CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
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|
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.
As for shooting speed, Nikon thankfully made significant strides over the unusably slow P80, bringing the P90 into line with what you expect from a camera in its price range. It wakes and shoots in a reasonable 2 seconds, and it focuses and shoots about as quickly as its competitors in bright and dim conditions--0.7 second and 0.8 second, respectively. At 2 seconds, it's a bit zippier from shot to shot than most. While its flash shot-to-shot time of 3.3 seconds isn't great, it's also not unusual. Continuous-shooting performance remains about the same as the P80, 1.4fps, but the burst rate isn't the problem so much as the EVF, which (like all EVFs) blacks out between shots. You just close your eyes and pray. That said, it's still not quite fast enough to keep up with children and pets, as they're in and out of the frame in a shot or two.
Unfortunately, the P90's photo quality generally disappoints; in some ways it's worse than the P80's, and not what you should expect for its price. The colors are vivid, but automatic white balance is a little greenish-yellow outdoors and a lot yellow indoors.
Exposures tend to be good. But the lens displays quite a bit of purple fringing and shots look overprocessed. An excessively noisy blue channel combines with Nikon's aggressive noise suppression and blurs most of the detail away starting as low as ISO 200; if you have a lot of detail in your scene, the photos are borderline at ISO 200 and unusable by ISO 800. So depending upon what you shoot, the P90's photos can range from good to just OK.
For movie capture, the P90 still includes a neat time-lapse mode and a 30fps VGA movie mode; the latter of which produces reasonably good AVI clips at a bit rate of about 1.1 megabytes per second, but it's pretty limited: no optical zoom or optical VR available while shooting.
While it's a perfectly serviceable camera, there are simply better options for the money than the Nikon Coolpix P90.
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|