- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2009

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 than adequate: It will 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 photographs. 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 would 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 MB 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 and pass-along to The Washington Times.

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 MB. Of course, today, most desktop PCs, and notebooks, measure their storage in gigabytes, not MB, 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 to get an SD card.

The built-in storage is one of the many graces of the Coolpix P90. It’s got circuitry that will compensate for camera “shake,” a mode that will 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 photographs 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 feature.

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 better.

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