Impossible Reach. Made Possible. That’s how Nikon bills its latest Coolpix P1000 superzoom camera, and it stretches what we’ve come to expect from superzoom cameras that bit further.
The reason is its lens: with a 125x optical zoom range equivalent to 24-3000mm in 35mm terms, it has the potential to home in on the most distant subjects you’d realistically want to capture, be it wildlife or the Moon.
Indeed, a camera like this will no doubt appeal the most to wildlife fans and astrophotographers, those who can’t quite justify spending a high four-figure sum on a super-telephoto optic – not that a 3000mm lens is available for mainstream systems anyway.
- 24-3000mm (equiv.) f/2.8-8 lens
- 4K UHD video recording (30fps or 25fps)
- 2.36million dot EVF
Of course, in order to take advantage of such a extensive focal range, some concessions needs to be made.
The camera has a far smaller sensor than the average interchangeable-lens camera, for example, its 1/2.3in dimensions being the smallest we tend to find among fixed-lens cameras such as this one, although this is at least back-illuminated for better light-gathering capabilities.
The other compromise is size; the P1000 significantly larger and weightier than other superzoom cameras, which will be discussed more on the next page.
The sensor outputs images at 16.1MP in your choice of raw (NRW) or JPEG flavours (or both at once). Given that raw shooting was absent from the previous Coolpix P900, it’s great to see it’s made its way here.
That 17-element, 12-group beast of an optic understandably doesn’t come with a constant maximum aperture running through the whole focal range. Instead, it runs from f/2.8-8, which would be disappointing to see elsewhere, but is somewhat respectable here when you consider just how ambitious that lens is.
And, if at any time you feel that 3000mm isn’t quite long enough for whatever it is you want to shoot, you can digitally boost this to a setting equivalent to 6000mm using the Dynamic Fine Zoom setting.
Unsurprisingly, Nikon has focused on ensuring that you can still get crisp images when you travel into those four-figure settings, which comes by way of a Dual Detect Optical Vibration Reduction (VR) system. This promises compensation to the level of five additional shutter stops slower than would otherwise be possible. There’s also a VR Active mode that’s said to deliver greater stability in the viewfinder and on the rear display when you’re shooting from a moving vehicle or similar.
Other interesting points about the optic is that it allows for 1cm close focusing at its widest focal range in its macro setting, otherwise this is fixed to 30cm. At the telephoto end, however, you’ll need to be 7m away from the subject to be able to focus on the subject.
Look further into the spec sheet and you can see that, despite appearances, the P1000 isn’t all about its mammoth lens. 4K UHD video recording is on board, recording in either 30fps or 25fps, so if you think about what you can capture at this resolution at the telephoto extreme, it makes an already special camera start to look even more unique. Even better, this also benefits from stabilisation, both from the lens-based VR system and an electronic VR option.
Full HD video options on top of that allow you to shoot to 60fps, and you can boost this further with a range of lower-resolution, slow-motion options. You can even take advantage of clean HDMI output, and it’s even possible to plug an external microphone into the body through a port at the side of the camera – a very welcome feature when you consider that this isn’t something we tend to find on such models.
The standard PASM exposure quartet is accessible through the mode dial, while Auto and Scene modes join these. There are dedicated options on the model dial for both Moon and wildlife photography, and you can switch between and matrix, centre-weighted and spot metering options to help with nailing exposure. Shooting action? There’s also a 7fps burst mode on hand.
The partnership of a 3.2-inch LCD screen with a 921k-dot resolution and a 2.36-million dot EVF is pretty much what we expect on a camera of this kind, the latter being quite a boost over the 922k-dot resolution of the previous P900. The LCD has a vari-angle design that lets you angle it upwards or downwards, or even all the way around to face the same way as the lens, although, sadly, it lacks touchscreen functionality.
A hotshoe on the top plate accepts external Speedlight flash units and microphones, although you may find the integrated flash that pops up on demand to throw enough light on your chosen subjects. The camera also accepts the usual SDHC and SDXC cards, and even older SD types, should you have one or two knocking around.
Nikon’s SnapBridge feature allows for the camera to constantly be connected to a smart device, should would want to send images in real time over Bluetooth Low Energy, and working with the app has the further benefit of allowing GPS data to be incorporated into your creations (in lieu of an on-board GPS system). Not a SnapBridge fan or want to transfer videos? You can simply use Wi-Fi instead.
The camera’s 250-shot battery life is perhaps to be expected for such a camera, but the fact that it can be charged through its USB port is an added convenience.
Build quality and handling
- Largely polycarbonate body with deep, rubbered grip
- 1,415g weight (with battery and card)
- 146.3 x 118.8 x 181.3mm
It’s somewhat difficult to appreciate just how big the P1000 is, and what it feels like in the hands, without seeing it in real life, so perhaps it’s more useful to compare it to some more familiar products.
Its 1,415g weight (with a battery and memory card) is precisely the same as the company’s flagship D5 DSLR. Its 181.3mm depth is just a fraction longer than the company’s AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR lens – and that’s before you start to zoom that lens. You can wrap your palm around the outer lens barrel and still not be right up to the zoom ring. This isn’t a small camera that you’re going to want to have dangling from your neck for a casual day’s shooting.
Despite the size and heft of the camera, handling and operation are, for the most part, positive. Much of the camera’s weight is, necessarily, in the optic; the rear of the camera isn’t quite as heavy, which does create a slight imbalance, but the grip is nice and deep and both this and the rear thumb rest are coated in a thick rubber, all of which makes it feel far more secure in the hands than would otherwise be the case.
The rest of the camera, however, appears to be constructed from polycarbonate, which feels somewhat cheap. Furthermore, for a camera that’s almost always going to be used outdoors, the lack of any weather-sealing is a pity, although this may difficult to fully achieve when you consider the movements of the lens barrel.
The camera’s mode dial rotates effortlessly, and the LCD screen pulls away from the back of the body and tilts with ease. Given how unlikely it is that anyone will use such a camera for selfies or vlogging, the choice of a vari-angle screen rather than a more basic tilting one is perhaps a little strange, but this does at least give you maximum flexibility for portrait-orientation shooting.
The EVF is a decent performer in good light, although it’s a little behind the standard of EVFs with this same resolution. Similarly, the LCD screen isn’t too bad during daytime shooting, but it can present a muddied and desaturated view indoors and when light levels aren’t brilliant.
- Contrast-detect AF system
- 1cm macro option
- Manual focus
At a time when phase-detect AF systems are fast becoming standard across cameras of all types, the P1000’s contrast-detect AF system appears somewhat basic. That said, some contrast-detect systems are impressively sprightly, so the lack of phase-detect AF shouldn’t immediately be seen as a negative.
Focusing options are comprehensive. In addition to the default option that can detect and prioritise faces, you can manually adjust the focusing point in spot, normal and wide sizes. You can also set the camera to track subjects, in addition to a Target Finding AF option that seeks out the main subject. Manual focus is also on hand.
The camera generally focuses in good time when set to wide-angle and moderate telephoto focal lengths, and when set to longer focal lengths it manages to pull between its focusing extremes relatively swiftly, but it can struggle to identify subjects – even in good light – and also tends to misfocus on occasion, giving false-positive confirmations.
It particularly struggles with more distant subjects when their contrast is affected by haze. A steady hand and a few repeated attempts with the focusing point pre-determined appears to the best solution, but for telephoto shooting it’s remains less reliable than expected.
- Raw (NRW format) and JPEG shooting
- 5-stop Dual Detect Optical VR technology
- 7fps burst shooting
Being a Coolpix camera, the Coolpix P1000’s menus are far more basic than the company’s DSLRs or mirrorless options, but dig around long enough and you find a few nice touches. The feature that remembers specific focal lengths that are accessed upon a quick rotation of the zoom control, for example, or another option that starts the camera up at 50mm or 85mm or another of seven focal lengths.
Elsewhere, a few things frustrate. Some options are not accessible when the camera is set a certain way, and these options are not just greyed out but completely inaccessible, which leaves you having to work out why this is the case. The P1000 is not alone with this particular frustration, but every camera ought to be able to explain why certain options cannot be selected (and many now do).
The camera can capture images at a rate of 7fps, and it manages to do so for seven frames, regardless of whether you’ve chosen to shoot in raw, JPEG or both. This is relatively low, but what’s more annoying is that it locks up as images are sent to the card, which not only prevents you from accessing menus and changing settings, but even zooming the lens.
Still, the start-up time is also fairly respectable for a camera of this kind, being around one second. This is around the same when powering down, though only if the lens is at its widest focal length. At full extension this is around three seconds, which is also how long it takes to zoom when in use, although this can usefully be slowed for more precise positioning.
- Raw and JPEG capture
- Active D-Lighting
- 4K video recording
While the P1000 boasts Raw shooting and 4K video, the fact that its sensor is the smallest of its kind currently used in compact cameras should curb our expectations somewhat.
Sensibly, Nikon has restricted the pixel count to 16MP, although the level of detail you find in images very much appears to be down to your focal length. Stick to the middle of the range and the camera is able to resolve a decent level of detail for a camera with such a sensor. Details are considerably softer at wide-angle, even in good light and at lower ISO settings.
The camera’s Vibration Reduction system is essential when using the camera handheld, and it not only helps to keep images sharp but also the viewfinder/LCD feed stable. It appears to be very effective at more sensible focal lengths, giving around a three- to four-stop advantage on average, but even with this active it’s very difficult to compose images with any precision at the 3000mm extreme.
When it works, and perhaps when you steady yourself against a wall or something similar, the system can deliver perfectly usable images at such settings, with just slight softness and minor chromatic aberration to deal with. Shoot too far into the distance, however, and you’ll typically have atmospheric haze to contend with too (although, thankfully, a filter thread is provided).
Examining raw files shows just how much processing is going on to get images as good as they are. You won’t see this if you open up files in Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom or something similar, but opening them up in something like Skylum Luminar gives you an idea of just how much the camera is doing, with heavy color casts and fisheye-like distortion at wide-angle.
Aside from minor issues with color accuracy and white balance, often leading to slightly desaturated images at time, JPEGs doesn’t fare too badly, and raw files opened up in Photoshop start out fine. The finest details in some subjects fail to be rendered, and JPEGs do show a touch of over-sharpening, but not much.
Despite the presence of 4K recording to 30p, video quality is far from great, particularly at wide-angle settings. Footage lacks detail and is far from natural in appearance.
The Coolpix P1000 is certainly an achievement, and the ability to capture reasonably good images at the 3000mm end marks it as unique. Its key positive attributes include very good handling, effective Vibration Reduction and a clear menu system, but in order to be able to deliver a camera with such an ambitious optic under the four-figure price point, compromises have had to be made elsewhere.
The LCD screen isn’t the best, and much of the body feels cheap for a camera with such a lofty price tag. The autofocus system can work well at times, but it’s unreliable at the focal lengths at which it’s most likely to be used, while the locking up after capturing just a handful of images – even with a fast memory card – is frustrating. Despite the effectiveness of the VR system, the fact that it remains difficult to compose images with precision at the telephoto end shouldn’t be surprising too, and image quality at wide-angle isn’t very impressive either.
It’s great to see cameras of the Coolpix P1000’s kind evolving and venturing into new territory, but anyone serious about telephotography would be far better served with an interchangeable-lens camera and a more modest telephoto lens, perhaps with a teleconverter and a little additional cropping to get that extra reach. Overall, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Nikon has simply overstretched itself here.
With such a humdinger of a lens, the Coolpix P1000 doesn’t exactly have any direct rivals that can claim to offer something similar. That said, it’s not the only long-zoom compact camera around, and if you don’t desperately need the P1000’s reach there are much cheaper options to consider.
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