I’m a Nikon enthusiast. I own two professional digital SLR bodies and several lenses, but I wanted something small to carry around when I didn’t want to lug a big SLR around. You know, night on the town or anywhere where a big camera would attract too much unwanted attention. So when Nikon announced a point and shoot (P&S) camera that supported a RAW file format, I was immediately interested. When I heard about all the other bells and whistles on this P&S, I was determine to get one. So does it live up to all the hype? Let begin with what I liked.
13.5 Megapixel RAW files – Yep, it’s even got a higher pixel count than my D300 and depending on the settings I can get some great enlargements or a lot of flexibility to crop. With RAW files, there’s more latitude for post-processing adjustments.
Fully Automatic or Manual – Just like its bigger brothers, the P6000 has Programmed Auto, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority or Full Manual modes. A large selection dial on top of the camera selects the mode. The command dial near your thumb controls the selection of speed, aperture or both in manual or programmed modes. It also has specific scene modes just like Nikon’s other P&S cameras.
Two User Modes – After you’ve customized the settings to what you like, you can save them to one of two user modes to recall anytime by just selecting U1 or U2 on the mode dial. Pretty handy.
Auto or Manual Focus – Yes, manual focus on a P&S. Select the macro/MF button and put the camera into manual focus mode and you have even more control. Another to the left of the screen activates a close up section of the screen–apparently to help focus–and also allows the same command dial that control everything else to also focus the lens. It sounds good in theory, but more about that later. Auto focus is probably easier and does a good job.
Facial Recognition – Select Face Recognition for focus mode and the camera will find the faces in the image shown on the screen and put a square yellow box around each face. A half-press of the shutter and the box changes to green to indicate it’s in focus. The caveat here is that the entire face must be visible for the camera to recognize it. If your subject has their face slightly turned, it won’t see it.
Geotagging – This is Nikon’s first foray into the GPS arena and when it does work, it works well. It’s not as quick in acquiring a position as the one I use on my SLR, but because it’s built-in, it’s always available and convenient. When you use it with good software or upload your pictures to Flickr, it proves to be very accurate. Great if you do location scouting or if you’re just getting old like me and having a harder time remembering where you took a picture.
VR (Vibration Reduction) – By default the VR mode is on. I can’t see any reason to turn it off. Even when mounted on a tripod, it works fine and causes no problems. Of course, I haven’t tried a long time exposure yet and that’s usually where VR gives me problems on my bigger cameras.
Optical Viewfinder – This is a rarity in this day and age, but I like to have this option when I really want to be discreet and not even have the viewfinder screen turn on. It zooms with the lens but only shows about 80% of the actual image.
Decent Movie Mode – It’s only TV quality and not HD, but it works for those few times I would want to record a short video. I captures the sound and allows you to zoom the lens during the movie, unlike some cameras.
Ergonomic Design – The camera has enough size and weight to be substantial but not too much to be difficult to carry around. Granted, it probably won’t fit into your shirt pocket, but it can certainly fit in places your big SLR won’t. The camera has a magnesium front and rubberized grip and feels like a bigger camera. The buttons are, for the most part, in logical places and the layout will seem familiar to Nikon SLR owners. The one thing that I had to get used to was the zoom control. On the P6000 it’s in the same place that the power control is on Nikon SLR’s.
Flash i-TTL Hot Shoe – You can use your big flash on this little camera. When I mount the SB-800 on this camera, it dwarfs the camera itself. I think the SB-400 would be ideal if you need more flash power than the built-in flash provides, but for most situation, I think the built-in is more than sufficient.
4X Zoom ED Lens – Equivalent to a 28-112mm in 35mm format. It’s more than enough for most needs. If I need more than than, I’ll grab my SLR. The two ED elements do a good job of correcting chromatic aberrations.
Lens Accessories – There’s a screw ring that allows a 0.75X wide-angle adapter to be used, making the effective focal length about 21mm.
Distortion – At the widest zoom, there is a lot of barrel distortion. You’ll especially notice it when taking pictures of building or anything that has parallel lines in the image. At the telephoto end of the zoom there is just a slight amount of pincushioning. Nikon must have been aware of this issue since they’ve included a menu option for Distortion Control. It works, but there are limitations which I mention further in this review. At the widest zoom, there is a fair amount of image softness in the corners which I would expect in a P&S.
Noise – Even though Nikon advertises that this camera goes from ISO 64 to 6400, The usable range is effectively 100-400. ISO 64 is just too slow unless you have a tripod. Everything above ISO 400 produces too much noise. Even at ISO 800, the number of artifacts in the image starts to get distracting. At ISO 3200 and 6400, the camera automatically reduces the resolution to 3 megapixels. So you end up with a photo that’s grainy from both the noise and the small resolution. In other words, barely usable. I can’t really think of a situation where I would want that.
Horrible Software and Mac Support – This is usually Nikon’s downfall. There software is so bad, it’s not even usable. As a matter of fact, I can’t even use the latest ViewNX software that the installation program downloads from Nikon. Every time I try to view my images, it crashes on my Mac. The RAW format is a new Nikon proprietary format: NRW, and it only seems to work natively on Windows Vista machines. To use it on my Mac, I need to convert them using Lightroom or ViewNX…which, of course, doesn’t work. I’ll need to wait until Apple releases Aperture NRW support so I can use my normal workflow.
Poor Battery Life – The P6000 is using battery technology developed nearly 4 years ago. It’s the same battery that my old 3700 P&S used: the EN-EL5. Good for maybe 250 shots if you don’t use the flash much and turn off the GPS. With the GPS on, and updating only every 5 minutes, the battery life can be measured in hours since the GPS updates even when the camera is turned off. With all the bells and whistles this camera has, you would think they would come up with better battery technology. A spare is essential.
GPS Acquisition – It takes a long time to acquire the satellites when you first get to an area and turn on the GPS. In an open area, it took over 5 minutes to first acquire. Thereafter, it still sometimes took up to 2 minutes to get a good signal. If you’re inside or amongst trees or buildings, it may take even longer and even then, it may only get three good satellite fixes which means your altitude measurement may be less than accurate.
Features Disabled in RAW mode – Talk about bait and switch. If you use RAW mode, many of the image adjustment features are disabled. True, you would probably do most of the adjustments in post-processing, but if the Nikon software doesn’t work, how do I correct the barrel distortion since the Distortion Control is disable? Active D-lighting isn’t a great loss, nor is the ISO 3200 and 6400 settings that won’t work in RAW mode, but Auto Bracketing is a nice feature to lose. They don’t tell you this in any of the advertising or on most of the trade sites.
Popup Flash – I’m not sure why Nikon did this. There was plenty of room to have the flash flush with the front. In the fully automatic mode, I would expect the flash to pop up and fire if needed, but that doesn’t happen. You have to manually pop up the flash if you want flash. Some people may like this feature as an easy way to disable the flash, which then begs the question: why is there a disable option in the flash menu?
Built-in LAN – Sounds like great idea until you realize that it’s wired Ethernet and it only connects to Nikon’s Picturetown service. Pretty much useless if you’re using wireless like most people.
2.7 inch Screen – There was room for a 3 inch screen but Nikon opted to use the smaller screen when everybody else is maxing out screen sizes.
No Battery Charger – With such poor battery performance, you’ll need an extra battery. But how to charge it? You only get an AC adapter with the camera which forces you to charge the battery IN the camera. Which means you’re tethered to a wall outlet until you charge two or more batteries. Add the separate MH-61 battery charger to your shopping list.
Remote Control – You can use an infrared remote to trigger the camera. Why didn’t they include it with the camera though? Minor, but annoying point. (I have the infrared remote from a previous camera, but most people will not and I always find it annoying when companies make you pay extra for these little things.)
As a point and shoot camera, the P6000 is very good. It takes excellent pictures that you would typically use a P&S for. But for those occasions when you want to do a little more, and you would think with all the features of this camera, it’s not an unreasonable expectation that it should do a much better job. Unfortunately, even all the features have limitations if you choose to use the NRW format. And forget about making it work on your Mac.
After looking at this and the Canon G10, I’m tempted to return the P6000 and get the Canon. It’s priced competitively and has many of the same problems but at least it works on my Mac. But then, I’d have to give up the GPS.
Should you buy one? That depends. Do you really need 13.5 megapixel RAW images? Do you need the GPS feature? Can you live with poor battery performance and the need for a charger and extra batteries? Are you willing to spend $550 for the camera and necessary accessories? If so, you might consider the P6000. You might also want to consider a D40 or D40x. But if these features are a mystery to you, you’d be better off with a much cheaper camera without all the extra features. Any of the Nikon S-series P&S cameras or the Panasonics would do the job splendidly.