The Nikon P6000 is a high-end compact with a wideangle 28-12mm lens, 13MP, and new features including Raw shooting and GPS, so how does it perform?
Fortunately, the quality gap between cameraphones and enthusiast compacts is still fairly large, and it’ll be some time before this gap narrows to a significant level. The inroads Panasonic, Ricoh and Sigma have all recently made have pushed the bar even higher, with their models boasting handling, build quality and a standard of images that rightly puts them in a class of their own. Together with the superzoom bridge cameras and entry-level DSLRs currently available – as well as the threat posed by the Micro Four Thirds format – the sub-£500 camera market is as abundant as it’s ever been.
So where does Nikon’s P6000 fit into all of this? It’s certainly capable by the standard of most compacts, with a 13.5MP sensor, Raw shooting and range of manual controls. It also boasts compatibility with external flashguns, but is it a viable alternative to the DSLR?
The P6000 features a 1/1.7in CCD sensor, with a total pixel count of 13.9MP. The sensor outputs images at an effective resolution of 13.5MP, equating to a measurement of 4224 x 3168 pixels at its highest setting, with the company’s EXPEED processing technologies in the driving seat.
Nikon has responded to perhaps the greatest criticism of the P5100, which concerned the lack of a Raw shooting mode. As with the Canon G10, the P6000 records images in either JPEG, Raw, or both formats, and also allows control over both the size and compression of the accompanying JPEG. The Raw file itself is in a different format from the NEF files produced by Nikon’s DSLRs, and may be processed in-camera or via software. The only Raw software supplied with the camera is the ViewNX package, though this offers little in the way of processing options.
The P6000 offers a wider lens than its predecessor, with its optic beginning at an equivalent wideangle of 28mm and culminating at 112mm. It also offers lens-based image stabilisation, in the form of Nikon’s Vibration Reduction, and sees the inclusion of two Extra Low Dispersion (ED) elements to help control chromatic aberration.
The P6000 is also the world’s first compact to incorporate a Global Positioning System (GPS). This is accessed via the mode dial, whereby the camera locates satellites that will help map its exact position, later displayed via the supplied software.
Other features include Distortion Control, which corrects barrel distortion in images caused by the wide end of the lens, and the long-standing D-Lighting. The rear, meanwhile, sports a 2.7in LCD screen with a 230,000-dot resolution, above which sits an optical viewfinder.
Perhaps a more topical point is that the P6000 comes with a printed instruction manual, one that is both clear and detailed. We regularly get letters about this issue, and it’s nice to see Nikon providing this, particularly for a comprehensive compact such as the P6000.
Considering its specifications, the P6000 is relatively small and light, with its 2.7in LCD screen giving way to a DSLR-style set of buttons to its left.
Among these buttons is a dedicated My Menu Option, for quick access to six settings, with a further Function button for even speedier access to any one in particular. In both cases, these may be customised to the user’s choice. The mode dial on the top plate, meanwhile, comprises the standard PASM and Auto controls, in addition to Scene, Movie and two Custom modes.Accessing the GPS function is also done via the mode dial, as is the My Picturetown upload service. The remainder of the top plate features a built-in flash and a hotshoe, with a control dial and zoom rocker on the other side.
As well as its size and weight, the P6000 also has the advantage of a defined grip, which with its textured rubber finish makes it a comfortable to hold – even in one hand, though most of the controls need to be changed with the left hand as they are located on the left of the rear. Even so, it’s a practical camera to slip inside a coat pocket.
The P6000 takes around a half a second longer than Canon’s G10 to start up and shut down, though focusing times are comparable in good light. The menu system is clear in its descriptions, and with options split into three tabs navigating your way through it isn’t too much trouble, either. Images do seem to be processed a little slowly, though, with the P6000 needing a little time to breathe in between shots. Raw images, for example, take over two seconds to write, though JPEGs are written much quicker.
As I found with the P5100 (reviewed in WDC Dec 07), it also takes around a second for detail to be fully resolved by the screen upon review, though shooting at smaller image sizes reduces this lag. Processing Raw images in-camera is a fairly basic affair, with only five key parameters available for alteration. Any changes may be saved as a file alongside the original, and you can helpfully resize images if you’ve run out of room on your card. Unfortunately, you can’t view the effects of any changes you make upon the image until it comes to saving them.
Another area where the P6000 falls short is with manual focusing, mainly because the low resolution of the screen makes fine focusing difficult to correctly ascertain. This is compounded by the operation itself, which requires you to hold down the MF button while turning the control dial; as the dial sits on the top plate it’s a case of turning it in increments rather than in one continual motion, which makes the process a little tardy. Unfortunately, both the Function and manual focusing controls operate in a similar fashion.
Setting up the GPS function requires you to first update the GPS data, whereby the relevant satellites are located and synchronised to the camera (you can also use the system to synchronise time and date). The success rate for connecting is patchy at best, with results dependent on your surroundings. Outside, I only managed to successfully synchronise the camera on two occasions: once on a roof terrace (after a few seconds) and once at an overground train station (after a few minutes), while indoors the system failed to connect at all. It also failed to connect in any built-up areas. While Nikon should be applauded for incorporating this technology into the P6000, unfortunately it doesn’t work with the required finesse to make it practical, and doesn’t therefore add any real value to the camera.
Exposure And Tone
The P6000’s metering system delivers pleasing results, though it’s prone to underexposure, occasionally giving images a muddy appearance. Images from the P6000 are saturated, with vibrant colours, and so are good for immediate use. They can look a little over-processed for some tastes, though.
Indoors, the P6000 often applies a magenta or yellow cast to images taken either under fluorescent light, or a mixture of both day and fluorescent light. Outdoors, it continues with this slight warmth, which lends itself well in sunny conditions.
Detail And Sharpness
On lower sensitivities the P6000 can record a high level of detail. It takes a similar approach to sharpness as it does to colour, and straight out of the camera images are, on the whole, noticeably sharp. However, it seems as though this sharpness is compensating for the lack of detail the camera resolves, which isn’t quite as high as the Canon G10. One area where the P6000 does excel is with its control over chromatic aberrations, with just traces present.
JPEG And RAW
Thanks to the extra contrast and sharpening applied to the P6000’s images, its JPEGs are suitable for immediate use. When viewed at 100%, images can appear a little over-sharpened, enhancing the luminance noise present to give a slight gritty texture. Its Raw files are much smoother in texture, though softer because of this. As more chromatic aberration tends to be present in the P6000’s Raw images than in its JPEGs, it suggests that its suppression comes courtesy of in-camera processing rather than via the ED elements within the P6000’s lens.
Noise begins to be noticeable at around ISO 400, with chroma noise and the effects of noise reduction showing early in the ISO range, and this trend continues on higher sensitivity settings. Tested side by side, there were odd occasions where the P6000 managed to produce better detail than the Canon G10 at higher settings, but a lot of the time images simply look sharper because of the extra sharpening that has been applied in-camera.
Value for Money
The P6000’s street price is just over £300, which means it goes up against many other enthusiasts’ compacts such as the Panasonic LX3, and Canon G10.
Of course, most entry-level DSLRs can be had for around the same price, though the P 6000 strikes a balance between image quality and portability – and it does so very well indeed.
The P6000 does have a great many features that may find themselves useful, even when the hit-and-miss GPS system isn’t taken into account, so it’s fairly good value.
The P6000 has given us little in the way of surprises, and in many respects what I?ve found mirrors what I concluded from testing its predecessor.
The obligatory increase in resolution is perhaps unnecessary for most users ? and potentially detrimental to image quality ? though by the standard of most compacts, it?s capable of producing impressively detailed images.
Its control over chromatic aberrations is impressive, it handles well and is an all-round portable option. Its menu system is easy to understand, and while the inclusion of GPS and the my Picturetown functions are niceties rather than necessities, having in-camera Raw processing, D-Lighting and Distortion Control make it a particularly useful compact if you want immediate processing power in-camera.
Yes, there are others at this price which perform to a similar level, but even so it?s still an excellent compact.