What’s big, black, weighs almost a kilo and a half, looks like the alien from the Alien movies and still calls itself a “compact” camera? Nikon’s very zoomy bridge offering, the Coolpix P1000.
This is definitely not the camera I’d recommend to the next friend who asks me what to take on holidays with them – the P1000 is huge, heavy, and specialised. It’s not unusual for a bridge camera to not be pocket sized, but to put it into perspective – it only just fits in the pretty handbag-style camera bag I bought to carry my Lumix G9 and two lenses around on holidays that can usually hold a body with a lens attached and a spare lens. It’s designed for some fairly specialised areas of photography. And while it performs exceptionally in those areas and offers all the bells and whistles you could ask for, in general day to day shooting it falls a little short.
The P1000, released on September 6 2018, is for you if the words “super telephoto” get your heart rate up. Birdwatching and moon shooting fans will be over the moon (pardon the pun) with the 3000mm (equivalent) zoom range and the two dedicated shooting modes that make capturing those areas a set-and-forget kind of affair, but for those whose only use for a 3000mm equivalent focal length would be to spy on the neighbours in the apartment complex across the street, a $1599 “compact” camera is probably not the go.
The CMOS sensor clocks in at 16 megapixels – a little behind Panasonic’s bridge offering the FZ80 with its 18.1MP, which will only get you to 1200mm but will cost you about $1000 less, and far behind Sony’s latest bridge the RX10 IV at 20.1MP, although it will only zoom to 600mm and cost around $1000 more. The bridge market is a little erratic.
In terms of functionality, the P1000 is very straightforward. Though it lacks a touch screen, all the settings are in easy reach between the mode dial, rotating selector and rear buttons. Though it looks like a D-SLR, placement of controls closer matches that of smaller compact cameras – those coming from a D-SLR background might find, as I did, that they keep trying to switch the camera on with the zoom switch which is located at the top of the grip convenient to your index finger, instead of the on-off button just behind it.
I’m not usually an astro-photography kind of girl – I like to be in bed by 10pm – so playing with moon mode was very new to me, and a lot of fun. The camera does most of the heavy lifting for you – you just place it on a tripod and point it at the moon, line the moon up in the square in the centre of the frame and then press “OK” and the camera will zoom in to 1000mm for you without losing the moon in the process. The tiniest flinch at that focal length will throw the moon way out of your frame, and finding it again while zoomed in can also be tricky, so having the camera zoom in for you eliminates the user error factor. You’ll also be wanting some help with stabilisation, and the camera does a pretty good job of reducing vibration – but you’ll still want a tripod for those moon shots. Moon mode also features an automatic timer that delays the shot for a few seconds after the shutter is pressed, so that the act of pressing the shutter won’t blur your shot either. I was lucky to have a very clear night to shoot, with a not-quite-full moon and no clouds around. The contrast of the moon and the dark sky confused the camera a little and had it overexposing my shot, but it was easily fixed by dialling the exposure compensation down a little.
Confession time – I don’t know enough about birds and birdwatching to have properly made use of the P1000’s birdwatching mode. It’s not for a lack of trying, trust me – but it wasn’t the camera’s fault I didn’t succeed, it was my lack of bird-finding skills, so I can’t confidently comment on whether birdwatching mode is a useful feature or not. I did get this one terrible photo of a bush turkey though.
For those who love to edit, it’s important to note that in both moon and birdwatching modes, you’ll be limited to shooting jpegs – raw files are reserved for the camera’s less specialised modes. For those who love to share their shots immediately, you’ll find connecting the P1000 to Nikon’s wireless transfer app Snapbridge makes getting your shots onto your phone a breeze, either by selecting and wifi transferring them on demand or setting up an automatic Bluetooth link which will send to your phone all the (jpeg) photos you take while you’re shooting, so you don’t have to set up a new connection each time.
Sadly regular shooting is what really holds the P1000 back. While it performs wonderfully in moon mode, and I can only assume the same for birdwatching mode, I found that regular auto performance left something to be desired. If I owned this camera, I’d be shooting on full manual whenever possible to ensure I had full control over the exposure, and could keep the ISO as low as possible at all times to prevent the noise that starts to creep in around ISO 400-800. Unless you’re shooting a nice bright moon, it doesn’t handle low light well at all.
When it comes to video, the P1000 is adequately equipped – 4K video up to 60p, a mic input and flip-out screen check lots of boxes for video lovers, and I found the image stabilisation to be very effective since handheld is my preferred way to shoot. I’d never recommend it to a vlogger – it’s a bit too heavy to be comfortable holding at arm’s length to film yourself, but if you have a surface to rest it on you could get away with it in a pinch.
All-in-all, the P1000 is best suited for those who shoot stills of wildlife, specifically birds, and the moon, with limited interests in shooting outside those areas. You could probably get away with some sports photography too, if it happened in broad daylight, and maybe some limited sun-drenched portraiture. For any other areas, this camera is not for you.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Review conducted using a loaned Nikon Coolpix P1000 provided by the manufacturer.