Nikon P1000: Spy Camera Makes Me Laugh

Nikon P1000

Nikon P1000, available for preorder

Forgive me, but the new Nikon P1000 makes me giggle.

It has, get this, a 24–3000 millimeter equivalent (mm-e) lens. (Voyeurs take note.) Granted, that means the sensor is rather small—1/2.3-inch (6.2 x 4.6mm), same size as the sensor in the toy Pentax Q.

Why does it make me giggle? Well, in the 1980s I used to ask my students what they would do if they were freed of all technical constraints they were under. "If you had a camera that would effortlessly make a clear, sharp photograph with perfect color of anything you pointed it at, what would you do with it?" The question was supposed to be rhetorical—it wasn't designed to make them believe such a thing would ever be possible; it was to ask them to try the thought experiment of setting aside technical distractions and consider only the question of their aesthetic, artistic, and expressive purpose.

Naturally, it made me laugh when, as digital matured, we indeed had cameras that effortlessly made clear, sharp photographs with perfect color of anything we pointed them at.

Similarly, whenever you'd ask photo hobbyists and enthusiasts to imagine their ideal camera back in the pre-digital days, one answer you'd inevitably get was the jokey one that would specify all the opposing parameters taken to extremes. You know, like, "I want a 645 camera with an ƒ/1 lens that takes grainless ISO 6400 color film..." etc.

So that's what "24–3000mm-e lens" reminds me of. It sounds just like the lens of impossible specification people would come up with when they were trying to be funny. And if you'd asked me in '85 if such a thing were actually possible, I would have looked at you like you had flesh-eating bacteria in your brain-pan. Such a lens would be as big as a bazooka, heavy as a bushel-basket of bricks, and cost approximately the GNP of Ecuador. Impossible.

Yet here we are. The older you get, the more you're living in the future. (I do want a car that makes the same noise as George Jetson's.)

What's the borderline-silly P1000 for? Good question. The art photographer John Gossage, in an interview about his book There and Gone, said, "Robert Adams made a comment in his book Beauty in Photography that always stuck with me. [He wrote] that no photographer of major ambition had ever sustained important work taken with long telephoto lenses. It seemed an obvious loophole." Inspired by Adams's "loophole" and using as long a telephoto as he could cobble together—sorry that my poor memory for numbers has let slip the focal length he ended up with—John stood on the beach in California and took pictures of people in Tijuana, Mexico, more than a quarter of a mile away. Whatever your feelings about the success of the pictures as art, they certainly referenced the tradition of using photography for surveillance.

And that's probably the only thing the P1000's 3000mm-e reach is best for: surveillance of any kind. It's a spy camera!

I'd love to see a photographer of major ambition sustain important work made with the Nikon P1000. That would be interesting. I'll believe it's possible when I see it.

The new camera is the successor to the popular $597 P900 (with its paltry outmoded 2000mm-e lens) and costs $997.


Original contents copyright 2018 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.

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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)

Featured Comments from:

T. Edwards: "Mike I'll tell you what its for...I tried out Nikon's predecessor model of this along side the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV. They are both excellent for casual birding photographs. Despite doing it for years, I am still an unskilled birder so I do much better with a photograph to study to help make identifications—as opposed to looking through binoculars and trying to remember all the details. I went with the Sony because its EVF, when coupled with spot metering, is amazingly bright and it allows me to pick a bird out of shady underbrush and expose it properly. Of course, image quality is not stellar but I did sell my Canon system with a 300mm ƒ/2.8 lens because the Sony is a fraction of the weight and size and, to me, that was more important than having the 'best' image I could get."

JG (partial comment): "Only 24mm at the wide end? I'm sorry, but that's a deal-killer for me."

Christopher May: "When I went to Kenya a couple of years ago, I rented some trip appropriate gear from LensRentals. I picked up a Nikon 200–500mm ƒ/5.6 and a Coolpix A, both of which I really loved.

"I also asked my then-girlfriend (who would become my fiancée on the same trip) if there was anything she'd like me to get for her. To my surprise, she wanted a P900 to augment her D3200 kit. She liked the idea of having that big range easily accessible in a single package.

"While we were at Buffalo Springs National Reserve, I played with the P900 a couple of times just for fun. In one instance, we heard some olive baboons across a river screaming loudly. That's always a good sign that there's a predator somewhere in the vicinity. The guide eventually found a lioness hiding in the shade under a bush. Despite my best efforts with my D800 and 200–500mm, I couldn't really see where she was even though he was pointing right at her. After getting the P900 out, I found her right away. That zoom is kind of crazy in its ability to reach out and see things invisible to the naked eye.

"I played with the camera some more during the course of the trip. It did have some limitations on its use. One needed to mind backgrounds somewhat carefully because the small sensor couldn't give much subject separation even at the crazy end of the zoom range. Having a contrasting background to the subject helped in this department and avoiding 'busy' backgrounds was always desirable. I had to be very careful with regards to atmospheric conditions when trying to use the long end of the zoom, too. Normal daytime heating could cause problematic heat distortion even in the cooler areas like Lewa that we visited (and forget it when trying to use it in hotter areas like Shaba). Additionally, while the VR is really decent on the camera, the 2000mm equivalency does benefit from additional support when that's possible.

"While I wouldn't trade my D800 kit for a P900, I have to admit that it was a surprisingly capable little safari camera and I think non-photographers would be quite happy with the results if that was their only camera on a similar trip.

"Most of the stats on the P1000 are summed up by the word, 'MORE!' I do like that Nikon is bringing raw capture to the newer camera. And I'm also kind of glad that the price on P900s is going down now. Honestly, I wouldn't be opposed to picking one of those up for a bargain. It's a better camera than it has any right to be."

[Author: Michael Johnston]

Tags: Photography, California, New, Cameras, Sony, Kenya, John, Nikon, Ecuador, Canon, Lewa, Pentax, Michael Johnston, Adams, Mike, Michael C Johnston, Edwards, Amazon US, George Jetson, Tijuana Mexico, Shaba, Robert Adams, John Gossage, Amazon Canada, Amazon UKAmazon Germany, Christopher May, Buffalo Springs National Reserve


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