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Nikon Coolpix P500 review

Verdict

Verging on greatness, the P500 is let down only by noisy images in anything other than the best light

Review Date: 4 Jul 2011

Reviewed By: Jim Martin

Price when reviewed: £262 (£314 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

Image Quality
4 stars out of 6

If we handed out awards based on specifications alone, Nikon’s P500 would be first in line. Somehow, Nikon has crammed a 36x optical zoom into a body only 103mm deep. It weighs less than 500g and shoots 1080p video at 30fps.

Better still, the P500 has a 12.2-megapixel sensor, an indication that Nikon is sidestepping the megapixel race in a bid for better quality photos. Of course, the sensor is still tiny at 1/2.3in.

Nikon Coolpix P500

Another winning specification is the 921kpixel, articulated 3in screen. This tilts up and down by 90 degrees to let you take shots from interesting angles. The only blots on the P500’s copybook are the lack of a RAW mode and a hotshoe for an external flash.

Unusually, there are two zoom controls: one surrounding the shutter release, and the other on the lens barrel. The main control has both slow and fast speeds, but the barrel rocker switch only moves the lens slowly.

Wrapped around the video-recording button is a switch to change from HD to HS. The latter stands for high speed and records at 240fps, albeit at only 320 x 240 and without audio. There’s also the option to shoot at 120fps at 640 x 480. The footage looks great in bright light.

Nikon Coolpix P500

The P550’s performance is respectable. Time from off to first shot is only 1.4 seconds and there’s a five-frame continuous mode that runs at 8fps and shoots at full resolution. If you want more than five frames, you’ll have to put up with a reduced frame rate of 1.8fps.

Image quality is good, but not great. In bright light, the P500 produces superb photos with sumptuous levels of detail. Colours are muted in typical Nikon style, but exposures are always well judged. The problems come when light drops and ISO speeds rise, with fine details smeared at ISO 400 and above. The P500 struggles to focus in low light at anything beyond 600mm, and with moving subjects even in better light.

We wanted to like the P500 more, and it does have notable attractions, such as the screen and the 1080p video mode. Only the image quality stands in the way of it walking away with top marks.

Author: Jim Martin

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User comments

Seriously?

"Only the image quality stands in the way of it walking away with top marks."

Did you actually read this through before submitting it? You've just said that only the fact that it isn't very good at taking photos stops it walking away with top marks. For a budget smartphone that would be okay. This is a £300 camera!!!!!

By Bassey1976 on 6 Jul 2011

@Bassey1976

I totally agree.

Video is pretty much an irrelevance. I've had video capabilities on my last 6 cameras and I've made 20 seconds of video in the last 10 years with them...

A camera which can't take photos in low light and causes serious grain at 400ISO is abysmal, especially at this price.

I forgave my original Olympus Camedia for its poor low light performance (lots of grain, but good autofocus), but that was back in 1997.

My compact Ixus doesn't show any problems with low light and my EOS lets me override the focusing (which I use a lot).

Also, 36x optical zoom sounds good, but what does that actually mean in real terms?

By big_D on 6 Jul 2011

@big_D

It means an object will appear 36x bigger when it is used compared to when it is not.

Glad to help!

By Geddy3001 on 6 Jul 2011

Battery Life

No one mentioned the battery life, 220 shots is appalling.

My Nikon D5000 (admittedly with a battery grip fitted) took 1028 exposures at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last Sunday, and the battery indicator is still showing full.

The picture quality is of course excellent, unlike this Coolpix P500 apparently.

So the advantages of this camera over an entry-level DSLR are:
1. Size
2. Weight

Disadvantages:
1. Battery Life
2. Image Quality
3. Lens Flexability
4: No upgrade path

I think I will stick with the DSLR.

Example shot here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/chriswaddell/58987256
87/sizes/l/in/set-72157626984662497/

By fundraised on 7 Jul 2011

@Geddy3001

That doesn't help at all...

What is that in real money? 18mm to 648mm?

If the small end is anything around the "normal" bottem end, the maximum zoom is going to be well over 600mm. That usually means a lens costing several hundred pounds, and fixed focal length, in order to get decent quality...

By big_D on 7 Jul 2011

Derekjohn3

I bought a P500 three weeks ago and took on holiday to Austria.
I was impressed with the clarity of the Photos in all light conditions
My only reservations are:1/the battery takes 4 hours to fully charge (on the camera) and there is no way of fitting a filter to protect the lens.
The Photos produced were better than the Canon Ixus 1000 that my wife used.
I will be taking it to USA in October.

By derekjohn3 on 7 Jul 2011

Derekjohn3

I bought a P500 three weeks ago and took on holiday to Austria.
I was impressed with the clarity of the Photos in all light conditions
My only reservations are:1/the battery takes 4 hours to fully charge (on the camera) and there is no way of fitting a filter to protect the lens.
The Photos produced were better than the Canon Ixus 1000 that my wife used.
I will be taking it to USA in October.

By derekjohn3 on 7 Jul 2011

Nikon P500

I purchased this camera in March in replacement to my Canon 10D which I used for bird photography in conjunction with a Sigma 80-400mm lens. I found that the lumbering around a large lens took away the enjoyment of my hobby. So I traded down to a bridge camera which does more than my old canon 10D. This probably isn't a camera for the purists, but I love it and it performs very well.

By rtingey on 8 Jul 2011

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