Nikon Coolpix P500 Review
Review Date : Wed, 1 Jun 2011
Author : Matt Tuffin
With a massive 36x optical zoom lens the Nikon Coolpix P500 offers one of the largest optical magnifications on offer. The Nikon Coolpix P500 review follows....
|Pros:||Superb handling, excellent build quality, impressive images on occasion|
|Cons:||Pin cushioning at wide angle, limited tonal range|
The Nikon Coolpix P500 offers, amongst other things, a huge optical zoom. At 36x, or 22.5-810mm in 35mm terms, the lens will undoubtedly gain the majority of the attention. In spite of this there's still a vari-angle screen, HD movie mode and full manual controls to stand the Nikon Coolpix P500 out from the competition.
Nikon Coolpix P500 Review - Features
From the outset the Nikon Coolpix P500 clearly isn't resting on its laurels, as a bridge camera, of a giant optical zoom. For the advancing beginner after something more controllable than a standard compact camera full control over shutter speed, aperture and focus is offered, with a rear thumbwheel to alter the values. There's also a zoom control on the left side of the lens barrel which can be customized to the likes of focus control and shutter speed. The movie mode appears in two separate guises, covering not only high definition but also a high speed option, recording up to 240fps. Both are selectable on a handy switch that surrounds the dedicated movie record button.
For framing, and reviewing, images, both a viewfinder and LCD screen are present. Although the viewfinder will doubtless appease those more used to traditional film shooting and framing it's worth mentioning that it's simply a smaller version of the main LCD, and at only 230k dots isn't exactly the highest res version available. The main screen, however, is a 3î 920k dot option which also sports a vertically adjustable arm, so the display can be tilted to support low or high angle work.
As seems to be the growing trend with fixed lens cameras a rapid burst rate is also part of the feature list, with 8fps possible for up to five images. A Raw mode, however, is not offered and nor is a method of attaching a filter as the lens extends to a degree that would make a barrel adapter extremely ungainly.
The zoom is very impressive, at least from a specs point of view. Going from the rather odd 22.5mm wide angle up to 810 mm, going beyond the likes of the Fuji HS20 by offering a wider lens (compared to 24mm) and longer telephoto (at 720mm) those purely after a long focal length will be immediately enticed. The usefulness of an optical zoom hinges around stabilization, which the Nikon Coolpix P500 has in two forms. The first is sensor shift, which physically moves the sensor to adapt to the vibration around it, and the second is a firmware-based electronic system. During the movie mode only the electronic system is available, although with the optical zoom still available a tripod or other support will be needed to use it to its full extent.
Nikon Coolpix P500 Review - Design
The look of the Nikon Coolpix P500 is almost entirely dictated by the feature set, from the lens to the hinged screen. This isn't to say that the odd touch of flair doesn't filter through, with the lens barrel offering a few stylish indentations and a combination of different materials used throughout the casing, although all are in some variety of black. The body is extremely angular and doesn't offer too many rounded, smooth edges, offering styling verging on the art deco on occasions. The only out of place element is on the right hand grip, which is rubberized with small spikes. This makes it easier to grip when moisture comes into contact, although it does stand out compared to the rest of the camera. The body is littered with buttons, with few areas on the rear or top free from a control method of some variety. This relegates the likes of the display method button to a small control, and the burst mode to a somewhat hidden position by the zoom. The mode dial is quite prominent though, and similar to those seen on a DSLR making the transition easier for those familiar to removable lens models. No hot shoe is present to mount a separate flashgun, nor is there the opportunity to attach a separate microphone, meaning the built-in options must be used in both instances.
With two main elements in the screen and lens that have the ability to extend, the balance and handling of the Nikon Coolpix P500 is somewhat interchangeable. At the top end of the zoom the camera is unsurprisingly front heavy, but thanks to the angled screen can be held in a more stable position when the full extent of the magnification is utilized. The viewfinder has a similar effect, making the camera more stable to hold generally as well as when the zoom is in use. The zoom control on the lens barrel is extremely helpful in both instances, to the point where the standard zoom switch seems out of place and inaccurate. The fact that the barrel control can be employed for more than one usage is a helpful touch, with manual focus being the main alternative. Both the mode dial and manual dial are solid, and reminiscent of a DSLR, and the D-pad is perfectly usable for menu navigation. A few of the buttons are too recessed into the body, such as the playback and display button, and the switch that alternates between the filming formats (high speed and HD) is quite easy to accidentally knock to the incorrect setting. For the most part the Nikon Coolpix P500 is solid to use, and the controls simple to access.
Nikon Coolpix P500 Review - Performance
With such a long lens it's fair to expect the autofocus speed to be largely affected. At the top end of the magnification the time taken between pressing the shutter release and taking an image is fairly lengthy, and not always accurate. In spite of having 9 AF areas the response time is often annoyingly slow, even when the wider angle is employed. In low light the flash is virtually a necessity, as attempting to use increased ISO levels results in even slower focusing and blurred images. Although this is something of a hindrance with a decent amount of illumination the images returned were sharp, with the limited depth of field producing some impressive effects when portraits were taken. At the wider end of the lens distortion is visible around the edges, with a pincushion effect quite noticeable in places. This makes the impressively wide angle lens somewhat less impressive, especially for group shots.
Nikon Coolpix P500 Review - Image Quality
Exposure far favors the darker end of the scale, losing detail in the highlights and suffering from duller colours than can be expected. The lack of vibrancy does produce some excellent skin tones, and rather than allowing certain shades to become overly prominent the end result is a well-balanced image. In low light, especially beyond the ISO 800 mark, noise is visible and tonal range markedly restricted, with the pixel smoothing employed to reduce noise being the largest culprit of this. With a minimum ISO of 160 the automatic settings seem to be more inclined to stay around the ISO 200 mark, only progressing further in severely restricted lighting conditions. As a result the flash is needed in almost all low light situations, further reducing the focal range, but once more the performance isn't outside of expected performance from such a camera.
Nikon Coolpix P500 Review - Value
Although the camera has been on the shelves only a few months the price has dropped considerably, from £400 to under £300. Being at the top end of the compact camera price bracket brings the Nikon Coolpix P500 into direct competition with the likes of the Fuji HS20 and Sony HX100V. Both offer a more bulky appearance and closer-to-DSLR performance than the Nikon, in spite of the slightly reduced focal length. At that price range the Nikon Nikon Coolpix P500 does have similar functionality, but falls by a margin at the image quality.
The Nikon Coolpix P500 offers plenty, and the zoom isn't unmanageable, making it one of the better bridge models currently available