A week with the Nikon Coolpix P6000

Nikon Coolpix P6000I had the opportunity of using Nikons current high-end compact camera, the Coolpix P6000 (DE/US), for the past week. Whenever I get a new piece of hardware to play with I get really excited to see if it lives up to the hype. Although this hype – if you want call it that back at Photokina last year – around the P6000 is gone for a while now, I still couldn’t wait to have a look at this camera.

My last compact camera that I owned was a 5 megapixel Sony DSC-W12 back in 2006 or so. It was build like a brick and works fine for my dad who is now still using it. It did everything a simple compact camera had to do. Take stupid snapshots at a party, go along snowboarding and even capture some press events.

For starters, here are some quick facts about the Nikon Coolpix P6000:

  • Sensor size/type: 1/1.7 inch CCD
  • Effective pixels: 13.5 million
  • LCD size: 2.7 inch
  • LCD resolution: 230.000 dots
  • ISO: 64-6.400
  • Storage: SD/SDHC
  • Internal memory: ~48 MB
  • Optical image stabilization
  • 4x optical Zoom
  • Lens: 6.0-24.0mm (35mm format picture angle: 28-112mm); f/2.7-5.9; 9 elements in 7 groups
  • Battery Life (CIPA): 260 shots

Now, even in the class of compact cameras things have changed in the not so distant past. Back in the day you were happy if you had some (useless) automatic modes, that you never really used. Nowadays, features like aperture/shutter priority and full manual aren’t only available for users of expensive and huge SLR cameras anymore. You get them, plus user modifiable modes, on your everyday point and shoot. To be exact the P6000 gives you not only one but two modes that you can personalise. Of course there’s the usual full automatic and movie mode with a time-lapse function.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

Then there’s also the first of the few specialties on the P6000: GPS. The P6000 has a builtin GPS receiver to enable easy geotagging, so you know where that picture was taken while you were at this very special party. I still would like to know where this christmas party in 2006 took place – I just know it was somewhere near Munich, if a 3+ hour bus drive can be described as “near”. If I had this camera back then, I would know be able to have a look at the EXIF information and see exactly where that place was.

Nikon Coolpix P6000Unfortunately, the GPS module in the P6000 takes its time until it gets the gps fix. Not only once I found myself outside in the cold, under an open blue sky (yes, that still happens sometimes in Cologne), waiting more than 5 minutes to get a signal and still be out of luck. In comparison: my everyday standalone geotagger, an Amod 3080, takes a few seconds to get a fix on my position. Even in my jacket or somewhere in my car. I looked at various other reviews on the net to make sure it wasn’t just a bad camera, and sure enough there are other people who have this problem with the builtin GPS. Nonetheless, it’s a great feature that we’ll see in many new cameras to come. Someone had to start integrating this feature and I’m glad to see it. Also be warned that keeping on the GPS receiver all the time hits the battery life. That’s to be expected but still worth mentioning.

By the way, the geotagged files, shot in RAW or JPEG, appear fine in Apple’s iPhoto ’09. Places really needs this automatic way, it’s much easier without manually having to geotag your photos.

The second special feature on the P6000 is the builtin ethernet jack on the bottom of the camera. It is meant to be used with Nikon’s own My Picturetown online photo gallery. It’s something like Flickr but has this direct link to your camera. Once set up, which is a very simple procedure, you simply turn the dial on top of the camera to the right position, plug in the ethernet cable and the photos will upload to the site.

Nikon Coolpix P6000

I can easily see how this can be helpful for people who just take photos and wish to get them online as fast as possible. Editing, aside from tagging or rotating, isn’t available on My Picturetown. That being said, I’d love to see a cooperation between Adobe’s Photoshop.com and this service. Currently there’s just a cooperation with Eye-Fi, that allows you to wirelessly upload your photos using their wlan-enabled SD cards.

Nikon Coolpix P6000 sample imageThe photos itself leave nothing to be desired, although there certainly are some features that have to be there mainly for marketing purposes. One example: ISO up to 6400. Just let me say one thing: you don’t want to go that high, not with a tiny sensor like this with 13.5 million pixels. This is another thing, I don’t understand, who needs 13 million pixels on a compact camera? I was always happy with the 5 megapixels on my old Sony. I am currently happy with the 10 MP on my EOS 40D. I was also happy to see Nikon going against this megapixel-wahn with the D3 and D700, but the point and shoot market seems to be a whole different thing.

But back to ISO. It’s nice to get an auto-ISO mode on a compact camera. This lets you set an upper ISO limit for the camera. This way the camera will automatically adjust itself, without making noisy photos that nobody wants to look at. I love that feature on my SLR and it’s certainly a great addition in this camera.

The P6000 is able to either shoot in JPEG, RAW (using Nikon’s own NEF) or both. If you want to really work on your photos after the fact, using RAW is the way to go. One thing I don’t understand is why the camera isn’t able to auto bracket when shooting in RAW. This feature is only available using JPEG. Auto bracketing is especially useful if you want to create HDRs, which might need extensive work after you took the photo. This way RAW basically becomes essential.

Nikon Coolpix P6000 sample imageOverall the Nikon Coolpix P6000 is a great compact camera which is available at a street price of roughly 350 Euros. Other cameras in this category are the Canon PowerShot G10 (starting at 415 Euros) and Panasonic’s Lumix LX3 (also around 350 Euros). The Panasonic offers 10 megapixels, which I find to be a really good thing. It offers a more wide-angle lens with 24 mm while the P6000 starts at 28 mm (there is a wide-angle adapter available that you can screw on – I don’t know how well that works though, because I didn’t have it).

So, what are the things I’d like to see in a, say, P7000? The GPS is the main feature I love about this camera, but please improve the receiver so it doesn’t take minutes to get a GPS fix. Ethernet is also great, but how about replacing it with a WLAN module? This could also be used in combination with the GPS chip to roughly locate the position. Reduce the megapixels to (further) improve low light capability. Nikon showed how good this worked out on the D3 and D700. Please take the approach with point and shoots, too. My Picturetown? Nice start, but give us real editing features or make it work with Adobe’s Photoshop online.