Nikon COOLPIX P6000: Finally a New Pro-Quality COOLPIX?
Nikon this week announced the COOLPIX P6000, the new flagship model in the COOLPIX line of compact digital cameras. I've long wanted a good small camera that can shoot RAW and allows full metering control. It's been a long time since the days of the COOLPIX 5700, 8800 and others that supported RAW. But is the P6000 a worthy successor?
An initial review of the specs does sound promising. With an effective 13.5 megapixels and a 4x optical zoom (28 - 112mm equivalent), full program, aperture and shutter priority, and manual metering, RAW support and sensitivity up to ISO 6400 I was more than a little intrigued. It has in-lens optical vibration reduction, a built-in flash accessory shoe and even a built in GPS unit for geo-tagging. Not bad at all. But the devil is in the details.
As ISO goes up, so does noise. Nikon knows that, and 13.5 megapixels would show ISO 6400 noise in all its glory. So Nikon decided not to let you try it. At full resolution, the P6000 supports only up to ISO 2000. ISO 3200 and 6400 work with image sizes up to three megapixels (2048 x 1536) only. Still not bad of course, but something not made entirely obvious in Nikon's marketing materials. No problem at all on the slow speed end: the P6000 supports ISO settings as low as ISO 64 in all modes.
And if you are looking for Wi-Fi support, you won't find it. In an odd design choice, the P6000 has wired LAN support, but no Wi-Fi. Granted transfer speeds of wired Ethernet should be much faster, but nothing beats Wi-Fi for convenience. For wired transfers, the built-in high-speed USB should be all most people need.
Now for the really weird gotcha. Yes, the P6000 supports RAW capture, but not NEF capture. If like me you've always thought of NEF as being Nikon's RAW file format, get ready for NRW. Nikon has had a long history of tweaking the NEF format with the release of every new camera, but that's but more in the category of a nuisance than a real problem. But NRW is a whole new beast. According to Nikon (emphasis added) "COOLPIX Picture Control NRW (RAW) files can only be processed in-camera. NRW (RAW) files are compatible for use in-camera, with ViewNX (Windows version only, available early October 2008) or with WIC-based [Windows Imaging Component] applications. Capture NX, Capture NX2 and NEF files are not compatible with NRW (RAW) images." Gosh. In-camera only? How kind of them. Sort of defeats if not the whole purpose of RAW, at least one of the major selling points. The P6000 may have a 2.7 inch LCD screen, but I'm betting you'd rather be editing your images on something bigger than that. And something with a bit better color accuracy and gamut as well. And you Mac users apparently are completely out of luck. Even as a Windows user myself, this makes no sense to me.
It's probably only a matter of time of course before programs appear that will allow you to convert NRW files on your computer. If Nikon doesn't wake up and support this then third parties will fill in the gap. Because people want it, there are already hacks out there to allow RAW capture on a great many early COOLPIX models. It's hard to hold back the collective effort of determined programmers for long.
Nikon says the COOLPIX P6000 will be available starting in September 2008 at a suggested retail price of $499.95.