Nikon P900 Image Quality


Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Fairly typical saturation levels and hue accuracy.

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 toward 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. Click for a larger image.

Saturation. The Nikon P900 pushes some colors likes strong reds and dark blues by quite a bit, but it actually undersaturates yellow and aqua tones moderately. The P900's mean color saturation at base ISO is 111.8% (11.8% oversaturated) which is typical, perhaps just a touch higher than average. We found the P900 generally produces attractive colors in its images. You can of course tweak saturation to your liking, or choose a different color mode, including two custom options. 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.

Hue. The Nikon P900 shifts cyan toward blue by a moderate amount, but other shifts such as orange toward yellow, and yellow toward green are very minor. The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors, and we don't find the resulting color objectionable. With a mean "delta-C" color error of 5.95 after correction for saturation, hue accuracy is about average these days. Hue is "what color" the color is.


Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Auto and Incandescent settings produced overly warm results, though Manual white balance was pretty accurate, just slightly cool. Average exposure compensation required.

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

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance is warm and reddish with the Auto white balance setting. Results with the Incandescent setting are also too warm, with more of a yellow/green cast. The Manual setting is the most accurate, just slightly on the cool side. The Nikon P900 required +0.3 EV exposure compensation for this scene, which is about average for the cameras we've tested. (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.)

See thumbnails of all test images

~2,300 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
~2,300 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
~2,300 lines vertical

In camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,300 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,300 lines per picture height in the vertical direction, though some aliasing artifacts can be seen as low as 1,400 lines. Complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur until about 2,700 lines in both directions. 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 thumbnails of all test images

Sharpness & Detail
Slightly soft images with only moderate sharpening artifacts. Strong default noise reduction reduces detail even at base ISO.

Slightly soft definition of high-contrast
elements here with only minor
sharpening haloes.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The P900 produces slightly soft images with only minor sharpening haloes as shown in the crop above left. Still, not a bad performance given the sensor size, resolution and massive lens. 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 significant softening due to noise reduction, even at base ISO, smudging or merging many of the individual strands of hair together. This is typical of small sensors, though, and the P900 did a good job at removing color noise here. 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
Typical high ISO performance for a camera with a small 1/2.3" sensor.

Default High ISO Noise Reduction, Incandescent Lighting
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1600 ISO 3200
ISO 6400

As mentioned previously, ISO 100 already shows significant smudging in areas of low contrast as in the above crop, though fine detail is still good and both luma and chroma noise are well-controlled. There's slightly stronger smudging at ISO 200, but fine detail is still pretty good. At ISO 400, there's a more significant drop in image quality as noise reduction works harder, though fine detail is still fairly good. ISO 800 is noticeably softer and starts to show some objectionable chroma blotching in the hair and darker areas while flatter areas start to take on a watercolor painting effect. Image quality drops off quickly at ISO 1600 and above, with strong blurring, higher luminance noise and visible noise reduction artifacts, though ISOs 1600 and 3200 actually exhibit lower chroma noise than ISO 800.

Overall, not a bad performance for such a small sensor, but you won't want to use the Nikon P900 at ISOs above 400 or 800, except for small prints or web images.

We're of course pixel-peeping to an extraordinary extent here, since 1:1 images on an LCD screen have little to do with how those same images will appear when printed. See the Print Quality section below for our evaluation of maximum print sizes at each ISO setting.

Noise Reduction

We normally compare a base ISO in-camera JPEG to a converted RAW file here, but since the P900 does not support RAW capture, we decided instead to compare the lowest noise reduction setting ("Low") to the default ("Normal") setting in our Still Life ISO series. Note that P900 also offers a "High" NR setting, however we did not test that setting.

High ISO Noise Reduction Comparison, Simulated Daylight
Lowest NR ("Low") Default NR ("Normal")
ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

As you can see, there isn't a huge difference between the Low and Normal noise reduction settings as the minimum amount of NR is still pretty strong. The Low NR setting does however do a little better in terms of detail retention at the expense of slightly higher noise levels, enough so that we'd probably opt to shoot with the Low setting in most cases.

Low Light
Limited low-light capabilities.

The Nikon P900 is not a camera meant for low ambient light shooting, which is no surprise given the sensor size. There's no Bulb mode, and exposure times are limited based on ISO selected. At ISO 100, the maximum exposure time is 15 seconds and the maximum exposure halves each time ISO sensitivity is doubled so that at ISO 200 the maximum is 8 seconds, at ISO 400 the maximum is 4 seconds, and so on, even in full manual exposure mode.

The P900's Night Landscape scene setting is limited to a maximum exposure of 2 seconds when the scene is set to tripod mode and ISO is locked at 100. In handheld mode, ISO can increase to 1600 but the shutter speed cannot be slower than 1/15 second.

In addition, the Nikon P900 really struggled to autofocus in low light, requiring almost two foot-candles of light to successfully autofocus without AF assist in our tests (most cameras we've tested can autofocus in less than 1/2 a foot-candle). And the AF assist lamp sometimes made things worse instead of better, overwhelming the AF system and preventing it from focusing at all.

See below for test results with the built-in flash.

Flash Test Results

Coverage, Exposure and Range
A fairly powerful flash with narrow coverage. About average exposure compensation required.

Click to see P900FLFCW.JPG
Coverage, Wide Angle

Coverage. Flash coverage was uneven at wide angle, leaving dim corners and edges in our flash coverage test image. Narrow coverage at wide angle isn't unusual, though, and some of the corner darkening is likely from the lens itself. We no longer test flash coverage at telephoto, as it is invariably better, making wide angle the worst case scenario.

Click to see P900INBFP2.JPG Click to see P900INBFSP0.JPG
Normal Flash
1/60s, f/4, ISO 200
+0.7 EV
1/6s, f/4, ISO 200
0 EV

Exposure. Flash exposure was bright in our Indoor Portrait test scene using normal flash mode at f/4 and ISO 200 with +0.7 EV flash compensation (+0.3 EV was too dim), which is about average for this scene. Slow-sync mode was fairly bright without any exposure compensation, with its slow shutter speed of 1/6s capturing more of the warm, ambient light.

Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Click to seeP900FL_MFR220TA0640.JPG
22 feet
ISO 640

Manufacturer Specified Flash Range Test. The Nikon P900's flash range is rated 11.5m or 37 feet at wide angle, and 7.0m or 22 feet at telephoto, with ISO sensitivity set to Auto. 37 feet is too long for our lab but at the 22 ft. range specified at full telephoto above, the Nikon P900 produced a somewhat underexposed flash target, and it boosted ISO to 640 to achieve that result. The camera's metering system may have been influenced by the relatively large area taken up by black and white target at full telephoto, though, so this result is somewhat inconclusive. We shoot this test shot 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

A very good 13 x 19 inch print at ISO 100; a nice 8 x 10 at ISO 800; a good 4 x 6 at ISO 3200.

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageISO 100 prints are very good at 13 x 19 inches, which is a typical maximum size for a 16-megapixel sensor this small. 16 x 20 inch prints are useful for wall display images and less critical applications.

ISO 200 images also look good at 13 x 19 inches, with just a minor additional amount of noise in a few flatter areas of our target, but still within acceptable range for a good print.

ISO 400 yields a good 11 x 14 inch print, with similar but minor issues as we saw with the 13 x 19 inch print at ISO 200.

ISO 800 produces a solid 8 x 10 inch print, which is not bad at all for this sensor size at ISO 800, and gives you a reasonable benchmark for the highest usable gain setting for this camera if you intend to make 8 x 10 inch prints.

ISO 1600 prints are good at 5 x 7 inches. Contrast detail is now lost in our tricky red-leaf fabric swatch, which is typical for most all cameras as ISO rises, but it's still a nice print.

ISO 3200 makes a good 4 x 6 inch print, similar to the 5 x 7 at ISO 1600, and again with typical softness in some areas but still retaining good color and overall detail for this sensitivity and sensor size.

ISO 6400 images are not usable and this setting is best avoided.

The Nikon P900 delivers print sizes that you'd expect from a 16-megapixel 1/2.3" sensor size. At the lowest two ISO settings you can look forward to up to 13 x 19 inch prints, which is the largest size most anyone generally needs from a consumer-oriented camera, and the P900 can even deliver a good 4 x 6 inch print at ISO 3200. For anyone who routinely makes 8 x 10 inch prints, it would be advisable to limit your sensitivity setting to ISO 800 and below. Obviously for smaller prints and most online usage it's OK to let it go a stop or two higher, up to ISO 3200 if needed.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageTesting hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell 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 routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)


The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon Coolpix P900 Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon Coolpix P900 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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