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05 July 2017

An unforgettable camera with 8x optical zoom

It’s all about that lens.

There is no way to talk about Nikon’s excellent, though occasionally frustrating, Coolpix P900 super zoom camera without first addressing the lens.

This wide-angle, telephoto wonder can, at 24mm, pull in a startling amount of visual information. At 2,000mm, it can pluck the moon from the sky.

It’s a stunning level of versatility rarely found in a fixed-lens camera.

As a result, the 16-megapixel Nikon Coolpix P900 is an excellent shooter in a wide variety of scenarios. It’ll handle the portrait as well as the nature photo, and the action shot as well as the, well, moon shot. 

It does all this despite having an image sensor that, at 1 2/3 inches, is smaller than competing super-zoom cameras (the size of a sensor defines how much light a camera can bring in).

24 mm

24 mm

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

2000 mm

2000 mm

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Nikon released the Coolpix P900 back in 2015, but it remains their most powerful super-zoom offering. Nikon sells it for $599.95, but you can find it online for under $500, which is an amazing deal. 

Despite its many months on the market, most people I spoke to (even pro-level photographers) were unaware that there’s an 83x optical zoom camera on the market and would marvel as I electronically extended the lens three inches from the Nikon Coolpix P900’s relatively compact 3.18-ounce body. And they were equally stunned when I showed them some of the pictures I took without using a tripod.

However, actual pros will likely look elsewhere when they learn they can’t shoot RAW still images or 4K video (it tops out at 1080p full HD at 60 fps).

Many consumers, though, don’t care to work in RAW (because they’re not manipulating images in a photo editor) and do not even own a 4K-capable computer monitor or TV to showcase all those pixels.

The basics

Best described as a prosumer, super-zoom camera, the P900 offers virtually all the automatic and manual controls you would want on a big-lens camera. In addition to automatic shooting, you can choose aperture- or shutter-priority, fully manual, saved settings, scenes (like action/sports), and effects. The latter are akin to the filters you find in your favorite mobile phone shooting apps and are best avoided.

You can shoot through the electronic viewfinder or the flip-out, 3-inch monitor. Though I grew up using optical viewfinders on classic DSLRs, I’ve gotten used to shooting through the monitor. The one on my Sony Alpha NEX-5 tilts up and down, which lets me raise the camera above my head and see over obstacles to get my shot. The Nikon Coolpix P900’s monitor, which flips out and away from the camera body, is much more versatile. I can tilt it up and down or rotate it 180 degrees to face front, which is super useful for selfies and vlogging.

A good look at the 3-inch monitor and P900's controls.

A good look at the 3-inch monitor and P900’s controls.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

I wish the monitor was touchscreen, but I got used to always using the camera’s triad of dials to adjust settings and the zoom rocker to zoom in on playback photos. My other frustration with the monitor was that even though I could adjust the viewing angle pretty much any way I wanted, the screen would often black out at the most inopportune times. To get around this, I usually had to put the screen perpendicular to the lens. If I got too frustrated, I simply switched to the electronic viewfinder, which automatically turns on when I put my eye near it.

I have yet to find a prosumer camera that’s fully figured out the best way to handle adjusting manual settings. The Coolpix P900 splits shutter and aperture controls between two dials about an inch and a half apart. The shutter speed dial can be hard to adjust when you’re gripping the camera with your right hand and have your finger positioned over the shutter button (or resting on the zoom control).

Store and more

The P900 stores images and video on SD cards, but is also Wi-Fi enabled. When coupled with Nikon’s poorly named “WMU” or Wireless Mobile Utility App (iOS or Android), you can take photos through your phone or view and transfer images already on the camera’s SD card.

Transferring photos from the camera to your phone is an awkward, multi-step process that I did a lot because I loved posting the Coolpix P900 photos on Instagram.

With the zoom fully extended, the Nikon Coolpix P900 is 9-inches from the front to the back.

With the zoom fully extended, the Nikon Coolpix P900 is 9-inches from the front to the back.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

To transfer images, you first hit the menu button on the camera, navigate to the wireless symbol and choose “connect to smart device.” On the phone, you open your Wi-Fi settings and connect to the Nikon camera. After that, you open the WMU app and then select “Pictures on Camera.” After that, downloading images is self-explanatory, but that convoluted step-by-step process must be repeated every single time.

Those frustrations aside, I have never been so in love with a lens.

Those frustrations aside, I have never been so in love with a lens. 

The lens (f/2.8-6.5 and 4.3-to-357mm, which is 24-2,000mm in a 35mm equivalent) slowly telescopes in and out with a toggle switch surrounding the shutter, and the zoom control on the side of the lens. 

It’s not just that the lens gets you optically 83 times closer to your subject—it’s how it does it. 

The Flatiron at no zoom.

The Flatiron at no zoom.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Try seeing this detail with the naked eye.

Try seeing this detail with the naked eye.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

A zoom that large will also amplify minute vibrations in your hand, which usually means that, at maximum zoom, you’ll need a tripod. The Coolpix P900, though, includes excellent vibration-reduction technology inside the lens, which helps it lock onto subjects, even ones that are 238,900 miles away.

Repeatedly, I would rest my arms on my chest or find a pole to lean on to shoot objects hundreds or even thousands of feet away. I was honestly shocked at how well the Coolpix kept things in frame. 

The Nikon Coolpix P900 lens made this moon shot possible.

The Nikon Coolpix P900 lens made this moon shot possible.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Found this tiny wonder atop a flagpole in the middle of Union Square in NYC.

Found this tiny wonder atop a flagpole in the middle of Union Square in NYC.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

I used it to shoot the top of the World Trade Center and people enjoying an afternoon of sightseeing on the Empire State Building’s observation deck. There is a digital zoom that electronically gets you to 4,000mm. I tried it, but, from my perspective, the image quality doesn’t compare to the 83x optical zoom.

The top of the Freedom Tower at 83x.

The top of the Freedom Tower at 83x.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Hello, Empire State Building dwellers. We see you.

Hello, Empire State Building dwellers. We see you.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

As much as I loved the zoom. I was equally impressed at how well the Coolpix P900 handled action shots (I used the “Scenes” mode to let it autodetect and adjust the settings) and even flash photography. I usually avoid using the flash at all costs, but during one very dimly lit party, I was truly pleased with how the Coolpix P900 handled these shots. Nothing was blown out and the colors all looked natural.

This is also an excellent wide-angle shooter. I was pleasantly surprised at how, when zoomed all the way back (meaning 24mm), how much of a scene I could pull in without visible distortion around the edges of the frame. The camera is also a speedy auto-focuser, which is a good thing because manual focus control is kind of terrible. To manually adjust focus, you use the tiny Rotary Multi-selector. I would really prefer a focus ring on the lens.

The Nikon Coolpix P900 can easily capture action without a flash...

The Nikon Coolpix P900 can easily capture action without a flash…

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

...and with a flash.

…and with a flash.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

The only thing that’s a little too slow for my taste is the speed of the zoom. I’m used to a manual, 200mm zoom lens that I extend instantly by hand. At first, waiting almost five seconds for the P900’s motor to fully extend the 83x lens felt tedious, but I soon got over it and basked in the pleasure of the most powerful zoom lens I have ever used.

As for video, it looks good and the stereo microphone is sensitive.

You can find more megapixels, bigger sensors and maybe better software, but I challenge you to find a better deal for this much zoom. The lens on Nikon’s Coolpix P900 is truly unforgettable.

Nikon Coolpix P900

The Good

Spectacular 83x optical zoom lens Great wide-angle shooter Great action shooter Great price

The Bad

Convoluted Wi-Fi downloads Balky monitor

The Bottom Line

An amazing super-zoom lens on a good camera and at an amazing price.

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