This post has photographs, but the main impetus is photography equipment. Reader beware, some might find it a long slog unless interested in the topic.
For them not interested in reading, you can see the photos in THIS<<link SmugMug Gallery.
For a SmugMug slideshow, click HERE<<link. When you click the link, it will open in a new window, and you have two options:
1) Manually scroll through the photos by clicking the “<” and “>” symbols to the left or right of the photos.
2) There’s a PLAY/PAUSE button at the top-left of the screen with the transition set at about 5 seconds. Note: clicking the PLAY arrow will run a full-screen slideshow. You can then still use the”<” and “>” symbols to the left or right of the photos (this will pause the slideshow).
If you want the full experience, keep reading.
I purchased the Nikon P900 in 2017 and for that year, it was my primary camera. Meaning, I took twice as many photos with the P900 than my then camera, the Nikon D7000, including using it almost exclusively on our 2017 Alaska cruise (which, I’m still documenting!), and wrote a lot about it.
For the next few years — until 2020 — I managed at least as many photos with the P900 as with the DSLR. And, I wrote about it (LINK). I especially revisited the issue of cameras at the beginning of 2019 when I was looking to make a change to my DSLR … and wrote about it …
Some might remember my previous forays into the difficult landscape of photography equipment (HERE and HERE and probably other places . . . like HERE and HERE). Before we begin, it might be worth remembering what I currently have in addition to the Nikon P900 . . . look HERE.
So, why am I revisiting it all? ZOOM!
No, not the video meeting software.
That’s an uncropped shot from the Nikon P900 (you can see the full-size version in the SmugMug gallery linked above. You can click on the photos to get a larger version (max. dimension of 1280 pixels).
That’s what the P900 does (and why I still use it) … it gets close to the subject. Sure, as mentioned in those posts I linked, I can crop one of my DSLR shots and get that same photo (except that it will be smaller. I won’t revisit the whole zoom versus cropping argument (the other links above explore the argument in detail) but it can be summarized by these truisms:
- Images from larger sensor DSLRs will always be better (sharper, clearer, etc.) than PnS cameras with small sensors (P900, P950, P1000, and so on).
- … except when you have to do extreme cropping to fill the frame with a distant subject, at which point, you’ll likely see the uncropped PnS photos hold their own if not be better than the DLSR crops.
- Unless you have DEEP pockets, (and even if you do), DSLR can’t compete with the mega-zoom cameras mentioned above when it comes to reaching out. There is no equivalent 2000mm or 3000mm lens; not even with a tele-converter.
- Mega-zoom PnS are very versatile cameras that will handle from macros to extreme zooms in a manageable and lightweight package.
- Except, maybe, the P1000 (but it’s still lighter than a DSLR with a decent lens).
- Sadly, because of shutter lag and small buffers, the PnS mega-zooms are not suitable for action shots (it still can be done with practice and low expectations).
- Bonus: the P950 and P1000 improve on the P900 with the addition of RAW capability and a usable viewfinder as well as other subtle improvements.
- But at the cost of other features I like.
Here are more examples of ‘reaching out’ and getting close . . .
The sensor size is one reason for the difference in quality between the P900 and my DSLR rig. My Samsung Note 20 Ultra has the same sensor size as my P900 (or nearly so). That’s an advantage for ‘zooming in’ but you lose out in low-light or poor lighting conditions.
Hence why these photos and this post. The P900 does reasonably well in good lighting (if you take proper care in snapping the photos) but it struggles when it’s not bright out. So, I sat outside for a few hours on a rainy day specifically to see what I could do with the camera in what are considered adverse conditions.
That’s nothing to write home about . . . but there’s another thing that the P900 does with ease . . . video. Note: for best results, choose the highest available resolution, but even so, the slow-motion videos won’t look good on full screen because of the lower native resolution.
That’s hand-held, normal speed. It would be difficult getting that video with the DSLR (unless I get out of the shelter of the patio and into the rain) . . . although, if I could hold the much heavier camera steady, the video would be better (up to 4K, if I wanted it, and if people could actually see in 4K). The P900 also had half and quarter speed, although the resolution drops; 720p for half speed and 480p for quarter speed . . .
Those are not super-great, but for casual viewing, they’re not that bad.
Same for the first hummingbird. I’ll share the normal speed and then the slow-motion ones. Shooting in slow motion minimizes the distraction of the small movements caused by hand-holding (you can actually detect the movement caused by my heartbeat) and also lets you see details like raindrops bouncing off the back of the hummingbird. And, you can see the heartbeat of the hummingbird (movement of its chest feathers).
Some of those videos were shot with the camera on a tripod (you can tell by the lack of motion in the background). Also, I replaced the audio in most of the videos because the microphone picks up both the noise of the highway (it’s a half-mile away, but it’s loud under certain atmospheric conditions) and of the neighbor’s pool pump. Plus, the camera does not record sounds when recording at something other than normal speed.
The photos can be surprisingly good even in these less-than-optimal conditions, although they still require some tweaking of the settings while shooting and care when post-processing.
Those look OK because you’re focusing on the totality of the frame . . . but, when looking at something small at full zoom, it still looks softer than I like … not bad, mind you, given the poor lighting, but not as good as I would like.
I think that’s still hand-held . . . and you can improve the results by mounting the camera on a tripod . . .
The videos are also improved, but you should remember to switch off the video stabilization if mounted on a tripod . . .
Those are all from my patio, but what about in real-world conditions? I mean, you often don’t have the time to deploy a tripod in fast-changing conditions. Or, even, in areas where you can’t park yourself there because you interfere with traffic. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’ve not spent multiple hundreds of dollars on a gimbal head that allows fluid 3D motion and lets you reposition the camera at will without introducing shaking. The tripod heads I have are great for photography, but not so great for video. And, even for photography, it limits how fast you can shoot.
That same day, I drove to the Crab Orchard National Refuge . . .
Those pelicans were about 200 yards from me (on a newly-formed island due to the water level change). Those are pretty good photos (I think), but I’ll be comparing them to the ones from my DSLR once I process those photos. Here are the videos I shot (hand-held, from the car) . . .
In those instances, I probably could have set up a tripod as the place had few people there because of the rain. But, this next shot is from the car and if I’d have gotten out to set up a tripod, these American Wood ducks would have been gone . . . these were about 100 yards away and moving toward cover.
These photos are not too bad for the blog, but if you go to SmugMug to try and see more details with the full-size version, all sorts of bad are evident.
I did record a quick video (reminder: choose the highest quality available) . . .
The movies always look better quality than the photos (in my opinion) which leads me to wonder why . . . what are they doing with the video that isn’t happening with the photos? But, I suppose it’s because dynamic images always look better in person. For instance, I’m told I’m not as ugly in person as I am in photographs. My hypothesis is that because there’s motion, you don’t get to see the ugly details, whereas, in a still, ugliness is front and center.
For instance, the following photo, no matter how I edited it, doesn’t look as good as the movie right after it (three different clips joined up for one video).
By the way, it was much easier shooting with the P900 while in the car than it would have been with the DSLR with the 70-200mm or 80-400mm lens on the camera. However, I suppose the 70-300mm kit lens would have done a decent job as well. Maybe even better than the P900.
Next, what made the visit to the refuge even better, and an instance where I wished I’d had my D7500 at the ready. I had the P900 in hand, and this Red-shouldered hawk was on a branch of a fallen tree not even 30 yards from the road. I pulled over the car, turned off the engine, and lowered the window, all hoping the hawk wouldn’t fly off . . .
You can see the bokeh for the P900 is not so great when there’s a lot of detail in the background, and it’s usually made worse by postprocessing. I could blur the background using a few of the programs I have, but it’s more work than I wanted to do for this post.
However, as this is my first Red-shouldered hawk (LINK), I was pleased enough with the photo and the videos (there are two short clips joined together).
If you click on the link I provided, you can hear the recording of the call that closely matches those in the video.
Let me repeat how lucky I felt to have gotten so many photos and videos off one trip to the refuge.
The next day, I shot a few photos in ‘good’ light so that we could compare the performance (no video, though).
That’s in the middle of the day with almost sunny conditions … meaning, very bright. Let’s face it, it’s not very attractive. To be fair, the DSLR would also look pretty washed out, but the difference is that with a RAW file, I could make more adjustments.
I have a few tricks when shooting such scenes (exposure compensation and metering matter), but the P900 is mostly used for close-up shots. For many photographers, the mega-zoom is the main reason to have it, but, yes, it can be used for landscape. While in Hawaiʻi, my landscape photography efforts were perhaps aided by the scenery itself, but the camera did handle general landscape photos very well.
Still, from THIS article:
The 1:2.3” sensor used in the P900 provides good resolution at 16mp. Nevertheless, it suffers from the expected limitations of such a small sensor – poor high ISO performance and a small dynamic range. To cram 16 megapixels in such a small sensor, the pixel sites are very small. Smaller pixel sites gather less photons and less photons equals less data to create an image from.
Dynamic range is where I often run into trouble when zooming in onto an area with high contrast, including hummingbirds because they are small and their plumage ranges from white to black. One thing I do (and, again, it takes a bit of effort and I have to remember to check every time) is to change the metering, choosing between Matrix, Center-weighted, and spot as the case might be. For long zoom shots, I prefer spot metering. For instance, in these shots, I tried to spot-meter on the brightest areas of the bird. That helps keep the ISO (and noise) low, the shutter speed high, and I generally get better results overall (not always).
The problem is that it can make the darks darker. Most of the time, I don’t mind. In this next photo, I metered on the bright white portion so I could get the details, but it made the shadowy parts darker than what I could see with my eyes. However, I’ll take that shot as interesting (I like clouds . . . and they don’t get in my way).
The gray portions should be more ‘silvery’ and the blue cast at their edges less visible in real life. However, that could also be from the post-processing via Luminar AI (I used a canned setting without tweaking it). Bottom line, I can see the details of the fluffy white parts, which is what I wanted.
Shiny green hummingbird photos tend to get blown out in the bright sun, but spot-metering on them helps maintain their details . . .
Same for when a bird is in the shadows . . .
So, overall, the P900 is a pretty useful camera . . . but doesn’t replace the DSLR when it comes to quality, dynamic range, and situations where noise might be a problem (low light). Some say you can shoot up to ISO 800 without much problem, but I have mine set at a maximum of ISO 400, and really, I’m most happy with results from ISO 100 (except if I’m shooting ISO 400 or higher in great light to use fast shutter speeds).
“Tell us, Disperser . . . what brought this on? We sense an ulterior motive than just presenting all this!”
OK, you got me. I’ve been thinking about the kind of photography I do, the equipment I use, and how I want to proceed forward.
It’s the same ole question . . . with a twist. If readers remember (I’d be impressed if they do), I was — and still am — considering the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E lens. Except, this video gave me pause . . .
That’s much larger than I had imagined just from reading the specifications. I then asked myself . . .
Self, why do you want that lens? Well . . . because the 70-200mm sometimes doesn’t cut it, and the 80-400mm I own is now 19 years old and I can tell it’s not working as smoothly as it used to. it could probably use some TLC from Nikon. I could send it in for refurbishing at a cost of $700. That sounds like a lot, but a new version of the 80-400mm is around $2,300 … but a heck of a lens in a compact package I’m already used to. The 400mm zoom (600mm equivalent) would get me in the ballpark of what I can do with the P900 and have the advantage of being able to be used for action photography when mounted on the D7500 . . . I know, because I use my 19-year-old 80-400mm, and I can track and shoot birds with it . . .
Those are crops of larger photos, but you can certainly notice improved clarity and detail over what the P900 can do.
That lens is easier to manage than the P1000, is more responsive, and produces better quality . . . but, when the subject is far away, there’s no substitute for 3000mm zoom; the question then becomes ‘poor quality’ photo versus ‘no photo’. It’s the same subject I covered in my post about the P1000 and the other posts I did on the subject of zoom.
I’m no closer to knowing the answer . . . so, I’ll keep doing more testing of the lenses and cameras I have until I’m satisfied that I know the compromises I would be making with whatever I decide. And, aside from that, I need to come to terms with the type of photography I want to do going forward. Meaning, do I really need tack sharp photos at longer zooms if all I’m doing is posting them here? I used to print stuff, but I haven’t for a number of years.
Understand, I’m not asking for advice. I’m just writing down stuff because it helps me process stuff, crystalizes what I know, and makes it easier to process. It is, after all this, still my problem, not yours.
By the way, remember when I said I didn’t have a video for the comparison shots? I lied.
… AND . . . I just also decided I’m going to minimize my use of YouTube and use Vimeo, instead. Yes, it’s because Google makes me feel like a chump; they provide lots of stuff for “free” but they make money from what I do, and they keep changing rules and making it less easy to deal with them (for their benefit, of course). Remember, if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product, not the customer.
Here’s my last video, and then I’m calling this marathon closed. (Funny, Vimeo still has my avatar from ages ago; my zombie photo . . . I think I’ll keep it for a while.)
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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