The P6000 is Nikon’s high-end ($450) pocket camera. It went on sale at the end of September. Being a proud advocate of pocket cameras, I bought one and have been using it for about a month now. I liked it so much in the first week that I decided to use it on a trip to Japan and leave my hulking digital SLR behind.
I’m sure there will be many reviews covering things like the lens resolution and such. Here I will quickly cover a few of the important features, and then get into a laundry list of secondary features that sometimes escape review. This camera has, for example, a built-in GPS receiver to tag images with location. It would be a mistake to buy a camera based on the secondary features, and I’ve never owned any camera that didn’t have a host of minor joys and minor pains. My job is to inform you of what is in store.
Resolution and Low-Light Capability
The camera has two overwhelming virtues. It has a great capability to take photos hand held in low light, and it produces remarkably sharp 13.4 megapixel images The low light capability is the product of an f2.7 lens, a high sensitivity imaging sensor, and an anti-shake mechanism. Automatic exposure mode increases the effective film speed up to 400 or 800 if required to keep a shutter speed of 1/30 or 1/60. The icing on the cake is that the flash is off by default, unlike many pocket cameras where you have to shut it off each time you turn on the camera and don’t want the flash.
The high resolution imagery will not be important for most people most of the time. I like it because the zoom lens starts at 28 mm equivalent and goes to 4X. I do a lot of landscapes, so the wide angle capability is more important to me than telephoto. Nonetheless, there are times when a telephoto is important. Having a much longer zoom would make the camera larger than pocket-sized. Also, the aperture decreases with more magnification. Enlarging a part of a high resolution accomplishes the zoom function, keeps the aperture, and provides a larger field of view.
The low-light capabilities and sharpness are more important than all else. Nonetheless, there are are interesting features and peculiarities that deserve comment.
There is a built-in GPS receiver that can tag images with their location. One might imagine this would work automatically, automatically tagging the coordinates when you were outdoors and satellites were in view. That’s not the way it works. To initiate a tag, rotate the selector knob on top of the camera to the GPS position, press the Menu button, then turn on the GPS feature, and initiate a position update. When you request an update, the camera becomes inoperative for picture taking until it finishes, about five minutes. In my initial tries, five times out of six the update fails. The failure message appears on the screen for only a few seconds.
The one time it worked was by placing the camera on my car’s dashboard, under the strongly-sloping windshield. I suspect that in general the update would work better if the camera was placed on a surface away from your body during the update. If it’s hanging from the neck strap, your body will block some of the satellites. After the initial update attempt, it will try again five times at thirty minute intervals. Consistent use of the GPS drains the battery in one day.
I suspect that a proper regimen of placing the camera in the open could make the GPS work more regularly. I tried placing the camera on a park bench a few feet away from me under an open sky. The GPS lock on to the satellites in a minute or so, a good sign that careful procedures could be successful.
One the GPS data is captured, you must pry it out of the camera. Nikon claims to be obeying a standard format for recording the data, and that may well be. However, Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 does not recognize the data. You must use so free, but extremely lame, software from Nikon to view the data. The story is much the same for getting at images taken in raw mode. I suppose that Adobe and others will eventually get around to supporting the data, but it isn’t available now.
Power, memory, and connections
To turn the camera on or off, the power button must be held down for several seconds. I suppose that is designed to prevent accidental actuation, but other cameras work successfully without the annoyance. I am getting into the habit of watching the lens retract to confirm that something has happened.
There is a small door on the bottom of the camera that provides access to the battery and memory card. The sliding latch comes unlatched from time to time in my use of the camera, perhaps once every 200 photos in my usage. The battery and memory card are separately retained, so having the door open doesn’t do any harm. I just worry that the will get sheared off. This is a job for duct tape.
The camera uses SD memory cards. It is a bit difficult to find in the manual, but it is SDHC compatible. An 8GB SDHC chip holds about 1200 photos with the best quality of JPG compression. Currently 32GB chips are available (for about $140), which might be of interest if you take a lot of video or take many still frames in raw mode. The camera comes with “normal” compression set as the default. Once you put it in “fine” it stays that way.
The USB cable for the camera looks as if it has a standard mini-USB connector, but it is in fact an oddball design. That means if you want a spare cable, you’ll have to hunt it down and probably pay extra.
The battery is charged in the camera, rather than with an external charger. I didn’t like that arrangement at first, but I now think it is a good idea. It eliminates the battery holder part of the charger, so you only have to carry the charger brick. It also allows operation of the camera under power for lengthy operations. The camera has the capability for taking time lapse movies with one frame every thirty seconds. The flash can be used in time lapse mode, and having the camera plugged in aids that.
There is an Internet connector on the bottom of the camera. As far as I have discovered, the only function of that connection is to upload photos to a Nikon site, where you can pay to store them. It would be better if the photos could be uploaded to any FTP site.
There are hints that the camera can be remotely controlled over the Internet. Some Nikon software enables remote control of some Nikon cameras, but I don’t know what the situation is with respect to the P6000.
There is an automatic bracketing mode that claims to record three images within a second with a single shutter click. The unfortunate limitation is that the maximum bracketing range is plus or minus a stop. For high dynamic range imagery (HDRI tutorial) it would be better to have two, or even three, stops of bracketing.
All in all, the low light capabilities and high resolution are the main features of the camera, more important than all else. Still, there are a host of other useful and interesting features to be explored.
The Nikon site has complete rundown of the P6000 features and specifications.
The Quick Shot Artist main site has a page on selecting a camera that offers suggestions on the relative importance of camera features. Images taken with the P6000 hand held under restaurant lighting are featured in Dessert at the Platinum Buffet. In that essay the picture of the girls at the chocolate fountain is a small segment cropped from a wide angle image. A very-close closeup taken with the P6000 is in Shopping Center Hibiscus (I really didn’t punch up the colors in Photoshop) and the P6000 used with back lighting in Back Lighting in a Botanical Garden.