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Nikon Coolpix P500 Digital Camera Review

Daniel Bell reviews the Nikon Coolpix P500 which boasts a massive 36x optical zoom.

|  Nikon Coolpix P500 in Compact Cameras
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Nikon Coolpix P500 front

The Coolpix P500, a high-end compact camera from Nikon, was announced in February 2011 as the replacement for the Coolpix P100, with more megapixels and extra optical zoom. The Coolpix P500 is available in black for £342.99.

Nikon Coolpix P500 front lens

Nikon Coolpix P500: Features

Headlining the list of features is the Nikkor 36x optical zoom lens which is a 35mm equivalent of 22.5 - 810mm. The zoom can be adjusted in two places - the usual zoom rocker around the shutter button and also a slide zoom control button on the side of the lens. There is a back illuminated 12.1Mp CMOS image sensor to make it easy to shoot in any light.

The camera has 7 methods of anti-blur: Hybrid VR (Sensor-shift and Electronic Vibration Reduction) reduces the effect of camera shake and can be set simultaneously for additional protection. ISO can be set as high as 3200 and motion detection compensates for camera and subject movement. Best Shot Selector (BSS) will automatically select the sharpest of up to 10 sequential shots. There are dedicated light modes which aim to deliver superb results in any light, even without a tripod - Night Portrait and Night Landscape. Backlight mode offers impressive tonal detail in any situation.

On the rear of the screen is a 3in, 921,000 dot, LCD monitor, with an anti-reflective coating, which can be tilted up by as much as 90 degrees, or down by as much as 82 degrees.

The Coolpix P500 can shoot full (1080p) HD movie recording with stereo sound which also allows the use of optical zoom and autofocus during recording as well as an option to film in slow or fast motion using recording speeds of up to 240fps (QVGA). There is also a built-in HDMI connector for output to a HDTV.

For extra control over the camera there are Programmed Auto (P), Shutter-priority (S), Aperture-priority (A) and Manual (M) Exposure Modes. 360°/180° panoramic images can be shot and stitched in camera. High-speed continuous shooting (8fps) is possible at full 12.1Mp resolution with a dedicated continuous shooting button lets you switch instantly to shoot up to five continuous shots or up to 54 lower resolution shots at 120fps.

Nikon Coolpix P500 screen

Key features:

  • 36x zoom lens (35 mm equivalent: 22.5-810mm)
  • 12.1Mp CMOS image sensor
  • 7x anti-blur
  • 3in 921,000 dot, tiltable LCD monitor
  • Full (1080p) HD movie recording with stereo sound
  • HDMI connector for output to a HDTV.
  • Side zoom control
  • Exposure Modes (P/S/A/M)
  • Easy Panorama 360°/180°
  • High-speed continuous shooting (8fps) at full 12.1 megapixel resolution
Nikon Coolpix P500 top

Nikon Coolpix P500: Handling

Thanks to the grip where your right hand holds the camera, the camera is easy to carry around when not in use as well as being comfortable to use when shooting. The slide switch for the optical zoom is useful but easily knocked when shooting portraits so care needs to be taken.

The menu system isn't difficult to navigate and the buttons are fine to press, even with large fingers. As well as the typical buttons found on the camera there is a dedicated record button for movies which also has a rocker to switch from HD to HS (High speed). There is a button to switch from the screen to the viewfinder, which can be adjusted by the diopter adjustment control wheel. There is also a button to switch between the various continuous shooting modes.

According to Nikon / CIPA the battery is capable of 220 shots. During testing there was no reason to suspect that this figure is over-estimated. 220 shots is quite low for a compact so it is probably worthwhile investing in a spare to carry around.

As long as you remember to remove the lens cap, the camera takes less than two seconds to be ready after switching on. If you leave the lens cap on the camera makes a lot of noise and displays an error message. This means you have to remove the lens cap to view pictures you have taken. (Edit: Apparently when the camera is switched off you have to press and hold the play button and the camera switches to review mode without requiring the lens cap to be removed).

Continuous L shooting mode takes five full sized 12.1Mp images at 8fps and 24 images at 1.8 fps using Continuous H. For even more fps you can shoot 25 2Mp pictures at 60fps and 50 1Mp pictures at 120fps.

Nikon Coolpix P500 battery

Nikon Coolpix P500: Performance

In general use the camera focused quickly but is troublesome when tracking a moving subject with a large amount of optical zoom in use. The camera is excellent at producing well exposed images with colours nicely reproduced.

At both ends of the lens the images produced are sharp with a fair amount of detail and no signs of lens flare or purple fringing. With its minimum focus distance of 1cm the Coolpix P500 takes fantastic macro shots.

Nikon Coolpix P500 wide-angle   Nikon Coolpix P500 full optical zoom
Wide-angle, ISO200, 1/1000, f/4, 4mm (35mm equiv:  22.5mm)   Full optical zoom, ISO200, 1/200, f/5.7, 144mm (35mm equiv: 810mm)
Nikon Coolpix P500 full digital zoom   Nikon Coolpix P500 macro
Full digital zoom, ISO200, 1/250, f/5.7, 144mm (35mm equiv: 810mm) (digital zoom equivalent to 576mm, 35mm: 3240mm)   Macro, ISO200, 1/800, f/4.5, 7mm (35mm equiv: 39mm)

Whether indoors or outdoors, with flash or not, portraits produced by the camera look great with excellent skin tones, although did occassionally struggle to focus on the closest subject at times.

Nikon Coolpix P500 portrait with flash   Nikon Coolpix P500 portrait no flash
Portrait with flash, ISO200,1/30, f/4.7, 12mm (35mm equiv: 68mm)   Portrait, no flash, ISO160, 1/1250, f/5.6, 15mm (35mm equiv: 84mm)

The lowest ISO setting available is ISO160, which is higher than you might expect, but at this level there isn't any sign of noise. There is no noticeable difference at ISO200, but noise does start to creep in at ISO400. Noise does steadily increase as you'd expect at ISO800. Image quality is starting to suffer at ISO1600 and at ISO3200 the noise is at a level where it would be best to only use this setting when absolutely necessary.

Nikon Coolpix P500 iso160 Nikon Coolpix P500 iso200 Nikon Coolpix P500 iso400
ISO160, 1/5, f/4.8, 20mm (35mm equiv: 113mm) ISO200, 1/6, f/4.8, 20mm (35mm equiv: 113mm) ISO400, 1/13, f/4.8, 20mm (35mm equiv: 113mm)
Nikon Coolpix P500 iso800 Nikon Coolpix P500 iso1600 Nikon Coolpix P500 iso3200
ISO800, 1/25, f/4.8, 20mm (35mm equiv: 113mm) ISO1600, 1/50, f/4.8, 20mm (35mm equiv: 113mm) ISO3200, 1/100, f/4.8, 20mm (35mm equiv: 113mm)

The auto white-balance setting does a good job in most situations but the fluorescent and incandescent presets did a better job under the lights in our studio. AWB under the fluorescent lights get a slight magenta cast in the image.

Nikon Coolpix P500 Auto White Balance - Incandescent Lighting   Nikon Coolpix P500 Preset Incandescent WB - Incandescent Light
Auto White Balance - Incandescent Lighting, ISO160, 1/15, f/4, 7mm (35mm equiv: 39mm)   Preset Incandescent WB - Incandescent Light, ISO160 1/15, f/4, 7mm (35mm equiv: 39mm)
Nikon Coolpix P500 Auto White Balance - Fluorescent Light   Nikon Coolpix P500 Fluorescent White Balance - Fluorescent Light
Auto White Balance - Fluorescent Light, ISO200, 1/6, f/4, 7mm (35mm equiv: 39mm)   Fluorescent White Balance - Fluorescent Light, ISO200, 1/6, f/4, 7mm (35mm equiv: 39mm)

Using the night landscape and night portrait modes proves difficult as there is little to be seen through the screen or viewfinder making it difficult to compose an image. Thanks to the excellent flash performance the night portrait looks good, although the camera struggled to focus, and the night landscape looks too dark.

Nikon Coolpix P500 night landscape   Nikon Coolpix P500 landscape
Night landscape, ISO560, 1/8, f/3.4, 4mm (35mm equiv:  22.5mm)   Landscape, ISO160, 1/1000, f/4, 4mm (35mm equiv:  22.5mm)
Nikon Coolpix P500 night portrait   Nikon Coolpix P500 sport mode
Night portrait, ISO400, 1/4, f/5.1, 26mm (35mm equiv:  142mm)   Sport mode, ISO160, 1/800, f/4.8, 14mm (35mm equiv: 79mm)

Panoramic modes

The Coolpic P500 can take excellent 180° and 360° panoramic images, either vertically or horizontally. To take a panoramic you press the shutter release just once and pan round in the required direction until you have gone the required angle. The camera then processes the final image.

Nikon Coolpix P500 180° panoramic
180° panoramic, ISO160, 1/1500, f/3.5, 4mm (35mm equiv: 22.5mm)
Nikon Coolpix P500 360° panoramic
360° panoramic, ISO160, 1/1500, f/3.5, 4mm (35mm equiv: 22.5mm)

Video mode

The Coolpix P500 has full (1080p) HD movie recording with stereo sound, with optical zoom and autofocus available during recording. You can capture a photo while filming and there is an option to film in slow or fast motion using recording speeds of up to 240fps (QVGA). The camera features a built-in HDMI connector with HDMI-CEC support for output to a HDTV.

Sample Video

Value for money

Compact cameras with this amount of zoom are rare. The Canon PowerShot SX30 IS, at £349.00, has a 35x optical zoom lens (35mm equivalent: 24 - 840mm) and 14.1Mp sensor, but only shoots 720p HD movies and has a smaller LCD screen. Fujifilm offer three cameras with 30x optical zoom, the FinePix HS10 at £239.99, FinePix HS20 at £389.00 and FinePix S4000 at £223.00 which have 10.3Mp, 16Mp and 14Mp sensors respectively. There is also the Olympus SP-800UZ with 30x optical zoom and 14Mp sensor available for £218.99 and even has 2Gb of internal memory. Sony have announced the HX100v, with 30x optical zoom and a 16.2Mp sensor which has an RRP of $450 (UK pricing is yet to be announced).

Nikon Coolpix P500: Verdict

As well as offering the most optical zoom currently available on a compact camera, the Coolpix P500 is packed full of other useful features and produces excellent results. Using the camera at its largest zoom will require practice, patience, and possibly even a fully charged spare battery in your pocket, with a tripod likely to prove beneficial.

The Nikon Coolpix P500 is packed with features and produces excellent images.

Nikon Coolpix P500: Pros

Nikon Coolpix P500 36x optical zoom
Nikon Coolpix P500 Lots of ways to counteract blurry images
Nikon Coolpix P500 Tilting screen
Nikon Coolpix P500 Manual control modes (P/S/A/M)
Nikon Coolpix P500 Full HD movies
Nikon Coolpix P500 8fps at full 12.1Mp
Nikon Coolpix P500 Excellent panoramas at both 360° and 180°
Nikon Coolpix P500 Excellent macro pictures

Nikon Coolpix P500: Cons

Nikon Coolpix P500 Battery life is quite short
Nikon Coolpix P500 Difficult to shoot moving subjects using lots of optical zoom

FEATURES Nikon Coolpix P500
HANDLING Nikon Coolpix P500
PERFORMANCE Nikon Coolpix P500
VALUE FOR MONEY Nikon Coolpix P500
OVERALL Nikon Coolpix P500

Nikon Coolpix P500: Specification

Price £342.99
Optical zoom 35x optical zoom, 4 - 144mm (35mm equivalent: 22.5 - 810 mm), f/3.4 - 5.7
Resolution 12.1Mp
Sensor size 1/2.3in
Sensor type EXR-CMOS
Max image size 4000 x 3000
Aspect ratio 4:3
Focus points Face priority, centre, subject tracking
Focus distance 1cm
File types JPEG
ISO sensitivity ISO160 - 3200
Metering types Matrix, centre-weighted, spot
Exposure compensation +/- 2 EV / 1/3 steps
Frames-per-second 8fps at full 12.1 megapixel resolution
Image stabilisation Image-sensor shift type + electronic type (still image); Other blur-reduction functions: Motion Detection (conventional type), BSS (Best Shot Selector)
Movie mode HD 1080p: 1920 x 1080 (30 fps), HD 720p: 1280 x 720 (30 fps), iFrame 540: 960 x 540 (30 fps), VGA: 640 x 480 (30 fps); HS movie: (15/60/120/240 fps; no sound)
Monitor 3in TFT LCD monitor approx. 921,000 dots
Media type SD/SDHC/SDXC
Interface Hi-Speed USB/PictBridge
Power Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL5
Box Contents Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL5, Charging AC Adapter EH-69, USB Cable UC-E6, Audio Video Cable EG-CP16, Camera Strap AN-CP21, Lens Cap LC-CP23 and ViewNX 2 CD-ROM
Size 115.5 x 83.7 x 102.5mm
Weight 494g (including battery and SD memory card)

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Photographs taken using the Nikon Coolpix P500

Me   bypassing nice HouseBeachcomber's FootprintsDinosaur Jurassic ParkTwo Men Of NewlynAutumn has arrivedMISTY fallsC N Tower CanadaRaindrops on window.Elvis & Lennon  Hardrock cafe CanadaAmerican Biker.-On the road to nowhereRocky  Bilbao.Old and KnarledHomeward BoundMarcRiver of flowers

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BobEH 16 17 United Kingdom
14 Apr 2011 2:33PM
How very strange; neither the portrait without flash nor the night portrait are sharply focused on the face. There is no comment about this in the review!
joshwa Plus
11 927 1 United Kingdom
21 Apr 2011 3:12PM
We have updated the article mentioning that the camera struggled to focus in these photos. Looking through the other photos we took with the camera, this is quite rare for it to have problems focusing.

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