The Nikon Coolpix P950 ($799.95) is the company’s second take on an 83x zoom camera. It’s got the same basic bones as the first, the P900—the lens, sensor, and design philosophy hasn’t changed. Upgrades include 4K recording, Raw image capture, and a hot shoe so you can mount an external mic, flash, or other accessory. The zoom is definitely overkill for most people, but birders, wildlife specialists, and other photographers who struggle to get physically close to their subjects should take a look.
So Much Zoom
It’s easy to mistake the P900 for an SLR when viewed from a distance—it’s bigger than some. At 4.3 by 5.5 by 5.9 inches (HWD) and 2.2 pounds, it’s a camera that you’re going to want to carry on a strap or in a bag, not one that will get anywhere close to fitting in a pocket.
The big zoom lens, and the body to support it, make that an unavoidable fact. We’ve seen some smartphones promise to zoom farther, but while we describe the 100x zoom power of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra as a useless gimmick, the 83x reach of the P950 is practical for many situations.
The P950 gets there with optics alone, putting a big hunk of glass in front of an image sensor that’s the same size used in most phones and pocketable cameras. At its wide end it matches the view of a 24mm lens on a full-frame camera, and zooms in to 2,000mm at its 83x setting—more than any lens you’ll get for a Nikon Z 6 or other interchangeable lens camera.
4.3mm (24mm equivalent), f/3.2, 1/2,000-second, ISO 100
In practical terms, you can shoot wide-angle views, similar to what the main lens on most smartphones captures, zoom in to bring distance subjects to view, or anywhere in between. There are some trade-offs made, with the sensor size being one, and the lens aperture another. It opens up to a very reasonable f/2.8, but it drops off as you zoom, eventually settling in at f/6.3.
The aperture measures how much light comes in to the camera, so you’ll get better results in dimmer light when making wide angle images. At f/6.3 at the 800mm equivalent setting and beyond, the big zoom power is much better used in bright, outdoor light than in dim conditions. The camera has a rather sizable pop-up flash, but it’s not powerful enough to illuminate distant subjects.
357mm (2,000mm equivalent), f/6.5, 1/500-second, ISO 125
SLR Style Body and Controls
The P950 doesn’t just look a bit like an SLR, it feels like one too. The handgrip is sizable, wrapped in a grippy leatherette, and curved to fit the shape of your hand. The shutter release and zoom rocker sit atop the grip, at a slight angle.
Other top-plate controls include the Fn button—it’s programmable, and adjusts the continuous drive mode by default. The On/Off button, Mode dial, and the main command dial round out the top controls.
Rear buttons include a toggle to switch between the EVF and LCD (the camera does have an eye sensor for automatic switching) and to change the focus mode. The AE-L/AF-L button is at the center of the focus toggle switch.
Below it you find the Record, Play, Display, Menu, and Delete buttons, along with a flat command dial. The dial supports additional functions via its directional presses (Flash, EV, Macro, Self-Timer), and has the OK button at its center. It doubles as a tool for menu navigation—the P950 doesn’t have a touch screen.
The left side of the lens barrel is also a control surface. It has a framing assist button—if you lose track of your subject at full zoom, hold it down to zoom out a bit. Once you’ve found and centered your subject, releasing the button returns the lens to its previous zoom setting. The lens barrel also houses a secondary zoom control, and a control dial that can be used for manual focus.
321mm (1,800mm equivalent, f/6.3, 1/500-second, ISO 140
Nikon doesn’t include any sort of quick control panel or other on-screen overlay menu. If you want to change a function that’s not assigned to a button—like the autofocus mode, image format, or white balance—you need to dive into the main menu. It puts the P950 a step behind rival models like the Canon SX70 HS and Sony RX10 III, both with on-screen control menus.
LCD and EVF
The P950 includes a vari-angle display screen and an eye-level EVF for image framing and review. The 3.2-inch screen feels a bit dated—its 921k-dot design isn’t as pixel dense as you’ll find on many new cameras, and there’s no support for touch input.
The screen is mounted on a hinge, though. It swings out to the side to face forward, up, or down, so you can take selfie shots or capture images from high and low angles.
The viewfinder is an OLED, one that’s very sharp at 2.36 million dots. Nikon doesn’t publish the magnification rating, but does state the display itself is about 0.39 inches in size. It’s plenty large to my eye, delivering as much confidence in evaluating framing and exposure as I get with a midrange mirrorless camera.
57.1mm (320mm equivalent), f/6.3, 1/6-second, ISO 100
Connectivity and Power
The P950 includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for cable-free image transfer to your smartphone. It works with Nikon’s SnapBridge app, a free download for Android and iOS devices. SnapBridge can transfer 2MP JPGs to your phone automatically over Bluetooth. Remote control and transfer of full-size images is done over Wi-Fi.
116mm (650mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/500-second, ISO 400
In addition to the hot shoe, the P950 includes a micro USB charging port, micro HDMI video output, and a 3.5mm microphone jack. There’s a single memory card slot with support for SDXC cards and UHS-I transfer speeds.
The card slot is in the same area as the battery. The camera uses a relatively small EN-EL20a, rated for about 290 shots per charge or about 80 minutes of video recording. In-camera charging is available, so you can top off the battery on the go, but be aware the P950 is a little finicky when it comes to charging cables.
178mm (1,000mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/500-second, ISO 200
I tried a micro USB cable that charges other devices without a problem, but it didn’t work with the P950. Nikon includes a cable in the box, one that works both with the camera and other USB devices. Still, we would prefer to see USB-C here, as it’s the standard connector for the foreseeable future.
Speed and Performance
The P950 offers a lot of zoom power and advanced features like Raw capture, but isn’t the fastest model in Nikon’s library. Startup time is about 1.9 seconds, and at wide angles the autofocus system locks on quickly, in 0.1-second or less.
170mm (950mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/250-second, ISO 450
It falters a bit when zoomed in, and accuracy is hit or miss. By default, the focus system picks its own subject and relies on face detection to keep people in focus. It works well for that purpose, but in the field the wide focus area consistently focused behind small songbirds, squirrels, and other suburban critters.
Changing the autofocus area helps. The P950 also offer a more focused focus box in one of three sizes. Using it in large or medium settings nets pretty quick response, but I still struggled with back-focus when trying to isolate sparrows and robins. The smallest option slows down the focus speed, but lets you put the box directly over a subject that’s not prominent in the frame.
285mm (1,600mm equivalent), f/6.3, 1/500-second, ISO 400
When the focus system hits, results look very good. When it misses, you’re left with blur, or something that looks more like a watercolor than a photo (see above).
Burst capture is available too. The P950 is able to snap up to 10 Raw+JPG, Raw, or JPG shots at a time at a 7fps capture rate. It’s able to make images faster if you drop the resolution, but it’s a big drop to get to 60fps (2MP) or 120fps (0.3MP). There’s a delay before you can make another image as photos write to the card, between five and ten seconds depending on how fast a card you use and what file format you’re using.
Imaging and Video
The lens and sensor are unchanged from the P900, so we expect (and see) image quality that’s essentially unchanged versus the previous model.
125mm (700mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/500-second, ISO 125
At 24mm f/2.8, the lens shows about 2,300 lines on an Imatest evaluation, an excellent result for the 16MP sensor, and its performance at f/4 is just about the same. Edges aren’t great in either case, but that’s typical for this type of camera.
Smaller f-stops, down to f/8, are available, but show less resolution. Diffraction, the optical effect that scatters light passing through a very small iris, is at fault. You’ll get the best images out of the P950 by keeping its aperture wide open.
See How We Test Cameras
And you’ll want to, as the maximum aperture, the figure that measures the light a lens captures, drops pretty quickly. At the 2x (50mm) setting the lens opens to f/3.5, and it’s f/4 at 4x (100mm) and f/4.5 at 8x (200mm). Resolution is excellent at each of those settings, hitting 2,700 lines wide open, and settling in around 2,300 lines at f/5.6.
The lens closes down to f/5.6 by the 30x (700mm) zoom setting, and Imatest shows good quality here as well (2,300 lines). Zooming in just a little bit further, to the 33x setting (800mm), reduces it to f/6.3, and slightly drops resolution (2,200 lines).
Due to the size of our test charts we’re unable to get good test data at longer zoom settings. Field shots show that detail is good, but not stunning, at maximum zoom, assuming the autofocus hits properly. Other factors, like atmospheric haze and air pollution, also factor into real-world results when trying to bring distant subjects into view.
357mm (2,000mm equivalent), f/6.5, 1/500-second, ISO 110
The 16MP sensor is at its best in bright light, at the lowest ISO 100 setting, and can go up all the way to ISO 6400 for work in dim light. When working in JPG format, you’ll get very good images through ISO 400. Moving to ISO 800 blurs detail slightly, and you get similar results at ISO 1600. Expect results that lack any fine detail at ISO 3200 and 6400.
Raw capture has been added, a plus for photographers who do need to push the ISO higher and don’t want to buy the heavier, longer zooming P1000. Results mirror JPGs, but without in-camera noise reduction, so you get a bit more detail, but also more grain. Images quality is strong through ISO 1600, with a fine noise structure, but the grain gets rougher and increases as you set the sensor at ISO 3200 and 6400.
Video has been upgraded, with 4K capture now available at 30fps. You still have the option to record at 1080p as well, at 30 or 60fps, and the same frame rates are available if you want to keep file sizes down by using 720p. Pro options, like a flat profile and cinematic 24fps capture, aren’t there. There are also off-speed options—you can record double-speed footage at 1080p, half-speed slow-motion at 720p, and quarter-speed at 480p.
The 4K video itself shows good colors and detail, and at wider angles optical stabilization makes handheld recording possible. But if you’re trying to record at narrow telephoto angles, you should bring a tripod along. Handheld footage isn’t as shaky as you’d expect at 2,000mm, but we see some oddball artifacts as a result, notably swimming backgrounds due to the rolling shutter effect.
Zoom for Specialists
The Nikon Coolpix P950 is a camera for photographers who always want to zoom in a little bit farther, without having to spend the money on an interchangeable lens camera and a big, long telezoom lens. It builds on its predecessor’s functions, with thoughtful additions like Raw capture, 4K video, and a microphone input.
285mm (1,600mm equivalent), f/6.3, 1/640-second, ISO 100
Other areas haven’t been upgraded, though. Nikon hasn’t done anything to improve autofocus speed or accuracy. We’d also like to see a touch screen and a current-generation USB-C interface.
Still, the P950 does what a lot of other cameras can’t do. And if you’re a fan of capturing wildlife, or just looking for a single-camera solution for a national park, the P950 is a very good option overall. It’s still in a niche, but not quite as narrow of one as the Nikon P1000, an even larger, heavier superzoom with a 125x lens.
Customers looking for a mainstream bridge model can get away with spending a bit less. The Canon SX70 HS is our Editors’ Choice; its lens doesn’t have as much zoom power, but it covers an ultra-wide 20mm angle.
On the premium end of the spectrum, Sony offers a pair of bridge cameras with 600mm reach and larger, 1-inch class image sensors, weather protection, and other bells and whistles. We recommend the RX10 III to most photographers, and the RX10 IV for those after the best autofocus and performance.
Nikon Coolpix P950 Specs
|Dimensions||4.3 by 5.5 by 5.9 inches|
|Sensor Resolution||16 MP|
|Sensor Size||1/2.3″ (6.2 x 4.6mm)|
|Memory Card Slots||1|
|Memory Card Format||SDXC (UHS-I)|
|Battery Type||Nikon EN-EL20a|
|35mm Equivalent (Wide)||24 mm|
|35mm Equivalent (Telephoto)||2000 mm|
|Optical Zoom||83 x|
|Display Size||3.2 inches|
|Display Resolution||921600 dots|
|EVF Resolution||2.36 million dots|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, micro HDMI, Microphone (3.5mm), micro USB|
|Maximum Waterproof Depth||0 feet|