Equipment

The Nikon P1000 is the Most Fun I’ve Had with a New Camera in Years

With over ten years as a professional photographer, I don’t really get the ‘GAS’ (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) like I used to. I’ve become pretty content with the gear I’ve acquired over the years, and so new purchases have become more about the marginal upgrades and business expense than the excitement waiting for the FedEx delivery person to arrive. However, that excitement had a glimmering return, when I decided to rent the Nikon P1000 for a weekend.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Nikon P1000 is essentially Nikon’s answer to all the amateur photography forum questions asking “If you could have one lens, what would it be?” If you’ve ever stumbled into one of these conversations, you’ll see that it’s a flood of people saying something to the effect of “a 10-2000mm f/2.8 lens”. While a lens of that stature would be impossible both optically and in weight, someone at Nikon was seemingly watching these forums, waiting to pitch their next crazy idea at the next board meeting.

The Nikon P1000 is that silly idea coming to life. This fixed lens camera compares in size to a full frame DSLR, and holds a ludicrous 125x zoom, marking itself at 24-3000mm f/2.8-f/8 zoom. That’s right, that wasn’t a typo; the lens fixed to the Nikon P1000 is a 24-3000mm. And like a kid who just got his first DSLR, I was excited to try this out.

Nikon P1000 Moon Photo

Nikon P1000
ISO 800, f/8, 1/1000s, 3000mm equiv.

Now the Nikon P1000 gets a lot of flak around the office, as most of the budget, ‘one trick pony’ type stuff does. It makes sense – why rent the Nikon P1000 when you could rent a Nikon D5 and Nikon 800mm f/5.6E VR? Not only would the latter get far superior images (and make you highly respected at your next birding meetup), but you’ll probably have a better time with the system. But that system costs tens of thousands of dollars, whereas the Nikon P1000 sits at a marginal $999.

The Features

The Nikon P1000 comes with a long list of features beyond the 24-3000mm lens. Most notably, the Nikon P1000 holds a 1/2.3″ BSI-CMOS sensor at 16MP, ‘Dual Detect’ optical image stabilization, and UHD 4K video output at 30fps. As a nod to the professionals, it also has Raw support, a hot shoe for flashes and accessories, 2.36M-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, and wifi and GPS built into the system.

Some people might ask how a lens like this could exist, and the reality is, when talking full-frame terms, it can’t (….yet?). The Nikon P1000 has a 24-3000mm ED VR lens with 17 elements packed into 12 groups. However, the lens itself is actually a 4.2-539mm focal length, but has a 5.58x crop factor due to the smaller sensor on the camera; giving it the marketed 24-3000mm equivalent focal length. The result, is image quality suffering more from the small sensor size than the lens, giving you pretty lackluster sharpness and noise reduction – especially when shooting at higher ISOs. The second limiting factor of this lens is the f/2.8-f/8 aperture range. When zooming, you’ll see your aperture go from adjustable to fixed depending on how far you need to zoom to get the shot. It breaks down like this – at 24mm-105mm, the lens offers apertures low as f/2.8. From 105mm-800mm, it is an f/4 lens; from 800mm-1600mm, it’s f/6.3, and then adjusts to f/7.1 at 2200mm and a fixed f/8 from 2800mm-3000mm. These adjustments are necessary for a lens like this in its current state, and you can expect the autofocus to suffer, especially when zooming and in low light.

Additionally, the Nikon P1000 has some shooting modes that I found pretty useful. Generally, I keep cameras in manual mode, as I like to tinker my way through the settings, and have little trust in auto settings. However, after encountering some frustrations when shooting the moon one night, I decided to test out the ‘Moon’ setting within the Nikon P1000. Much to my surprise, the settings worked well. Most notably, while in Moon mode, the camera switches to a 3-second timer, to assure that there is no camera shake when trying to capture this rock in the sky. In addition to ‘Moon’ mode, the Nikon P1000 has ‘Birding’ settings, which makes the shutter speed the priority, though forum users have had lackluster results. 

P1000 Moon Photo

100% Crop of the Nikon P1000 at 3000mm equiv. ISO 200, 1/250s, f/8

Build Quality

The Nikon P1000 takes its styling from a multitude of camera systems, most of which are smart choices on Nikon’s part. The body has a very similar feel to a DSLR system. The grip is comfortable, and the body, by in large, feels premium – especially given the price point. While the buttons do feel a little squishy, the overall build design is excellent.

However, the Nikon P1000 doesn’t come with weather sealing. Generally, we don’t even like the term ‘weather resistant,’ because it’s more of an ambiguous marketing term than anything else. However, some foam gaskets would have been a nice touch to an already robust feeling camera, especially given that it’s meant to be taken out and seeing the environment at 3000mm.

Using the P1000

The design of the Nikon P1000 comes with simplicity in mind, which at times, might be its determent. For those who are picking up the Nikon P1000, coming from the professional market of DSLR and mirrorless systems, you might find the system more frustrating than usable. The menu systems are buried, and rarely a one button press. In short, the camera has the size and feel of a DSLR, while maintaining the control setups found most frequently in point and shoot cameras. The camera most often wants to be set in automatic modes, making the manual changes a bit of a pain.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the system though is the lack of a touchscreen. When using the system, I couldn’t help but think that a touchscreen would save me from a lot of the small frustrations that come with a camera that tries to do everything. Particularly when trying to focus on something at 3000mm. As one could imagine, the slightest bump causes significant changes to your composition, and a simple light tap on a touchscreen would be far more gentle than gripping onto the body to focus.

Despite its frustrations, the Nikon P1000 is genuinely one of a kind. By comparison, Canon’s closest competitor is the Canon SX70, which clocks in at 21-1365mm, and Sony’s best offering is the Sony RX10 IV with a 24-600mm f/2.4-4. There is no all in one solution that breaks the 2000mm barrier (aside from the older generation Nikon P900), and doing it on any other format would cost you the price of a luxury sedan.

Squirrel at 24mm equiv.

Squirrel at 230mm equiv.

Squirrel at 700mm equiv.

Squirrel at 3000mm equiv.

The biggest deterrent to building a camera like this comes in the form of atmospheric distortion, or also commonly called ‘heat haze.’ Atmospheric distortion is unavoidable at longer focal lengths and is caused by humidity, pollution, and other atmospheric elements distorting your image. The result is that you get a haze and distortion in your images, especially at 3000mm. This quickly became a massive problem for me, personally, as I was trying to shoot on the coastlines of Southern California, just a week or so after wildfires caused havoc only a few miles north of me.

Image shot on a sunny day on Venice Beach at 3000mm equiv. Please note – Haze is much more prevalent due to being on the Pacific Ocean coast.

And perhaps that is the biggest reason why we don’t see many lenses beyond 800mm in focal length. Heat & atmospheric haze is always going to occur, and can’t really be resolved with filters, lens coatings or anything else. Longer focal lengths always try to make sharpness readouts their priority, and when you’re working against the forces of nature, it’s a difficult battle to win.

And as we rattle off more complaints, the next one is the need for a tripod. Especially at 3000mm, handholding this camera is not an option. The slightest twitch of your hand will move your focused subject out of frame, causing you to scramble to try to find it once again. However, not just any tripod will do. For me personally, I have a 10-year-old Manfrotto tripod, which has developed some quirks after years of extended use. For one, its locking ball head has some dip to it, meaning I have to weigh it down considerably in order to have it lock appropriately. My fault, I should have upgraded my tripod by now (but who wants to spend $500+ on three metal legs and a head!?). Even still, with the weight distribution, I don’t expect anything but frustrations when strapping the Nikon P1000 to old or cheap tripods. While the system does have image stabilization built into it, the problems arise with framing your subject, more than camera shake. 

Despite all of these complaints, one thing shined through with the Nikon P1000 – I had a lot of fun. Too often do we sit on what is practical for a camera, and never really experiment beyond that. For example, my daily driver is a Canon 5d Mark IV, with a Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS permanently affixed to it. Doing studio portraits, it’s hard to argue a better system (fandom and personal preference aside); and maybe that is where the GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) fell to the wayside. Once we find our comforts and niches, we rarely break outside the molds that are necessary for our work. The Nikon P1000 looks at molds and niches and casually scoffs. Is the Nikon P1000 a portrait camera? I don’t know. A Birding Camera? To some, maybe. It doesn’t really fit into molds – after all, it even has built-in macro functionality up until 155mm focial length. And that is what makes this camera so great. Admittingly, it doesn’t do anything particularly great, but it does a little bit of everything. It’s those weird quirks, and that encouraging to think outside your norms, is what makes the Nikon P1000 a cool camera.

Conclusion

Frankly put, a camera like the Nikon P1000 shouldn’t exist – which is precisely what makes it such a fun camera to use. It’s a camera riddled with flaws – many of which are a construct by design and not the flaws of Nikon themselves. But despite that, the camera is so incredibly unique. There really is no way to describe the feeling of zooming from 24mm all the way to 3000mm. You’ll find yourself whispering “It’s still zooming…” as you watch in amazement of what this camera can do, and the reach it has. This isn’t a camera that I expect to win any awards. Nor is it a camera that I would use for a particular project that has any semblance of importance. However, I find myself looking through my calendar, finding my next weekend free, where I can rent the Nikon P1000, and take it out to explore once again.

Author: Zach Sutton

I’m Zach and I’m the editor and a frequent writer here at Lensrentals.com. I’m also an editorial and portrait photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.

Posted in Equipment
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  • Athanasius Kirchner

    Well, my files with the RX10M4 in similar conditions show the expected 3-stop noise advantage, which is a lot in this kind of situation. And when the light fades, I can always slap a big flashgun on top of the Sony, which I don’t think would work too well with the P1000 due to both the small aperture and low ISO ceiling.
    Of course, I don’t doubt that good results can be obtained with the Nikon (people have been posting very nice photos made with the P900 for years now), but I have also no doubt that the Sony is the better camera for me – and most people, probably.

  • Marco Antonio

    I have professional equipment but the P1000 is the one I’m always using. I love this camera so practical. No more switching lenses and nothing is out of reach. Love The camera image stabilization , RAW and camera presets.

  • Thom Hogan

    See my comments, above. It’s not quite as simple as everyone keeps trying to make it, unless, of course, you want to talk about out-of-camera JPEGs.

    Another thing that just isn’t mentioned is the video side. Assuming you have the tracking platform to work at 3000mm equivalent and are careful, you can get 4K video out of the P1000 that you just can’t match from anything else. At least in reasonable light.

  • Thom Hogan

    I’m not so sure about that. I took a few of the images from this page and ran them through a really good deconvolution process. Why? Because we’re well into diffraction range here, and I want to back out as much of that as I can before making an assessment as pronounced as “eat it for lunch.” In actuality, there’s a lot of detail lurking in those images. The real issue—and it’s similar for the Sony—is the noise. In the closest squirrel image, for example, I can deconvolve the squirrel and denoise the rest and come out with quite an impressive image. In some other images, it’s not so easy to make that separation, and noise becomes the overriding complication.

  • Joe

    You don’t need a tripod to get great 3000mm eqiv. handheld shots with the P1000.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/summersting/albums/72157701661054454

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  • Trevor Overman

    Yes, there are some telescopes that are much larger. The largest refracting telescopes are around 1 meter aperture.

  • Jo Jundt

    First, I never said “spyglass fun camera” – don’t interprete me wrong. Spyglasses are also very sharp and no toys. Could not use “binoculars” as the Sony is no stereo-camera.

    You already cropped it, so I think: there’s not enough FL-reach in the Sony, but enough reserves to crop. Not bad. It depends if I like schlepping more weight. Especially with birds I made some less good experiences with mirroless (and this all-in-one camera is mirrorless, right?): difficult to focus (by wire) if twigs come in between; battery consumption of constant framing is of course higher as with an OVF; motorzooms are rather slow; motorzooms can be rather roughly graded; if the light is really low, the EVF will show more electronic noise than details to focus on. I tend to go Sony, if I really decide to get a bridge cam as a very lightweight travel cam, but at the moment it appears to be expensive. It’s rather close in price range to, say, a Nikon D5300 + Tamron 150-600 G2 with much less range, but much bigger sensor.

  • Jo Jundt

    Far higher ISO than the P1000, yes. Else than that one needs to remain careful with high ISOs, on the Sony and more so on the Nikon which has a pretty aggressive noise compression.

    I know the Sony is worth that money – if one needs an all-in-one camera, but it still is an investment of which I like to see some better features, like a fully articulated LCD, AF while zooming or a faster motorzoom or manual zoom. Even more so because in my percetion Sony usually is a risky investment with not much value over time. The RX10 II I can get new for 60% of the the IV. Who knows what the V will bring? I’m not aware of some firmware updates for this series?

  • Dragon

    The P1000 has about 5 stops of VR. That makes it a very different experience from your mirror lens. I have a Canon 800L that I use with a 2x extender and a crop frame body for 2560mm equivalent FL. It is quite manageable on a good tripod with a gimbal and it has less stabilization range than the P1000. I agree completely with your atmospheric comment. You have to be immensely patient for the right conditions for long range shots to be any good. There are times of day and weather conditions that work, but the windows are small and not close together. With patience, you can get some amazing shots. I use the long combo primarily for hummingbirds at about 100 ft and even at that distance, there are days when the atmosphere is the limiting factor and often a 1.4 extender (1800mm equiv.) and a heavier crop will produce the best result, but not always.

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    I do not think this qualifies as the result of a “spyglass fun camera”, but I have no idea of your standards. Maybe you enjoy schlepping 4+ kg lenses? I know I don’t, but I understand that some people are far more demanding than me.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e284540245919a7466134d03028c568d5b88ece12208dd0252c070c011a52e25.jpg

  • Alan Fersht

    There is no comparison. The Sony is incredibly sharp throughout the whole focal length range and has blisteringly fast AF as well as a much better 1″ sensor that allows far higher isos.

  • Jo Jundt

    The Sony is double the price, roughly. Has only a tilt LCD and – splitting hair – already “maxes out” at 600 mm equivalent. Both cameras are attractive as single unit and not much more to carry (enough spare batteries aside). If one can live with the slow zoom speed (of both…) and the slow shutter speeds as well, they can be used as fun camera or to scout for birds as kind of a spyglass with record button.

    Both camera have some shortcomings in handling, menu systems, speed. The P1000 offers RAW (like the Sony) and it turns out it’s rather useful as Nikon built in a very aggressive noise reduction. The Sony is supported by Capture one, the Nikon not.

  • Jo Jundt

    This equivalencing game still gets people highly confused. Manufacturers tend to calculate the f-number only for the real focal length – and for the 4.2 mm with aperture Ø 1.5 mm is exactly f/2.8. What you get wrong, and what’s impossible to equivalence is the DoF similarity. It’s fair to say the 24 mm for 24×36 mm sensors would appear to have the same DoF like the 4.2 mm on the tiny 1/2.3 (6.16 × 4.62 mm) sensor. But in this case diffraction already makes the final picture for the bigger sensor unattractive.

    But the bigger sensor needs exactly the same shutter speed at f/2.8 like the tiny sensor (same ISO, same EV). So, all manufacturers just ignore the DoF equivalencing and stick to the f-numbers, because these determine the shutter speed – only fair, I’d say. This kind of camera is not bought for shallow DoF.

    I also read, the camera has a 125× enlargement and a comparison with spectives following. The enlargement of spectives is based on 50 mm standard FL. The 125× zoom is based on 24 mm. If one uses the 50 / 3000 relation, the enlargement is “only” 60×.

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  • lemonjam

    Hey Zack. This does look like a really fun camera, I’d love to try it out. Thanks for writing about it.

    I would just say that all the articles I have seen on this camera (and indeed Nikon) give the camera’s focal length in 35mm equivalent terms but don’t do the same for the aperture. Unless I’m mistaken, the 35mm equivalent of this lens would be a 24mm f/16 – 3000mm f/45. I think that’s right. I just thought that might help people visualise what the camera provides. Sorry if its mentioned somewhere.

    4.2mm/2.8 = 1.5mm aperture
    A 24mm lens with a 1.5mm aperture would be about f16

    539mm/8 = 67mm aperture
    A 3000mm lens with 67mm aperture would be about f/45

    I think a real 3000mm f/8 would have to have an aperture of around 37.5mm. I wonder if such a lens exists? Google managed to find a Zeiss 1700mm f/4. They only made one and it weighed 256kg.

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  • Alan Fersht

    There is another major problem with this camera; a tiny sensor combined with a narrow lens that’s 3-4x over the diffraction limit at longer focal lengths. I tested one with charts and found the resolution maxed out at about an equivalent focal length of 1500mm, and beyond that the image got larger but fuzzier. The longer focal lengths are a gimmick unless you want a large image for a poor video and anchor the camera to a good tripod.

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  • Athanasius Kirchner

    Thank you for the detailed coverage, and especially for the squirrel samples. They’re very eloquent – at 700mm equivalent, the Sony RX10M4 will eat it for lunch, and anything longer than that requires extremely bright light or too-long shutter speeds. There just isn’t a lot of useful detail at 3000mm equivalent, making the 1″ camera far more desirable to me – not to mention that it’s a lot smaller and lighter, plus equipped with insanely-fast PDAF.

  • Kaja Knudsen

    I usually say that the biggest problem with the P1000 is the tripod 😉

  • This review discussed them, but I want to re-emphasize that there are two major limitations to using huge zoom lenses that people tend to not think about:
    1) atmospheric turbulence, and
    2) camera shake.

    I bought a Nikon 1000mm f/11 mirror lens for a handful of projects in the last couple years. I had good success with it, but ended up needing to build a bracket to support it because the tripod foot was entirely inadequate. I then either mounted it to two tripods (one on the front and one on the back of the setup), or else used a 60+ lb tripod intended for telescopes. I also had to brace the camera body onto the bracket and shoot in silent mode because otherwise the mirror slap would render all images worthless.

    In the end, one of the shots with that setup was a winner in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest (https://www.flickr.com/photos/geekyrocketguy/32288468705/ ), and I also got a bunch of photos of volcanic eruptions and solar and lunar eclipses that I was quite pleased with. I’ve finished the projects I wanted, so I’m presently selling the lens, if anyone is interested.

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