Wildlife shooting with the Nikon P900 (and D750)

I had trip planned to Lake Arrowhead, CA. and wanted something fun to play with. I decided on the Nikon Coolpix P900. Ever since its announcement last year, I’ve been more than a little intrigued by this bad boy with its effective 2000mm focal length zoom. My hesitation up til now stemmed from the fact that I normally shoot with a D750 and was concerned that it just wouldn’t measure up and I’d regret the purchase.

I did my homework and read and watched a ton of reviews. Most said it was a fun camera and just went on and on about how far it could zoom. Many reviews stated that it wasn’t good for wildlife and birds, but that just seemed counter intuitive for something with such an incredible zoom range. I needed to find out for myself and took the plunge. It didn’t take long to find out its limitations…and strengths.

The biggest issue is how slow zooming is. There is no manual way to do it, so you have to press buttons to zoom in and out and it isn’t fast. By the time you zoom in, the bird is often gone. Another issue is that when you’re zoomed way in, it’s really difficult to locate the subject, so again, by the time you find the spot, the subject has vacated the premise. Just pressing the shutter button will often cause you to lose sight of your subject when zoomed all the way in! Of course, you can zoom out more and crop, but I was never happy with the quality of the images.

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I found, however, that if the bird is relatively still and you can take your time, the P900 can take some wonderful shots. I swallowed my pride and actually used the preset Scene modes. It does lack the dynamic range of my DSLR, but the zoom capability more than makes up for that–you get shots that you otherwise just couldn’t. So I had my D750 in hand, ready to shoot anything moving (e.g., BIF) and my P900 at my side for when circumstances warranted its use.

The auto-focusing can be problematic too, but if you’ve got decent light, you can generally eventually acquire proper focus. Forget about shooting through branches or BIF. Other nitpicks are that the batteries don’t last too long and take several hours to charge via USB. I also don’t really care for the electronic viewfinder and missed back-button focusing.

At first, I thought the P900 wasn’t going to be much more than an expensive toy, but I got some pretty good pictures of birds. So, to say the P900 isn’t good for that type of photography is a bit misleading. It works quite well, but you need relatively still subjects and good light.

The first nine photos in the gallery below ending with the gratuitous Moon were taken with the P900. The rest were taken with my D750 (though in hindsight I wish I had brought my D7200) and, to keep things light, the kitchen-sink of zoom lenses: the Nikon 28-300mm, f/3.5-5.6. (I hadn’t really used that lens in a long time and was a bit surprised how much I liked its versatility.) I think the P900 does a pretty good job holding its own.

One exciting moment on my trip was seeing a bald eagle in the wild for the first time in my life! I had just walked up to the lake and must have startled him. I was totally unprepared, but managed to rattle off a couple shots with my D750. They aren’t the best, but I’m happy to have them nonetheless. For a split second I thought about using the P900, but thankfully nixed that idea.

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