Apr 14, 2010

Coolpix P100

That’s me in front of my computer with the Nikon Coolpix P100.

The P100 is a high end point and shoot digital camera. So if you’re a neophyte to the world of photography you may wonder what is difference between the point and shoot and other types of cameras.

Point and shoot cameras can be as simple as the Kodak fun cameras that you take to the beach, use once, and then toss away, or as complex as the Nikons and Canons that make up the high end of the amateur camera range. When it is equipped with a megazoom, which this one is, it can compete in terms of cost and versatility with the DSLRs.

I’ve used film cameras that were SLRs (Single Lens Reflex), but haven’t used any of the DSLRs that are on the market. The film SLR has a little hump in the middle of the camera that houses the viewfinder. The light enters the lens, and hits a mirror. That mirror reflects the light back up into the little hump, which is called a pentaprism because it has 5 sides. The light bounces around the pentaprism and emerges at the viewfinder right side up and in proper left to right orientation. When the film is exposed, the mirror flips up against the bottom of the pentaprism, the shutter is activated, the film is exposed, and the mirror then drops down. The DSLR follows the same basic principle.

The primary advantages of the DSLR are that you have a visual viewfinder instead of the electronic or LCD viewfinders of the point and shoot cameras, and you have a wide range of interchangeable lenses to use.

The main disadvantage of the DSLR is cost. The lowest cost Nikon DSLR is still about $200 more than the cost of the P100. The P100 boasts a 26x zoom, i.e., the capability of zooming from wide angle to ultra-telephoto. The P100 is supposed to zoom from the 35mm equivalent of 26mm to 678mm. Most of the zooms that come with DSLRs will do a zoom range of about 3 or 4x. On the other hand, the interchangeable lenses may be of better optical quality throughout the zoom range. Once again though there is the factor of cost with good (Nikon, Canon, Tamron, Sigma, etc.) lenses costing in the hundreds of dollars.

If you want high quality, or just good quality, pictures with some added features, but can’t afford the investment in a DSLR and a complete suite of lenses, then the high end point and shoot may be for you.

The P100 comes with an extensive printed manual. In fact it comes with two. One in English and one in Spanish. It also, in some cases, such as the directions for putting the strap on, uses pictures only, no words. My personal feeling about this increasingly common practice is that I’m a verbal person, and I require words, I’m not an ancient Egyptian skilled in understanding hieroglyphs. Fortunately, that’s the only instance of totally non-verbal instruction in the manual.

I’ve put up some of the initial photos that I took with the P100 here. Clicking on any of the images below will take you to the P100 test album to view the full size images.

The wide angle shown here is the dining room of my house in Spotsylvania. To my eye it shows an acceptable contrast range and decent detail.

This one is a painting that I did over 40 years ago. It hangs in my office at home. It was exposed with the built-in flash. To my mind it’s lacking in snap and contrast, and is going to need some post processing to be good.

This shot was also done in my office with the flash. It has somewhat more snap, though the godawful green was not our choice. That was done by the original owners.

This is a wide angle view of our woods. There’s a tree there that has a broken limb from one of our winter storms.

This is the broken limb. There was a 9x zoom roughly between the previous shot and here.

Here’s a picture of a pagoda in a corner of the back yard. This is supposed to have been taken at a zoom equivalent of 480mm. A lens at that focal length has a relatively shallow depth of field, so the pagoda, and the fence slats behind it are relatively sharp while the object in the left foreground is blurry.

The camera comes with image stabilization software, which is supposed to minimize camera shake, This may work if your hands are steady, and you’ve not been jarred by a life of wretched excess devoted to wine, women, song, and good hashish, but for those with less steady hands, including those not as debauched as the wretch just described, it may not be too useful. Camera shake is magnified at long lens extensions, though once you take the picture, it may turn out relatively decent.

There is also HD video at 1080p, the best currently available. Be aware, however, that the camera ships with 83Mbytes of onboard memory, and 15 seconds of video will consume all of the memory. Memory will also vanish with about 20 pictures. So you should probably shell out for a memory card, as big as you can afford, to store pictures and video. You should be able to get about an hour of video on the 8GByte card featured here.

It’s not a good idea to zoom while shooting video. Going from wide angle to tele will cause the lens to lose focus, and the sound of the zoom will be picked up. This means that you have to setup your video shots before shooting, so it’s not going to be a good choice for shooting video of your kid’s soccer game. It will handle the still pictures of that game quite nicely, but for fast moving action video, I’d look at a higher end video camera rather than a digital camera with video capabilities.

The P100 has a macro capability that allows for extreme closeups. I’ve used the watch pictured here as an illustration of Paley’s argument about the watchmaker.

This is the front of the watch. Even at this size you can see that there is dust on the watch. I haven’t worn it since I retired. So it’s gathered dust for a while.

This is the back. You can see the wear on the bracelet. The watch is over 20 years old. You can also see the screws in the back of the watch. In the Sherlock Holmes novel The Sign of the Four he forgoes his usual cocaine fix to analyze Watson’s watch, and finds a number of clues to the life of Watson’s brother. No doubt Holmes could find a number of interesting details about me from the watch.

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles about HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. The photo on the right was taken with the Backlight HDR setting. This takes two photographs that are bracketed exposures, and then creates a composite picture that brings up detail in shadow areas. There’s not a lot of extra snap or oomph in this particular picture, but that’s largely due to OT (Operator Trouble).

Is the P100 worth buying? If you want a camera that is capable of macro, extreme wide angle to extreme telephoto, built in HD video, and is relatively inexpensive for its capabilities, I’d say go for it.