Sunday, 29 January 2017

Nikon CoolPix P900 Superzoom put to the test

For aviation photography, I'm being won over by the Nikon CoolPix P900, despite its small sensor size (a mere 6.2 x 4.6 mm compared to the 24x16mm on my Nikon D3300). It can turn out spectacular images, but its real strengths are to be seen at the long end of its lens' zooming range - and on a clear day.

Below: a LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner climbs away from Warsaw's Okęcie airport.

The CoolPix P900's sensor is tiny (see comparison below), yet bear in mind that while the FX-format Nikon D810 gets 36 million pixels into the full-frame sensor, and the DX-format Nikon D3300 gets 24 million pixels into its APS-C sensor, the CoolPix P900 manages to pack an amazing 16 million pixels onto its miniature sensor (a format called 1/2.3).

So - test time. The view from my balcony of the printing works on ul. Karczunkowska, taken on the CoolPix P900, zoomed out to the equivalent of 260mm on a full-frame lens. Which is greater than a typical telephoto zoom that reaches 200mm. Now, look at the red area in the image below.

Below: this is that area, the fullest extent of the P900's zoom (the equivalent of 2000mm on a full-frame lens). The full image size of this file is 4608 x 3456 pixels.

Below: the same area, shot on the D3300 with 55-300mm zoom fully extended (to the equivalent of 450mm on a full-frame lens). The image is cropped to the same area as the photo above. Now instead of  4608 x 3456 pixels, the image is a mere 1320 x 986 pixels. The degradation in image quality is evident, all the more so if you click to expand.

How do the two compare in real life situations? Below: A Turkish Airlines Boeing 777 over Jeziorki, at cruising altitude, taken with the D3300 with lens at 300mm, image then cropped. You can see chromatic aberration in the form of a red fringe by the image highlights - along the fuselage and engines.

Below: the same flight, same time, same place, 24 hours later, taken with the CoolPix P900, lens zoomed out all the way. Image cropped to show plane in similar size to that in above image.

Again, the CoolPix P900 wins hands down. Both photos very lightly Photoshopped - cropped, then auto tone - nothing more.

The onward march of miniaturisation of cameras means ever-better images become within reach of the average snapper's budget - and the weight of the lens is low enough for it to be worn with camera around the neck for hours on end.

Why are professionals still sticking to FX format? The bigger the sensor, the bigger the pixels, the better the light-gathering quality of the camera. My DX-format cameras - the D3300 and CoolPix A - will both beat the CoolPix P900 in low-light situations, and in taking wide-angle rather than telephoto pictures. I must say, I would like an FX-format camera for those special occasions... The Nikon D810 will soon be superseded by a newer model, and retail prices are falling... We shall see.

In the meanwhile, I'm happy with the P900. It could do with being faster in operation and more robust in build, as well as ergonomically improved (that on/off button!), but for amazing telephoto shots - it's great value.

This time last year:
A modest proposal regarding the zloty

This time two years ago:
Warsaw Spire getting higher and higher

This time three years ago:
Plac Zbawiciela, lunchtime, winter

This time four years ago:
Is this winter's end?

This time five years ago:
The other Jeziorki station

This time seven years ago:
Launching the General's book

This time eight years ago:
A pavement for ul. Karczunkowska?
This time nine years ago:
Taking off over Okęcie

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