A little zoom goes a long way when it comes to what photos you're able to snap—and with a 60x optical zoom, the Nikon P600 has more than just a little zoom. The P600 currently leads the extended zoom category while most competitors sit down around a 50x optical zoom. Add in a macro mode that can shoot as close as .2 inches from the lens and the Nikon P600 looks to be a pretty versatile camera.
The P600 steams from the P500 family and had enough of a jump in the zoom to warrant a new line (The P530 is a new more budget-friendly option but with less zoom). With that big 60x zoom and a price right around $450, where does the camera stand in such a competitive category? We put the Nikon P600 through a battery of tests—here's what we discovered.
Nikon P600: Body & Design
Extended zoom cameras are not meant to be compact, pocketable cameras. The Nikon P600 measures about 4.5 inches from the front of the lens to the viewfinder. But while larger cameras have more to lug around, they are often more comfortable to grip and the P600 is no exception. The large textured grip fits easily in the hand, making for some pretty comfortable shooting.
Zoom cameras are known for their big lenses—the P600 has a toggle on the left of the lens barrel as well as one at the top of the camera for two ways to getting up close. The function button, on/off button and mode dial also sit at the top of the camera.
A large tilting LCD sits at the back of the camera—it flips out to the side so you can view the screen from the front of the camera for selfies, or you can tilt the screen for snapping photos at odd angles instead of doing yoga with your camera. The excellent screen is paired with an electronic viewfinder. To swap between the screen and the viewfinder, there's a set of buttons to change which one you want to use. The Nikon P600 is actually the first camera I've reviewed with an electronic viewfinder that required a manual switch to use the viewfinder—the others have a sensor to switch automatically. The viewfinder is nice to have, but the switching back and forth is rather annoying and I didn't see a benefit of having the button instead of the sensor.
The back of the camera also houses a dedicated video record button, a control wheel, the menu navigation options (which also doubles as a second control wheel) plus shortcuts for flash, exposure, macro and timer. The timer shortcut no longer includes the option for burst mode like many models do—you have to head into the menu to change that option. It's a setting I change often and a shortcut that I certainly missed.
The Nikon P600 is equipped with manual modes and the best designed cameras with manual will allow you to adjust all three elements of the exposure triangle, including ISO, without having to go into the menu, either through physical controls or a quick menu.
If you're not using manual modes and you instead use scene modes, you have to head into the menu to switch the scene you are using. The control wheels don't have a function here—it would be nice if simply turning the control wheel scrolled through the various scene mode options.
While the Nikon P600 has a comfortable design with an excellent tilting LCD screen, a few elements of the navigation could certainly be improved on.
Nikon P600: User Experience & Performance
|A shot taken with the Bird Watching mode at full zoom. The mode helped to focus on a small, moving object far away, though it's still a little soft.|
The Nikon P600 includes full manual modes and I spent quite a bit of time using these settings. The only place I had difficult here was trying to use that entire 60x zoom on a fidgety bird—the autofocus had a hard time picking up something small and moving and so far away. That's when I noticed there's a new scene mode called Bird-Watching. I switched over and didn't have any more problems after that. It's an excellent addition to a long zoom camera and worked well. Along with that new bird mode, the Nikon P600 includes the usual scene options, including the more advanced options like panorama. I wasn't able to test out all of them, but the ones I checked out seemed to work quite well. There's also a scene auto selector that will choose a scene mode for you. The moon and backlighting modes also look like new additions to Nikon's typical selections. Special effects, or digital filters, also have their spot on the mode dial and many are even adjustable. If you hit the record button while in the special effects mode, you'll get a special effect movie.
One of the Nikon P600's best features is versatility. That 60x zoom works well, but so does the macro mode, which focuses as close as .2 inches from the lens. Macro works best for extremely close shots at the widest view, without being zoomed in, but I took a few close-ups at full zoom as well. Here's a quick visual of what that 60x zoom looks like:
|At 0x zoom||At 60x zoom|
Speed-wise, the Nikon P600 sits at about average for the category with a 7 fps burst mode. Shutter lag is minimal at about 1.5 seconds before the camera will take a second shot, but that number will increase a little as the zoom increases. With autofocus, the time between single shots is 2.5 to 3 seconds. The processing speed on the P600 was disappointing. The 7 fps burst mode will take up to 7 shots at a time, but those photos take about 30 seconds to process before you can take another shot (In comparison, the Sony HX400 takes 12 seconds to process ten photos).
Nikon P600: Image Quality
When it comes to image quality, shots from the Nikon Coolpix P600 were excellent and on par or above other cameras we've reviewed in the extended zoom category at the under $500 price point.
The automatic white balance settings from the P600 were excellent. The preset manual and automatic white balance resulted in two very similar shots in our tests. A warm auto white balance is also available, along with the usual presets for different lighting types like florescent and tungsten. Colors were accurate and well saturated.
|Auto White Balance||Preset Manual White Balance|
In our sharpness test, the Nikon P600 performed excellent and slightly sharper than the Sony HX400 at the same aperture. Of course, this sharpness lends itself to excellent detail, particularly in macro, but the camera also captured dramatic lighting in landscapes well. As you zoom in, the image quality does drop slightly and images become a bit softer and not quite as sharp as with wide angles. Depending on what lighting you are shooting in, camera shake can come into play at the larger zooms as well.
Noise reduction is solid for the category and price point. Shots taken at ISO 800 are still solid and useable, though you're likely to notice a bit if you start cropping. The P600 handles low light okay too—there's a few options with a brighter lens, which allows you to use a faster shutter speed and avoid blur, but I could still take some decent handheld shots in a dimly lit room.
As I'd expect from any camera, a 60x zoom is pretty hard to hold steady, but the image stabilization was enough that I could capture some 60x shots without a tripod. The speed of the lens drops quite a bit as you zoom, but there isn't a camera on the market currently for this price point that will keep the same aperture from 0x to 60x.
The picture quality of video footage from the P600 is just as solid as the images, but the sound is another story. When you zoom while recording, the lens makes a noise that reminds me of an old Nintendo game. Once zoomed, the focus did not adjust quickly either. But for quick videos, the P600 will do okay if you're not zooming in and out (and I haven't yet met a zoom camera with stellar video quality). High frame rates are also available, for those who love slo-mo.
Of course, all of this takes into consideration that the P600 is a zoom camera. It has a smaller sensor than an entry-level DSLR because smaller sensors allow for a bigger zoom without a giant lens. Comparing apples to apples (i.e. zoom camera to zoom camera), the P600 has pretty solid image quality across almost all the factors we look at and that 1/2.3” sensor is a pretty common size for sub-$500 superzooms. Comparing apples to oranges, you'll have much better images with something like the Nikon D3300 for a little more money, but when you add a lens that gets you a substantial amount of zoom, the price difference (and size of the camera) is huge. Zoom allows you to capture photos you can't with smaller cameras, but there is always a bit of sacrifice in quality at the longer end of the zoom. Considering size, price and category, the P600 holds up well in image quality.
Nikon P600: Conclusion
The Nikon Coolpix P600 has excellent image quality that ranks at or near the top for the $500 price point of the extended zoom category; the design and performance, however, isn't best-in-class. The P600 is an excellent camera for those looking for an all-in-one to take both macro and telephoto shots, particularly those that take a lot of nature shots (like birdwatchers). Without RAW shooting, enthusiasts and those that prefer to edit their shots should look elsewhere.
The extended zoom category is quite competitive and there's several models around this same price point. The Sony HX400 is faster and better for sports shooters than the P600 and also features a more user-friendly design as well as RAW shooting, but the P600 is a bit sharper, has a longer zoom and that nice tilting LCD screen. The Fujifilm Finepix S1 has a weather-resistant design, a faster lens and RAW shooting, but again has a 50x zoom instead of 60x. The Olympus Stylus SP-100 has a pop-up sight to help find the right spot when you're looking through a 50x zoom, but has a maximum shutter speed of 1/1700 while the P600 heads up to 1/4000. The Panasonic Lumix FZ70 also has a 60x zoom, and as an older model, is a bit cheaper.
Zoom allows you to snap images you couldn't with cameras with tiny 4x zooms, the sacrifice is a smaller sensor for the price. As with any other camera, it all comes down to what features are more important to you and what you shoot most. The Nikon P600 certainly produced some impressive images and is overall a solid performer, ideal for casual nature photographers or family snapshots while enthusiasts and sports photographers will want to look at other models.