Ok, so I've dropped the ball a bit here. I admit it. After all, I've been an advertising photographer for over 45 years and I haven't even talked shop about cameras on Grand Voyage Italy. Well, things are going to change... here's my first camera review, but look for more posts on other cameras and photo techniques and tips for travel photography in the near future...
When I planned our Italy voyage I knew I didn't want to be loaded down as a pro photographer with my larger camera kit and multiple lenses. This was a different kind of trip for us--to discover our roots. I didn't want to feel like I was working, but yet I wanted to bring enough photo-power to capture the best images of this trip of a lifetime. We decided on two cameras, the Nikon P530 (42X zoom) and the P600 (60X zoom). These were affordable (one more so than the other) and considering the lenses were integrated into the camera body (not removable), I wanted two similar cameras so we always had a backup. As it turned out, the choice was perfect for us. The bodies on these cameras is smaller--much smaller--than my hefty D7000 (a half pound difference!) Lisa could tuck hers into her "mule bag" and I fit mine comfortably into my messenger bag. After all, I didn't want to advertise my presence as "photographer". The cameras were easy to use, lightweight (especially with my wrist strap) and the fact that the lenses on these cameras are in the "Super Zoom" category meant we didn't have to miss shots or carry a traditional DSLR with a variety of lenses. So, now there is a new model that I'd like to talk about...
The Nikon Coolpix P610
The features of the P610 can't be beat... 16 megapixel (full resolution), 60x optical zoom lens, GPS, built-in Wi-Fi, "Near Field Communication" compatibility (NFC), and Full HD video. Combine this with one of my favorite features... the flip out Vari-angle display. This is handy for taking shots looking up from ground level or holding the camera at arm's length over your head, as when taking shots over a crowd. The lens is still a Super Zoom at 60x, just like our P600. That's equivalent to having a range from 24 – 1440mm in a traditional 35mm format camera! There's even vibration reduction for when you're zoomed way in (though, again, shut this feature off to prevent unnecessary battery drain when you don't need it.) If you do a lot of zooming-in at distant objects, I'd recommend packing a tripod, or save space while traveling and get a sturdy mini tripod like the Cullman Magnesit Copter. I brought one along and got amazing steadiness out of it.
The other amazing and useful feature of the P610 is the wide range of ISO... 100 - 12,800! This is fast enough to take decent photos in a dark room or a dark street. Of course, you should only use these higher ISOs when you absolutely need them (all high ISO settings on all cameras trade off capturing a well exposed picture with lessened quality), but it's great to know they are there (like when you want to capture the details of a fresco inside a cave in Puglia without flash). Most shots outdoors would do best with an ISO 100 setting for the best quality image, but to prevent hand hold camera shake (if you've just come from a point and shoot camera) perhaps a setting of 200-400 is a good compromise.
The communication features are great also. Our P600 had Wi-Fi and we used it several times while in Italy to transfer shots to our phone so we could then Email them to friends. Basically, you connect your phone (or in our case, our Kindle) to the camera's Wi-Fi hotspot--very easy to do. We also used this feature to dump shots to our phone or Kindle and then back them up to Dropbox. Very handy to have. The Near Field Communication feature is useful if you have a NFC enabled smart phone... tap your phone to the camera and it instantly makes the Wi-Fi connection. Another very techy feature is that the LCD display automatically switches to the internal electronic viewfinder when you hold the camera up to your eye--and vice versa. On the P600 I have to press a button when I want to switch finders.
I personally see little use for the GPS feature. This has to be turned on from the menu and will tag photos with lat/long coordinates. Useful for posting photos on Panoramia and Google Earth, I suppose. It also has a feature which lists points of interest near your current location. Sorry, but I don't really need it to tell me that the Eiffel Tower is nearby. I'd recommend keeping the GPS turned off if only because it's a real battery drain.
The camera has a multitude of shooting modes for all levels of photographic expertise. If you want full manual control, you've got it. If you want full-auto, it's there too (and does an excellent job). If you prefer selecting Scene modes, here they are:
Backlighting, Bird Watching, Beach, Black and White Copy, Close Up, Dusk/Dawn, Easy Panorama, Fireworks Show, Food, Landscape, Moon, Museum, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Pet Portrait, Portrait, Snow, Sports, Sunset and Scene Auto Selector which analyzes the scene and selects the most appropriate one automatically. Enough for you? This is a one very powerful camera that amateurs should not be intimidated by.
The P610 improves on the P600 by delivering 360 shots-per-charge, where the P600 could only manage 330. If you use video a lot (which is excellent in HD, btw) plan on bringing along extra batteries. Video and flash eat batteries alive on these digital cameras. I brought 3 batteries for each camera and could have used an extra one or two each. A super charger like the LEPOWER 40 Watt, 5-port charger saves bringing along lots of power blocks but also charges batteries very fast when plugged into it's two high power USB ports. Combine the batteries with one or two 16 or 32 Gigabyte SDHD cards, and you'll have enough storage to capture thousands of photos on your voyage.
So, if you want a great near-pro quality, Super Zoom camera system, this might be the perfect choice. Happy shooting!
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