“The P500 has its flaws – like any camera – including battery life and image stabilization. The advantages far outweigh the negatives”.
36x optical zoom (22.5-810mm)
12 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor
8 fps for five shots
1080p video recording
Sensor-shift stabilization is not as good as OIS
The battery is only rated for 220 shots
Awkward position for boom key
Using AC adapter charging
The new Nikon Coolpix P500 has an incredible 36x optical zoom packed into a DSLR-like body. Get ready to hold your breath and capture subjects you didn’t even know were there!
Features and Design
We’ve always had a soft spot for megazoom cameras. They provide an excellent focal length range and are perfect for anyone who wants the long range of a DSLR without spending a fortune on interchangeable lenses or dealing with bulk. When we used the 14-megapixel Canon PowerShot SX30 IS with 35x zoom, it really rocked our world – in terms of photography, of course. The 24-840mm range was amazing as we were able to magnify things that were completely imperceptible with normal vision. Now, Nikon has extended this range to 36x by extending it a little further to 22.5mm with a “only” 810mm telephoto lens. Yeah, it’s ridiculous, but very interesting as we’ll see soon.
The Coolpix P500 has a definite DSLR vibe, but since there’s no mirror box, larger APS-C sensor, or lens mount, the camera is considerably less bulky and lighter (we ordered one Canon T3 with side-mounted lens for comparison). Available in black or burgundy, the P500 measures 4.6 x 3.3 x 4.1 (W x H x D, in inches) and weighs 17.5 ounces fully loaded with batteries and cards. T3 is that heavy for the body alone.
The lens is the key feature on the front with its 36 power. There’s also a combined AF-assist and self-timer light, and some sensible logos. Good grip feeling with unique texture. At the top is a pop-up flash, a stereo mic for 1080p HD video, a mode dial, a power button, a key to access the burst rate, and a shutter surrounded by a zoom toggle switch. We found the location of the detonation button to be quite inconvenient for speed changes on the fly; much better if it’s on the back.
The mode dial lets you choose how interactive the camera is. Along with auto, there’s program, shutter and aperture priority, and manual. Scene gives you access to 16 options including Scene Auto Selector, like Smart Auto or Smart Auto from other manufacturers. Here the camera guesses the subject in front and adjusts accordingly. This system works fine. There are seven choices, and three are repeated on the dial (night landscape, night portrait, backlight). On the dial, you’ll also find portraits and smart users, giving you your own preference settings. Thanks to the high-speed CMOS sensor, the P500 captures multiple frames in some of these modes for better overall exposure. One of our favorites is HDR, which is an under-backlit option. Here the camera will take several photos and combine them. The result is pretty good, as it really brings out the shadow details. Although somewhat buried, this is a great feature found on many Coolpix 2011 models.
Almost all megazooms have LCD screens and electronic viewfinders (EVFs) – the P500 doesn’t disappoint. On the back you’ll find a 230K pixel rated .24 inch EVF with diopter control. It also has a vari-angle 3-inch display that’s rated for a good 921K pixels. The screen doesn’t rotate out of the body like the Canon SX30 IS does – it pulls out and you can tilt it up and down to shoot from above or at your back. It’s a very useful feature, but we don’t recommend shooting super telephoto with one hand. The P500 may have five-way vibration reduction, but there’s no way it can stay stable in that situation. As with any extreme telephoto shot, be sure to tighten the camera while shooting.
There’s also a monitor button on the back so you can switch between the LCD and EVF, a Display for changing on-screen icons, and a red dot video button for instant full HD movies. . One cool feature is an ambient toggle that lets you shoot HD or HS (high-speed) clips. Instead of 30fps, it has 240fps QVGA so you can watch slow motion clips without sound.
At the top right is a spin button for scrolling through menu options while just below it is a textured thumb rest. Here are the playback, menu, and delete buttons around the four-way controller with the OK button in the middle. Here you have access to exposure compensation, focus type (AF, macro), self-timer and flash.
On the right is a compartment for the optional AC adapter, while on the left is a compartment for USB and mini HDMI connections. This door hinge is quite flimsy, so be careful not to yank it off. You’ll also find a speaker, a flash boost button, and another zoom toggle on the lens so you can use your left thumb to make adjustments while using the two-handed grip.
The bottom of the camera made in Indonesia has a metal tripod mount and a battery and SD card compartment (it accepts SDXC media).
What’s in the box?
If you decide to purchase this megazoom, you will receive the camera, strap, lens cap, USB and A/V cables. You charge the battery in the camera using the included AC adapter and USB cable. We prefer separate chargers so your camera won’t lose its charge while it works. There’s a backup if you plan to be outdoors all day, as the battery can take 220 shots, per CIPA. We were fine during our review sessions, but definitely find it necessary to add if there aren’t any stores nearby – especially if you’re on vacation. You also get a multilingual Quick Start Guide (28 pages in English), while a complete user guide and ViewNX2 software are available on each CD-ROM.
Performance and usage
The Nikon Coolpix P500 has a back-illuminated 12-megapixel CMOS sensor (BSI). The same chip is found in many electronic cameras in 2011. We were quite pleased with the results as the image quality is good, digital noise is controlled, and the overall response is quite fast. Realize that this is a much smaller chip than those found in DSLR cameras, so image quality and noise handling can’t be the same. But cameras are so much more than chips, so let’s find out…
We carried the camera with us for several weeks, taking it to the coast and the city. The P500 is definitely not a pocketable Canon ELPH or Sony T series, so forget about stuffing it in your jeans; shorts with a carrying bag are more similar but even that is a drag. Attach the strap, sling it on your shoulder and go.
The P500 has good ergonomics, except for the placement of the shutter button. Although there are two zoom switches, we forgot about the one on the lens many times. Nikon’s menu system has a gray beard in this iPad age, but it’s more than serviceability. As usual, we started on auto, switched to Scene Auto Selector then moved on to other manual edits. All photos are taken at full resolution (4000 x 3000); Full HD 1080p video. Unlike some other Mega-Zooms, the P500 only captures JPEG images, not RAW files. If this matters to you, check out the Panasonic FZ100, but it only has 24x zoom. Once done, images are reviewed on the monitor, and prints and movies are viewed on a 50-inch plasma monitor via HDMI as well as a PC.
We have to admit the 22.5mm wide-angle setting has more initial appeal than the 810mm telephoto. This setting adds dramatic perspective distortion — especially for buildings, landscapes, and scans of all kinds. We took many pictures along the Jersey Shore’s boardwalk and loved the extreme wide-angle perspective. From that point, we zoomed in to the very end of the boardwalk, capturing a sign we couldn’t even see. Can’t beat this, you’ll find this case when you zoom in to the 810mm. Unlike the Canon SX30 IS, the P500 zoom moves flexibly throughout the entire range; Canon “tough” a bit. The advantage of the SX30 IS is optical image stabilization. Hand-held shots are solid with minimal blur – we can’t say the same thing all the time for Nikon’s image sensor shift system, which also boosts ISO. Subjects in bright sunlight are sharp; in the dark not so much. Overall, we prefer OIS. On the table, you really have to be careful when using these cameras – or any cameras – at maximum telephoto. It’s best to use a single tripod, but be sure to keep your elbows close to your body and hold your breath while shooting.
Canon also has another plus: the Support Frame Zoom button. When you shoot at 800mm or so, if the subject moves slightly, it can easily get lost in the viewfinder or LCD monitor. With Canon’s assist button, zoom back in so you can find your target; tap it again and it zooms back in, hopefully framing your desired object. This is not a deal breaker by any means – just something you should know. Also note that Canon uses a 14-megapixel CCD with 1.3 fps continuous shooting, compared to 8 fps for the 12-megapixel Nikon’s 5 shots. The P500 also shoots 1080p video at 30fps compared to Canon’s 720p at 30fps. Obviously the newer CMOS sensor is the main differentiator. Needless to say, we’d love to see the 30SX updated with this chip, but going back to Coolpix…
As said earlier, we’ve got the P500 around and about. Walking through the streets of Manhattan offers rich subjects. We really enjoyed the 22.5mm setup, especially with the NYC architecture. It provides just enough distortion to make almost anything interesting but don’t take close-up portraits, or you’ll lose friends for life! We tend to zoom wildly, as we’d expect of you. On the other end of the spectrum, however, the macro shots are outstanding. After hundreds of shots, we are quite pleased with the colors and results of this camera.
The Coolpix P500 is capable of ISO up to 3200. In our tests, there was very little digital noise until ISO 1600. At that point, color accuracy dropped to the lows and noise came out on top. . However, for the point and shoot feature with the small sensor, the image is quite good. Try to keep your settings at 800 or below for best results. And don’t forget to make the most of the BSI chip – the nightscape and backlight settings as well as HDR – are sure to impress. The camera certainly slows down as it stitches the frames together, but you’ll be pleased with the results.
Overall, movie footage is good, but the camera has trouble focusing on distant subjects at maximum zoom. We shot a speedboat offshore, but the P500 couldn’t lock – when we got back, the videos were much improved with good colors and less compression artifacts. The camera only uses electronic image stabilization in video mode to eliminate potential mechanical noise. We would live with it, if we had our drunks.
We had no problem recommending the Nikon Coolpix P500. It’s a great camera for those on vacation, as you’ll have a large focal range at your fingertips. Photo quality is good, and you have tons of tricks to play beyond the basic camera, thanks to the new CMOS sensor. The P500 has its flaws – like any camera – including battery life and image stabilization. The advantages far outweigh the negatives. Enlarge!
- 36x optical zoom (22.5-810mm)
- 12 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor
- 8 fps for five shots
- 1080p video recording
- Sensor-shift stabilization is not as good as OIS
- The battery is only rated for 220 shots
- Awkward position for boom key
- Using AC adapter charging