Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Full Spectrum Nikon Coolpix P900

over this last few years I have had real trouble trying to find a video camera that ticks all the right boxes, an impressive optical zoom, a decent viewfinder and for me it has to have infrared capabilities.  For many years Sony handycams were a wise choice as they did tick all the boxes, a simple IR pass filter that screwed to the lens, a quick flick to 'nightshot' and off you went. At one point, most had 40x optical zoom and a simple but functional viewfinder, a must when filming the sky. As with most things, camcorders evolve, the largest improvement being image resolution. As most camcorders now are HD (1920x1080p) and even 4K (3840x2160) actual sensor size is also growing within these camcorders and this is having a negative impact on optical zoom. In short, the optics have to stay relative to the sensor size, if not images become more cropped the larger the sensor becomes. Also, a camcorder producing  0x to 15x zoom also requires moving parts, the higher the optical zoom, the more the focal length has to be increased and that is a lot to get into a consumer camcorder.

After going through many camcorders this last few years I noticing the cross breed camera or 'bridge' camera was making it's mark in the photography world. A bridge camera is a versatile and more affordable version of a DSLR, it is sort of a compact crossed with a SLR. One positive advantage a bridge camera has over a camcorder is that the zoom lens is on the outside of the body, not in the inside which restricts zooming possibilities. Over this last few years the bridge camera market is really making it's mark and obviously there are going to battles between manufactures to who can produce the best camera within a certain price bracket. The mega zoom feature was one battle that I kept a close eye on.

In 2015 Nikon released it's new flagship bridge camera, the Coolpix P900 which boasted a whopping 83x optical zoom, it also has a 3" pull out swivel LCD, a highly rated viewfinder and can film in 1080p50FPS. After watching countless P900 zoom videos on YouTube and reading no end of rave reviews, I decided to buy one and try it out for myself. Getting to know this camera for a was great fun, way different to any video camera that I have previously owned, but  I had to think about how I was going to turn it into a full spectrum or infrared camera, I knew before buying it that I would get around to modifying it. After doing a whole ton of research and emailing around for quotes, most being around the £250 mark, I decided to do it myself. My main concern was obviously just completely wrecking the camera and second, will there be any focusing issues. With full spectrum or infrared DSLR cameras, the focus has to be re-calibrated to focus on the desired light wavelength. This is because the point of focus in the visible light wavelengths (400nm-700nm) differs from near IR (400nm-1200nm) and it confuses the camera so it sits between the two, producing no perfect focus at all. This worsens the larger the sensor becomes, but becomes less apparent the smaller the sensor is. 
As the P900 prides itself on being a 'superzoom' bridge camera, it therefore must has a small sensor? it has. The sensor size being just 1/2.3" or 6.2mm x 4.6mm making it 17% smaller than it's DSLR-like sensor in it's class. So the focusing issue hopefully wouldn't be an issue at all.
If you strip away the enormous telescope like lens and the large durable body essentially what you have is the innards of a sophisticated compact camera. And like compact cameras, the infrared cut filter isn't really that hard to get to at all. A steady hand, the right tools and lots of sweating and it was out and the camera put back together again.  I probably had a the worlds first Full spectrum P900.
There are no focusing issues which is excellent, I've bought a selection of crew on lenses that include IR pass filters and a IR/UV cut filter so a can still use it in the normal spectrum.

To show just how capable this camera is, here is a photograph of the international space station. It took me quite a few attempts, but I got there in the end. It is of course heavily cropped, but I'm happy with it.

To capture the ISS like in the photo above, try starting with these setting, but always pre-focus on the Moon if you can.

A short demo video that I made.

Watch in the highest HD quality.

In the past, having captured a numerous amounts of unexplained objects that cannot be filed into any conventional or natural phenomenon drawer, this camera at this time is probably the best UFO hunting weapon for daytime filming. Being full spectrum obviously gives a big advantage over normal cameras and camcorders. Even at night, the settings given for the capture off the ISS should help resolve any structure of any moving light in the sky, being man made or not.