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Nikon Coolpix P510 Camera Review

Nikon Coolpix P510 Camera Review  


April 2012

The Nikon Coolpix P510 was announced in February this year and shipped late March in the US. This is a super zoom compact camera. It features an f/3.0-5.9 42x zoom lens, giving it an effective range of 24-1000mm. The lens has sensor shift vibration reduction which Nikon claims adds an extra four stops. The Coolpix P510 also features a 16.1MP 1/2.3" CMOS sensor, a 99 point autofocus system, an ISO range of 100-6400, full 1080p HD video with stereo sound, built in GPS, and a tilting LCD screen. The retail US price is $429.95 and it's available in black and red. For full camera specifications and more info visit Nikon's product page here.

When I first read about this camera I was very interested and excited about the thought of a 42X zoom. To get that kind of range on a DSLR you would need at least four different lenses and for most people, including myself, it would cost a small fortune. But I was also skeptical about the image quality a 1000mm lens could produce on a compact sensor and how well the image stabilization would work. Even though I really didn't need this camera I bought it anyway, mainly because I was curious about the zoom. I figured I could try it out for a while, have some fun with it, then sell it. The Coolpix P510 meets my minimum requirements in a camera, external controls for easy operation, a viewfinder, a flash, and fairly low noise images relative to it's sensor size.

The build quality of the P510 is what I would expect from a mid priced compact camera. The plastic doesn't feel cheap and it seems to be put together well. It has a rubberized hand grip which makes it comfortable to hold. It fits nicely in my small hands. Someone with larger hands may find it too small though. I found it easy to access the external controls. The mode dial is stiff but is easily turned with just the thumb. The mode dial includes P,S,A,M, Auto, three Scene modes, a Scene selector, an Effects selector, and a User settings mode which allows you to save frequently used settings. For the Scene and Effects selectors you need to go into the menu to set them. There's also a Function button on top which I use to set ISO. The easily accessible zoom lever encircles the shutter release.

Located on the back panel is the command dial, movie record button, display button, playback button, menu button, delete button, selection (ok) button, and the selector wheel which allows you to set exposure compensation, flash mode, focus mode, and the self-timer. The viewfinder is electronic and has a dipoter to help adjust it's focus. To the left of the viewfinder is the toggle button to switch between the EVF and the LCD screen. The LCD screen can be lowered down to 82° or raised up to 90°. Located on the left side of the camera is another zoom lever which comes in handy when shooting video. The menu system is fairly easy to navigate. The battery life is rated at 240 shots. You need to charge the battery while it's in the camera, which is a bit of a pain. Thankfully you can buy cheap knockoff batteries and an external charger on eBay, so you can always have plenty of juice if need be. The pop-up flash works as it should. There's no hot shoe on the camera.

The Coolpix P510 also has built in GPS. It can come in handy at times, but does drain the battery quickly. The P510 can shoot full resolution stills at seven frames per second (fps) in Continuos H mode, but I found the camera's buffer would fill up after only four shots. There's also a Continuos L mode which has a frame rate of 1 fps. The focus modes include AF, Manual, Macro, and Infinity, with up to 99 focus points. The AF works well but it sometimes had a hard time focusing on a subject with a busy background, ie a bird in a tree. I found the AF too slow for moving subjects. Manual focus is adjusted by pressing the up and down on the selection wheel. It works slowly and isn't very well implemented. The Macro mode is ok. You can get fairly close to your subject. Infinity focuses on the furthest point. The P510 also has a 3D mode which lets you take 3D photos which can be displayed on compatible monitors or TVs. This works by taking a photo and then matching that image up with guides on the LCD screen. The camera then takes another photo automatically. I don't have a 3D TV, so I sent some test shots to my brother. He said the 3D depth is good but the background is somewhat blurry. The images don't quite look natural. Also, there was some ghosting in the images but that may be a result of the glasses. The Scene modes work surprisingly well. For the novice photographer they can be very useful. I found the Effects modes to be a bit cheesy. I'd much rather add effects with post proccessing. The Video mode was a mixed bag. With bright light the image quality was excellent. But under low light it wasn't that great. I also found the full time autofocus to be very poor.

As mentioned before, the main reason I bought this camera was for the 42X zoom. When the zoom is extended all the way the barrel sticks out an additional 2 1/2 inches, so you need to be careful not to bang it against anything. Below you can see just how far out it extends.

Nikon Coolpix P510 Zoom Extended

The range from 24mm to 1000mm really is remarkable. Here's an example across a mall parking lot. These are the full images resized down to about 15%.

Nikon Coolpix P510 at 24mm equivalent
The Nikon Coolpix P510 @ 24mm equivalent. 

Nikon Coolpix P510 at 1000mm equivalent
The Nikon Coolpix P510 @ 1000mm equivalent. 

As you can see, you can zero in on your target (pun intended), from a fairly long distance. I also tested the P510 to see how much detail I could get at 1000mm. For the example below I left the camera in Auto mode. For the settings the camera chose f/5.9, 1/800 sec., and ISO 400. The tree was about 40 feet away from me and the squirrel was another 40 feet up the tree.

Nikon Coolpix P510 detail test
Full image resized down to approx. 15%. 

Nikon Coolpix P510 detail test
100% crop. 

Nikon Coolpix P510 detail test
50% crop. 

The example image is by no means spectacular. But given the distance involved, the ISO and the small sensor size it's acceptable. From this image you can see that the vibraton reduction works very well as there is no visible camera shake. In the 100% crop of the squirrel you can see some slight purple fringing, but I didn't find it to be a real problem in any of the photos I took. Overall the lens performed very well. JPEGs straight out of the camera using defualt sharpening were a little soft. I'd recommend some post proccessing to sharpen them up a bit. Images began to exhibit noticable noise at ISO 400. At ISO 1600 the images were just ok. I wouldn't use anything higher than that. Below are 100% crop examples.

Nikon Coolpix P510 ISO 100

Nikon Coolpix P510 ISO 400

Nikon Coolpix P510 ISO 800

Nikon Coolpix P510 ISO 1600

Thanks to the 1000mm zoom the P510 can produce decent looking bokeh despite the small sensor and small f-stop. In the example below you can see that the background is sufficiently blurred to isolate the subject.

Nikon Coolpix P510 bokeh example
Nikon Coolpix P510 bokeh example @ 1000mm, f/5.9. 

Overall I really liked the Nikon Coolpix P510. There were a few things I didn't like. The 16MP sensor isn't the best when it comes to noise. Nikon should have left the MP at 12 as it was in the Coolpix P500, or they should have added an improved sensor. There is no RAW support. Most bridge cameras today allow you to shoot in RAW. As I mentioned before, the Video AF stinks and having to charge the battery while it's in the camera can be an inconvenience. Nikon could have easily included an external charger. What I do like about the P510 is the 42X zoom, which is the main feature of the camera. It's really fun to use. The image quality is also good as long as you know the camera's limitations. As with most cameras of this type, best results are obtained with bright lighting and using the lowest ISO possible. This is not a low light or action camera.

The P510 comes with the standard Coolpix neck strap. I find it a bit uncomfortable and too short. Unfortunately, the camera is a little too big to use with a hand strap and the eyelets are too small to fit standard sized straps. So if you're not happy with the generic strap your choices are limited. I guess you could use a sling style strap like the BosStrap, but that might be overkill for this type of camera. For a camera bag I recommend the Tamrac T30 (sp link). It has room for accessories like batteries and memory cards and can be carried by either the handle, shoulder strap, or belt loop.


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