One week ago, I was stuck: I had an interview with a great subject, but no
photographer was available. Worse still, my "good" cameras were at home.
Sitting on my desk, still in its box, was Nikon's new Coolpix P90, a $400 camera
that's too big to fit in your shirt pocket, but smaller than a traditional digital
single-lens reflex, or SLR, camera. Would it solve the problem?
On its face, the camera seems more then adequate: it'll shoot an image up to 12.1
megapixels, which, the firm says, will give you a sharp print up to 20-by-30-inches
in size. The company notes the zoom power of the built-in, "extreme 24x ultra
telephoto Zoom lens," which, it says, focuses from "a 26mm wide angle to a jaw
dropping 624mm telephoto."
Well, I didn't need the 624mm to shoot an interview subject, but having the camera
would be nice. It's fast, has a built-in flash, the resolution should be high
enough and, I could even shoot some video, if I desired.
There was only one thing I didn't have handy, and that was a SecureDigital, or SD,
flash memory card on which to store the photos. And a 12.1-megapixel shot can take
up a fair amount of space, 4.3 megabytes to be precise.
So off I go to the appointment, at a rather posh downtown hotel, figuring they'd
have a newsstand or gift shop where I could buy the card. Sure, it'd cost a few
bucks, but this is what one does sometimes.
One problem: no gift shop (the concierge suggested I could trot over to CVS, if I
liked) and no time for options.
Yikes. But not really: the Coolpix P90 has 47 megabytes of internal memory, enough
for a dozen or so snaps at high resolution, more at lower resolutions. As it turns
out, I had enough space to grab and store my shots, which I later transferred to a
computer for editing.
That 47 megabytes of storage, by the way, is nearly five times the hard disk space
of my first big IBM-compatible PC, which had 10 Mbytes. Of course, today, most
desktop PCs, and notebooks, measure their storage in Gigabytes, not Mbytes, but
it's still impressive - to this reviewer at least - that a camera of this
resolution and functionality has that much storage out of the box. I'd still
recommend, as would Nikon, that you hike over to Staples or Best Buy and get an SD
The built-in storage is one of the many graces of the Coolpix P90. It's got
circuitry that'll compensate for camera "shake," a mode that'll shoot a
bunch of frames, quickly, and select the best one to save, and another mode to shoot
sports scenes rapid-fire, so you can grab Johnny dribbling that soccer ball down the
field or Janie's perfect tennis volleys. And, yes, the camera will shoot short
video movies, too.
Although it's programmed to take a lot of the guesswork out of photography,
experienced users can override the settings and come up with their own photo modes.
There's a large - as in 3-inch diagonal - LCD screen that acts as a viewfinder
and display of photos you've taken, and a through-the-lens viewfinder as well. The
LCD screen folds out for angled viewing.
As with every Nikon product I've used, I can find little fault with the Coolpix
P90. The kind of photo-grabbing power in this unit is rarely seen at this price
point, and the firm's commitment to ease of use is evident in just about every
What's more the camera is lightweight enough to feel very good in one's hands,
and it's easy to maneuver and operate. There's not much more one could hope for
in a model such as this, and for the price, I don't know if you'll find anything