The Nikon Coolpix P520 boasts the most powerful lens in Coolpix camera yet, incorporating a 42x optical zoom lens which provides an effective focal range of 24-1000mm. How does the rest of the camera weigh up? Find out in our full Nikon Coolpix P520 review
The Nikon P520’s aperture starts from f/3 at the wide end and culminates at f/5.9 at the other extreme, which may not be class leading but is not so far behind the lens’s of its peers that it should make too great a difference in practice. The sensor behind this, meanwhile, sees 18.1MP over a 1/2.3in area. As with many other recent models – such as the P520’s Nikon P330 stablemate – it has a backlit construction for more efficient light capture, and is capable of
recording full HD videos with stereo sound.
Around the back of the camera the Nikon Coolpix P520 offers a 3.2in display with a 921k-dot resolution, which is welcome to find given the more conventional 3in offerings on rival models like the Fujifilm HS30EXR. Mounted on a side-hinge, the screen can be pulled away from the camera and turned to face the front, or alternatively positioned to face the user when the camera is held way above or below eye level.
A further advantage of this particular articulation is that the screen can be folded against the camera when not in use, protecting its outer panel from scratches and marks. There’s also an EVF above this, although its 201k-dot resolution is somewhat disappointing.
Aside from the Nikon Coolpix P520’s expansive focal range, the camera’s other headline feature is its GPS system which incorporates Point of Interest data. In practice, this means that in addition to the more standard longitude, latitude and altitude information which is embedded to an image’s metadata, the camera also identifies points of interest (landmarks, statues, museums etc) recording this alongside and displaying it as images are being composed.
Images captured with the GPS function can also be viewed on a map using the
ViewNX 2 software supplied with the camera.
The Nikon P520’s sensitivity can be adjusted up to ISO 3200 as standard, with options equivalent to ISO 6400 and ISO 12,800 on hand for when necessary. The camera goes on to list a plethora of additional niceties, such as a 1cm macro mode and the option to manually focus the lens,as well as both fast- and slow-motion video recording options. It can also shoot a 7fps burst mode at full resolution for up to 7 images, or alternatively 30 images at a frame rate of 1fps, and it’s also compatible with Nikon’s WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter for cable-free image-transmission, which is available separately at around £50.
Nikon COOLPIX P520 review – Design
The Nikon Coolpix P520’s differs from many of its peers by having a relatively lightweight and glossy plastic body. While the former is clearly an advantage from the perspective of portability, its finish won’t be to everyone’s taste. Still, there’s plenty to admire, from the knurled mode dial and the ease with which the menu pad dial turns, to the generous use of rubber around both the grip and thumb rest.
The Fn button located on the Nikon P520’s top plate just beneath the shutter release button is excellently placed for accessing a key control of the user’s choosing, such as ISO, metering mode or Vibration Reduction, while the command dial at the rear is well defined from the back plate – not something every such model can claim.
The Nikon Coolpix P520 can have its zoom controlled by the collar around the shutter release as well as the rocker on the side of the lens barrel. The benefit of the latter is debatable, as only rarely would you take an image without your hand around the grip (and thus, in reach of the shutter-release zoom collar). Far better is to assign a different option to this control, such as manual focus.
Nikon COOLPIX P520 review – Performance
The Nikon Coolpix P520 takes a good couple of seconds to become fully operational after powering up, and moving around the menu system is characterised by a slight delay between button pressing and the camera registering a change. Things are much better with the AF system, however, with generally prompt focusing times throughout the focal range. While some (expected) slowdown occurs when lighting levels fall a little, the
camera’s ability to focus against low-contrast subjects is commendable.
As the Nikon P520’s viewfinder lacks an eye-sensor to determine when the user requires it, it needs to be manually bought up by a button press. This isn’t perhaps too great an issue, although it can only be activated when the display is folded to face the back of the camera. This means it isn’t possible to alternate between the two with the same fluidity as on other models. The viewfinder has the benefit of providing a 100% view of the scene, although its size and fairly low resolution disappoint.
Impressive LCD screen
The Nikon P520’s LCD screen, however, is impressive. Large, bright and capable of maintaining good contrast in brighter conditions, it’s a joy to use. Its high resolution also makes scrutinising image details simple and pleasing, and while its viewing angle could be better this is less of a concern with such a camera where its display can be adjusted.
The majority of the time the Nikon P520’s GPS system records location within a perfectly acceptable degree of accuracy, although during this test it would occasionally place images captured at the same position within seconds of each other across a surprisingly broad area (upon opening ViewNX 2 Nikon does point out that images may be displayed at different points to where they were actually captured, depending on the accuracy of the GPS system and the data recorded).
Nikon COOLPIX P520 review – Image Quality
Despite an occasionally warm Auto White Balance system, colours are generally true to life on the Standard Picture Control, in contrast to many other cameras which prefer a slightly more vibrant result as standard. The Nikon P520’s metering system is sound in the majority of situations, although its tendency is to overexposure rather than underexposure. This can lead to colours appearing slight washed out, and lacking highlight detail where there are brighter areas in the scene.
The quality of the Nikon P520’s lens, or rather the combination of this together with the camera’s processing, leaves images with few objectionable optical aberrations. There’s a touch of distortion at the 24mm end of the lens, but this soon disappears upon zooming and isn’t much of an issue further along the focal range.
ISO performance and sharpness
Likewise, some chromatic aberration can be witnessed throughout the focal range, but this is typically a minimal amount (particularly for a lens with such a broad focal range). Some loss of corner sharpness is evident at the widest apertures, although this soon disappears to leave images surprisingly detailed right up to the corners of the frame.
Images captured at the lowest portion of the Nikon P520’s ISO display a fair level of detail, with noise reduction removing noise well but leaving it with a slight texture (even at the lowest Noise Reduction setting). This continues as sensitivity is increased, with images captured on higher sensitivities occasionally struggling to maintain a good balance between correct exposure, colour and sharpness.
Nikon COOLPIX P520 review – Verdict
The Nikon COOLPIX P520 is an overall capable compact, with a reasonable standard of image quality, a clearly effective VR system and an excellent LCD screen to recommend it. It’s also currently priced around £80-90 less than rival models, although this is perhaps reflected in its finish and the quality of its electronic viewfinder. Still, if these issues are of no concern it’s definitely worth adding to the shortlist.
Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of sample images taken on the Nikon Coolpix P520. For the full range, head on over to the Nikon Coolpix P520 sample image gallery.