Geotagging photos—placing them on a map in the spot where you took them—has always had trade-offs. In the early days, it meant dropping pictures manually onto a digital map. Lately, it’s meant relying on Wi-Fi triangulation (which doesn’t follow you everywhere, as GPS does) or toting cumbersome hardware in addition to your camera. But the Nikon Coolpix P6000 squeezes an actual GPS receiver inside its chunky body, which geotags all photos taken above ground and outdoors. Unfortunately, getting the camera to geotag our photos accurately was difficult, and while not terrible, the image quality wasn’t as stellar as what you get from other Nikon cameras.
Having a camera with an integrated GPS receiver does have drawbacks. At 8.5 ounces and 1.7 inches thick, the Coolpix P6000 is much bulkier than your typical point-and-shoot. However, it borrows some design elements from the superzoom and DSLR category, which offer more advanced features for the money. First, there’s the shallow, rubbery grip on the left side. Then there’s the pop-up flash, a hot shoe for an external flash, and the optical viewfinder, which you can use even when the LCD is turned on. However, the eye piece is so small that we had to squint, and the picture inside appeared cramped.
On the other hand, the 2.7-inch LCD is one of the Coolpix P6000’s best features. We had no problem seeing it in daylight, and thanks to the 230,000-pixel resolution, everything we framed in Live View looked sharp and fluid, not unlike the experience of watching something on a high-def TV. To the left of the LCD are function, myPicturetown, manual focus, playback, and menu buttons. To the right is a five-way navigational pad, which controls flash, self-timer, focus, and exposure. The P6000 also has delete and settings buttons, as well as one for releasing the pop-up flash.
In addition to the flash, the top side of the Coolpix P6000 has a metal mode dial reinforced with rubber, a shutter with zoom controls attached, a command dial, and a small power button. The camera also has covered ports for DC-in and A/V-out, as well as an Ethernet port (more on that later).
Navigating the on-screen menus using the Coolpix P6000’s five-way navigational pad was easy. Each menu page has a left-hand pane of icons, each of which represents a different category, such as Shooting Menu. Remember to navigate all the way to the left to highlight an icon; otherwise when you scroll up and down you’ll move through a category’s sub-options instead of highlighting a new icon. It’s also important to know there’s no master menu; to access GPS options, for instance, you’ll have to turn the mode dial to GPS first.
What makes the Coolpix P6000 so innovative (and pricey) is that it houses a real GPS receiver, which can determine your location so long as you’re above ground and outdoors (if you go underground or indoors it will tag subsequent photos with your last known location).
This is a huge departure from other geotagging hardware on the market. The Eye-Fi Explore SD Card, for instance, uses Wi-Fi triangulation to geotag photos, which means if you’re not within 90 feet of a Skyhook-mapped router, your photos won’t have a geotag. Pharos Trips and Pics, meanwhile, is a small GPS receiver, but you have to charge and carry it alongside your camera. The Coolpix P6000 is currently the only solution that doesn’t require users to tote extra hardware and that can also follow you to the remotest corners of the earth.
Geotagging: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore
Out of the box, the Coolpix P6000’s GPS is not enabled, as it hinders battery life. You must set the mode dial to GPS and enable geotagging within the menu options. While there, you can also customize how often the camera refreshes its location (it can do so as often as every 15 seconds or as seldom as every 2 hours). Once enabled, the GPS receiver will refresh its location even if the camera is off. The camera can take up to 2 hours initially to determine your whereabouts. For timing purposes, we chose to stay in the GPS menu until it read “GPS Updated.” But users can switch to a photo-taking mode and look at the GPS icon on the screen to see if they have service.
Our geotagging got off to a bad start. We began by loading our photos into Google Picasa, highlighting them as a batch, and clicking Geotag, which launched Google Earth. We like that Google Earth immediately placed our photos on a map; unfortunately, though, it placed those pictures near Lawrence, Kansas, when we actually took them in New York City.
To make sure this mistake was Google Earth’s—not the Coolpix P6000’s—we then uploaded our photos to Flickr and myPicturetown, which can also map photos. They, too, placed our photos in Lawrence. Particularly since Picasa and Flickr both accurately placed our photos geotagged with the Eye-Fi Explore SD Card, we chalked this error up to the camera.
Undeterred, we kept trying. While the camera was able to refresh our GPS data from the 21st floor of a New York City office building, it placed our location off the coast of Ghana. Later, we took the Coolpix P6000 to Jersey City, New Jersey, where even outdoors the camera had trouble finding a GPS signal. When we were able to get a fix, the camera again put our location as Lawrence, Kansas.
When Nikon sent us a new unit we stood in the center of a city park, with nothing between us and the sky, clicked Update GPS in the settings, and, after 2 minutes and 55 seconds, we received a message that said the update was complete. When we geotagged our photos, taken in that same spot, myPicturetown and Picasa both placed them in the center of the Atlantic Ocean.
Indeed, Nikon, whose headquarters are in New York, said its staff has had trouble receiving a signal in the city (though this doesn’t explain the random locations). Long story short: You might have more trouble getting a signal in urban areas. We suggest that instead of going straight to a picture mode and assuming the GPS is working in the background, stay in GPS mode to make sure the camera has successfully determined your location.
Another unique feature of the Coolpix P6000 is that it has an Ethernet port, which allows users to upload pictures directly to myPicturetown, Nikon’s sharing site. Sure, it would be nice if the camera could directly upload to other popular sharing sites, such as Flickr. But it’s a welcome feature nonetheless, given that the camera can shoot in RAW, which can take a while to upload without the speedy Ethernet connection.
To take advantage of this feature you’ll first have to create an account at myPicturetown.com (a free account includes 2GB of storage). This is free and takes just a minute. Go to the menu settings, then Network Profile, and make sure it’s set to Auto. Use an Ethernet cable to connect the camera to your router. You’ll be asked to type in the e-mail address and username associated with your myPicturetown account. Press OK to start transferring.
Once your images transfer, you’ll receive an e-mail from myPicturetown asking you to register your Coolpix P6000. This takes just a minute; to get the camera’s unique key, turn the dial to Auto shooting, go into the menu, and select Registration Key. You’ll see a four-digit key that includes letters and numbers. Once you register your camera, you’ll be able to upload directly to myPicturetown from that local connection.
We do like that you can either manually choose which photos to upload, or select the Picture Bank option, which automatically uploads new photos when connected to a router. However, transferring 23 10-MP JPEGS took 10 minutes and 42 seconds over Ethernet. When we connected the camera to our Intel Centrino 2 laptop with the included USB cable, we were able to transfer the photos to the notebook in 8 seconds and then, via Google Picasa, upload them to the Internet in 2 minutes. While there’s an extra step involved with the latter process, the time saved more than makes up for it.
The Coolpix P6000 consistently produced pleasantly lit photos with vibrant colors. The wide-angle lens came in handy for both landscape and close-up shots. (Don’t be fooled by the modest 4X; the zoom is actually quite powerful.) Unfortunately our low-light shots looked blurry, if romantically lit. Particularly after having hands-on time with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37, which excels at low-light shooting, we know that even value-price digicams can do better than the Coolpix P6000.
Moreover, Nikon’s optical image stabilization—usually a top-notch feature—was hit-or-miss this time around. When we set the camera to Macro mode and tried shooting some flowers swaying in the breeze, it took us a few tries to get a crisp, blur-free shot. Even when we set the camera to Sports mode, our shots of moving cars and bicyclists looked slightly blurry.
Speed and Battery Life
Between its GPS receiver, versatile 4X lens, and ruggedized design, the Coolpix P6000 is well suited for outdoor, action, and vacation photography. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the shot-to-shot speeds to match. It takes a sluggish 3 seconds between shots, with the image hanging on the screen for a second before reverting back to Live View. The camera also takes 3 seconds to start up, which isn’t great.
An important thing to know before you go crazy with the geotagging is that leaving the GPS receiver on significantly cuts into the battery life, particularly if you have it set to frequently refresh your location. We suggest turning off the geotagging, even if you plan on leaving your camera powered down for a while.
Nikon Coolpix P6000 Verdict
Thanks to its built-in GPS receiver and Ethernet port, Nikon’s $499 Coolpix P6000 camera is innovative. But as with any invention, it takes time to work out the kinks; its GPS receiver simply wasn’t accurate. Plus, the image quality, while good, didn’t measure up to other Nikon cameras we’ve tested. While early adopters will appreciate the P6000’s unique features, we’re eager to see how Nikon improves this technology. In the meantime, we recommend picking up the Coolpix P80, a $100-cheaper point-and-shoot with an 18X lens and better image quality.