March 6, 2013

NIKON COOLPIX P100


DSLRs have always been an object of aspiration and desire, but the prohibitive cost has been a major deterrent. As if to address this issue, camera manufacturers have attempted to bring the best of both worlds - relatively affordable price and certain features of high-end digital cameras.

Nikon's CoolPix P100 sports a look that is similar to its DSLR range of cameras. This camera is an upgrade of the P90 with a 10.3 MP CMOS sensor with improved shooting speed, better light sensitivity and less noise replacing the 12 MP CCD, a slightly higher optical zoom of 26X from the earlier 24X, the increasingly essential video recording capability at 1080p with stereo sound, and also a vari-angle high-resolution LCD display to name a few. Does this digital camera really bridge the gap between DSLRs and mainstream digital cameras? Let us find out.



Bundle

  • Nikon CoolPix P100
  • Lens cover
  • Neck strap
  • Data cable
  • A/V cable
  • Rechargeable Li-ion battery EN-EL5
  • Battery charger
  • Software disc
  • User manual

Design & Construction

The Nikon CoolPix P100 sports a design similar to many of Nikon's higher end and more expensive DSLR cameras, and has the same ergonomics as well. The body is bulky and feels solid to hold. Built for right-handed people, as are most digicams, there is a rubber grip to get hold of the camera. The grip is just large enough to comfortably hold in the hand, since this part of the camera holds the slim single Li-ion battery instead of the multitude of larger AA batteries. There is space to hold the lens barrel with your left hand to stabilize the camera. The camera is not really light at 481 grams, but it does not feel too heavy, possibly because of the superior ergonomics. The weight is actually useful as it provides some stability when shooting handheld. There are eyelets on either side to attach a neck strap and of course a neck strap is also provided with the camera. The dimensions of the camera are 114.4 x 82.7 x 98.6mm.



The lens used in this camera is the Nikkor wide angle 4.6-120 mm 1:2.8-5, which is equivalent to a focal range of 26 to 678 mm in 35mm format. The lens actually consists of 14 elements in 11 groups, and all of them are connected in a well-oiled mechanism for zoom and focus. It is a wonder that despite having so many lenses, the camera is not very heavy. The lens does not come with an automatic lens cover, but a manual cover is provided to protect the lens when the camera is not in use. There is a flash on top of the lens, which pops out with the aid of a mechanical button on the side, though not automatically. Just to the left of the lens is the focusing assist lamp, which helps the autofocus mechanism of the camera.



When you take a look at the top of the camera, you can see that just above the flash, there is a stereo microphone to record stereophonic audio. The placement at the top means that audio is recorded equally well even if the source is placed in any direction, the drawback is that you cannot have directional audio recording. Also, being placed so close to each other, we are skeptical about how effectively they can really record stereo sound.

Selection of different shooting modes can be conveniently selected via a mode dial present at the top right. A nicely recessed power button is present on the right and has a green LED at the centre that glows when the camera is switched on. The top of the right portion, which is held by the hand, has a zoom rocker with the shutter release button at the centre. The zoom rocker is used to zoom in and out, the subject being shot or filmed.



The back portion is dominated by the large high resolution 3-inch LCD display with 460k dots, thus producing a good image. The LCD can be pulled out, with vertical angular adjustments of 82 degrees downward and 90 degrees upwards, but there is no horizontal adjustment. In addition to this LCD, there is also an electronic viewfinder consisting of a color LCD with 230 dots. This lets you use the camera without a problem even in brightly lit places and under sunlight. Another advantage of an electronic viewfinder is that it saves precious battery life. If you happen to be bespectacled, the diopter adjustment dial on the side of the electronic viewfinder lets you view the image clearly without wearing glasses. The Monitor button on the left of the electronic viewfinder lets you manually toggle between the electronic viewfinder and the LCD. The Display button on the right lets you chose how much of a clutter of information appears in the preview display.

The red button near the top right present on a convenient slant is the dedicated video recording button. A thumb switch around this button lets you choose between HD (High Definition) and HS (High Speed) video modes. A horizontal dial present just to the right of this button is the Command dial, which lets you fine tune settings such as aperture, shutter speed, etc., depending on the shooting mode selected. The playback button to its right lets you view the recorded content.

A multi-selector dial present below this button lets you toggle flash, macro mode, delayed shutter release or adjust EV value, when clicked in one of the four different directions. The OK button at the centre confirms the setting. You can also sift through your recorded content using this dial when in the playback mode. The menu button near the bottom right lets you access the different functions of the camera, such as setting the image/video resolution, image stabilization, white balance, etc. As is self-explanatory, the button with the garbage bin icon is used to delete recorded content from the camera.

The placement of most of the frequently used buttons is good and they are placed such that you can easily operate the camera with just your right hand even while holding it in the same hand using your thumb or index finger.

The battery compartment can be accessed at the bottom of the camera and the hinge and door mechanism are really quite strong. The memory card slot is also present here. The compartment houses the Li-ion battery is also present here and the battery is prevented from slipping outside by means of a latch. One possible disadvantage of this battery over standard AA batteries is that after its life is over you may need to buy another, and being proprietary, you may need to shell out a premium.

There is also a threaded tripod socket to mount the camera on a tripod for steadier photo shoots. This is made of metal and is therefore made to last. The placement of the tripod socket is near the center of gravity, so there is no undue stress on the tripod and the mounted camera is well-balanced and easier to maneuver. Just like most other cameras, you cannot access the memory card when the camera is mounted on a tripod, because the battery compartment lid cannot be opened. Since this is a more serious camera than an ordinary point-and-shoot, this may be an issue for some.

The sieve on one side hides the speaker underneath it, which is useful when you play back the video recorded by the camera. Video out is available in the form of a mini-HDMI and configured to be watched at up to a resolution of 1920x1080.





 Features

The P100 has eleven shooting modes to choose from using the mode dial, thus allowing you plenty of options for manual adjustments. The most basic is the Auto mode where the camera controls just about everything for you, while in the Scene mode, the camera makes adjustments according to the subject being shot and lets you do some adjustments. There are P (Programmable), A (Aperture Priority), S (Shutter Speed) and M (Manual) modes, where you can exercise the most control over the different camera parameters.

There are 16 programs in the Scene Mode with standard settings such as portrait, landscape, night portrait, party/indoor, beach, snow, etc. There is a Sport Continuous mode to shoot fast moving subjects and it shoots with a burst. At Continuous H: auto or Continuous H:60 fps setting, it shoots 25 frames at 60 FPS, but at a lower resolution of 2 MP, while at Continuous H: 120 fps, it shoots 60 frames at 120 FPS and at an even lower resolution of 1 MP. Pre-shooting cache is used to improve the chances of getting a good picture, since up to five images are shot just before the shutter release button is pressed. Face detection and Smile detection is also supported in the Smart Portrait mode.





One of the attractions in this model is the 1080p (1920x1080) video recording at 30 fps with stereo sound. Autofocus and zoom works even during the recording. The ultra-silent zoom motor works well and is not audible as you zoom while recording. High Speed mode lets you record for slow motion playback. Recording at 320x240 with 240 fps, 640x480 with 120 fps and 1280x720 with 60 fps is available for 10 seconds each, resulting in a slow motion playback time of 80 seconds, 40 seconds and 20 seconds respectively (played back at 30 fps). There is also an option to record at 1920x1080 at 15 fps for 2 minutes, resulting in fast speed playback for 1 minute. Sound is not recorded in the High Speed mode.

As we mentioned before, the camera can be controlled completely manually as well. You can set shutter speeds from as low as 1/2000 of a second to as high as 8 seconds, while aperture can be set from f2.8 to f8.0. The self-timer can either be set to Off or On, in which case it means 2 or 10 seconds. Nikon has included a distortion removing feature in the camera which can be applied to individual images when necessary to correct barrel and pincushion distortions often associated with super zoom cameras.

Another feature of the Nikon P100 is the hybrid image stabilization using a combination of sensor shift mechanism and Electronic VR for still images. This is very effective and eliminates the need to use a tripod even while shooting with full zoom, producing clear and sharp shots. Only Electronic VR is available during video shooting, so this is not much of a use especially when you are shooting with high zoom without a tripod.

Photography enthusiasts will be thrilled to know that this camera supports auto-bracketing. This means that once the shutter release button is pressed with this mode enabled, the camera can shoot a sequence of three photographs with varying exposure levels, thus allowing you to produce HDR photographs with a wider gamut of intensity levels than is possible in a single shot. Active D-Lighting is also supported and this preserves details in highlights and shadows, thus creating photographs with natural contrast. Since automatic stitch panorama mode is not present in this camera, ArcSoft Panorama Maker 5 is provided to carry out the task on the PC.




Performance

When you switch on the camera it takes under a couple of seconds to reach the ready-to-shoot state. When clicking photos, we noticed that it takes around 1.5 seconds between two shots and around 3 seconds when using flash. We shot at the lowest available ISO setting of 160 when possible.

The overall image quality is good and the even focus ensures a crisp overall image at all points, indicating good optics. Color reproduction is quite good, as is the case with most Nikon digicams. Chromatic aberration was not noticeable at no-zoom even when observed very closely, but it becomes increasingly visible towards the top right as the zoom levels are increased. The image seemed to be softer than expected and the reason for this could be that the lowest ISO setting in this camera is 160, which is not good enough to obtain really sharp details. Noise levels are low, but they are still present and increase as the ISO is increased beyond 400.

The video recording quality is also quite good and this makes a good piece of equipment for recording at 1080p. But if you have a keen eye, then you may want a real HD camcorder. The camera does not have a proximity sensor, thus there is no automatic switching from LCD to electronic viewfinder when your face is close to the camera. Also, you cannot switch from LCD to electronic viewfinder while video recording is in progress. Videos are recorded in the MOV format using H.264, while images are recorded in JPEG format.

The autofocus is quick and that makes a lot of difference when you want to shoot something quickly such as a butterfly or a bird. The good thing is that it works well even in darker environments, which is something cameras usually have a problem doing.

On a full charge, the battery lets you shoot up to 250 shots. The good thing is that you can conveniently charge the battery even by connecting the camera to the PC. The camera supports SD and SD HC cards. The P100 does have 43MB internal memory, which can be useful in a sudden death scenario, when you find suddenly that the memory card is full.

Sample images

Without zoom


With 26x optical zoom












This is as close as you can get for the macro mode, about 10 cm

Verdict 




Right from the moment I held the Nikon CoolPix P100, I felt it was a cut above the rest. The build quality is very solid and ergonomics have been taken care of. Full manual control along with a host of options coupled with high speed and high definition video recording up to 1080p with autofocus and zoom are definitely enticing. Add to this the super zoom of 26X which is really usable even with the camera hand-held, thanks to the hybrid image stabilization, and it really leaves no room for complaints, except for the fact that the lowest ISO setting available is 160.

The image quality is quite good, and so is the video quality, but for a camera in the price of Rs.23,000, we expect a lot more. Therefore, for those of you who expect the P100 would manage to bridge the gap between DSLRs and mainstream digicams, this will disappoint in the image quality department. Nevertheless, with minor image quality flaws, the Nikon CoolPix P100 is still a lot better than ordinary point-and-shoot cameras with plenty of features such as auto bracketing for an enthusiast to keep experimenting with.

 

NIKON COOLPIX L110

Mid-range is the most popular segment among digital cameras and recently high-zoom lenses have started appearing in this segment. Nikon, one of the most well-known manufacturers of digicams, has sent us the CoolPix L110, which is the successor to the L100 with a few improvements including a bumped up sensor size of 12.1 MP, 720p HD video recording and a 460k dots LCD. With a 15x optical zoom, this digicam seems to have got what most people want, that to at an affordable price. Let's see if this digicam lives up to the expectations.

Bundle

  • Nikon CoolPix L110
  • Data cable
  • A/V cable
  • 4xAA battery charger
  • 4xAA Lithium long life batteries
  • 4xAA Ni-MH rechargeable batteries
  • Software disc
  • User manual
Design & Construction
The Nikon CoolPix L110 sports a design similar to many of Nikon's SLR cameras and has the similar ergonomics as well. The body is bulky and feels solid. Built for right-handed people as most digicams, there is a rubber grip to get a firm hold on the camera. In fact, this grip is larger than that of the more expensive Nikon CoolPix P100. This thickness is not unusual since the camera is powered by four AA batteries, which are inside this portion. The camera is not very light, but it is not too heavy either and this is actually useful as it provides some stability when shooting handheld. Neck strap attachments are available on either side. The dimensions of the camera are 108.9 x 74.3 x 78.1mm, while its weight is around 406 grams.


The lens used in this camera is the Nikkor wide angle 5.0-75.0 mm 1:3.5-5.4 which effectively has a focal range of 28 to 420 mm. The lens does not come with an automatic lens cover, but a manual cover is provided to protect the lens when the camera is not in use. There is a flash on top of the lens, which pops out, though it has to be done manually. Just to the left of the lens is the focusing assist lamp, which helps the autofocus mechanism of the camera.



When you take a look at the top of the camera, you can see that just near the flash there is a stereo microphone to record stereoscopic audio. The placement at the top means that audio is recorded well no matter which direction the sound is coming from. However, the drawback is that you cannot have directional audio recording. Also, being placed so close to each other, we are skeptical about how effectively they can really record stereo sound.

The sieve you can see near the centre is the speaker, which is useful when you play back the video recorded by the camera. A nicely recessed power button is placed next to the speaker and has a green LED at the centre, which glows when the camera is switched on. The right portion, which is held by the hand, has a zoom rocker with the trigger button at the centre. The zoom rocker is used to zoom in and out, the subject being shot or filmed.



The back portion is dominated by the large 3-inch LCD display. This display is unique from the cameras we have reviewed thus far, as it has 460k dots, which are more than twice those available in competing models or even more expensive models for that matter. The advantage is visible right away as the images look a lot better due to the higher resolution display. The display is visible even outdoors under direct sunlight. This is, of course, necessary for this camera as it lacks any other viewfinder.

The red button near the top right is the dedicated video recording button. Just beside it is the thumb rest, which is a rather peculiar but useful feature, not found on most other cameras. The button with a green camera icon or the Scene button lets you choose different scene modes to shoot according to your choice. The playback button to its right lets you view the recorded content. A jog-dial is present below these two buttons which lets you toggle flash, macro mode, delayed shutter release or adjust EV value, when clicked in one of the four different directions. The OK button at the centre confirms the setting.

You can also sift through your recorded content using this jog dial. The menu button near the bottom right lets you access the different functions of the camera, such as setting the image/video resolution, image stabilization, white balance, etc. As is self-explanatory, the button with the garbage bin icon is used to delete recorded content from the camera.

We found it odd that the scene selection was available only after going inside the menus of the Scene button, as it is a standard practice to provide a dial to achieve the same in a faster and convenient way. The placement of all the buttons is good and they are placed such that you can easily operate the camera with just your right hand even while holding it in the same hand using your thumb or index finger.

The battery compartment can be accessed at the bottom of the camera and the hinge and door mechanism are quite strong. The memory card slot is also present here. The compartment houses four AA batteries, which incidentally add to the weight and bulk of the camera. A longer lasting Lithium battery would have not only reduced the weight, but also the bulk of this camera. There is also a threaded tripod socket to mount the camera on a tripod for steadier photo shoots. This is made of metal and is therefore made to last. The problem here is that you cannot access the memory card when the camera is mounted on a tripod because the battery compartment lid cannot be opened. But this is not really an issue as you may seldom use a tripod with this point-and-shoot camera.

Video out is available in the form of a mini-HDMI and configured to be watched up to a resolution of 1920x1080.
Features
The L110 has five shooting modes of which the most basic is the Easy Auto mode where you can basically control nothing - the camera controls everything for you. There is also an Auto mode where the L110 allows you to control five of the parameters which are image size, white balance, continuous shooting, ISO and five basic color options. There are 14 programs in the Scene Mode with standard settings such as portrait, landscape, night portrait, parties, beach, snow, etc. There is a Sport Continuous mode to shoot fast moving subjects and it shoots at 20 frames at 11.1 per second, but at a lower resolution of 3 MP. Face detection and Smile detection is also supported in the Smart Portrait mode.

One of the attractions in this model is its 720p (1280x720) video recording at 30 fps with no time limit. For those who are interested in 720p video recording will be happy to know that autofocus and zoom works even during the recording. Even better is the ultra-silent zoom motor that is not audible as you zoom while recording.

Another feature of the Nikon L110 is the hybrid image stabilization using a combination of sensor shift mechanism and Electronic VR for still images. This is very effective and eliminates the need to use a tripod even while shooting with full zoom, producing clear and sharp shots. Only Electronic VR is available during video shooting, so this is not much of a use, especially when you are shooting with high zoom without a tripod.

Performance
When you switch on the camera, it takes around three seconds to reach the ready-to-shoot state. When clicking photos, we noticed that it takes a little under three seconds between two shots and around four seconds when using flash. In the continuous shooting mode, it shoots at a around a frame every couple of seconds. We shot at the lowest ISO setting of 80 when possible.

The overall image quality is good, and the even focus ensures a crisp overall image at all points, indicating good optics. There is very little amount of fringing at the right edge, but that is only when observed very closely. A closer inspection shows that some noise is present. The noise increases and sharpness decreases as the ISO is increased, and is not really tolerable above ISO values of 400. Other than that, the color reproduction is very good and sharpness is also good, especially at low ISO values such as 80 and 100.

If we want to point a flaw in image quality, then we can probably say that the reds are a bit oversaturated. This is not completely unexpected, as this is common with lower priced cameras with high MP resolutions crammed into small size sensors. Another result of this is that low light photography also has a lot of noise, though it is noticeably lower than competing models.

The autofocus is quick and that makes a lot of difference when you want to shoot something quickly such as a butterfly or a bird. The good thing is that it works well even in dark, which is something cameras usually have a problem doing.

The camera has a very limited set of features and customization is not really its forte. Even the self-timer can either be set to Off or On, in which case it means 10 seconds and does not support any other duration.

The four AA Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries can let you shoot up to 840 still photos or up to seven hours of HD video. With the Ni-MH rechargeable batteries on a full charge, you can click up to 500 photos. The camera supports SD and SD HC cards. The L110 does have 43MB internal memory, which can be useful to click a few emergency snaps when you suddenly find that the memory card is full.



Verdict 
The Nikon CoolPix L110 is a decent camera for the price. You get a superzoom camera with an easy to use control and decent image quality with usable 15x optical zoom, with hybrid image stabilization. Add good and really usable 720p video recording to it and you almost have a winner. Well, almost because this camera misses out majorly on full manual controls which are so common with point-and-shoot cameras in this price segment today. So while it may be an excellent device for a novice, someone who has used other digital cameras will surely find this a really sore point. The price of the Nikon CoolPix L110 is Rs.14,000, which is fairly justified for what is on offer.

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