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Nikon Coolpix P600 review: Telescope meets point-and-shoot

The P600 isn't the quickest camera, but that might be a small price to pay for having such a long lens on a relatively compact, lightweight camera.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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9 min read

If there's one thing the Nikon Coolpix P600 has going for it, it's wow factor. Well, at least for birders, stargazers, and anyone else who likes to shoot pictures and movies of distant subjects.

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7.4

Nikon Coolpix P600

The Good

The Nikon Coolpix P600 packs a powerful lens, a nice vari-angle LCD, and a respectable set of shooting options and controls that should satisfy auto and manual users alike. Considering its zoom range, the camera is remarkably compact and light.

The Bad

While the P600's shooting performance is decent, at times it can feel slow in use. It can be slow to autofocus as well, particularly when fully zoomed in. Also, the lens makes a lot of noise while moving it when recording movies. Enthusiasts might be disappointed by the lack of a hot shoe and raw support.

The Bottom Line

The Nikon Coolpix P600 isn't the quickest camera, but that might be a small price to pay for having such a long lens on a relatively compact, lightweight camera.

The P600's 60x zoom lens is pretty amazing given the camera's size and weight and price. It's not the only 60x zoom on the market, but unlike options from Panasonic and Samsung that start at an ultrawide-angle 20mm, Nikon's lens starts at 24mm. That means while those other cameras stop at 1,200mm, the P600 can be extended to 1,440mm. If that's not enough, you can use Nikon's new Dynamic Fine Zoom to digitally increase the focal length to 2880mm (and it actually works pretty well assuming you don't look too closely).

Keeping the lens steady and your subject framed up isn't easy, but to help with shake you do get optical image stabilization. And there's an electronic viewfinder so you don't have to hold the camera out in front of you when shooting if you don't want to. Still you'll want to have a tripod handy to get the sharpest possible shots.

Nikon Coolpix P600 sample pictures

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Even then, the JPEGs come out of the camera somewhat soft, so you'll probably want to sharpen some of your high-detail photos in post. Like any camera, it has its limitations, but generally speaking it takes some very good photos.

As with most small-sensor point-and-shoots, pictures don't look great at full size, but, if you don't typically enlarge and crop in tight on things, this probably won't be much of an issue. It's only really disappointing if you want to take a closer look at something, such as bird, and you might lose a lot of the feather detail.

For however good the camera is with a lot of light, it's not a camera you'll want to use at higher ISOs. Things take a turn for the worse at ISO 800, but really it's above that when details really start to look smeary and colors desaturate. In low-light situations you'll want to take advantage of the camera's scene modes designed specifically for these conditions.

Video quality is generally very good as well as long as you have a lot of light. However, with low-contrast subjects the camera will struggle to focus when zooming all the way in. On the other hand you might not want to move the lens once you start recording anyway because of the amount of noise that's made when moving. Also, when you start a recording there's a delay of a couple seconds while the camera switches from photo to movie mode and starts recording.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Shooting performance has improved some from the P520. The camera takes 2.1 seconds from off to first shot and the lag between shots without flash is about 1.3 seconds and 1.5 seconds with flash, which is 1 second faster. The camera's high-speed burst will capture at 7 frames per second at full resolution for up to seven frames (though I clocked it at 8fps). Unfortunately, after you fire off those seven shots, you're left waiting about 30 seconds for them to save before you can shoot again. Other continuous-shooting options include a low-speed full-resolution burst capable of 1fps for up to 30 frames and 120fps and 60fps bursts that capture up to 60 shots at VGA and 1-megapixel resolution, respectively.

Shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is 0.3 second in good lighting, which is tolerable, but in our low-light test with less scene contrast, the shutter lag averaged 1.3 seconds. Once you start extending the lens, the camera takes even longer to focus. Once you get out to the 1,440mm position, it can be very slow to focus. This isn't unusual, just something to be aware of if you're going to shoot fast-moving subjects at the telephoto end of the lens. On the other hand, Sony, Panasonic, Canon, and Fujifilm have all improved autofocus speeds in telephoto, making this Nikon one of the slower high-end megazooms available.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The body design has barely changed since the P500, remaining amazingly compact considering the lens, and it actually weighs less than the P520. And the lens is really the bulk of the weight, which makes the rest of the body feel lightweight and cheaply constructed. However, the right-hand grip is deep and comfortable with a textured rubber piece on front, and the large lens barrel gives you ample space to hold and steady the camera with your left hand. The controls are comfortably placed and responsive.

There's a small, but decent, electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a Vari-angle LCD for framing up your shots. The LCD flips out from the body and can be rotated up or down. There is a button to switch back and forth between the EVF and LCD, but you can also flip the LCD so it faces into the body to activate the viewfinder. And, like all LCDs and EVFs, the screen blanks out for a second once you've taken a shot, but it's reasonably fast to recover. To the left of the EVF is a diopter adjustment dial and to its right is a Display button for changing what information is viewed on the displays and a movie record button.

Key specs Nikon Coolpix P600
Price (MSRP) $449.95
Dimensions (WHD) 5x3.4x4.2 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 1 pound 2.4 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 16 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 921K dots/Yes, electronic
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 60x, f3.3-6.5, 24-1440mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080p at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 330 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; wall adapter or computer via Micro-USB
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC

The rest of the controls haven't changed from the P510 (it's a pretty standard digital camera control layout). There is a rocker switch on the lens barrel for controlling the lens. It can be used to zoom in and out (handy when shooting movies), to snap the lens back a bit in telephoto should your subject move out of frame, or for manual focus with peaking. There is also a programmable function button just behind the shutter release; its default is changing continuous-shooting modes, but it can be set for ISO, white balance, metering, AF area mode, color mode, or image size.

The camera's interface is easy enough to navigate that first-time users should have no trouble getting around. Navigation is a bit sluggish, though, with a slight delay with every button press. For those who like to actually take control away from the camera and change settings, this can be somewhat frustrating and it doesn't help that outside of the aforementioned function button, there are no buttons for direct control of ISO, white balance, metering, or AF area modes.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The battery compartment and card slot are under a door on the bottom, right next to the tripod mount, so you can't remove the card or battery while it's mounted. The battery life has been improved, now up to 330 shots. The battery is charged in-camera and the wall adapter takes more than 3 hours to fully charge the battery from zero. If a typical day of shooting for you will include the high-speed burst modes and movie capture and using the 3-inch LCD and the zoom a lot, you'll want a backup battery.

Ports are under a cover on the body's right side; you get a Mini-HDMI and a Micro-USB/AV port, and the latter is no longer the proprietary one Nikon has used in the past, but the one that's used for most mobile devices these days.

There's no accessory shoe for an add-on flash, limiting you to the onboard pop-up one. It doesn't automatically rise when needed, instead remaining off until you push a button on the left side of the camera. It's adequately powerful and there are flash exposure compensation settings available.

Lastly, the P600 has built-in Wi-Fi. You can use it to connect with Android and iOS devices for viewing and transferring photos and videos as well as remotely controlling the camera. Unfortunately, you only get control of the zoom and shutter release and you can't start and stop movie recordings. You can, however, set it to use your smartphone to geotag your photos, which is good since the camera doesn't have GPS.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix P600
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
White balance Auto (normal), Auto (warm lighting), Custom, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash
Recording modes Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Special effects, Night Landscape, Landscape, Subject backlighting/HDR, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, User, Movie, High-Speed Movie
Focus modes 9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF (wide, normal), Subject tracking AF, Target finding AF, Manual
Macro 0.4 inch (at 3 increments from the maximum zoom position to the telephoto position)
Metering modes 224-segment matrix, center-weighted, spot
Color effects Soft, Nostalgic sepia, High-contrast monochrome, High ISO monochrome (ISO 12800), High key, Low key, Selective color, Silhouette, Cross process; Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome (customizable)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 7 shots

The P600 has a nice mix of shooting modes, making it a good choice for both snapshooters and those who want a little more control. There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Nikon's Scene Auto Selector, located in with the other Scene modes. It adjusts settings appropriately based on six common scene types. If the scene doesn't match any of those, it defaults to a general-use Auto. Then there is an Auto mode, which shuts off all photo settings from the user except for image quality and size.

Outside of the Scene Auto Selector there are 17 other scene modes, such as Landscape and Portrait as well as a Pet Portrait mode that will automatically shoot when it detects a cat or dog face, as well as an Easy Panorama Assist that requires you to just press the shutter release and pan the camera vertically or horizontally.

Nikon also added scene modes for birding and moon photos. Each gives you a framing border at the wide-end with an angle of view equivalent to that of 800mm for the former and 1440mm for the latter. Once framed you can press the OK button on the camera and it will shoot the lens to those positions. The Moon mode also lets you adjust hue and exposure compensation. Frankly, I found them more trouble than they were worth because of how slowly the camera responds.

If you want to do more than just point and shoot, the P600 has Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-speed-priority, and Manual modes. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 15 seconds to 1/4,000 of a second (though ISO must be fixed at 100, the aperture at f7.6, and the lens at the 24mm post to access the full range). Apertures at the wide end go from f3.3 to f7.6 with a total of eight stops. The telephoto end has just three stops: f6.5, f7.3, and f8.2.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Beyond aperture and shutter speed, Nikon includes manual adjustments for noise reduction, sharpening, contrast, and saturation, color filters and toning for monochrome photos, and things like exposure bracketing and flash exposure compensation. If you come up with a set you like, you can store them in the Custom mode for easy recall. Lastly, if not having raw support is a deal breaker, well, consider the deal broken.

For video, you can record up to a resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels at either 30p or 60i. There are also a couple of high-speed recording options, including 720p at 60fps and VGA at 120fps. The camera's Special Effects modes, such as Soft, Selective Color, and High-contrast Monochrome, can be used for shooting movies, too.

Conclusion

The Nikon Coolpix P600's zoom range is remarkable, especially given its price and size. No, you won't get dSLR quality photos from it and it lacks some the more enthusiast-targeted features of its competitors such as a hot shoe and raw capture. And, at least for me, the performance is a bit too slow. But if those things aren't crucial for what you're going to be shooting, this should do fine by you.

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7.4

Nikon Coolpix P600

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Image quality 7
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