Nikon P1000 Field Test Part I

First impressions from the far away world

by Dave Pardue | Posted: 09/18/2018

It was only a few years ago that the Nikon P900 leapfrogged the superzoom world and offered a then-unprecedented 2000mm-eq. optical focal length in a fixed lens camera, wooing birding and wildlife enthusiasts with a very powerful tool at their disposal, and one that we aptly praised here at IR. But when Nikon told us about their new P1000, with its new 3000mm-eq. offering, our heads virtually spun around on their axis... "What?!?" Needless to say, we were chomping at the bit to try it out and bring you images from the real world.

1/640s / f/5.6 / ISO 100 / 600mm-eq.

(Images have been resized to fit this page, cropped and/or altered in post-production, primarily to balance shadows and highlights as needed. All images in this piece were shot handheld with VR engaged, except the moon shots which were on a tripod. Clicking any image will take you to a carrier page with access to the original, full-resolution image as delivered by the P1000. For additional images and EXIF data please see our Nikon P1000 Gallery page.)

But first, a few initial handling notes...

The Nikon P1000 is not small, and yet considering that you get 3000mm-eq. optical shooting distance, with a whopping 24-3000mm optical (125x!) zoom range, it is actually surprisingly light in the hands. It's not feather-light, but you wouldn't want that anyway because you need at least a little weight to help stabilize your hands for those longer shots! In fact, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how little fatigue set in over several hours of carrying this camera around by my side on multiple occasions, and shooting virtually all of the images handheld.

At just over 3lbs (or about 1400g for the rest of the world) it is significantly lighter than anything you could get for the Full Frame, APS-C, or even MFT world even at one-third the focal distance. As the sensor sizes rise, so does the overall mass of the rig as simple physics comes into play. Yes, the ILC combinations do get lighter every year, but nothing remotely close to the fact that with the P1000 you get 3000mm for about 3lbs. That's 1000mm per pound!

The Nikon P1000 is easily holdable with one hand, but two hands are preferred for shooting stability.

It's hard to find fault with the physical design and external controls of the P1000. The grip is nice and deep, allowing a very secure hold, and the thumb rest is hearty, with plenty of real estate. So even while handheld, the rather large body feels solid and secure. I have medium-sized hands, and the buttons and dials all fall in comfortable positions for me, and there is an overall feeling of stability and precision to the rig.

I am generally a fan of LCDs that tilt upwards rather than swiveling outwards, but with superzooms I prefer the outward swivel, as there are shooting situations (such as shooting the moon, as seen below) that lend themselves to the versatility of fully articulated, swivel-type screens. The P1000's LCD mechanism feels quite robust, and I used it often. The AF/MF switch is also conveniently located right at your thumb, and it's easy to flip on-the-fly while in the heat of battle. Given the longer focal lengths, this is a nice switch to have handy, as you do sometimes need it at your disposal.

Ergonomics for the P1000 are straightforward, and all controls placed intuitively. We don't find this on every camera, even here in the modern age, so a simple and straightforward design is reassuring.

The only button I had to routinely search for was the playback button, as I tend to like it at the bottom right where I don't have to "think" to find it, but that is a small gripe indeed. I would swap it with the trash button, but no big concern, just a personal preference.

The 4-way control contains a convenient assortment of common functions, and I used the self-timer button, exposure compensation and macro function often in my shooting. Macro, in particular with this camera, is intriguing, and I'll talk more about that down below. The EVF is "good enough"... certainly nothing akin to the new Nikon Z7's EVF, which is just stellar at over 3x the price. But this one still does the job. And the eyepiece is abundantly large and cups the eye nicely, easily shielding bright light while out in the field hunting for your quarry.

The mode dial is large and rotates with a stiff, reassuring click. You are for sure not going to need to worry about accidentally bumping it in your camera bag, as we have experienced with some mode dials along the way. It doesn't lock as some do, but the P1000's really doesn't need it. We'll cover more on handling and feel in an additional Field Test, so let's go ahead now and turn our attention to the images that this new long-zoomer can reel in for you!

Nikon P1000 Image Quality

1/500s / f/5.6 / ISO 110 / 1000mm-eq.
Just getting started: It used to be that a 1000mm-equivalent focal length was a "Big Deal" for a digicam. With the P1000, in hunting down this gorgeous local blue heron, 1000mm is just a casual walk in the park.

We'll begin our foray into the P1000 I.Q. with images in the middle focal length ranges, and when you have 24-3000mm-eq. range at your disposal, "the middle" begins to cover a lot of ground! Zoom lenses by nature require trade-offs in manufacturing, as design compromises have to be made that wouldn't be needed with prime lenses. For this reason I've tried to provide you with a full spectrum of images throughout the available optical range. And don't forget to peruse the gallery at your leisure, as you'll find even more images, originals straight from the camera, as well as RAW files for most shots that you're free to download and examine.

We'll also go "under the hood" of some of these images and give you 1:1 crops so that you can gauge from this report what you're actually getting down in the nitty-gritty pixel details. With a small sensor, we won't be looking for the kind of detail available with an expensive, Full Frame camera coupled with a high-dollar supertelephoto prime lens, but we are hopeful to be able to at least get images that are close and, equally as important, that are pleasing to the eye!

1/500s / f/5.6 / ISO 200 / 800mm-eq.

Amped dragonfly: The ISO floated to 200 for this shot, which is normally not a big deal. As we'll see below in a special ISO section, 400 is about as high as I like to see the gain go with the P1000.

Ample light a major plus with Superzooms

Light levels play an important role in your success while shooting with a camera that has a relatively small sensor and a relatively dim lens, at least compared to a large, constant aperture, expensive rig from the APS-C or MFT worlds. And while the P1000's lens starts its journey at a reasonably generous f/2.8, it does dim rather quickly. I more or less stayed "wide open" at most all focal lengths, other than a few wide angle shots, because with superzooms like this you are normally forced to stop down a lot anyway as you zoom.

1/200s / f/8 / ISO 100 / 300mm-eq.
Wildlife territory: 300mm-equivalent range is roughly where wildlife shooting range begins for many enthusiasts, but it is interesting to note that it's only a tenth as far as the P1000 can go. I like this image in that the duck's head is sharp but the wings show movement from motion blur. But that was not intentional, as I would not have remained at f/8 on purpose with a 1/200s shutter speed. See below for a brief explanation of this.

One gripe I have is in regards to the image above of the duck flapping her wings. Basically, when you zoom to a longer focal length, the aperture naturally "stops down," which is unavoidable with a variable aperture lens. However, if I then power down the camera and then turn it back on to shoot, it remains at that previously-used, dimmer aperture even if I have not yet zoomed out to a long focal length, such as in the shot above. As such, you have to remember to reset the aperture back to its widest, which is a bit cumbersome since I never "asked" the camera to stop down. Not a big deal, and certainly not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind. (Or, perhaps address with a firmware fix.)

Now about that variable aperture...

As we've discussed, and in fact as with most digicams past and present, the available widest aperture dims as you zoom further into your subject or scene. But how quickly it dims isn't generally a specification listed by the manufacturers, so we try and give it to you so you'll be aware of what to expect. For the Nikon P1000 the max aperture dims relative to 35mm-equivalent focal length accordingly:


Your shooting potential at longer focal lengths therefore becomes heavily compromised when the light falls below a certain point in shade or shadows, even during otherwise bright days, because the lens becomes more and more "stopped down" (dimmer) as you zoom, letting in less and less light. The result, as we'll see in a special section down below, is that the ISO must then climb in order to allow for fast enough shutter speeds. But as you can see from this batch of images shot in relatively ample light (and thus ISO levels kept at or near base) the image quality is quite good for this class of camera, and stellar when conditions allow for optimal settings.

1/500s / f/5.6 / ISO 125 / 1000mm-eq.
[1:1 crop from above image]
Depth and detail: This dragonfly is a great example of differing types of detail to scrutinize and analyze. It is not what you could achieve with a $3000+ rig, but is quite good in detail for a Superzoom costing $1000.

Subject Isolation

A brief note about depth of field: The coveted subject isolation (a.k.a. shallow depth of field) that's easily achievable with larger sensors married to bright aperture lenses is not something generally associated with fixed lens digicams, given their traditionally small sensors and relatively dim apertures. This all begins to change though as the focal lengths extend, since the depth of field decreases as you zoom. And so, as is evident in many of these images, you are able to achieve good to very good subject-to-background isolation with the P1000, even when the background is fairly close by.

1/50s / f/5.0 / ISO 100 / 500mm-eq.
[1:1 crop from above image]
Good for the gander: This is a 1/50s shutter speed handheld at 500mm-eq. range, and is yet another good example of the P1000's VR, as the image is obviously quite crisp. In addition, long zoom lenses require multiple compromises to design and produce, often resulting in sharpness issues at varying focal lengths. The P1000 offers a surprising amount of consistent image quality across the entire optical range.


1/400s / f/5.6 / ISO 100 / 300mm-eq.
[1:1 crop from above image]

S-AF is terrific with the P1000, and Macro Mode is quite useful

I have yet to try continuous autofocus, but single autofocus with the P1000 is spot-on. I hardly ever missed a shot, even as the depths of field grew shallower due to the longer focal lengths. I found it fast and accurate, and really something I simply stopped even thinking about at all. We'll explore much more on autofocus performance in a second Field Test, but I can report wholeheartedly that I experienced solid S-AF performance across the focal length range.

Just as interesting is Macro Mode, which is usable not only at wide angle but also as you zoom into the subject. In our P900 Field Test, my colleague Jeremy Gray discovered some interesting trade-offs to using Macro Mode, including some softening at the edges of the frame. We'll also take a closer look at how this camera fares in that regard during our follow-up Field Test.

1/500s / f/5.6 / ISO 400 / 1200mm-eq.
Macro Passion: I used Macro Mode for many images in this initial Field Test, including times when the camera was zoomed in quite a bit, as it allowed for closer shooting distances when needed. And I found that the "regular" world around me was made a lot more spectacular as well, including with the Passion Butterfly here.


1/40s / f/5 / ISO 400 / 600mm-eq.
Closing in: Here's yet another good example of Macro Mode with the P1000, as this gorgeous "writing spider" was situated for a few days just outside the front door to our headquarters. (We put up signs to protect her from the delivery people, etc., and vice versa.) I needed to let the ISO climb to 400 here in order to achieve a usable 1/40s shutter speed, which is generally considered too slow for 600mm-eq. range, but the Vibration Reduction system onboard the P1000 is super-solid. (As with any image in this piece, clicking on the image will take you to a carrier page with the original, unedited version as delivered by the P1000. From that page you can access the full resolution version, EXIF data and additional information.)


1/100s / f/5 / ISO 400 / 600mm-eq.


1/400s / f/5 / ISO 100 / 600mm-eq.

3000mm-eq. (or, just 33¢ per millimeter)

Getting anywhere near 3000mm-equivalent optical focal range has never been possible before in a digital camera that can be easily handheld, and in fact not even close. "Superzoom" cameras were named for the ability to go to more than 500mm-equivalent range, and later 1000mm. The Nikon P900 lapped the field by going to 2000mm-eq. range, and now the P1000 reaches a new mind-boggling distance while shooting a virtual country mile.

But, how do the images look at this focal length, and can you really shoot it handheld? We already know from the images above that you can achieve solid image quality at the middle focal lengths, so let's now explore the primary reason we're all here. (Or... there!)

1/500s / f/8.0 / ISO 100 / 3000mm-eq.
[1:1 crop from above image]
A dove by any other focal length: Similar to the Nikon P900, the strength of the P1000 lies in the fact that you can, indeed, capture a worthwhile image at its longest optical focal length. The close-crop above at 1:1 doesn't rival anything in the higher-end world, obviously, but at a normal viewing distance (which is where most people view) the image is just fine. And bear in mind this was shot handheld! In fact, by the time I could have set up a tripod, this Mourning Dove would have already flown the coup, as they aren't fond of people (at least not where I live).

[Note that in the P1000 Gallery I also have examples of this same image at 1600mm and 2800mm for comparison.]

VR is incredible with the P1000, even at 3000mm-eq.

Vibration Reduction is obviously critical to a camera like this because it's meant to let you roam free and be mobile, free from the limitations imposed by hauling a tripod. If you are shooting long focal lengths handheld you simply must have stabilization, even if your hands are rock steady. Mine are in the middle, maybe slightly above average, but not rock steady, and I was happy to have the reported 5 stops of VR correction. For my own shake-quotient, I can report experiencing at least 5 stops, possibly 6, and was even able to achieve success some of the time (though not every single shot) at 3000mm-eq. And after 6 years of reviewing cameras for you, I can say for certain that the ability to shoot handheld at 3000mm-equivalent range is a very worthwhile feat for the Nikon engineers to have pulled off.

1/640s / f/8 / ISO 100 / 3000mm-eq.
Shallow field: It is interesting to note that while the camera only allows f/8 as a maximum aperture while zoomed to 3000mm-eq., the long focal length makes the depth of field super-shallow! This is terrific if you have ample light at your disposal, and in fact you can often achieve terrific results even in harsh midday light. As with all shots in this initial piece, this image was shot handheld, with only medium-steady hands. This makes the Vibration Reduction system on this camera a formidable feature.


1/500s / f/8 / ISO 200 / 3000mm-eq.

The least expensive way to travel to the moon

The Nikon P600 won our Superzoom Roundup of 2014 for good reasons, including its excellent image of the lunar surface while at its optical maximum focal length of 1380mm-eq. And then, of course, the Nikon P900 was able to achieve a solid lunar image at its maximum 2000mm-eq. For these reasons we were hopeful that the P1000 could follow in the footsteps of its forebears, but we were still at least somewhat skeptical of what it would be able to achieve once the focal lengths extended beyond 2000mm-eq., simply because this is sooo long!

And then we tried it... and our skepticism faded into awe.

1/160s / f/7.1 / ISO 400 / 2600mm-eq.
[1:1 crop from above image]
Houston, we have our landing site in view: The primary object near center above is Mare Nectaris, or The Sea of Nectar, while the partial crater attached to the lower left of the sea is called Fracastorius. Further towards the lower left of the image is the crater known as Piccolomini, noted by the bright central point. Many other easily identifiable craters pervade the image; the detail potential from this $999 camera is simply astounding, even at ISO 400. Lunar photography enthusiasts can feel good about pulling out your checkbooks for this camera.

In the above image I used Moon Mode, which is conveniently located on the mode dial. This mode sets your self-timer at 3s and sets exposure to common lunar shooting parameters. It disables RAW capture, unfortunately, and I'm not yet sure the reason for this but will find out for you before our next Field Test. But the mode is quite easy to use, and the images speak for themselves, so I suggest beginning your lunar prospecting with Moon Mode engaged.

Going all the way

I then decided to try shooting the moon again a few nights later, as it was higher in the sky and a bit brighter and fuller, and placed the P1000 into Manual Mode in order to dial in the exposure parameters myself. This also allowed for RAW capture, and to be able to choose the 10s timer instead of 3s. The 3s timer proved consistently good, but I found the 10s timer more a guaranteed safe bet for the moon dancing around in the LCD. The reason is that even a stable tripod can still wobble a bit after handling the camera, and when shooting the moon a lot of handling is required because the moon is moving fairly quickly through the sky, and you therefore need to be constantly adjusting the tripod. The full 10s allowed for plenty of time for everything to settle down and be still for reeling in our lunar neighbor in all its abundant and spectacular detail.

1/125s / f/8.0 / ISO 100 / 3000mm-eq.
[1:1 crop from above image]
Houston, we are on final approach: In the top right quadrant of this image is The Sea of Tranquility, the landing site of the Apollo 11 lunar landing of 1969, with the crater at the top right known as Plinius. Also notable in this image to the lower right is the Theophilus Crater, with Cyrillus adjoining it just to the left. And all of this captured from my little vantage point in the northern quadrant of the state of Georgia, USA. [My 8-year-old son's reaction to seeing these images for the first time was: "Daddy, it looks like you took these from outer space."]

[A quick note for anyone interested in shooting the moon: It is reflecting daylight, and so the f/8 aperture is actually appropriate here. You don't ever want to set your shutter speed below about 1/125s, even on a solid tripod, because the moon is moving so quickly through the sky (especially when using longer focal lengths) that you'll get motion blur at slower shutter speeds. Setting for f/8 and 1/160s at base ISO is usually a great starting point, and then just adjust from there depending on your own shooting situation. I kept stabilization on for these shots, because while you normally disable it for tripod shooting, the enormously long focal length here still predicates leaving it engaged.]

Not all is moon rocks and roses with the P1000

Naturally, for a lightweight, $1000 camera with such a powerful zoom potential, there are going to be a trade-offs somewhere. With the P1000, a big tradeoff comes at you quick as soon as the light level begins to dim. It's especially obvious if you are zoomed beyond about 400mm-eq. because the aperture dims further as you zoom, and the sensor is quite small. The result is that when the light levels drop, it's hard to keep your shutter speeds fast enough to avoid motion blur unless you crank the ISO high enough to induce noise.

Fortunately the camera allows you to limit your ISO while in Auto-ISO, to cap it at either 400 or 800. I used this option often, and used both settings at times. I frankly do not like going above ISO 400 (and in fact I really don't like going above 200 with this sensor size) but sometimes the circumstances force your hand, such as in the example below. And if your only options are blur or ISO noise, the noise is usually easier to deal with than the blur.

1/50s / f/5.6 / ISO 800 / 800mm-eq.
[1:1 crop from above image]
Praying for lower noise: Unfortunately for shooters in lower light, the noise levels even at ISO 800 take a toll on the image, and I needed to let it climb that high in order to get a usable 1/50s shutter speed. But the image was taken in lower light shadows (even though it was midday) and definitely identifies the limitations of the camera. The solution? Stick with abundant light while shooting with the P1000 unless you are shooting at wide angle and can open the aperture a bit more. And otherwise use the auto-ISO setting that caps the ISO at 400.


1/500s / f/5.6 / ISO 360 / 800mm-eq.
[1:1 crop from above image]
Some detail: Even at ISO 360 there are obvious traces of noise and some marginal softening of the image. But you do need to heavily magnify the image to really see these signs, so your own mileage will vary depending on your intended viewing size and also how much you intend to crop into the image. This photo was taken later in the day, in shade, and is obviously a lot less appealing for image quality than what you can achieve when the light is abundant, such as with the shots of the yellow butterfly at the beginning.

Of course, some of the images above this section were shot with ISO 400 and were successful at displaying good detail without invoking too much noise, so your subject matter is another variable in the tricky ISO balancing act. It's a great addition to the camera to include the two auto-ISO settings, which cap the ISO at either 400 or 800, as these are the two I would choose most often myself if I had even more options.

Wrapping it up

I only had a few precious days with the Nikon P1000 before our lab commandeered it, but I thoroughly enjoyed those outings very much. It is a powerful camera, and yet at just over 3lbs it offers a ton of options for the size and weight. The camera feels great in the hands, the controls and ergonomics are sound and functional, and the single-shot autofocus is spot on. In addition, the moon is now fully at your fingertips.

The only real drawbacks I could find on initial testing are ones that plague all cameras with small sensors and longer lenses, where the physics required to capture the light make it harder to operate these type cameras effectively in lower light situations and even dimmer shade. To be sure, if you're shooting mostly in the sun or at least in bright shade, or our celestial neighbor in the night skies, you will experience solid results with the Nikon P1000, and will go where no camera in this price range has gone before.

1/50s / f/5 / ISO 100 / 24mm-eq.
The Twilight Zone: After shooting the moon, to then be zooming back out to wide angle with the P1000 felt surreal, but it is nice to know you can do it when the shot presents itself.

Stay tuned, as we have much more to come from the Nikon P1000!

Nikon P1000 Gallery


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