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Nikon P950 evaluation: epic zoom that is straightforward to make use of

“The Nikon P950’s 83x zoom lens captures great detail, but performance can be slow at times.”

83x zoom lens

Bright wide angle with 1: 2.8 aperture

Macro mode

Exposure compensation wheel

Easy to use auto modes

Slow buffer

Occasional autofocus is missing

Annoying battery life indicator

As the announcements of point-and-shoot cameras are becoming scarcer, the Nikon P950 is in a remaining category that smartphones cannot touch: the super zoom. With an 83X, 24-2,000 mm equivalent lens, the P950 can capture subjects that you simply cannot see with the naked eye.

As an update to the P900, the P950 offers 4K video and RAW photos, two new features that more advanced photographers will appreciate. Despite these updates, the P950 is still well suited to less experienced shooters in automated modes. A new exposure compensation on the lens barrel enables basic brightness adjustments that anyone can use, even without understanding how the exposure works.

Not everyone needs an 83x zoom, but for those who do, the P950 offers an affordable, if incomplete, solution.

Burly design

Nikon coolpix p950 rating 9400

Nikon coolpix p950 rating 9399

Not surprisingly, the housing of the Nikon P950 is dominated by this 83x zoom lens. The lens is so big that you can feel the weight of the camera shifting forward in your hands when you extend it. At 35.5 ounces, the P950 is the weight of a DSLR (but with a much smaller lens). I still managed to carry the camera on a 5 mile hike without feeling terribly uncomfortable. Unlike a DSLR, I didn’t have to lug around multiple lenses to take both wide-angle and telephoto shots.

The body style mimics a DSLR, which means the P950 has a large, comfortable grip, extensive physical controls, and a hot shoe slot on the top. The control scheme is similar to that of the P900, with a mode dial and a dial at the top right and a well-known set of menu controls at the back.

Hillary Grigonis / Digital Trends

There’s plenty of room for controls, but advanced photographers will have to dig a little more in the menu. ISO, a fairly common adjustment in one of the manual modes, is not one of the link options.

The lens barrel is so large that it contains its own controls. A zoom switch provides a second way to zoom in with your left hand while a button pulls the zoom out so you can redesign the subject. A new feature of the P950 is an exposure compensation wheel on the lens barrel. This was one of my favorite controls that rested exactly where my left hand was carrying the weight of the camera and had easy access to lighten or darken the photos.

The P950 also houses an electronic viewfinder with 2.36 million points. A viewfinder is almost a necessity with so much zoom because the camera support with your face keeps it much more stable than if you hold it at arm’s length to use the LCD screen. This screen measures 3.2 inches diagonally, but is somewhat unusual for 2020 and is not a touchscreen. The resolution of both the viewfinder and the screen is not crazy high, but sufficient and expected for the price.

The battery is designed for 290 shots, which was sufficient for hiking and bird watching. You will definitely need a spare part if you want to take the camera with you on long trips. The battery indicator also has only two notches – full and half. This is annoying because you don’t know whether you still have 135 or only 5 shots left.

Easy to use but sluggish performance

Hillary Grigonis / Digital Trends

The ability to take a RAW photo is new on the P950. Although photographers with some experience have more options to control the shot, the camera’s built-in automatic modes have performed surprisingly well.

I spent a lot of time in bird watching mode. Combined with the exposure compensation wheel on the side of the lens barrel, this mode would allow almost anyone to take good photos of wildlife 90 percent of the time. I occasionally had to switch to shutter priority mode and control the settings so that the long zoom didn’t cause blurring, and it’s a little annoying that the camera didn’t know this automatically. However, the P950 could easily be an effective tool for the bird watcher who has almost no photo expertise.

Edited RAW photo Hillary Grigonis / Digital Trends

Despite adding RAW files, the P950 remains a camera designed primarily for casual photographers. The manual settings are limited. If you want to work faster than 1/2000 seconds or slower than 1 second, you have to set the lens to a certain position and the ISO value to a certain setting and must not be in burst mode.

The camera was good for slow or quiet wildlife, but taking pictures of animals in action was more of a crapshoot. Between the slow autofocus and trying to keep the subject in the picture (not easy at 2,000 mm), more of my action shots were disposable than goalkeepers.

The P950 can shoot at 7 fps, which is respectable for the class, but it can only process ten shots at that speed before the buffer is full. Even worse, the camera controls are frozen while these images are being written to the card. You can only adjust the zoom once the photos have been processed. A full JPEG burst takes approximately eight seconds to process before recording can resume, while RAW takes approximately 12 seconds. Despite the long zoom, this isn’t the best camera to photograph your child’s tee game.

When using autofocus with contrast detection, the P950 focused on most slow or stationary subjects, but autofocus performance was somewhat inconsistent at full zoom. The camera accessed some subjects that I thought were too difficult, while occasionally it was difficult to take a clear picture of what I thought would have been easier. It grabbed a bird through a jumble of branches, which is impressive, but it wouldn’t focus on a sandhill crane in a meadow with the lens fully extended – perhaps because the colors were less contrasting.

nikon coolpix p950 review 0404 Hillary Grigonis / Digital Trends

nikon coolpix p950 review 0237 Hillary Grigonis / Digital Trends

As a budget-friendly super zoom, the P950’s slower performance is not unexpected, but it can still be annoying.

Sharp, bright pictures

The Nikon P950 has a 16-megapixel 1 / 2.3-inch sensor, the basic size for point-and-shoot. However, this small sensor makes the 83x zoom possible. And zoom performance isn’t the only thing the lens has to offer. It also offers a bright one Aperture 1: 2.8 at the widest angle – ideal for a point-and-shoot with so much zoom.

The story changes as you enlarge it. At the telephoto end, the aperture drops to 1: 6.5. Given that you are likely to only use as much zoom outdoors in sunlight, this may not be too much of a problem. Macro mode also makes the lens more versatile by shooting the subject in the wide-angle position up to 0.4 inches from the front of the lens.

Images come out of the camera with a surprising level of detail: enough to see the texture in the animal’s fur and water drops adhering to the whiskers.

This detail is supported by a solid sharpness in real tests. While the P950 can’t keep up with image quality with a mirrorless camera or DSLR that uses much larger sensors, of course, these cameras don’t offer anything close to 83x zoom.

Subjectively, the image quality of the P950 will not be particularly pleasant. At full zoom, the blurred areas either look like a blotchy mess or a painterly impression, depending on how you look at it. Instead of smooth bokeh, the background looks more like oil paints.

For JPEGs, the color is largely accurate directly from the camera without being oversaturated or excessively subdued on the other side. Even the white balance didn’t seem to be tending towards green like most Nikon cameras do. However, some of the pictures took on a magenta hue indoors. One of the advantages of using RAW is that you can now correct the white balance afterwards, which would not have been possible on the P900.

Sample art filter

Image stabilization also plays a role in taking detailed photos with such a long lens. With 5.5 stabilization stops, I was able to use the 83x zoom handheld for most shots. Dim light, however, is still a problem. When I photographed an hour before sunset, I had to use the full capabilities of the camera to get a clear shot at full zoom, which resulted in a picture that was simply too dark. If you don’t need to extend the zoom fully, its brighter aperture can give you better results at the wide end of the lens.

With the smaller sensor, the P950 has problems with high ISO values. The noise creeps in early and photos are best at or below ISO 800, while ISO 1,600 and 3,200 are fine. The maximum ISO 6,400 should be avoided. None of this is surprising for a point in a shoot, but remember, just because the P950 looks like a DSLR doesn’t mean it works like one.

In video, 4K resolution is an improvement over the P900. Despite all of these extra pixels, the video is still not particularly detailed, although the colors match the quality of still images. If you want to record videos with 2,000 mm, be sure to bring a tripod. There’s simply no way to keep the camera steady enough to allow smooth video recording with such a long zoom.

Our opinion

The Nikon P950’s zoom is essentially telescopic, making the camera ideal for taking pictures of objects that are normally far away, such as birds, wildlife or the moon. Images are sharp, even though the background is mixed up at full zoom. RAW photos and 4K are nice enhancements to the P900, along with the new exposure compensation wheel on the side of the lens.

While the benefits of such a long zoom lens cannot be denied, the P950 offers slow performance and an auto focus that occasionally fails. And while adding RAW is a start, you still have to reach into the menu to change settings like ISO. Photos in low light conditions are not possible at full zoom, although the bright aperture offers a certain user-friendliness with large settings.

Is there a better alternative?

Since one of the few types of point-and-shoot cameras cannot compete with discounts for smartphones, the Superzoom category offers many competitors. Aside from spending $ 1,000 on the 125x Nikon P1000, the P950 gets you the closest thing to your subject. The Panasonic FZ3000 offers faster performance and a brighter lens, but only with 25x zoom. The Canon SX70 offers 20 megapixels, but the 65x zoom lens is not as bright at 1: 3.4 to 6.5. With its larger sensor, the Sony RX10 IV offers better image quality and faster performance with a 25x Zoom – but at twice the price, it doesn’t really try to compete with those of the P950.

How long it will take?

Point-and-shoot cameras typically have a shorter lifespan before they’re out of date – and the 16-megapixel sensor can overtake the P950 faster. However, the camera was only launched in early 2020 and should therefore be able to be used for a few years.

Should you buy it

Buy the P950 if you absolutely need an incredible zoom. If you want to photograph action, keep looking. The P950 is decent, but a niche camera for bird watchers and nature lovers, while its poor performance and limited usefulness in low light conditions prevent it from being a great all-round camera.

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