Nikon P90 Review

 
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Nikon Coolpix P90 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
A few noticeable color shifts, and strong oversaturation in bright reds and blues.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Saturation. The Nikon Coolpix P90 oversaturates strong reds and blues quite a bit, and overdoes some oranges as well. Bright greens and yellows appear in check, however. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. Here, with the color balanced properly for the light source, the Coolpix P90's Caucasian skin tones had a very slight pink cast, while darker skin tones were noticeably shifted toward yellow. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Nikon Coolpix P90 showed several color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, pushing cyan strongly toward blue (noticeable in skies), orange toward yellow, and some yellows toward green. All greens also shift toward yellow, something you can see quite plainly in daylight shots of green foliage. Though overall color is generally good, performance here is a little worse than average. (Particularly noticeable are the off-looking sky hues, flat greens and very pink Caucasian skin tones.) Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Most accurate color with Manual white balance, though a hint greenish. Average performance in terms of exposure.

Auto White Balance
+0.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was reddish in the Auto white balance mode, and quite yellow in Incandescent mode. Manual white balance mode, which produced the most accurate overall color, shows a slight greenish tint. (Indeed, numerical white values also show a very slight nudge toward green.) The Nikon Coolpix P90 required a +0.3 EV exposure compensation boost to get a reasonably bright exposure, which is about average for this shot. And though results are just a hint dim at +0.3 EV, anything brighter produced very strong highlights on the background. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

 

Outdoors, daylight
Very high contrast under harsh outdoor lighting, with skewed color balance in the portrait, though better results in the house shot.

Auto White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Nikon Coolpix P90 had some trouble with harsh lighting, producing high contrast. The outdoor portrait shows very strong highlights, but dark midtones and severe shadows, in addition to a strong yellow color cast. Shadow detail is modest at best, limited by image noise and strong noise suppression. An adjustable D-Lighting setting attempts to even out the exposure, but results in flattening out color and muting saturation at the same time.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, ~1,600 - 1,800 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,800 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,600 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,800 lines per picture height horizontally, but only to about 1,600 vertically. Extinction began around 2,000 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fine detail is slightly soft overall, affected by image noise as well as noise suppression efforts from the camera. High contrast areas show a very small amount of edge enhancement.

Definition of high-contrast
elements is affected by
noise suppression and strong
evidence of edge enhancement.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of hair here.

Sharpness. The Nikon Coolpix P90 captures a lot of fine detail, though detail definition suffers from noise suppression and image noise in the midtones and shadows. In high contrast areas, the camera produces strong edge enhancement artifacts, such as along the trim in the crop above left, and even in the tree bark and leaf details above the roof. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows strong noise suppression, with even the lighter areas of hair showing limited detail. Individual strands are only distinct due to contrast. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise at the lower sensitivity settings, though with noticeable noise suppression. Both noise and noise suppression hinder detail at the highest settings, as well as alter color balance.

ISO 64 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800
ISO 1,600
 
ISO 3,200
2,048 x 1,536
ISO 6,400
2,048 x 1,536

The Nikon Coolpix P90's lowest sensitivity settings show low noise, but efforts at noise suppression are very noticeable even at ISO 64. Fine detail continues to lose definition as the ISO increases. By ISO 400, fine details are quite soft, and by ISO 800, color noise pixels break through and become visible. ISOs 1,600 and up show steadily increasing noise and noise suppression efforts, with chroma noise pushing the color balance toward yellow. This is not the best performance from a modern long zoom digital camera. The Print Quality section below explains what the recommended maximum size print is for each ISO setting.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution and strong overall detail, though limited shadow detail and a strong yellow color cast. Very high contrast results in harsh highlights and stark shadows. Good low-light capabilities under average conditions.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight. The Nikon Coolpix P90 had a lot of trouble with the harsh lighting in the test shots above, with very high contrast and extremely bright highlights. At +0.3 EV, the overall image is very dark, though highlights are already peaking. Increasing the exposure compensation to +0.7 EV brings the midtones and shadows up, but produces very harsh highlights that get yellower with auto white balance. Shadow detail is limited, suffering from noise suppression efforts and image noise itself. Generally poor performance here, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above, and default to Daylight white balance. It's better to shoot in the shade when possible.


Active D-Lighting Examples
Click to see L210OUTBCON1.jpg Click to see L210OUTBCON4.jpg
Off Low
Click to see L210OUTBCON1.jpg Click to see L210OUTBCON4.jpg
Normal High

Dynamic Range adjustment. The Nikon Coolpix P90 offers an adjustable Active D-Lighting mode, which attempts to even harsh exposures like the one above. However, the camera appears to do this by reigning in more than just contrast, but also color saturation as well, resulting in very flat color and dim exposures at the Normal and High settings.

Face Detection Example
Face Detection Off
0.0 EV
iAuto mode, Face Detection On
0.0 EV

Face Detection. Here, we test to see what effect the Nikon Coolpix P90's Face Detection has on the exposure of the model's face. The camera was placed in Portrait mode, which enables face detection, and no exposure compensation was added. Results in Portrait mode are similar to those in the exposure series above, with harsh contrast, very bright highlights and a yellow color cast.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)



1 foot-candle, 11 lux
ISO
64
ISO
100
ISO
200
ISO
400
ISO
800
ISO
1600
ISO
3200
ISO
6400
Click to see CPP90hLLI0064.jpg
3.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPP90hLLI0100.jpg
2.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPP90hLLI0200.jpg
1.1 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPP90hLLI0400.jpg
0.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPP90hLLI0800.jpg
0.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPP90hLLI1600.jpg
1/8 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPP90hLLI3200.jpg
1/15 sec
f2.8
Click to see CPP90hLLI6400.jpg
1/32 sec
f2.8

Low Light. The Nikon Coolpix P90 produced bright exposures at the one foot-candle light level at all of its ISO settings, which is about the equivalent of typical city street lighting at night. Color balance is pretty good with the Auto white balance setting, and noise levels are fair at the lower ISO settings. The camera's autofocus system was able to accurately gauge focus at the lowest light level we test at (1/16 foot-candle), performing a little better than its exposure system.

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
Modest flash power at close range, with uneven coverage. Auto flash is dim in the portrait shot.

26mm eq. 624mm eq.
Auto Flash

Coverage and Exposure. Flash coverage was uneven at wide-angle, and has the Nikon P90's characteristic yellow cast. The camera's 24x zoom put the camera much too far from the target for the flash to be effective. In the Indoor test, the Nikon Coolpix P90's Auto flash setting produced a dim exposure, with a strong pink-orange cast from the background incandescent lighting.

Flash Range: Wide-angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see CPP90hFL06W.jpg
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL07W.jpg
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL08W.jpg
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL09W.jpg
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL10W.jpg
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL11W.jpg
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see CPP90hFL12W.jpg
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL13W.jpg
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL14W.jpg
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL15W.jpg
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL16W.jpg
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see CPP90hFL06T.jpg
1/125 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL07T.jpg
1/125 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL08T.jpg
1/125 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL09T.jpg
1/125 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL10T.jpg
1/125 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL11T.jpg
1/125 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see CPP90hFL12T.jpg
1/125 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL13T.jpg
1/125 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL14T.jpg
1/125 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL15T.jpg
1/125 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see CPP90hFL16T.jpg
1/125 sec
f5.0
ISO 100

ISO 100 Range. At full wide-angle and ISO 100, the Nikon Coolpix P90's flash maintained a slightly dim intensity to about 12 feet, before decreasing in intensity further. At telephoto, flash power was already weak at the 6 foot distance, though the camera maintained the same brightness level to about 8 feet before dimming further. Somehow, even the flash images have this yellow/orange cast to them.


Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
wide-angle Telephoto

26 feet
ISO 400

16 feet
ISO 400

Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the shots above, the Coolpix P90 almost performs as Nikon says it will. At wide-angle, results are a little inconclusive due to the maximum wide-angle setting, which takes the camera out of the lab. At telephoto, flash intensity is good, though the camera had to raise the sensitivity to 400 to get there. Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality at 11x14 inches. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 8.5x11, ISO 800 shots are better at 5x7.

The Nikon P90's output produces good quality 11x14-inch prints from ISO 64 and 100 files with fairly good detail. Some high contrast detail suffers from soft edges at both 11x14 inches, and shadows tend to have a blue glow. Detail is softened in places by noise suppression, a feature that's not usually this noticeable in prints.

ISO 200 shots start to show more detail loss at 11x14, but are still usable.

ISO 400 shots are too soft at 11x14, and color saturation starts to fade. Detail returns to reasonable levels at Letter size (8.5x11 inches).

ISO 800 shots are too soft at Letter size, with even softer corners, but come back into usability at 5x7 inches.

ISO 1,600 shots show a little more noise grain in the shadows, but they still produce a decent 5x7.

ISO 3,200 shots are usable at 4x6 so long as the subject is large in the frame, because fine detail is mottled.

ISO 6,400 shots are better avoided, as they don't even make a good 4x6-inch print.

These results are perhaps passable for a long zoom digital camera, but the disappointment is that a 12-megapixel camera can't make a usable 13x19-inch print at its lowest ISO settings.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon Coolpix P90 Photo Gallery.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon Coolpix P90 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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