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Nikon enhanced its high-end ultrazoom with a new sensor, 1080p video, high-speed burst rate shooting and a higher-res articulated LCD, but image quality doesn't match the competition.
Physically the Nikon P100 is a near-twin to the previous P90 ultra-zoom model, but there are subtle differences. A direct video record button has been added to the back, providing access to the new 1080p video mode along with high-speed and slow-motion video shooting. The 3-inch articulated LCD has been upgraded to 460,000-dot resolution. And under the hood there's a new sensor, a 10.3-megapixel backside illuminated CMOS that replaces the 12.1-megapixel CCD used in the P90. The backside illuminated CMOS is responsible for the video shooting upgrade along with fast burst-rate shooting and lower image noise.
**Size Comparisons **
**In the Box **
• P100 camera
• EN-EL5 Li-on rechargeable battery
• Battery charger
• Proprietary USB cable
• Proprietary USB cable
• Lens cap
• Camera strap
• Quick Start guide
• User manual
• Software CD-ROM
**Color Accuracy ***(9.50) *
Color accuracy was a problem for the Nikon P100. With five available color modes, none came close to accurately reproducing the color hues from the X-Rite ColorChecker chart we use for testing, and all but one is oversaturated. The best of the bunch is the Softer mode, which is also the only undersaturated mode, at about 95%. What's interesting is that the overall color error score doesn't differ much from mode to mode – it's just a question of having different color values misrepresented in each. Yellows and blues are consistently off, while green and bluish-green are much closer to the mark. Light skin is reproduced with reasonable accuracy, dark skin less so. Click here for more on how we test color
The chart below represents the colors captured in our test shooting for the Nikon P100 and three comparison cameras. The color names are those used by X-Rite.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
As shown in the graph above, the P100 scored lower in color accuracy than any of our comparison cameras, including the Nikon P90 released last year.
The P100 comes with six preset color modes (normal, softer, vivid, more vivid, portrait and black and white), plus a slot for saving a custom setting. These modes affect more than color reproduction: they also include settings for contrast, saturation, and sharpening. The Custom option lets you adjust these three settings and save the results for future use.
The P100 scored well in our image noise testing under bright lights, though the noise reduction processing (which can be set to Auto or On, but not turned off) did result in a notable loss of detail when shooting at high ISO settings. The initial noise levels at low ISO aren't especially impressive, but they rise more slowly than we expect to find as we raised the ISO settings. Click here for more on how we test noise.
The noise reduction settings are confusing. With most SLRs and some high-end compacts, we expect to be able to turn off noise reduction altogether, to maximize image detail. That's not an option with the P100. Instead, your choices are Auto, the default, where 'noise reduction is performed at slow shutter speeds' and On, where 'noise reduction is applied to pictures shot at shutter speeds of 1/4 second or slower.' Per our standard testing procedures for point-and-shoot cameras, we used the default Auto setting for our testing. As shown below, image noise started out a bit over 1% at low ISO settings but did not rise quickly as the ISO increased. There is a fairly consistent noise increase between the brightly illuminated (3000 lux) and dimly lit (60 lux) setups.used the default
There is no way to turn off the Nikon noise reduction processing entirely; there is a weak setting (used here) and an auto setting, which uses a higher level of processing. The graph below shows the results: as noise levels for other cameras with noise reduction turned off rises significantly as the ISO settings go up, the Nikon line stays nearly flat.
The swatches below, showing same-size patches taken from our test shooting at two light levels and four of the tested ISO levels, visually confirm the low-noise results reflected in the stats above.
The chart below shows a substantial image noise score advantage for the Nikon P100.
ISO sensitivity can be set manually to 160, 200, 400, 800, 1600 or 3200. There are also three different variations on automatic ISO adjustment. The Auto ISO setting lets the camera select a value from ISO 160-800 depending on lighting conditions. High ISO sensitivity auto sets the range from ISO 160-1600. Finally, fixed range auto lets you restrict available ISOs to keep image noise under control, selecting either the ISO 160-200 setting or ISO 160-400.
When shooting in shutter-priority mode, Nikon steps in to keep you from combining high ISOs and long exposures. At ISO 800, the slowest available shutter speed setting is 4 sec, at 1600, 2 sec, and at 3200, one second.
When using auto ISO settings, it's possible to indicate a minimum acceptable shutter speed.
The chart below includes same-size crops from images of our standard still life, taken at each available ISO with each of the comparison cameras. These were taken in program mode, with automatic white balance, and are used strictly for illustration rather than testing purposes.
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
Resolution is always a challenge for a camera with the kind of extreme zoom offered here, but even in that context the Nikon P100 is distinctly disappointing, scoring significantly lower than other available ultrazooms. Click here for more on how we test resolution.
The P100 starts at an unusually wide 26mm angle, great for getting lots of panoramic goodness into your shots (or squeezing in a group shot in close quarters), but you do pay a price when it comes to distortion. The 3.45% barrel distortion when shooting at the widest angle will be readily apparent in straight line curvature, particularly in foreground objects. Distortion is less extreme at the longer distances, but still higher than desirable at 1.50% pincushioning at the midrange and over 1% at full zoom. As shown below, distortion has gotten a bit worse since the previous-generation P90, and looks positively miserable against the 20x Sony HX1.
Sharpness is at its best at the widest lens settings, but zooming out toward the high end of the telephoto range produces a lot of softness complete with readily visible image sharpening artifacts. You can use the images, but you can't use them at large sizes, or crop them aggressively.
Chromatic Aberration (4.46)
Poor chromatic aberration performance completes the low-score resolution trifecta, as displayed in the color fringing shown in the same-size image crops below.
Here again, the Nikon P100 takes a step backward from its predecessor, which was already a considerable step behind in the vital resolution category compared to the Canon SX1 and Sony HX1.
Picture Quality & Size Options*(8.58)*
You have a nice range of image sizes at your disposal here, including the option to shoot in 3:2, 1:1 and widescreen 16:9 aspect ratios.
There are three JPEG compression settings; fine (1:4 compression), Normal (1:8 compression) and Basic (1:16 compression). The P100 does not support RAW shooting.
The Nikon P100 optical image stabilization system intentionally ignores movement in the primary direction the camera is traveling (horizontal or vertical), and only compensates for movement in the other direction. In other words, if you're moving the camera horizontally, it only attempts to compensate for vertical camera shake. We see this type of stabilization offered as an option on some cameras, but here it's the only way to go, and that caused problems in our stabilization testing. If the system were implemented properly, it would have differentiated between panning around an axis and moving the entire camera from side to side. It didn't, producing blurrier photos when stabilization was turned on than when it was disabled.camera. Click here for more on how we test image stabilization.
The most notable improvement between the standard-definition Nikon P90 and the new, CMOS-sensor-equipped P100 is the jump to full HD recording, at 30 fps. Now the video resolution delivered by the P100 is up to expectations. Unfortunately, the video controls didn't get a matching upgrade; with no option to set a manual white balance, and no way to adjust color reproduction manually, we found the color accuracy disappointing, particularly under common incandescent bulbs.
The P100 captures stereo audio with a pair of top-mounted mics. There's no option to use an external mic, which is unfortunate, since the built-in rig picks up camera noise and is prone to wind noise too (there is a digital wind filter available, which makes a marginal difference). You can zoom while shooting, but you'll certainly hear that loud and clear on the soundtrack. And while continual autofocus is an option, it's best limited to silent movies.
As with the Nikon P90, the P100 tanked in our video color accuracy testing. The problem is easy to see in the test video: the camera starts out with a very inaccurate automatic white balance setting (manual white balance is available for stills, but ignored in movie mode). With that as a baseline, color reproduction could only be painfully off. Click here for more on how we test video color.
While not quite as sharp as the Sony HX1, the Nikon P100 delivered very respectable 1080p video resolution, in stark contrast to its predecessor. Click here for more on how we test video sharpness.
Slow Motion / High-Speed Video*(2.00)*
Thanks to its backside illuminated sensor, the P100 can perform some interesting slow-mo and high-speed video effects. By shooting more frames than the usual 30 per second, the camera can create slow-motion video. And unlike some cameras, this video is captured at the full selected video resolution, though not for very long (up to 10 seconds tops). The available frame rates for slow-mo are 240fps, 120fps and 60fps. This can create cool video of runners on a basepath, for example, but it's not going to freeze a popping water balloon or any of laboratory-style tricks we've seen (at lower resolution) with several Casio cameras.
One peculiarity of the high-speed mode required some head-scratching to figure out. By default, even when you've set the HD/HS to HS (High Speed), the video you record when pressing the shiny red button is taken at standard speed. You have to press the OK button to switch into high-speed mode. And if you want the slow-mo video to start when you start shooting, you need to enable this choice via a menu choice. It all seems very counter intuitive and confusing.
For a speed-up effect, the frame rate can be cut down to 15fps. Fast-motion video can run for up to 2 minutes of shooting time.
In the following sample images, clicking on the larger image will download the full-resolution original. Each photo is accompanied by three actual-size crops.
Still Life Examples
The following chart shows thumbnails of still life photos taken with each comparison camera, in program mode with automatic white balance, at all ISO settings. Click on the thumbnails to load the original full-size image in a separate window.
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
The number of playback view options and the depth of information displayed is quite limited. For example, there is no way to see the color mode used, the focal length or the scene mode setting.
Photos taken as part of a high-speed sequence (even bracketed shots) aren't displayed individually by default, but grouped in a 'sequence,' with only the first shot displayed and the rest to be played back in order, like a stop-motion movie. We found it much more useful to see the individual images, which requires a trip to the playback menu to change a setting. That would be OK but, for some unknown reason, you have to change this setting separately for each high-speed sequence you shoot. The fact that you can't make separate shots the default choice is ridiculous.
Video playback lets you fast forward and rewind, move forward or back a frame at a time, and adjust playback volume. You can't jump to the beginning or end of a clip, though. **
The Nikon P100 offers several useful in-camera editing tools, though a few useful options are missing.
Quick Retouch is an automatic image enhancement option, with three levels of impact which are previewed on-screen before taking effect. D-lighting attempts to expand dynamic range in photos you've already taken (as opposed to Active D-Lighting, a similar processing effect done while shooting). Skin softening uses digital spackle to hide facial imperfections. You can also choose to have the photo reduced slightly and a black border added, though we're not quite sure why you'd want to.
D-lighting effects are previewed on screen.
Among the more standard editing options, there's image rotation, resizing, and a limited trimming function that saves a copy of the photo as seen magnified on the LCD.
It's very easy to add an audio annotation to a photo during playback; just hit the OK button and you're ready to record for up to 20 seconds. This is a very useful way to audibly 'jot down' information about where and when you took a photo, without reaching for pen and paper.
There are no in-camera video editing tools, which is unfortunate. We'd like to be able to clip off the jerky beginning and ending of a clip, and split clips into separate segments.**
Direct Print Options*(3.50)*
The DPOF utility lets you create a print order file on a memory card you're planning to bring to an outside service (or a DPOF-compatible printer). You can specify which pictures to print (up to 99), how many of each (up to 9) and whether or not you want the date and/or photo info imprinted. It's basic, but at least it's easy to follow.
When connecting via USB to a PictBridge-enabled printer, you gain the option to specify paper size, but none of the more advanced features found on other cameras, such as the option to have multiple images printed on a single sheet, and to generate index prints with thumbnail-sized images.
Like other ultrazoom cameras, the P100 is equipped with an electronic viewfinder for eye-level shooting – it makes for better stability when shooting with a long lens. The left-of-center position on the camera body works out well, letting you hold the camera comfortably with plenty of clearance for your nose. The button to the left of the viewfinder toggles the display between the EVF and the LCD, and a dial provides diopter adjustment flexibility.
With a 230,000-dot resolution, the image is detailed enough to judge focus effectively, showing about 97% of the image to be captured. And it refreshes quickly enough to avoid the annoying stuttering and blur we sometimes find when trying to follow fast action with an EVF.
Brightness adjustment is available for the LCD, but not for the electronic viewfinder.
*The electronic viewfinder is a practical alternative
to lining up shots with the LCD.*
The 3-inch 460,000-dot LCD offers a welcome resolution boost beyond the standard 230,000-dot display, along with a bracketed mounting for additional shooting flexibility. The screen can be pulled away from the camera body, then pivoted till it's nearly flat, with the LCD facing up or down. This is certainly useful for holding the camera overhead or down low for nose-to-nose shots of your favorite canine. It's not as flexible as a side-or bottom-mounted LCD, though, which let you swivel the screen to face forward for lining up self-portraits, and turn the fragile LCD screen in toward the camera body for protection when traveling.
The LCD can be set to one of five brightness levels, and there is a substantial difference from dimmest to brightest. On most days, we found the default setting to be just fine, even with the sun beaming brightly overhead.
*The articulated screen makes shooting overhead
or down-low angles easy.*
The pop-up flash gets a nice height extension, (nearly 3 inches above the center of the lens), making red-eye problems unlikely, and minimizing the chance that a shadow from the lengthy lens snout will appear in a picture. Nikon gives the flash range as 1 ft. 8 in. to 32 ft.(0.5 to 10m) at the widest lens setting and 5 ft. 8 in. to 8 ft. 2 in. (1.7 to 2.5m) at maximum telephoto, with auto ISO.
Even when shooting in auto mode, the camera can't pop up the flash on its own when the lights are low – you have to hit the flash release button first. We prefer this system to letting the camera take control, with the possibility of flashing at inappropriate times or locations.
The flash gets good height over the long lens.
In addition to auto mode, the P100 supports auto with red-eye reduction – a pre-flash contracts subjects' pupils to lower the chance of red-eye) and, if the camera still detects red-eye in the shot, the image is automatically digitally processed to remove it. Set the camera to fill flash and the flash fires no matter what the lighting condition. The slow sync options uses flash plus a slow shutter speed to capture a foreground subject (with the flash) and a darker background in the same shot. The rear-curtain sync option fires the flash just before the shutter closes, and is mostly useful to create a streaming light effect behind moving subjects, like a car with its rear lights on.
Flash exposure compensation is also supported, in a ±2 EV range, in 1/3 EV increments.
The lens specs for the P100 are impressive, even if the lab-tested resolution performance has some flaws. The 26x zoom runs from the equivalent of 26mm to 678mm, offering extraordinary wide angle to extreme telephoto flexibility. It's quite fast, too, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the widest setting and f/5.0 at maximum zoom.
As usual, the lever-based zoom control offers less precision than turning a lens barrel, but the P100 is relatively smooth compared to most cameras with a similar control system.
*With the zoom fully extended, the Nikon P100 measures
six and a half inches from stem to stern.*
The photos shown below, all taken from the same spot, demonstrate the camera's zoom range.
There's also a digital zoom capability up to 4x, in those cases where 26x isn't long enough for you, though we routinely leave this disabled to avoid the image degradation it causes.
The distortion control feature attempts to digitally process your shot to correct for bowing or pincushioning caused by the lens.
Unlike most cameras, the P100's EN-EL5 lithium ion battery is recharged inside the camera, by connecting the supplied charger to the proprietary USB port. The upside of this arrangement is that the battery can also be charged by connecting the camera to a powered USB computer port. The downside is that you can't leave a spare battery charging while you're shooting with the camera.
Nikon testing under CIPA standards (flash used for half the shots, but without changing the zoom length) sets the battery life at approximately 250 shots. That's not a lot when you're headed out for a full day's shooting. And while a spare only runs a little more than $20 from Amazon, the lack of an external charger means one more chore you have to remember, or risk that awful powerless feeling when you press the ON/OFF button.
*The battery and memory card share a compartment
at the bottom of the camera.*
According to Nikon it takes about three and a half hours to recharge a fully depleted battery.**
The P100 accepts SD and SDHC memory cards, but not the latest high-capacity SDXC cards. The camera also has about 43MB of internal storage, not much in a multi-gigabyte world, but enough to store half a dozen full-res images in a pinch.
Jacks, Ports & Plugs*(4.50)*
The P100 steps up to high-def video recording, and offers the mini HDMI jack required to display the results (along with high-def stills) on an HDTV. The cable, as usual, is not included. You do get the data and standard-def video cables required to use the proprietary USB port, though we would have preferred an industry-standard connector.
And while it's a small thing, a grateful nod goes to Nikon for using a port door that pivots out of the way and stays there till you move it back. No only is this more convenient than the too-common tabbed cover that springs back into place when you let go, it's also less likely to break off after repeated use.
*The I/O ports are positioned below the speaker
on the left side.*
The P100 offers a very complete selection of shooting modes, including a basic auto mode, a scene-recognition-based full auto, SLR-style program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and full manual shooting, and several specialty modes.
When shooting in standard automatic mode, the camera settings are based strictly on exposure conditions, with only focus mode, exposure compensation, image size and image quality user-adjustable. The scene auto selector mode imposes the same restrictions on user settings, but attempts to figure out what you're shooting and choose a matching scene mode from six options: portrait, landscape, night portrait, night landscape, close-up and backlight. If there's no match, the camera shoots in standard auto mode.
In addition to the six scene modes mentioned above, there are another ten options available when the mode dial is set to Scene. In addition to the usual (food, museum, sunset), there's a copy selection for photographing documents or whiteboards and a backlight selection. For severely backlit situations, the P100 offers a multishot backlight HDR mode, which quickly takes several shoots. The camera saves one frame shot with active D-lighting, and creates a second image by overlaying images taken at different exposure settings. This is similar in concept to the HDR shooting mode that produced impressive results when we shot with the Sony A550 SLR, but our P100 photos taken with backlit HDR didn't gain much useful detail. The other multishot mode, night landscape, worked better. Pictures we shot handheld at night using this technology were far less blurry than those taken in program mode.
The night landscape mode (left) produced a much sharper handheld * shot than program mode (right).*
There is also a mode for creating horizontal or vertical multi-shot panoramas. The on-screen display used for lining up the second and subsequent shots is very practical, with a semi-transparent section (about 1/3 of the screen) shown for alignment purposes. Unfortunately, the P100 can't handle the panorama stitching in-camera, relying instead on supplied computer software.
*The included ArcSoft panorama software handled the treeline well,
though rippling water is a tough challenge.*
Smart portrait mode, also available as a mode dial selection, will recognize up the three faces, and automatically take a picture (actually, five pictures if no flash is required), saving the one with the most people smiling. By default, 'skin softening' processing is applied, though this can be turned off, or adjusted to one of three settings. There is also a blink proof feature, which takes five shots and attempts to choose one in which nobody has closed eyes.
Subject tracking mode provides continuously updated autofocus once you've locked onto a subject, which is certainly valuable, though we question the decision to make it an automated shooting mode (only flash mode, exposure compensation, image quality and size can be adjusted), instead of making it an autofocus option that can be used with program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual exposure modes as well.
When shooting in program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority or manual modes, you can customize most shooting menu options as you like them and store the settings, to be accessed as a group by turning the mode dial to the U (user settings) position.
The P100 doesn't provide a lot of fancy filter effects, but you do have five preset color modes (normal, softer, vivid, more vivid, portrait), which are not user-adjustable. There is also a black and white mode which offers more flexibility; you can adjust the contrast and sharpening in b&w, and also apply a virtual monochrome filter, which works the way a physical colored filter does when shooting black and white film. Green softens skin tones, for example, where orange boosts contrast in the sky when shooting landscapes. You can also apply a sepia tone for an old-fashioned effect. If you want to capture both a black and white and a color copy of the image you're shooting simultaneously, that's also an option.
Finally, the custom color mode provides five-level adjustments for contrast, sharpening and saturation, though oddly missing is the ability to alter the hue.
There are four basic focus settings: autofocus, macro, infinity and manual focus. In macro mode, you can autofocus as close as 10 cm (4 inches) from the subject.
Manual focus is available, but that doesn't mean it's going to be very useful, since it's controlled by pressing the up and down buttons on the four-way controller. This may be useful in special circumstances (when shooting on a tripod and trying to get just the right depth of field, for example), but it's a clumsy process, especially because you have to re-select manual focus for each photo you shoot. On the plus side, a view with the central part of the screen magnified is available as a manual focus assist.
When shooting in a user-controlled (rather than scene) mode, autofocus can be set to single (the camera focuses when the shutter button is pressed halfway) or full-time AF, where the camera tries to autofocus at all times, even when your finger's not on the button. It could be useful on occasion, but the battery drain and annoying vibration makes it impractical for day-to-day use.
The tracking mode automatically attempts to follow a subject you've locked onto as it moves around the screen. Unfortunately, this is presented as a shooting mode (on the mode dial) rather than a straightforward focus setting, so it's only available with automated settings (only flash mode, exposure comp, image quality and image size can be adjusted). Enabling subject tracking in a more user-controlled mode, such as aperture or shutter priority shooting, would have been a better strategy.
Face priority can be chosen an autofocus mode, and is set automatically in face portrait, night portrait and smart portrait modes. Up to twelve faces can be recognized.
When it comes to choosing a focusing area, you can let the camera take charge in auto mode, choose the center point, or manually select one of 99 focus points.
The P100 is equipped with a bright red autofocus assist lamp, located in front of the mode dial, right next to the grip.
The exposure compensation range is surprisingly narrow, just ±2 EV. Exposure bracketing is available over a three-shot sequence, with intervals of ±0.3 EV, ±0.7 EV or ±1 EV.
As with many Nikon cameras, the P100 is equipped with a version of the company's Active D-Lighting system, which attempts to digitally process your shots to expand the apparent dynamic range, maintaining detail in high-contrast situations. Since this processing does increase image noise, it is set to Off by default. When used, it can be set to high, normal or low levels.
The default setting is matrix metering, which analyzes the entire scene for a balanced exposure. Other options are center-weighted, spot and spot AF. which meters the selected autofocus area.
In addition to the auto white balance setting, there are presets for daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy and flash illumination. The fluorescent preset offers sub-menu selections for white fluorescent, daylight/neutral fluorescent and daylight fluorescent; the other presets have fine-tuning options, with three steps toward a bluer hue and three steps toward red in the opposite direction. The white balance menu choices are displayed as an overlay on the current image, so you can preview the effects of your settings changes as you make them.
The manual white balance setting option is easy to use. A rectangle in the middle of the screen is used to frame a white or gray card under current lighting conditions. Press OK and the setting is recorded.
The 26x zoom lens offers a reasonably fast f/2.8 maximum aperture at the widest angle setting and f/5.0 at full telephoto. The minimum aperture is limited to f/8.0 no matter what the zoom setting.
User-selectable shutter speeds range from 1/2000 second and 8 seconds, at most ISO settings. At higher ISOs, the longest available shutter speed is restricted; it's 4 seconds at ISO 3200, 2 seconds at ISO 1600 and one second at ISO 3200.
The self-timer options offer your basic 10-second or 2-second delay, with the autofocus assist lamp blinking during the countdown. It's odd that there's no audible feedback letting you know that you've pressed the shutter when using the self-timer, though. Until we got used to this peculiarity, we assumed the shutter hadn't been fully pressed.
The P100 performs lots of high- and slow-speed shooting tricks. For starters, there are two full-resolution continuous shooting options. Nikon promises about ten frames per second at the high setting (though with a limit of six shots per burst), and 2.8 fps for up to 200 shots on the low setting. But wait, there's more.
The BSS (stands for Best Shot Setting) takes up to 10 shots, then analyzes them to find the sharpest one, and stores only that image.
Multi-shot 16 could have been dubbed Golf Swing Mode – it takes 16 shots at about 30fps and combines them into a single picture.
Sport continuous mode is a reduced-res high-speed shooting mode, with virtually no control over camera settings (even ISO is set by the system). The camera shoots at either 120 frames per second (at 1280 x 960 resolution), or 60 frames per second (1600 x 1200 resolution). By default, the frame rate is set automatically (up to 60fps), based on lighting conditions, but this can be overridden by the user. If you stick with the 60fps frame rate, you can activate the pre-shooting cache function, which maintains a constantly refreshed buffer of up to five frames when the shutter is pressed halfway. Then, when the shutter is fully depressed, those frames plus another 20 are recorded at 1600 x 1200 resolution.
Finally, there's an interval timing mode, a nice option, but the controls are surprisingly limited. You can set the interval between shots to 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes or 10 minutes. You can't set the length of the interval, though, or delay its starting time. The shooting stops when a preset number of shot has been taken, or when you press the shutter a second time.
Shot to Shot (11.80)
The move to a backside illuminated CMOS sensor enabled a tremendous upgrade from the pokey 1.4 frame per second performance of the Nikon P90. Though the company promises, 10 shots per second, our tested results were even better. The P100 rattled off a brisk 12 shots per second in our lab, the fastest performer in our comparison group.
Design & Handling
The P100 is a lightweight, comfortable camera, with a midsize right hand grip that's fine for both the big-fisted and the petite-pawed. We also like the rubberized coating, an effective non-slip surface also found on the well positioned thumb rest on the camera back. The off-center design means there's virtually no body surface to grip with your left hand, but cradling the lens from below or holding it pincer-style top and bottom proved secure and practical.
The articulated LCD adds to your shooting flexibility. The bottom hinge pulls away from the camera body, enabling you to pivot the screen horizontally, facing either up or down.
Buttons & Dials*(9.50)*
The one significant update from the P90 control design is the addition of a one-click movie recording button on the back of the camera, behind the mode dial. It's a welcome convenience, and positioned well to avoid accidental clicking. Overall, we like the P100 button and dial layout and construction. The multi selector is a bit small, but responsive enough to make accessing the dedicated shooting controls mapped to the four directions (flash mode exposure compensation, focus mode and self-timer) a fumble-resistant process.
The P100 uses the standard Nikon menu system, with legible white type on a gray background. There are icons, but there are always text labels along with them to minimize confusion. Our only major complaint is the fact that the individual tabbed sections can run several pages vertically, meaning all your option aren't visible until you've scrolled down to reveal them.
*The rest of your shooting options
aren't visible till you scroll down.
Manual & Learning*(7.50)*
Nikon consistently provides well-written, intelligently designed user manuals, and the P100 is no exception. There's an effective 24-page Quick Start guide and a 200-plus page User's Manual, both nicely illustrated and easy to follow. Topics that are potentially confusing and too often glossed over by other manufacturers, like how the different scene mode options actually work, are clearly explained here. There's even a decent index. It's not perfect (we'd love to see manufacturers start listing all the terms users are likely to search (why not include both Video and Movie, for example, and both Sound and Audio), but Nikon's effort is certainly a big step up from the miserable industry standard. To see for yourself, download a copy in PDF format here.
There's also in on-camera help option while using the menu system, bringing up a text description of your options by pushing the zoom lever. It's a good idea badly implemented here, with terse text that provides very little useful guidance.
Nikon P90 Comp
Nikon made significant improvements in the move from the P90 to the P100 while maintaining the same $399.95 price. Neither the megapixel drop (12.1M for the P90, 10.0 for the P100) nor the minor change in optical zoom (up from 24x to 26x) is a major change, but video shooters will certainly welcome the vast sharpness improvement gained from the move to 1080p for the P100 when compared to the standard-def P90. Another major gain enabled by the move to a backside illuminated CMOS sensor is a tremendous jump in burst-rate shooting speed, up from the sluggish 1.4 fps of the P90 to a smile-inducing 12 fps for the P100. A scene-recognition-based auto mode has been added to the standard auto setting provided by the P90. And the 3-inch articulated LCD moves from a 230,000-dot to a 460,000-dot screen, a valuable step-up both for shooting and reviewing your photos.
We measured lower image noise with the P100, but color reproduction for the new camera is less accurate than its predecessor. And when it comes to resolution, scores for sharpness, distortion and chromatic aberration all declined with the new model, and they weren't all that great to start with.
The P90 is still listed as a current model on the Nikon web site as of this writing, with no price drop, but there's clearly no good reason to choose the older model.
Canon SX1 Comp
Both the 26x Nikon P100 and the 20x Canon SX1 provide plenty of telephoto power plus 1080p video recording in a portable package, and the Nikon does it for $200 less. When it comes to hardware, the Nikon holds its own here, and even has a leg up in certain categories. For example, the Nikon has a better-looking electronic viewfinder and a larger LCD (3 inches versus 2.8 for the Canon). We do prefer the Canon side-hinged articulated LCD mounting, though, which lets you face the LCD forward when shooting self-portraits; the Nikon is hinged at the bottom, so you only gain overhead and low-angle flexibility. The Nikon also excels at burst-rate shooting, capturing full-resolution images four times as quickly as the Canon.
The fly in the ointment for the Nikon in this head-to-head, though, is image quality. While Nikon does keep image noise down at high ISOs through aggressive digital processing. the Canon provide more accurate color (in both still and video modes), far superior sharpness and much lower distortion. If you're not too picky about photo quality, or routinely use your images at small sizes, the cost savings could justify a Nikon purchase decision here. Looking critically at photos produced by the two cameras side by side, though, the price/performance compromise is apparent.
Sony HX1 Comp
The 9.1-megapixel Sony HX1 was a very impressive ultrazoom model when we first reviewed it in September 2009, and price reductions since have only increased its desirability; while originally listed at $499.99, the official price at sonystyle.com is now just $379.99. Your investment gets you the best resolution performance of any ultrazoom we've tested to date, with exceptional sharpness and very low distortion for a 20x zoom lens. Another big plus for an ultrazoom camera is the Sony's highly effective image stabilization system.
The Sony LCD uses the same kind of bottom-hinged articulation found on the Nikon P100 – not as practical as the side-mounted Canon SX1 display, but better than a screen that doesn't move at all. The Nikon is marginally faster shot-to-shot than the Sony, but both cameras (using backside illuminated sensors) are much quicker than the competition. There are some minor annoyances in the Sony design: it requires a proprietary adapter to get HDMI output versus the industry-standard Nikon HDMI connection, and you'll have to use Sony's proprietary MemorySticks instead of Nikon's reliance on SD/SDHC memory. These speed bumps are outweighed, though, by Sony's industry-leading sweep panorama feature, superior 1080p video shooting and no-compromise image quality with an ultrazoom lens.