The most important element of a super-zoom camera is of course the lens. The P90 is equipped with a 24x zoom Nikkor lens equivalent to 26-624mm, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8-5.0. This is a close match to the 26x zoom 26-676mm f2.8-5.0 lens of the Olympus SP-590UZ. F/2.8 might sound fast, but remember that the P90 and SP-590UZ also both have small 1/2.3-inch sensors, which has an effect on relative aperture size. The P90 has sensor-shift image stabilisation to offset the inevitable camera shake problems associated with such a long focal length, and it does work very well, but even so the maximum zoom setting is frankly too long for reliable hand-held use, and like the SP-590UZ the P90 really needs to be mounted on a tripod for optimum performance.
Apart from the big lens, the P90’s other most obvious feature is its three-inch tilting monitor. The screen can be tilted between 45 degrees downward and 90 degrees upward, for overhead or waist-level shooting. It’s also very helpful if you have the camera mounted on a tripod. The screen is nice and sharp with a resolution of 230k dots, and has a good anti-reflective coating and five-level adjustable brightness. It works well outdoors in bright daylight, just to be sure but the camera also has a decent electronic viewfinder. It too has 230k dot resolution, and is larger and sharper than most of its rivals, with a nice clear data display. The viewfinder has a rather stiff rubberised surround and dioptre adjustment for glasses wearers.
The P90 is a proper bridge camera, with a wide range of manual control options, including aperture and shutter priority and full manual exposure. It has an SLR-style input wheel for exposure adjustment, and on-screen match-needle metering for accurate exposure. Aperture values from the maximum to f/8.0 and shutter speeds from eight seconds to 1/2000th of a second can be selected in 1/3EV increments. The input wheel can also be used to bias exposure in program auto mode, useful for quickly altering depth of field or shutter speed while maintaining accurate exposure.
Although in program auto and manual modes the P90 is a complex enthusiast’s camera it does have an auto mode which is completely idiot-proof, with only two menu options available, for image size and quality.
I’m becoming quite fond of Nikon’s camera menu interface. It’s a model of simplicity, works quickly and intuitively, and appears to be adaptable for almost any camera, from simple point-and-click compacts to a sophisticated multi-mode camera like the P90. The three-page shooting menu includes all the usual options such as image size and quality, white balance, ISO setting, metering mode and AF mode, but also includes flash exposure compensation, auto bracketing, lens distortion correction and active D-Lighting to help with shadow detail. Noise reduction can be switched between On or Auto, and colour adjustments include a wide range of pre-sets as well as adjustable saturation, sharpness and contrast. Two preferred set-ups can be saved as user pre-sets and instantly accessed via the main mode dial.
There are also several features available in playback mode, including post-processed D-lighting, automatic quick retouch, rotating, resizing and an option to add a black border around images.
Unlike some of its rivals which can shoot HD video, the P90 only has a 30fps VGA video mode with mono audio and no optical zoom while shooting. However it does offer a couple of unusual features, including sepia and monochrome movies and an automatic time-lapse mode that shoots pictures at intervals and then turns them into 30fps movie clips, ideal for budding animators or shooting speeded-up scenes of flowers opening or mouse corpses being eaten by ants.