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Nikon Coolpix P520 Preview

by Mike Tomkins
Posted 01/28/2013

Last year, we looked at Nikon's P510 ultrazoom, and found much to love. The Nikon Coolpix P520 follows in the footsteps of that camera, and they both share much DNA. The lens and body look to be almost the same, with only relatively modest styling tweaks. The body has grown a little wider and deeper, but shaved a little off the height and weight. The most significant difference is an updated image sensor. This boosts the resolution just slightly, and extends the lower end of the ISO sensitivity range a little as well, but the differences are slight.

There's also a new Active mode for Nikon's Vibration Reduction, which better corrects for shake in video shooting. The rear-panel LCD monitor has grown slightly, as well. List pricing has simultaneously climbed by about US$20, to US$450. In other respects, there's little to tell the two cameras apart, at least by looking at the spec sheets. That could be good news indeed, because we found the earlier model a worthy choice, awarding it a Dave's Pick.

At the heart of the Nikon Coolpix P520 is a brand-new 18.1 megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor. Its upper sensitivity limit of ISO 3,200 equivalent -- plus an optional Hi1 mode yielding ISO 6,400 equivalent -- are both unchanged. At the lower end of the scale, though, you can now reach down to ISO 80, where the P510 was limited to ISO 100 or above.

The sensor sits behind an extremely far-reaching Nikkor-branded 42x optical zoom lens, which covers a range from a 24mm to 1,000mm equivalents, after accounting for the focal length crop of the 1/2.3-inch image sensor. That's everything from a generous wide angle to an extremely powerful telephoto, and the latter will challenge photographers' hand-holding capabilities even with the included lens-shift Vibration Reduction active. Maximum aperture starts from f/3.0 at wide angle, and falls to f/5.9 at telephoto -- not terribly dim considering the reach of the lens. Of course, a sturdy tripod will be recommended for the best results in telephoto shooting. If you're shooting video, though, the new Active VR mode will doubtless help get more stable results.

On the rear of the Nikon P520, there's still a tilting Vari-Angle LCD monitor, but it's a little larger than that of the earlier camera. Where the P510 had a fairly typical --albeit high-resolution -- display, the Coolpix P520 has just slightly more screen real estate than most with a 3.2-inch monitor. We don't yet know how its resolution compares; hopefully it's similarly high.

On the top deck, there's a built-in, popup flash, but no hot shoe. There's also a Mode dial providing access not only to a range of creative options, but also allowing for fully manual shooting, letting you control your images and match your artistic vision. And like its predecessor, the Nikon P520 can also geotag your images, thanks to a built-in GPS receiver, so you can easily keep tabs on where each image was shot.

The Nikon P520 isn't just a stills camera, either. As in the earlier model, you can still shoot high-definition video at up to Full HD (1,080p; 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) resolution, and stereo audio is included to help draw the viewer into the scene. Making it quick and easy to switch between still and video capture, there's a dedicated video button on the rear of the Nikon P520 body.

Nikon has included USB 2.0 High-Speed data connectivity as you would expect, but the Coolpix P520's USB port newly supports the WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter. This allows you to transfer images and videos directly via Wi-Fi to compatible smart devices, using a free Wireless Mobile Adapter Utility application that's available for Android and iOS devices.

Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types. There's also a paltry 15MB of internal memory, enough for a handful of shots when you first take the camera out of the box, but not much more.

Power comes from a proprietary EN-EL5 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack, and both battery and charger are included in the product bundle. Nikon says that the P520 will be capable of capturing 200 shots on a charge, a drop of 17% from the earlier camera. That difference is likely due in large part to the larger LCD panel, which will require a more powerful backlight; the increase in image resolution will also translate to greater power drain in processing and storing each shot.

Available from February 2013, the Nikon Coolpix P520 is priced at around US$450. Three body colors will be available: black, red, or dark grey.