Nikon Coolpix P600 Digital Camera Review
A much-anticipated superzoom is finally here.
By The Numbers
To put it charitably, the P600 isn't the best camera we've ever tested. However, that's not to say that it doesn't reach a level of performance that will satisfy most buyers—just that there are some problems you should be wary of.
Most of the issues that plague the P600 are a direct result of the superzoom design, and the P600 is probably the most ambitious of the bunch.
Color & White Balance
Slightly off, but nothing to worry about
Starting off with one of the better results of the lab session, the P600 maintained a fair level of color accuracy with a ∆C00 saturation error of 2.75, and an overall color saturation of 100%. That's right on the nose by some standards, but it isn't technically perfect. You may notice some greens, yellows, and reds are shifted a bit from what you'd expect, but it isn't all that perceptible.
As far as color modes go, "Standard" is the only one with a ∆C00 saturation error under 3. However, that's intentional. Modes like "neutral," "vivid," and "monochrome" will all change color performance to meet their function, so it's no surprise that performance varies. If you really want to make your colors pop, "vivid" mode will boost color saturation to 122%.
However the color accuracy story has a dark twist, and that's automatic white balance performance. It's dreadful. Long story short, it's really tough to get a good color balance relying on the camera's automatic settings, and the addition of the "warm" automatic mode doesn't really help it much.
It's normal to see color variances from "ideal" by about 1000 kelvin, but the P600 wound up over 2000 kelvin off in incandescent light, and about 1000 kelvin off in fluorescent light. If that seems hard to ground, here's a compilation of three test shots to illustrate what this means for your pictures.
In incandescent light, you'll see an orange veil over everything—in fluorescent light you'll see a green one. Even switching the auto mode to "warm" isn't an ideal fix, because your images will suffer when taken in daylight or under fluorescent light.
Keep that aperture wide
Superzooms have yet to wow us with sharpness, and that's largely due to the fact that there's only so much you can squeeze out of a sensor so small. We found that the lens really struggles to keep a sharp image the longer you zoom, and even in ideal conditions with a tripod, you're looking at sharpness dipping below 1000 lw/ph at full zoom.
Though most edges are fairly soft, the camera is trying hard to oversharpen some of the edges so that they show up. This is evidenced by the fact that we see software oversharpening of up to 40% at the shortest focal length. If you take shots up close without any zoom, you may notice some haloing and a teeny tiny bit of chromatic aberration. However, these problems aren't severe enough to ruin a photo.
Again, many of these problems are due to the fact that the camera is diffraction limited before f/5.6, so shots taken at full telephoto are going to suffer when the aperture narrows past that point. It's a point that hits fairly early on, as even zooming 1/3rd of the way in means the maximum aperture is about that limit at best.
More garbage data than a dumptruck full of hard drives
Tiny sensors also usually mean a higher incidence of junk noise, and the P600's 1/2.3-inch sensor is no different. Like most other entry-level point and shoots, this camera captures a high level of noise in stills.
Starting at just under 1% junk data on all noise reduction levels, then ramping up to anywhere between 1.5-2%, you will definitely notice lost detail and unwanted noise in your shots if you boost the ISO speed past 800.
The default noise reduction setting keeps a lid on total noise, but it hacks out fine detail with a machete. Though it doesn't start affecting your photos at a low ISO, it will wreck fine lines above ISO 800.
Surprisingly decent, if imperfect
To the P600's credit, video performance is about as good as you can expect from the hardware. Though it needs a comparatively high amount of light to maintain a broadcast-quality image (12.5 lux) at 50 IRE, the P600 does a fair job with video quality.
There are several different resolutions and framerates to choose from, but kicking the tires on the 1080p/30p video capture gave us results that hang with some of the more average point and shoots. In the lab, we measured horizontal sharpness in bright light at 550 lw/ph, and vertical sharpness at 500 lw/ph.
Dropping the light level made matters worse, however. At 60 lux, both horizontal and vertical sharpness dropped to 425 lw/ph, which is notably bad. Just be sure to keep shooting in a fair amount of light, and you won't have to worry about this much.
In terms of other practical measures, we found the P600 to hold its own. No trailing or artifacting problems stand out as terrible, but the camera does show some frequency interference in the form of strobing when a high-frequency pattern moves on-screen.
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