expansion of resolution in small-sensor cameras. In the case of the P6000, that price doesn't become fully clear until you pay close attention to its performance beyond ISO 400.

Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 64
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 64, 100% crop
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 100
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 100, 100% crop
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 200
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 200, 100% crop
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 400
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 400, 100% crop
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 800
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 800, 100% crop
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 1600
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 2000
Nikon Coolpix P6000
ISO 2000, 100% crop

Both color and luminance noise are challenges for the P6000 at ISO 400 and beyond, but it's the luminance noise that presents the more serious challenge in this case. Even at a relatively modest ISO 400, images are littered with light-color flecks. By ISO 800, the issue is pronounced enough to be visible on the camera's screen when composing and reviewing night shots. At ISO 1600 and beyond, the luminance issue is so prevalent that the sensor looks like it's ready to explode with hot pixels.

It's not overly harsh to say that this issue becomes a serious distraction in dark areas of compositions the kind of concern that, largely unlike the P6000's relatively minor color noise, it doesn't take viewing at 100 percent to pick out. The Coolpix's high-sensitivity flecks lay down what looks like a layer of dust on prints as small as 4x6, depending on how much the exposure was pushed and the percentage of the composition that's in shadow.

In general, I find the graininess of luminance noise the less offensive of the two general manifestations of high-ISO noise, and on that score the P6000 certainly does better than many of its competitors at controlling color noise. However, the intensity of its luminance noise with its strongly visible light-colored grain and the relatively low sensitivities at which it becomes intrusive, are trade-offs that a lot of shooters may not be willing to make.

Viewing images at 100 percent and beyond, it's easy to make too much of the negative impact of noise. But in this particular case, the P6000 delivers a performance that, in light of just how much attention its noisiness calls to itself at higher ISOs, will likely run afoul of the high expectations of the serious shooters to whom this camera is targeted.

Additional Sample Images

Nikon Coolpix P6000 Nikon Coolpix P6000
Nikon Coolpix P6000 Nikon Coolpix P6000
Nikon Coolpix P6000 Nikon Coolpix P6000
Nikon Coolpix P6000 Nikon Coolpix P6000
Nikon Coolpix P6000 Nikon Coolpix P6000


CONCLUSIONS

Anyone who spends more than a few seconds with the Coolpix P6000 will notice that the new camera makes some noteworthy improvements over its predecessor especially in the performance department. It's nice to see that Nikon's efforts to sort out AF performance have been met with, in general, such resounding success across their compact camera line, and with a quick, reliable system, auto focus is no longer a first order concern for potential P-camera buyers.


Instead of one "500 pound gorilla" issue, however, the P6000 is plagued by a host of minor concerns that stand in the way of an outstanding performance. It seems that for every crucial area in which the P6000 excels (and there are several), it gets knocked down a notch for minor performance quirks, oddities, and irritations. Image quality is often superior, but has its trouble spots as well – making yet another bump in resolution for this latest model seem like a potentially ill-considered idea. As with the P5100, the P6000 is a visually and functionally appealing camera that may be right for a certain type of shooter, but a few too many caveats and limitations may put a damper on the kind of mass appeal that Nikon was clearly seeking this time around.

Pros:

Cons:


SPECIFICATIONS

Sensor 13.5 megapixel (effective), 1/1.7" CCD
Lens/Zoom 4x (28-112mm) NIKKOR zoom, f/2.7-5.9
LCD/Viewfinder 2.7", 230K dot TFT LCD
Sensitivity ISO 64-2000 at full resolution (ISO 3200-6400 at 3 megapixels)
Shutter Speed 30-1/2000 seconds
Shooting Modes

Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, User 1, User 2, Scene, Movie

Scene Presets

Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-Up, Museum, Fireworks, Copy, Backlight, Panorama Assist

White Balance Settings Auto, Manual, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash
Metering Modes Matrix, Center-Weighted, Spot, AF Spot
Focus Modes Face Priority, Auto (nine area), Center, User-selected, Manual
Drive Modes Single, Burst
Flash Modes Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Slow Sync, Slow Sync (second curtain), Off
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
48 MB
File Formats JPEG, raw (NRW), AVI
Max. Image Size 4224x3168
Max. Video Size
640x480, 30 fps
Zoom During Video No
Battery Rechargeable 1100 mAh lithium-ion
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, DC input
Additional Features Vibration Reduction optical image stabilization, GPS receiver, Ethernet connection, Picture Control System, hot shoe and i-TTL flash metering