Lately I have had a chance to play with this camera like some of you here as a used copy came up at my dealer so I thought it was about time to jump in this crazy zoom bandwagon. After a couple weeks of using it whenever the weather or time has allowed here is my early thoughts. I will skip all the familiar stuff you guys have already excellently covered and concentrate on how to get this beast of a lens working viably in video:
- By far the hardest part is get the camera ready to shoot. Of course I totally agree with the mantra mentioned by Tugela that shooting with this type of specialized tool one needs to plan ahead so I always have. However, actual shooting in the field has still been more difficult than I thought no doubt because of the 3000mm FoV but also some other shortcomings in both the camera's weaknesses and my own operation.
The one I have has always sat on a Manfrotto 701HDV head and 547B legs, 2-section double upper tube tripod (for max rigidity and torsional resistance). The whole rig, excluding the camera, weighs about slightly less than 3kg. So I consider my rig is already at the lighter end of the scale compared to what most of you use for this camera. Up to now I believe the legs are adequate but not quite sure about the head. The QR isn't long enough to allow the camera to be mounted further back and since this model doesn't have a counterbalance mechanism, the camera sits on it with the CG forward of the mounting point, not ideal considering the zoom extension and max focal length. Any way, the whole setup has worked OK with the only real gripe for me is there is no mount available to place the wireless Nikon remote on the tripod handle. This remote is absolutely crucial for getting useable footage or stills at the right moments for all kinds of moving subjects at the 1000mm+ zoom range, even more so at the 3000mm, believe me.
So, maneuvering around the combined weight of a 4.5kg rig plus a 3-feet length of the camera on the tripod, fully retracted, to get ready to shoot in let's say less than a minute (finding the spot, levelling the head, turning on the camera and having the remote ready etc.) is certainly no mean feat in practice. The OIS-only in 4K mode is always necessary whether the camera used handheld or on a tripod. At 3000mm and with a much more robust rig than mine, the minute vibration from a light breeze or faintest movement on the ground would still be magnified in the footage without the help of the OIS. So you have to bear with it though it will make framing more difficult because of the lens drifting.
- The LCD screen is poor and unuseable for critical viewing of focus or manual focus. On the other hand the viewfinder is very good and can be relied on when manual focusing with peaking. The placement of the manual focusing ring, and the response coupled with the good VF make manual focusing the easiest among all consumer cameras and camcorders I have used so far. This is a redemption for the generally poor contrast detect AF performance especially in the high zoom range.
- The on board mic is pretty poor compared to the ones on most of my Sony cameras so if you have to get decent sound from a close to moderate distance you probably need to use an external mic. For me, since I will use this camera for mostly the zoom range my other cameras can't touch the sound recording is not relevant anyway. And DON'T forget to turn off the zoom mic in the menu no matter how you are going to use the camera. It is utterly useless.
- You may want to fiddle with the picture profile adjustments i.e. sharpness, contrast, saturation in a few different modes such as Standard, Neautral (or Natural), Vivid etc. to see how you like the footage to come out best. My preferred settings are sharpness almost all the way down next to 0, contrast a step down, and saturation at default all in the Standard profile mode. Since the footage at or near the 3000mm max has a significant drop in contrast compared to that at the more normal focal lengths such as 24mm or 100mm, I have been experimenting with setting the contrast back to default or maybe a step or two higher. Will have to try this more in different lighting conditions.
In summary, this is a good camera for what it is intended to do. A specialized gear that takes a lot of practice and patience to get the best results. My few wishes for the next iteration, maybe the P2000 or whatever, would be that it has a phase detection AF, slightly faster aperture possibly f/6.3 or so in exchange for a more conservative wide end (28mm or 35mm). This could also make the lens more compact and lighter while few of the potential buyers for this type of cameras would care about the missing wider focal lengths. Also it would help a lot if Nikon could somehow manage to have an IP and sensor on the same caliber of what are in most Sony cameras on the next version of the P1000. Because as things are now my 4 year-old Sony HX400V superzoom (50x to 1200mm) and more recently, Sony HX99 pocketable (30x to 720mm) both wipe the floor off the P1000 in terms of image quality at the more "moderate" 720-1200mm range and wider. And I am not even talking about the likes of heavier, much more expensive but limited zooming alternatives such as the Sony RX10 series yet!