Nikon Coolpix P90 Review

May 29, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star


The Nikon Coolpix P90 is the successor to Nikon's first ever super-zoom compact camera, last year's P80 model. The 12 megapixel P90 offers a number of significant upgrades, most notably the incredible 24x wide-angle zoom lens which provides a massive focal range of 26-624mm. Featuring Nikon’s VR (Vibration Reduction) image stabilisation system to help ensure that the majority of photos are sharp and don't suffer from camera-shake, the Coolpix P90 also offers a 3-inch tilting LCD screen, an electronic viewfinder for image composition, a complete range of exposure controls with Auto, Program, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority and full Manual mode, and an extensive ISO range of 64-6400. A 1cm macro mode, Auto Scene, Face Priority AF, Smile Mode and Blink Warning complete the headline specifications of the £379.99 / €449.00 / $399.95 Nikon Coolpix P90.

Ease of Use

The new P90 is very similar to the previous P80 model in terms of its design, so some of our comments about that camera will be repeated here. At first glance the Nikon Coolpix P90 looks pretty much like a true digital SLR camera, with a chunky rubberised handgrip, large lens barrel, pop-up flash, rear control dial for changing the aperture and shutter speed, and an eye-level viewfinder. If you lined it up alongside an entry-level DSLR, you would be hard pushed to spot the odd camera out, which is exactly what Nikon are aiming for.

All is revealed only when you look at the back of the P90 when it is turned on and see the LCD screen showing a live preview of the scene (something which most recent DSLR cameras can admittedly now do as well), or if you hold it up to your eye and look through the electronic viewfinder. Also the 24x fixed zoom also doesn't have the zoom or focus rings that you'll find on a DSLR lens, and it obviously can't be removed from the camera as with a true SLR. In terms of overall build quality, if we're being picky, there's a little bit of flex in the all-plastic body, but it's certainly a lot better built than the competitive £379 / $399 price-tag might suggest.

The incredible 24x zoom lens obviously makes the Nikon Coolpix P90 one of the most versatile compacts in terms of focal range. The 26-624mm focal length should handle most photographic possibilities, with the only exception being ultra wide-angle shots. The P90’s lens is impressively fast, with maximum apertures of f/2.8 at 26mm and f/5 at 624mm, although don’t expect to achieve DSLR-like blurred backgrounds due to the comparatively small sensor. Nikon’s engineers have also provided a 1cm macro mode, so there really is very little that the P90 can’t cope with. There’s no need to carry round a bagful of heavy lenses as with a DSLR system, and because the lens is fixed, there’s little danger of unwanted dust getting onto the sensor. The Nikon Coolpix P90 is only surpassed by the Olympus SP-590UZ which has an even longer 26x, 26-676mm lens. Annoyingly, the lens cap has to be removed before turning on the camera, even if you only want to playback your images.

Thankfully Nikon have included their VR (Vibration Reduction) image stabilisation system to help prevent camera-shake, an essential feature on a camera like this, although annoyingly there isn't a dedicated button to turn it on and off (it's buried within the Setup main menu). In practice I found that the VR system makes a noticeable difference to the sharpness of the images, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page, but don't expect to get sharp results every time at the longer focal lengths without the use of a suitably fast shutter speed and preferably a tripod too. You can hear a slight mechanical whirring noise when Vibration Reduction is turned on, but otherwise you don't really notice it. Thankfully leaving the anti-shake system on didn't negatively affect the battery-life, with the camera managing around 225 shots using the supplied Lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

Nikon Coolpix P90 Nikon Coolpix P90
Front Rear

In addition, there are 3 electronic functions that help to prevent camera shake. High ISO light sensitivity (3200/6400 at 3 megapixels, or 1600 at full resolution) reduces the risk of blurred images, while the Motion Detection option automatically detects and compensates for both camera and subject movement. Best Shot Selector (BSS) mode automatically selects the sharpest of up to 10 sequential shots. All of these 3 options and the Vibration Reduction system can be used at the same time if so desired.

There are two different way of composing images with the Nikon Coolpix P90. As with the rest of the super-zoom competition, the P90 has an electronic viewfinder (EVF), with a resolution of 230,000 pixels. As this camera has largely been designed to replicate a DSLR, it means that you will invariably compose your images by holding the camera up to your eye. I found that while the P90's EVF is one of the better examples around, it doesn't keep up with the eye quite as quickly or precisely as a true optical viewfinder. On the plus side, you get a lot more visual feedback via the EVF than on most optical viewfinders and you can also playback your images on it if you so wish! I still much prefer a traditional, good quality optical viewfinder though, and this would be one of the main reasons for opting for a true DSLR instead of the Nikon Coolpix P90.

The new 3 inch vari-angle LCD monitor on the back of the camera has the same resolution of 230,000 pixels as the EVF, which is on the low side for such a large screen, resulting in a slightly grainy display. It also offers five levels of brightness, an anti-reflection coating, a wide viewing angle, and can be tilted through 90 degrees upward and 45 degrees downward. This makes it possible to hold the P90 above your head or down by your waist and still be able to clearly see the scene and compose the image, although it's a shame that the LCD can't also be rotated out to the side. A button next to the electronic viewfinder switches between the EVF and LCD screen.

There aren't too many external controls and buttons (13 in total) on the Coolpix P90, reflecting the fact that this is a camera in the mould of an entry-level DSLR. There's a traditional dial on the top that lets you select the different shooting modes, which is a typical feature of SLR cameras, and it enables you to quickly change between the various modes. The Nikon Coolpix P90 offers a range of advanced modes including shutter-priority, aperture-priority and manual, perfect for the photographer who wants to take full control.

Nikon Coolpix P90 Nikon Coolpix P90
Tilting LCD Screen Side

The Movie and various Scene modes for beginners are also accessed via this dial, along with the new Scene Auto Selector and U1 / U2 modes. Scene Auto Selector automatically recognizes the scene in your picture from 6 presets (Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, Night Landscape, Closeup and Backlight) and adjusts the camera settings accordingly, and U1 / U2 can be used to store and quickly retrieve your favourite camera settings. Another big improvement is the removal of the Setup mode, a rather annoying design flaw on the P80, which has now been replaced by a much more intuitive integrated Shooting, Playback and Set Up main menu system.

The Nikon Coolpix P90 isn't as versatile as a true DSLR camera in terms of its key specifications, with a limiting maximum shutter speed of 8 seconds and aperture range of f/2.8-8.0. There is a well-positioned control dial on the rear which makes it easy to change the aperture and shutter speed, but there’s no second dial on the hand-grip which would have made operating Manual mode much easier. The general layout of the P90 will appeal to beginners more than experienced photographers with an uncluttered approach that won’t scare anyone off, but no dedicated controls for settings like ISO speed and white balance means having to spend time scrolling through the menu system.

The P90 has an SD compatible memory card slot, allowing the use of either SD or SDHC cards, and there's also 47MB of internal memory, which can store 8 images at the highest quality level. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the well-written and easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Thankfully Nikon have bucked the recent trend of not providing hard-copy manuals by supplying it in printed format.

There are a few interesting features that help the Nikon Coolpix P90 stand-out from the increasingly crowded super-zoom market. Distortion control automatically corrects barrel distortion, useful for all those 26mm shots of close-up architecture with converging verticals, but it does have to be turned on before you take a picture. D-Lighting is a long-standing Nikon technology that brightens the shadow areas of an image, and on the P90 it can now be applied to an image both before and after it has been taken.

Nikon Coolpix P90 Nikon Coolpix P90
Battery Compartment Memory Card Slot

Face-priority Autofocus can detect up to 12 faces in a scene just so long as they're looking directly at the camera, whilst In-Camera Red-Eye Fix automatically processes the picture to remove red-eye. Blink Warning alerts you when someone in the frame had their eyes closed, and the Smile Timer automatically takes the picture when a smile is detected. Finally the Optimize Image option allows you to tweak the look and feel of your images before you take them, with 6 presets and a Custom option on offer. The contrast, saturation and sharpening level of each preset can be individually adjusted too, so you should be able to find a setting that suits you.

Movie recording on the Nikon Coolpix P90 is something of a let-down in light of the recent shift to HD quality video. In contrast the P90 offers 640x480 pixel VGA movies at 30 or 15fps, or 320x240 pixels at 15fps. Even worse, you can't use the optical zoom lens during recording, with just a 2x digital zoom available, and there's similarly only an electronic vibration reduction system. Rivals like the Panasonic FZ28 and Canon PowerShot SX10 IS have much better video modes, although the P90's time-lapse movie mode, which records up to 1800 frames at intervals between 30 seconds and 60 minutes and combines them into a 640x480 movie at 30fps, is a unique feature in the super-zoom segment.

The start-up time from turning the Nikon Coolpix P90 on to being ready to take a photo is quick at less than 2 seconds (if the lens cap is already off), whilst zooming from the widest focal length to the longest takes around 4 seconds, understandable given the huge focal length on offer. Focusing is quick in good light and the camera achieves focus most of the time indoors or in low-light situations, helped by a powerful focus-assist lamp. The visibility, resolution and refresh rate of both the 3 inch LCD screen and the electronic viewfinder (EVF) are acceptable but not out-standing. Using the single shot mode, it takes less than a second to store a JPEG image, with a very brief LCD blackout between each image during which you can't take another shot.

In the Continuous shooting mode the P90 takes 1.4 frames per second at the highest image quality for up to 25 frames, which is below average for this class of camera. There is also a Multi-shot 16 mode that takes 16 photos at 7.5 frames per second and arranges them into a single image, plus an Interval timer shooting mode which takes between 30 and 600 images at periods of 30 seconds to ten minutes apart, which is useful for things like astrophotography. Nikon are also heavily pushing their new Sports Continuous scene mode, which for shoots at 15fps for up to 45 frames, but it only works only when you set the resolution to 3 megapixels or lower. New for the P90 is the option to press the shutter halfway and record the moments that take place before you press the shutter fully, although unfortunately this is only available in the rather limited Sports Continuous scene mode.

Once you have captured a photo, the Nikon Coolpix P90 has quite a good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (up to 16 onscreen at the same time), zoom in and out up to 10x magnification, apply D-Lighting and Quick Retouch (improves the contrast and saturation), set the print order, view a slide show, delete, protect, rotate, hide and copy an image, plus create a smaller version and add a black border. The Display button toggles between various views, including showing detailed settings information about each picture, such as the ISO rating and aperture/shutter speed, and a brightness-based histogram.

In summary the Nikon Coolpix P90 improves on its predecessor in several key areas whilst retaining the successful mix of DSLR-like handling and compact camera features.

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 5Mb.

The Nikon Coolpix P90's image quality is above average. The Nikon Coolpix P90's main drawback in terms of image quality is noise, with the relatively slow speed of ISO 200 showing some noise, particularly in shadow areas. The noise gets progressively worse as you go from ISO 200 to ISO 400 and finally the virtually unusable ISO 800 and 1600 settings.

The Nikon Coolpix P90 dealt with chromatic aberrations a little better, with purple fringing effects appearing only in high contrast situations. The 10 megapixel images were soft straight out of the camera, but you can change the in-camera sharpening level if you wish. The night photograph was fine, with the maximum shutter speed of 8 seconds allowing you to capture just enough light for most situations.

The built-in flash worked well indoors, with a little red-eye and good overall exposure. Macro performance is excellent, allowing you to focus as close as just 1cm away from the subject at the wide-angle lens setting. Anti-shake is an essential feature on a camera like this and one that works well when hand-holding the camera in low-light conditions or using the telephoto end of the zoom range.


There are 8 ISO settings available on the Nikon Coolpix P90. Note that the image resolution is reduced to 3 megapixels for ISO 3200 and 6400. There is no discernible noise at the slowest settings of ISO 64 and 100, as you would expect, but at ISO 200 noise is already appearing along with some colour desaturation. By ISO 400 it is very obvious, together with coloured artifacts and blurring of detail. ISO 800 is for emergency use only, whilst ISO is only really suitable for small prints or web use. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting:

ISO 64 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

Focal Range

The Nikon Coolpix P90's 24x zoom lens provides a focal length of 26-624mm in 35mm terms, as demonstrated below.



File Quality

The Nikon Coolpix P90 has 3 different image quality settings available, with Fine being the highest quality option. There is no RAW mode. Here are some 100% crops which show the quality of the various options, with the file size shown in brackets.

12M Fine (5.55Mb) (100% Crop)

12M Normal (2.73Mb) (100% Crop)


12M Basic (1.34Mb) (100% Crop)



Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are a little bit soft at the default sharpening setting, and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can also change the in-camera sharpening levels using the Optimize Image setting if you don't like the default results.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations

The Nikon Coolpix P90 handled chromatic aberrations fairly well during the review. Some purple fringing was present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.

Example 1 (100% Crop)

Example 2 (100% Crop)


The Nikon Coolpix P90 offers a Macro setting that allows you to focus on a subject that is just 1cm away from the camera. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject in Macro mode (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.

Macro Shot

100% Crop


The flash settings on the Nikon Coolpix P90 are Auto, Auto + Red-Eye reduction, Off, Fill Flash, Slow sync and Rear-curtain sync. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (26mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (26mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (624mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (624mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are some portrait shots. The Auto setting caused a tiny amount of red-eye, which the Red-eye reduction mode failed to remove.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)

Red Eye Reduction

Red Eye Reduction (100% Crop)


The Nikon Coolpix P90's maximum shutter speed is 8 seconds, which is fairly good news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 8 seconds, aperture of f/2.8 at ISO 64. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Vibration Reduction

The Nikon Coolpix P90 has a Vibration Reduction mechanism, which allows you to take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than other digital cameras. To test this, I took 2 handheld shots of the same subject with the same settings. The first shot was taken with Vibration Reduction turned off, the second with it turned on. Here is a 100% crop of the image to show the results. As you can see, with Vibration Reduction turned on, the images are much sharper than when it's turned off. This feature really does seem to make a difference and could mean capturing a successful, sharp shot or missing the opportunity altogether.

Shutter Speed / Focal Length

Vibration Reduction Off (100% Crop)

Vibration Reduction On (100% Crop)

1/10th / 26mm
1/5th / 162mm

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Nikon Coolpix P90 camera, which were all taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample movie at the highest quality setting of 640x480 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 20 second movie is 20.6Mb in size.

Product Images

Nikon Coolpix P90

Front of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P90

Front of the Camera / Turned On

Nikon Coolpix P90

Front of the Camera / Pop-up Flash

Nikon Coolpix P90

Isometric View

Nikon Coolpix P90

Isometric View

Nikon Coolpix P90

Rear of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P90

Rear of the Camera / Turned On

Nikon Coolpix P90

Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed

Nikon Coolpix P90

Rear of the Camera / Image Info


Nikon Coolpix P90

Rear of the Camera / Main Menu

Nikon Coolpix P90

Rear of the Camera / Tilting Screen

Nikon Coolpix P90

Rear of the Camera / Tilting Screen

Nikon Coolpix P90

Rear of the Camera / Tilting Screen

Nikon Coolpix P90

Rear of the Camera / Tilting Screen

Nikon Coolpix P90

Top of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P90

Bottom of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P90

Side of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P90

Side of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P90

Front of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P90

Front of the Camera

Nikon Coolpix P90

Battery Compartment

Nikon Coolpix P90

Memory Card Slot


The Nikon Coolpix P90 is an almost kind of camera, offering an attractive overall package but ultimately falling short in certain key areas when compared to its main rivals. The 24x zoom lens is the main highlight, stretching all the way from 26mm wide-angle to 624mm telephoto, but it doesn't quite match up to the 26x zoom of the Olympus SP-590UZ. The new tilting screen allows you to hold the camera above your head or by your waist and still get well-composed shots, but it's not as versatile as the Canon PowerShot S1 IS's vari-angle LCD.

The ability to create time-lapse movies is a unique feature in this market segment, but the HD movie mode offered by several other super-zooms is more compelling. Finally, while the Nikon P90's image quality is perfectly acceptable when used in good light, noise and colour artifacts are obvious at the relatively slow ISO speed of 200, with anything above ISO 400 almost a complete write-off - almost every rival super-zoom offers better looking photos than the P90. When you also consider that this camera has a much higher introductory price-tag than its predecessor in the UK and Europe, then it becomes difficult to really get excited about it.

The Nikon Coolpix P90 is still worthy of a Recommended award, mainly thanks to its intuitive design and welcoming ease-of-use, especially for beginners, but be aware that there are quite a few better alternatives available for your money.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4.5
Features 4
Ease-of-use 4.5
Image quality 3.5
Value for money 4

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Nikon Coolpix P90 from around the web. »

Nikon’s COOLPIX P90 is the company’s latest super-zoom digital camera, sporting 12.1 Megapixel resolution, a tilting 3in screen and a 24x optical range that’s equivalent to 26-624mm. Announced in February 2009, it’s the successor to the COOLPIX P80 and joins the increasingly competitive market for SLR-styled cameras with enormous zoom ranges.
Read the full review » »

uper-zoom bridge cameras have been getting a lot bigger recently. We've already taken a look at the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS (£300) and SX1 IS (£450), with their 20x zoom lenses, and the Olympus SP-590UZ (£275) with its massive but slightly impractical 26x zoom. I'll be reviewing the 20x zoom Casio EX-FS20 later this week, but today it's the turn of Nikon's variation on the theme, the 24x zoom, 12.1-megapixel Coolpix P90. It's Nikon's first full-size super-zoom since last year's Coolpix P80, and although it bears a superficial resemblance to that model, the P90 has a new body and a much better specification. It doesn't come cheap though; the P90 is currently selling for around £330.
Read the full review » »

Nikon has entered the competitive ultra-zoom digicam market with the Coolpix P90, which combines a 24x optical zoom lens with a 6.13 x 4.6mm CCD sensor with an effective resolution of 12.1 megapixels. It's not the longest zoom lens on the digicam market (Olympus still commands a lead with 26x on the SP-560UZ) and the P90 is a large and chunky camera. But it has a few features to attract photographers who don't want an SLR.
Read the full review »


Image Sensor Type

Sensor Size
1/2.33 in.

Total Pixels
12.7 million

Effective Pixels
12.1 million

Image Area (pixels)
4000 x 3000(12M)
3264 x 2448(8M)

Image Area (pixels) - 5M
2592 x 1944(5M)
2048 x 1536(3M)
1600 x 1200(2M)
1280 x 960(1M)
640 x 480(TV)
3984 x 2656(3:2)
3968 x 2232 (16:9)
2992 x 2992(1:1)

LCD Monitor Size
3.0 in. diagonal

LCD Monitor Type

LCD Monitor Resolution
230.000 Dots

Lowest ISO Sensitivity

Highest ISO Sensitivity

Storage Media

Internal Memory
Approx. 47MB

Image Stabilization

Movie Modes
Movie with sound
Time lapse movie
TV movie (640x480), Small size (320x240), Sepia movie (320x240), Black/White movie (320x240), Time-lapse movie (640x480)

Hi-speed USB

Lens Zoom

Lens Specification
24x optical Zoom-NIKKOR ED Glass Lens, f2.8-f5

Focus Range
Approx. 1 ft. 8 in. (50cm) to infinity, Macro close-up mode: 0.4 in. (1cm) to infinity.

Exposure Modes
Programmed Auto (P)
Shutter-Priority Auto (S)
Aperture-Priority Auto (A)
Manual (M)

Scene Modes
Night Portrait
Night Landscape
Fireworks Show
Close Up
Back Light
Panorama Assist

Battery Type

Battery / Batteries
EN-EL5 Lithium-ion Battery

AC Adapter
EH-62A AC Adapter

Battery Charger
MH-61 Charger

Battery Life (shots per charge)
Nikon Rechargeable:
230 shots (CIPA)

Approx. Dimensions
Height: 3.3 in. (83mm)
Width: 4.53 in. (114mm)
Depth: 3.9 in. (99mm)

Approx. Weight
16.2 oz. (400g)

Face Detection (up to 12 faces can be detected), Scene Auto Selector camera automatically changes up to 6 scene modes to match scene), Motion Detection (camera detects camera shake and makes adjustments reduce image blur).

Supplied Software
Software Suite CD-ROM

Supplied Accessories
Li-ion Rechargeable Battery EN-EL5
Battery Charge MH-61
USB Cable UC-E6
Audio/Video Cable EG-CP14
Strap AN-CP18
Lens Cap LC-CP19
Software Suite for COOLPIX CD-ROM

Your Comments

Loading comments…