Review - Astrophotography with Nikon Coolpix P900
Posted: 1 June 2018
Updated: 12 June 2018
The wife decided to replace her failing Canon compact video camera with the Nikon Coolpix P900 digital camera. It was purchased from B&H Photo and Video. She agreed to let me try it for astrophotography for this review.
The basic specifications for the Coolpix P900 are:
16MP CMOS sensor (4608 x 3456 pixels)
Built-in lens, focal length 24-2000mm (35mm equivalent, 83x optical zoom)
Maximum aperture f/2.8-f/6.5 (depending on focal length)
4X digital zoom
Optical Vibration Reduction
Vari-angle 3" TFT LCD screen
Up to full HD 1080p video (12.5-100 fps, depending on resolution)
Built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, and GPS
Auto and manual exposure control
Shutter speed 15 seconds to 1/4000sec (no Bulb mode)
ISO 100-6400 (extended 12800)
Filter thread 67mm
Memory card: SD, SDHC, SDXC
Weight 2 lbs
Some initial observations about the P900:
Only a "Quick Start Guide" is included with the camera. The full manual (PDF) has to be downloaded.
The camera has a built-in vibration reduction capability. But to turn it OFF when the camera is mounted on a tripod you have to use the Setup menu. There is no specific button to set VR ON or OFF.
Similarly, there is no button to turn manual focus ON. You have to use a Menu. But unlike with DSLRs, the P900 can be set to focus at Infinity (thanks for that Nikon!).
The LCD screen has to be moved away from the camera body to make the screen visible to see the image area or to use the Menu. However, once the screen has been moved off the camera and rotated it can be placed back on the body for use. Fortunately, the Menu is visible in the viewfinder if the screen is OFF.
The electronic viewfinder and the LCD screen are not active simultaneously. When you move your eye away from the viewfinder the screen turns ON. When you move your eye back to the viewfinder the screen turns OFF. There is a button to toggle manually between the two.
While not major issues, these differences from the Nikon DSLRs I have used do take some getting used to.
The P900 does not have a Raw image mode; it saves images as JPEG files in either Fine (compression ratio 1:4) and Normal (1:8). You can also set the image size from 4608x3456 (default) down to 640x480. Aspect ratios of 4:3, 16:9, 3:2, and 1:1 are available. One other point about the lack of Raw; there is no Lightroom Lens Profile for the P900, at least not from Adobe. That's due to the camera shooting in JPEG only. For this review, unless otherwise noted, photos taken with the P900 have not been cropped and only minimal editing was done in Adobe Lightroom and/or GraphicConverter.
For a camera size comparison this photo shows my Nikon D7200 DSLR (with Nikon 18-140mm lens) on the left, the wife's Nikon Coolpix P900 in the middle, and my Nikon D850 DSLR (with Tamron 24-70mm lens) on the right:
One of the biggest features of the P900 is the 83X optical zoom. At its extreme it is like doing prime focus photography with a f/6.5 2000mm focal length telescope. Of course, with that much magnification using a tripod is a must, especially in low light conditions.
Before I began my astrophotography tests I did some terrestrial photography in the daytime to get a feel for the camera and its optical zoom. Here are two photos of my observatory, the first at full wide-angle and the second with some zoom:
As an example of landscape photography, here are three photos. The first one shows my observatory (center) at full wide-angle. Just to the right of the observatory is Kitt Peak National Observatory (65 miles away). The second photo with some zoom shows Kitt Peak better. And the third photo at full zoom shows many of the observatories on top of the mountain.
The P900 makes a fine camera for bird photography:
Animals make nice subjects for the P900 (both photos slightly cropped):
And if you like photographing aircraft in flight, the P900 is pretty amazing at that too:
I was happy with the P900 for general photography. My wife will be too.
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