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

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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.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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