Nikon Coolpix P90 review: Nikon Coolpix P90

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Relatively speedy; tiltable LCD; two custom settings slots on mode dial.

The Bad Subpar photo quality; poor battery life.

The Bottom Line While the Nikon Coolpix P90 brings its performance up to speed with the rest of its class, it now falls behind in photo quality.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Image quality 6.0

Nikon joins the ranks of manufacturers ramping up their top-of-the-line megazoom models to 24x. The replacement for the Nikon Coolpix P80, the P90, outzooms its 18x predecessor with a 24x f2.8-5 26-624mm-equivalent lens, and outpixels it by upping the resolution from 10 megapixels to 12. More useful, Nikon incorporates a tilting 3-inch LCD into the camera, bringing it into parity with competing megazooms from Canon, Sony, and others.

 Key comparative specs Nikon Coolpix P90 Canon PowerShot SX10 IS Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Sensor 12-megapixel, 1/2.33-inch CCD 10-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CCD 10-megapixel 1/2.33-inch CCD
Lens (35mm equivalent) 24x f2.8-5 26-624mm 20x f2.8-5.7 28-560mm 18x f2-4.4 27-486mm
Sensitivity range ISO 64 - ISO 6,400 ISO 80 - ISO 1,600 ISO 100 - ISO 6,400
LCD 3-inch tiltable 2.5-inch articulated 2.7-inch fixed
Video (max resolution at 30fps) 640x480 640x480 848x480
Optical zoom during movie capture No Yes Yes
Exposure modes Auto, PASM, Scene Auto, PASM, Scene Auto, PASM, Scene
Batteries (CIPA rating) Lithium ion; 230 shots 4 AA-size; 340 shots (alkalines), 600 shots (NiMH) Lithium ion; 460 shots
Body dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.5x3.3x3.9 4.9x3.5x3.4 4.6x3.0x3.5
Operating weight (ounces) 17.2 23.0 14.6
Mfr. Price $399.95 $399.99 $399.95

With its spring cameras, Nikon introduced its 4-Way Vibration Reduction (VR) Image Stabilization, which consists of optical IS, autoshutter speed/ISO determination to compensate for moving subjects, and a Best Shot Selector option for choosing the sharpest photo out of a burst of 10. Like the P80, it supports up to ISO 1,600 with reduced resolution for ISO 3,200 and 6,400. Also new, the camera has a mode for 15 frames per second continuous shooting for up to 45 frames, though it's at 3 megapixels and automatically sets the ISO sensitivity to at least ISO 640. Given the camera's mediocre high ISO performance, that's a pretty useless mode. And like all its competitors, Nikon introduces its own get-the-faces-right system composed of automatic red-eye fix, improved face-priority AF, and smile- and blink-detection.

With the exception of the improved LCD and some changes on the mode dial, the P90's body doesn't differ much from the P80. It's heavier--more than a pound--and bigger in all dimensions. Like its competitors, you summon most of the frequently used shooting controls via a dedicated button, including exposure compensation, focus modes (macro, infinity, and manual), self-timer, and flash (including red-eye reduction, fill, slow sync, and rear curtain sync). In addition to the buttons, you can navigate via the back dial, which also controls your shutter, aperture, and exposure-compensation adjustments in the various shooting modes. Nikon has improved the mode dial, moving Setup into the menu and replacing it with two slots for custom settings and a Scene Auto Selector mode.

Other controls you access from the shooting menu. Most notable are an array of ISO sensitivity options. In addition to complete Auto and manual 64 through 6,400, it offers High ISO sensitivity Auto (64-1,600) and Fixed-range auto, which lets you choose one of three ranges: ISO 64-100, 64-200, or 64-400. Given how aggressive the blurring gets at ISO 200, I suggest you stick with the 64-200 modes if you're going to use the automatic mode.

In addition to matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering, the P90 offers spot-AF area for use with the AF-area modes. The AF-area modes include face priority, auto, manual, and center. As usual with these technologies, I find the face-priority setting too inefficient, the auto makes undesirable choices, and the manual AF-point selection is only useful if you're shooting the same composition repeatedly. The center-focus-and-recompose approach, albeit old fashioned, is still the most efficient. Other shooting options include image size and quality, Optimize image (custom and preset settings for contrast, sharpening, and saturation), white balance, single or full-time AF, flash exposure compensation, noise reduction, and distortion control (which reduces frame size). Lack of support for raw files is a hole in the feature set, though.

The P90's lens isn't great. Barrel distortion is about what you'd expect at the widest angle of 26mm-equivalent, however, it exhibits serious purple fringing at its maximum telephoto of 624mm-equivalent. While it doesn't seem to vibrate as much as the P80's did, the stepped zoom gets frustrating when you're trying to frame your shot. This is a typical problem with these types of cameras, though. The optical image stabilizer works as well as we've seen from Nikon's other VR lenses.

The LCD is pretty good, it has a wide viewing angle and doesn't wash out in direct sunlight. I tend to prefer articulated LCDs found on products like the Canon PowerShot SX10 to the tilting ones used by the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 and this model, but it's still far better than a fixed display. It's supplemented with an electronic viewfinder; both displays update fast enough so that they don't interfere with shooting, even in low light where some slow down. However, the EVF only displays 97 percent of the scene, compared with 100 percent for virtually everyone else. While the battery didn't conk out too soon, its 250-shot-per-charge rating (CIPA standard) seems underpowered compared with almost all the competition's.

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