Nikon P900 First Impressions

By | 2017/01/27

I’ve managed to lay my hands on a Nikon P900 digital camera. This is prosumer bridge-style camera with an exceptionally long zoom range, a 4.3 to 357mm f/2.8-6.5 lens with a full-frame 35mm equivalent view of 24-2000mm. It serves up 16 megapixels.

I haven’t done much with it yet, but I thought I would make some initial observations.

This is not a small camera. You don’t pick the Nikon P900 to be unobtrusive. While it is not super-dense, it feels pretty solid in the hand. It is easily bigger than any of my Micro 4/3rds cameras. It is, though, a good deal smaller and lighter than my full-frame Nikon DSLR fitted with a Sigma 12-24mm lens. The lens bulge on the P900 starts out as a 3″ diameter cylinder about 4.25″ long. Turn the camera on, and the cylinder extends out another 3/8ths of an inch. Zoom to full telephoto, and you end up with a lens some 7.25″ long. For a camera with point-and-shoot affinities, that makes for quite a chunk of lens.

So far, I haven’t taken it out of the default automatic mode (a green camera icon on the mode dial, on the top deck). A brief tryout shows a pleasingly wide view. I spent so long with a 24mmm on a Nikon F2 camera that anything offering a 24mm equivalent with a less extended aspect ratio seems somewhat less wide. Just be aware of the use of a slightly different aspect ratio than 35mm DSLRs. There are two zoom controls, one on the shutter release surround, and the other on the left side of the lens casing. Both do a smooth, and thus long-scale, zoom through the range. My first thought is that it may not be easy or even possible to get a fast change of focal length, since zooming is all fly-by-wire. A blanket about ten feet away provided a test pattern to look at. I could extend the zoom maybe 85% of full extension and still focus that close, but further extension will require a greater minimum focus distance. When I get it outside, I will check on the minimum focus distance at full zoom.

The couple of test snaps I took look reasonable on the LCD screen. The zoom performance shows what appears to be an excellent suppression of vibration at the long end. The screen is generous in size and has a full tilt-swivel arrangement suitable for selfies, copy-work, overhead, and waist-level viewing.

Given that I have gotten used to DSLR control layouts and menus, the P900 system is pared down a lot from that. On the top deck, controls are only on the right side of the electronic viewfinder. The viewfinder, I’ll note, has a diopter adjustment that comes in handy for my older, not as accommodating as the used to be eyes. The top deck controls include the mode dial (standard auto plus PSAM, User mode, Scene modes, Effects modes, and three others represented by icons I don’t yet know), a subcommand dial to be rolled with the right thumb, the flush on/off switch, a small user-definable “Fn” button, and the shutter release with zoom switch. The rear of the camera is mostly taken up with the tilt-swivel LCD screen, but also has a useful thumb-grip pad, DISP, video, WiFi, playback, menu, delete, and one icon-I-don’t-yet-know buttons. There is a multi-way controller with an OK button in the middle of it. Without reference to the camera manual, I had no trouble getting the date and time set, running through the menu to do initial setup, and playing back test snaps with zoom.

One disappointing thing I’ve learned is that the Nikon P900 does not offer raw format support. One can choose between a JPEG “normal” and “fine” setting, and that’s it. This will limit the P900’s utility for larger blowups, something that would be technically feasible based on the 16 megapizel full image size. Much will depend on how aggressive the compression is even in “fine” mode.

There are lots of things I need to do to have a shakedown cruise with the Nikon P900. My expectations are that for sunny and partly cloudy daytime photography, this camera may well become my go-to rig for long shots. I love my Nikkor 300mm f/4 ED-IF AF lens for my Nikon, but on the D600 I haven’t yet tuned the AF, and on my Olympus E-M5 it reverts to being completely manual. I am keen to make some comparisons on results, but I fear that for any situation with less than adequate lighting the difference in sensor size is going to make an appreciable difference on image quality. That said, there really is likely nothing comparable if you are going to be taking shots of, say, a daytime football game from the stands. Given the rules prohibiting bringing lenses over 6″ long into stadiums that I’ve encountered, the Nikon P900 should breeze right through those checkpoints without a hitch, and give you a 2000mm equivalent view to boot. The Nikon P900 may also be just the ticket for daytime wildlife photography outings, especially for people who like being able to get a reasonable size image of uncooperative subjects, or people who simply aren’t up to lugging a long lens for a big camera.

I’ll be looking to see how far the P900 can work without major compromises to image quality. My initial snaps, taken inside after dark, are fairly promising on that score.

More later.

Nikon P900 via <-- This link has my Amazon Affiliate tag in it. I earn a referral fee on sales through it.

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