Nikon Coolpix P510 Review
by Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: July 30, 2012
Right out of the box, the Nikon Coolpix P510 charmed me enough that I put it to work, photographing the Adobe Creative Suite 6 and Creative Cloud launch event at the de Young Museum where that 42x zoom and its good low light performance were particularly helpful.
In fact, that's the salient point about the Nikon P510. It combines some impressive features into photographic capabilities that set it apart. I took it on hikes, into auditoriums, to the ball park, to the beach. Everywhere we went the Nikon P510 combined a few features to provide the answer for the situation.
Look and Feel. The Nikon P510's body design kicks sand in the retina display of your puny smartphone. Lots of sand. It's a camera and it says it's a camera, from bulging lens barrel to the firm grip.
The Nikon P510 comes with a shoulder strap that's just the right size if you're under five feet tall. Any taller, forget it. Although it did come in handy when I live blogged the Adobe launch. It kept the camera off my keyboard right under my chin so I could fire off a shot every now and then to show what I was blogging about. But the strap is way too short.
So I put a wrist strap on the Nikon P510. I have an old Nikon wrist strap with a little (but invaluable) plastic loop on it for a lens cover tether. It works great for a compact superzoom like the Nikon P510. I carried it in a Lowepro holster that does have a shoulder strap that's long enough.
The rubberized grip is perfect. It's textured to give it even more traction, and the little lip on top echoes the dSLR Nikon design.
When it's out of the holster, I like to carry the Nikon P510 by hanging it off my index finger with my middle finger backing up the index finger's grip. Hanging it off my finger, I can easily swing it up to get my full grip to shoot, but still walk around a long time without fatiguing my arm or hand.
Unfortunately, carrying it that way I kept half-pressing the Shutter button with my finger. That never happens with other mini-dSLR designs, so I was puzzled. A slight adjustment to my carrying grip was preferred over a redesign though.
On the front of the Nikon P510 is that big lens barrel. The cap, in an unusual twist, actually attaches to the front of the extended element, not the barrel housing. So you can turn on the camera without popping the lens cap off. I like that. Some Nikon engineer has actually owned one of these superzooms.
Tucked into the valley between the grip and the lens barrel is the self-timer/autofocus assist lamp. Good place for it. You won't block it with your finger because your finger is on the Shutter button. On the other side of the Nikon P510's lens barrel is a T/W zoom switch. Nice touch.
Following the grip along the side of the camera, there's a rubber cover over the USB/Audio video connector port and the HDMI mini connector Type C port. Above them is the eyelet I used for the wrist strap.
On top of the grip the Shutter button surrounded by the Zoom lever (which I did use) sits at a nice forward angle. Just behind it is a small Function button sitting flush to the panel. You can set it to access for your favorite option. I used Image Size so I could quickly change aspect ratio. Further back is the Power button ringed with the green glow of an LED.
As you might expect, the Nikon P510's Mode dial sits to the left of that, right next to the hump for the pop-up flash (which sits just forward of the GPS antenna and has a release button on the far side). On either side of the hump are microphones for stereo recording. And the other eyelet holds up the other side of the top panel.
There's a speaker on the left side below the eyelet, but just one.
The back panel anchors the articulated LCD. It's very stiff so when I say it "swings out" I mean it can be budged into position if you strongly insist. A bracket is hinged to the bottom of the Nikon P510 and the top of the LCD frame to provide viewing angles above and below your head. It stays put when you let go, I will give it that.
The electronic viewfinder sits above the Nikon P510's LCD, with what I found to be a pretty hard rubber cover. To the left is the diopter adjustment control and just left of that is the Monitor button to switch the display from the LCD to the EVF. To the right of the EVF is the Display button, which changes what you see on the monitor.
Just right of that, on a larger button with a red dot in the middle of it, is the Movie button.
On the right edge of the back panel is the Command dial, a great thing lifted from dSLR designs. It's just the easiest way to scroll through shutter speeds or shift program mode.
A big thumb pad sits under that with a small Flash lamp to its left. Under that is the Playback button. The Scroll wheel with an OK button in the middle is under that. The four arrow positions double in function as Flash mode (Up), EV (Right), Focus mode (Down), and Timer modes (Left). Below that is the Menu button and the Delete button.
On the bottom of the Nikon P510 is a metal tripod socket and the battery/card compartment. You can't really open the cover when the camera is mounted on a tripod, though.
Pretty familiar stuff all the way around except for the Zoom lever on the lens barrel, the Function button and the Command dial. But that's been Nikon's concept since the P100. And the Nikon P510 is nearly identical to its predecessor, the P500.
Controls. I'm not a big fan of Power buttons, preferring switches because you don't have to look for them and don't have to check that you're actually pressed them. The Nikon P510's Power button is different from most in that you have to hold it to power the camera on, whereas a quick press powers it off. Once you get used to it, it's no problem.
The Nikon P510's Mode dial has a nice knurled edge but it sits in the middle of the top panel, so you can't really reach it with just your thumb. Two fingers does the job, a job you never really need to do in a hurry.
The Shutter button and Zoom lever work so well together I never bothered with the Zoom lever on the lens barrel, although I think that's a great idea, particularly for Movie mode.
The Movie button is unfortunately on the back panel, but is fortunately at an angle so you can press in a more downward direction to activate it. The tendency is to push the Nikon P510 forward otherwise; not something you want to do when starting or stopping your clip. You do both with the Movie button, and it's responsive enough that you don't have to wonder if you've started or stopped recording.
The Command dial is just a blessing. In Program mode you can actually cycle through equivalent options (commonly called program shift). So if you prefer a shallow depth of field, you spin the dial until you get the widest aperture at that focal length. If you need to stop motion, you spin the same dial until you see a shutter speed fast enough for you. Similarly in Manual and Shutter Priority modes, the dial sets the shutter speed while the Scroll wheel handles the aperture. Your thumb will remember if you don't.
The Function button is active in PASM or U modes. Options include Image Size, Picture Control, White Balance, Metering, Continuous (the default), ISO, and AF area mode.
You determine whether to use the LCD or the eye-level EVF by toggling the Monitor button. And you set how much you want to see (if anything) with the Display button.
All of this is quickly learned and easily remembered. The most important functions seem to have buttons. And what isn't on a button can be found in the menu system.
Lens. The 42x Nikkor lens ranges from wide angle of 24mm to a telephoto reach of 1,000mm in 35mm equivalents. That's wide enough to swallow a room and far enough to be places you aren't even close to.
Apertures range from f/3.0 to f/8.3 at wide angle and from f/5.9 to f/8.3 at telephoto using a 14 element, 10 group design.
Digital zoom is 2x to get you to 2,000mm, although it isn't very smooth once you leave the optical range. In fact, it was so balky that I avoided digital zoom entirely.
Optical stabilization is Nikon's lens-shift Vibration Reduction design. It works well but I had a lot of trouble hand-holding the camera steady at full telephoto. Most mortals will. It's just too long. You think you have the image composed, you fire the shutter and you end up with something half out of the frame. It's sharp but it's not where you put it. You try it five times and you still don't get the shot the way you composed it. Nothing says tripod like 1,000mm.
It looks like it has some, but there are no lens threads on the front of the lens.
Modes. The Nikon P510's Mode dial offers 11 options. They include the full PASM modes as well as a User configuration.
PROGRAM. Use the Command dial to cycle through the combinations of apertures and shutter speeds available at the focal length you've zoomed to.
APERTURE PRIORITY. Use the Scroll wheel to set the aperture.
SHUTTER PRIORITY. Use the Command dial to set the shutter speed from 1/4,000 to four seconds. In Manual mode you can go up to eight seconds.
MANUAL. Use the Command dial to set the shutter speed from 1/4,000 to eight seconds and the Scroll wheel to set the aperture from f/3.0 to f/8.3 in wide angle or f/5.9 to f/8.3 in telephoto. An exposure scale below the settings on the LCD indicates exposure.
USER. The User setting on the Mode dial can recall Setup and Shooting menu options stored with the Save User Settings menu option. That's really a convenient way to save your settings, and a pretty easy way to recall them, too.
You can save the Shooting mode (PSAM), Zoom position, Focus mode, Monitor display, Flash mode, and EV, among General setup options. And among Shooting menu options you can save Image quality, Picture Control, Metering, ISO, AF area mode, Flash EV, Active D-Lighting, Image size, White balance, Exposure bracketing, Autofocus mode, Noise reduction filter, and Zoom memory.
AUTO. Auto mode seems a bit simpler than the Auto Scene or Intelligent Auto modes of most digicams these days. A nine-point autofocus area is used to target the subject or, failing that, focus on the closest thing it finds.
Image quality and Image size are the only two options on the Shooting menu.
SCENE. Scene modes include: Auto Scene Selector, Beach, Close Up, Copy, Dusk/Dawn, Easy Panorama, Fireworks Show, Food, Museum, Night Portrait, Panorama Assist, Party/Indoor, Pet Portrait, Portrait, Scene Auto Selector, Snow, Sports, Sunset, and 3D Photography.
Auto Scene Selector (the default) is the Intelligent Auto on other digicams. The Nikon P510 can recognize Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, Night Landscape, Close-up, Backlighting or other scenes. An icon indicates what it finds. Digital zoom, however, is not available.
Easy Panorama, first seen on the P500, is Nikon's version of the sweep panorama mode seen on other digicams. Press the Shutter button and move the camera across the scene at either 180 or 260 degrees. The Nikon P510 will then assemble the discrete shots into one panoramic image.
3D Photography captures one photo for each eye, simulating a three-dimensional image when played back on a 3D TV or monitor. Unlike other 3D modes, however, Nikon's requires you to line up the second shot manually. When you've aligned the shot to the translucent guide, the shutter will automatically release.
NIGHT LANDSCAPE. Menu options include Hand-held or Tripod. Hand-held captures a series of images that are composited into one image. Tripod mode turns off Vibration Reduction automatically and captures one image at a slow shutter speed. (Night Portrait is similar, also offering Hand-held and Tripod modes, but it enables the flash and employs face detection and Skin Softening.)
LANDSCAPE. For landscapes and cityscapes. The Menu button leads to a Noise Reduction Burst or Single Shot option. The Burst options takes several images that are combined into one.
BACKLIGHTING. On the Nikon P510 this is not as simple as it sounds. A Menu option sets whether HDR is on or off. With it off, a single shot is taken with flash. With HDR on, you select between Level 1 and Level 3 (Level 2 missed the contract negotiations). Level 1 is for less contrast in the scene than Level 3.
Multiple shots are taken when you press the Shutter button with two composite images saved with HDR on. One is a non-HDR composite and the other is an HDR composite image which reduces loss of detail in the highlights and shadows.
EFFECTS. There are nine special effect filters you can apply as you shoot. They include Soft (the default), Nostalgic Sepia, High-Contrast Monochrome, High Key, Low Key, Selective Color, Painting, High ISO Monochrome and Silhouette.
MOVIE. Movie options are extensive. At 30 fps you can shoot Full HD (1080p 1,920 x 1,080 at 18.8 Mbps), Full HD (1080p 1,920 x 1,080 at 12.6 Mbps), HD 720 (1,280 x 720 at 8.4 Mbps), iFrame 540 (960 x 540 at 20.8 Mbps), or VGA (640 x 480 at 2.9 Mbps). Video encoding is MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 with AAC stereo in a MOV container. Maximum clip length is 29 minutes or 4GB.
You can also set Autofocus mode to Single AF, locking focus when the recording begins (and eliminating the sound of the lens motor focusing), or Full-time AF to focus continually during the shot.
High Speed options (slo-mo) include HS 120 fps (640 x 480), HS 60 fps (1,280 x 720) or HS 15 fps (1,920 x 1,080) which all playback at about 30 fps. No sound is recorded, and zoom, focus, exposure and white balance are locked at the start of recording.
Menu System. Nikon's grayscale menu system with yellow highlights is my favorite (although Canon and Kodak, which swap the yellow for red, are close seconds). On the Nikon P510, the menu system complements the button-based mini-SLR design. If you don't have a button for something, you just press the Menu button to call up the Shooting menu.
There are four vertical tabs along the side for the Shooting mode you're in, Movie mode options, GPS options, and Setup. In Playback, there are three options: Playback, GPS (you can view a log), and Setup.
You navigate with the Scroll wheel and its arrow buttons, confirming with the OK button. Simple. And you don't have to do much wheeling around because the most commonly accessed items are at the top of the list.
Sensor & Processor. Like the P500 before it, the Nikon P510's CMOS sensor is "backside illuminated" so the sensitive side of the sensor has nothing casting shadows on the light-sensitive areas. Instead, the electronics are on the other side of the sensor so more light reaches each photosite.
The Nikon P510 uses an Expeed C2 dual image processor to speed up image processing, allow for more careful noise reduction, and correct lens distortion for both stills and movies before either are saved to the card.
Continuous Shooting. In PASM modes you have a wealth of continuous shutter release options. You access them from the Continuous option of the Shooting menu. Rates slow at ISO 3,200 or higher.
The default is Single shot mode, of course. Press the Shutter button and the shutter trips just once.
Continuous H shoots at about seven frames a second for up to five images when the Image Size is 4,608 x 3,456 and Image Quality is Normal.
Continuous L shoots up to 30 images at about one frame per second with the same size and quality settings as Continuous H.
Pre-Shooting Cache begins saving images when the Shutter button is half-pressed at 15 fps for up to 20 images including five in the pre-shooting cache. So the last five images captured before the Shutter button was fully depressed are stored if you half-press the button for half a second or longer. Image Size is set to 2,048 x 1,536 and Image Quality is fixed at Normal.
Continuous H: 120 captures 60 frames at 1/125 second or faster with an Image Size of 640 x 480.
Continuous H: 60 captures 60 frames at 1/60 second or faster with an Image Size of 1,280 x 960.
Best Shot Selector takes up to 10 images, automatically saving the sharpest in the series.
Multi-Shot 16 captures 16 images at 30 fps and arranges them in a 4x4 grid in a single image.
Interval Timer Shooting shoots an image at one of several intervals, including 30 seconds, one minute, five minutes and 10 minutes.
GPS. The Nikon P510 introduces GPS-based location recording to the Nikon superzoom line. It joins the ruggedized AW100 in the Nikon GPS club. Unfortunately, it doesn't implement GPS quite as thoroughly as the AW100.
There's no Map button, for one thing, so you can't display your current location while you're shooting or plot the location of an image with GPS data in Playback mode. Nor can you see what the log looks like on a map.
You'll have to wait until you're at a computer before you can do any of those things. Although you can display the GPS data for an image by pressing the Function button during Playback.
The first trick is to turn on GPS recording. The GPS Options menu has a Record GPS data option which you can toggle on.
Record GPS data. When you select On the GPS radio powers on. The GPS radio will stay on even if the camera is turned off, depleting battery power.
The usual solution to that is Airplane mode, which turns off the GPS radio. But Nikon doesn't offer that option. You simply have to set Record GPS Data to off in an airplane, hospital or when you want to reserve power.
If you have enabled log recording, this will disrupt the log, of course.
Status. It takes a few minutes to sync to the GPS system orbiting around the earth. That's one good reason to keep the radio on. Once you've established contact, updates are quick and frequent, although Nikon doesn't disclose how often the radio updates position.
To keep you apprised of the situation, the GPS icon on the LCD has several states. No boxes (or bars) indicates that signals are being received from the satellites but positioning information can't be determined, and so won't be recorded in your images. Two boxes indicates signals from three satellites, the minimum. Three boxes indicates four or more satellites have been reached. And a GPS icon with a red background means no signals are being received.
It always took several minutes to get sync with the Nikon P510 but I routinely got all three boxes.
Logs. When GPS recording is active, you can start or end a log. Position data is written to a text file every so often, marking your location whether you shot an image or not.
With the appropriate software (like the free online GPS Visualizer, which I used to map my log at left), you can display the log data as a trail on a map.
When you display a selection of GPS images on a map, you don't quite get this display of your journey. It's more of a pin map, with markers where you took a shot. Whereas the log display actually tracks your position every so often.
A-GPS. While GPS sounds like a great feature, it takes so long to sync with the satellites the first time that you can miss a shot if you wait for it. In fact, the Nikon P510 LCD times out before sync is achieved.
To speed things up, the Nikon P510 can use an A-GPS data file that uses partial satellite data to more quickly fix your location. You have to download the data file from http://nikonimglib.com/agps2/index.html.en, write it to the NCFL folder of the SD card and load it in the Nikon P510 from the GPS menu. It takes about two minutes to complete the update. And it does expire after seven days, so you have to keep refreshing it.
It did speed up initial sync to about two minutes, but the LCD still timed out.
GPS Fields. Here are the GPS-related fields captured by the Nikon P510:
GPSVersionID: 22.214.171.124 GPSLatitudeRef: North GPSLatitude: 37 degree 45' 16.32" GPSLongitudeRef: West GPSLongitude: 122 degree 26' 46.53" GPSAltitudeRef: Above Sea Level GPSAltitude: 265.3 m GPSTimeStamp: 18:02:43.38 GPSSatellites: 08 GPSImgDirectionRef: Unknown () GPSImgDirection: undef GPSMapDatum: WGS-84 GPSDateStamp: 2012:04:21 plus GPSAltitude: 265.3 m Above Sea Level GPSDateTime: 2012:04:21 18:02:43.38Z GPSLatitude: 37 degrees 45' 16.32" N GPSLongitude: 122 degrees 26' 46.53" W GPSPosition: 37 degrees 45' 16.32" N, 122 degrees 26' 46.53" W
Note that the number of satellites (GPSSatellites) the heading (GPSImgDirection) are both included. Some digicams don't, but both are useful.
Privacy. Finally, just a warning that if you post your photos publicly, you may not want to reveal location data. Turn off GPS when you don't want location data written to the Exif header.
Lightroom 4 users can also block this information on export. That's a feature I wish we'd see everywhere.
But in the meantime you can use Phil Harvey's free ExifTool to erase GPS data from the Exif header.
Storage & Battery. While the Nikon P510 does include about 90MB of internal memory, that won't get you very far. It's enough for 11 full size images at the best quality setting or 37 seconds of Full HD video (1080p at 1,920 x 1,080 and 30 fps).
You'll need an SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card. Nikon recommends a card with an SD speed class of Class 6 or higher for movie recording. A 4 GB card will hold 470 full size images at the best quality setting or 25 minutes of Full HD video.
The Nikon P510 is powered by a 3.7 volt, 1,100 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Nikon reports a full charge will deliver about 240 shots or 1:10:00 of Full HD recording. The still recording estimate is based on CIPA standards, which include zoom adjusted with each shot, flash fired with every other shot, image quality set to Normal, image size set to 4,608 x 3,456.
It takes 4.5 hours to charge a fully discharged battery.
You charge the battery in the camera using a small square adapter with a folding plug that connects to the included USB cable. That means you can charge the battery from your laptop's USB port, but it also means you can't shoot while your battery is charging. You have to charge it in the camera.
The solution to that is the optional MH-61 battery charger for US$27.95. There is also an optional EH-62A AC adapter available for US$39.95.
Shooting with the Nikon P510
I took just over 300 images with the Nikon P510 in a few weeks under a variety of conditions. Bright sun, overcast, indoor, auditorium, stadium lighting. More than the usual venues.
I used ISO 100 for 133 images, ISO 400 only 13 times (with ISO 110 used 12 times), ISO 800 second at 78 times and ISO 1,600 third at 25 times. ISO 800 is the new ISO 400, it would seem. But the P510 spent a lot of time at its base ISO.
Shutter speeds showed 59 exposures at 1/60 second, far ahead in first place. There were 28 at 1/500 but that was a crowded neighborhood. The P510 seems to adjust shutter speed to fine tune exposure more than ISO.
Aperture and focal length were tied to each other as I spent a lot of time at the extremes of the focal length range, dictating aperture. At wide angle (4.3mm) I had 24 shots, and at telephoto (180mm) I had 37 with fairly even distribution in between, although there was a crowd around 71-84mm. So apertures were 17 at f/3.0 (wide open at wide angle) and 33 at f/5.9 (wide open at telephoto). I had 38 at f/4.8, though. That must be the sweet spot.
Zoom Range. I did have to crank back a bit from full telephoto quite often. I found I was cropping not composing my subject. That 1,000mm reach is quite a luxury.
Notice I didn't say 42x reach. The zoom multiplier is relative to the wide angle focal length. The wider that wide angle is, the farther away that multiplier leaves you.
Simplifying the math, if we have a 10x zoom that starts at 24mm and one that starts at 35mm, which one gets you closer? They're both 10x zooms, but the second one reaches 350mm while the first only goes to 240mm. So you have to keep the starting point in mind when evaluating the zoom multiplier.
Starting from 24mm, like the Nikon P510 does, you need 42x to get to 1,000mm. This is really the first lens that covers that much territory.
And yes, I was able to hand-hold 1,000mm in the sense that Vibration Reduction delivered sharp shots -- but I wasn't able to compose very well at that focal length.
Focus. I've been shooting long zooms since they were invented so my perspective on autofocus is forgiving. Autofocus has been so difficult to achieve quickly on a long zoom (let alone a superzoom like the Nikon P510) that I would often recommend setting focus manually to infinity.
The Nikon P510 did now and then have trouble finding focus. But I'm not about to recommend setting it on infinity. I'm just going to remind you to prefocus. So if it does have trouble, you'll know before you miss the shot. And if it can't focus, just let up on the Shutter button and try again, perhaps pointing a little off your composition. If that doesn't work, change the focal length (a little wider) by zooming out a smidge. It should be able to find focus.
Recent cameras have annoyed me with their inability to autofocus. The Nikon P510 isn't anything like that, and sometimes it finds focus immediately.
I was more than puzzled, however, that my old solution of setting focus manually to infinity is only available in Sports mode. The manual says it's also available in PASM and U modes too, but some other setting I like must have negated it there because I never did see MF on the Focus mode (Down) button in those modes.
Shooting. My first images were flowers in bright sun. There's a couple of sticks that are really a young apple tree and some rosemary and a few trumpet plants that show some fun separation between the subject and the background. You don't usually get that effect with a digicam but the Nikon P510 delivered.
Those shots also show the natural color that flies in the face of the oversaturated images designed to stun the sort of people who don't read these reviews.
That really came out on my trip up Twin Peaks for the zoom series. The shot of the bleached logs uses a palette that holds the blue of the sky, the orange of the poppies and the green of the hills while remaining realistic. That shot often blows up like fireworks but the Nikon P510 holds it remarkably well.
There are some long shots taken from the top of the hill that suffer a bit from the atmospheric haze. It would have been great to pop a filter on that long lens to minimize that. You can, of course, do a little work on those images after the fact, but this lens is designed to shoot distant objects, and a filter thread on the front would have been a bright idea.
When I took some indoor shots I got my first glimpse of the high ISO performance. And it was pretty good. You might suspect the backlit sensor is the hero here, but I suspect the Expeed 2 processor is doing some intelligent noise reduction too. Without losing detail, though. The Nikon P510 seems to show a bit better sense of where to draw the line than I've seen in a superzoom before.
The orchids are a good example. There's texture in the petals, but the wall in the background, slightly blurred, is not noisy at ISO 400.
I'd recommend looking at these images in their 800-pixel versions on your screen or printing the full resolution images. A 16-megapixel sensor is not going to look very good at full resolution on your screen.
I was comfortable enough with the Nikon P510 to take it to Adobe's Creative Suite 6 and Creative Cloud launch event at the de Young Museum. It wasn't the only camera I took, but it made the team because that lens was going to get me close and that low-light performance was going to get me a usable image. I wasn't disappointed.
That gallery has some shots both from the auditorium and later at the press conference. Note that most of them are ISO 1,600 and those that aren't are at very slow shutter speeds (like 1/13 second) where the Vibration Reduction optical stabilization delivered a sharp shot. I used Auto ISO on this occasion, hoping to get some shots that were not ISO 1,600.
Those shots are a good example of what I most appreciated about the Nikon P510. And that is how well its various technologies worked together to deliver an acceptable image. And don't think the word "acceptable" is used disparagingly here. On the contrary, subtract one of those things (the zoom range, the low light performance, optical stabilization) and you have no usable image at all, which is what I'm used to.
The one difficult shoot I experienced was Goldsworthy's Spire in the Presidio. It's made of discarded trees that stretch upward from a bundle into a single log. The wood is dark, the sky is bright and it was tough to get the shot.
Later I found out why I had so much trouble. Active D-Lighting was off. I always turn it on when I get a Nikon here to review and forget about it. I had assumed it was active.
There are two shots of a ticket booth (above) that vary only in the D-Lighting setting. You can see that the difference it makes matters.
I took the Nikon P510 to Ocean Beach to shoot some enthusiast surfers. I'd recently been there with the Fujifilm X-S1, which was recalled for a sensor replacement. I really liked what the much more expensive X-S1 was giving me, but the Nikon P510 gives it a run for its money. I wish I had them both on the same day to eliminate the conditions as a factor for a better comparison. But it's interesting to compare the shots of the two surfers.
I could have spent all day at the beach with either camera, but the Nikon P510 would have let me bring lunch.
Admittedly I had great seats at the ball park. Lower boxes, row 20 on a line from third to first base. It's a great elevation (I'm not looking down at the players) and angle (easy to frame the guys behind the plate, get the runner at first, follow the pitcher).
Hard to do all that with a beer in one hand and peanuts in the other, though. And the P510 doesn't make it easier, I'm sad to report. Nor did the extremely tall guys sitting in row 19.
But that's where the articulated LCD came in handy. I could raise the camera over their heads and still compose the shot, angling the LCD so I could see it.
I used a variety of settings at the park, but one I fixed on was ISO at 800. Night ball is not bright and things move fast. So my preference was to raise ISO for a quicker shutter speed. I stayed in Program mode, knowing the aperture was going to shift with the focal length (staying as wide open as possible) and accepting whatever shutter speed the camera needed at high ISO.
Beyond that, though, I tried a couple of release options. I prefer to anticipate the action -- and in baseball that ain't hard. The pitcher has his windup, the catcher hops into his stance, the ump bending over him and in a second the ball arrives. I didn't need the pre-cache release mode to catch the action. But it's there if you need it.
But I used Continuous H (for its full resolution if Normal image quality setting) to capture the various stages of the windup and a swing or two at the plate. It works, but I really don't like not seeing the progression. With an optical viewfinder, I could see the scene as the camera captured it. With the Nikon P510's EVF or its LCD, you get the first capture but that's all you see. It's a little like the camera has hung. It hasn't, but you have to go into Playback to see what you did. And if the guy is sliding into second, you're missing the action.
I also used high speed video at 120 fps to capture a windup (above). I could have spent all night doing that. That and the beer slow the game down.
The next day I imported the baseball images into Lightroom and cropped and tweaked to print some 5x7s. I could easily crop just the catcher from the batter with no loss in quality. That's the 16-Mp sensor providing generous detail.
I thought I was done shooting with the Nikon P510, but interestingly enough I hadn't taken any Macro shots. The long reach of that lens was just too much fun to think close-up.
So I put it in Program mode, set the lens to Macro using the Down arrow on the Scroll wheel and took a shot just inches away from my bronze monkey in a box.
You do have to set the lens at the wide angle end to focus, but that isn't unusual. Helpfully, Nikon includes a Macro icon that turns green when you're in range.
But what I really liked -- and what illustrates the synergy of features in the Nikon P510 -- was that in Program mode the P510 displayed the shutter speed and aperture. So finding the aperture a bit shallow for the subject, I was able to click the Command dial to a better combination.
That meant I was using a slower shutter speed but Vibration Reduction kept it shootable. And to get even more depth of field, all I had to do was crank up the Nikon P510's ISO, which was certainly usable at higher settings.
Yes, more than the usual venues. Auditorium, beach, stadium, even a little box on my desk. But the Nikon P510 handled them all well.
Nikon Coolpix P510 Lens Quality
The Nikon Coolpix P510's impressive 42x zoom lens covers a range equivalent to 24-1,000mm on a 35mm camera. 1,000mm is much too long for most of our studio test shots, so some of our testing was performed at 16x and 33x (see our Gallery shots for more full-telephoto samples).
Wide, f/3.0: Sharpest at center
Wide, f/3.0: Slightly soft at upper left
33x Tele, f/5.9: Slightly soft at center
33x Tele, f/5.9: Mild blurring, lower left corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Nikon Coolpix P510's zoom shows some minor blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, though blurring doesn't extend far into the image area. At 33x telephoto, performance is about the same. Very good results overall.
Wide: Slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
16x Tele: No perceptible distortion
33x Tele: No perceptible distortion
Geometric Distortion: There is only a little barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.3%), and no perceptible distortion at 16x or 33x telephoto. With such a long zoom, the Nikon Coolpix P510's processor is definitely hard at work to keep distortion down.
Low and dull
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate in terms of pixel count, though pixels are a bit bright. Telephoto, however, shows barely any noticeable distortion, with only faint red pixels suggested.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Nikon Coolpix P510's Macro mode captures sharp detail in the center of the frame. However, exposure is so hot on the left side that detail is lost in the highlights, though chromatic aberration is noticeable on the edges of the printed details on the dollar bill. Overall exposure is uneven this close, with shadows increasing toward the right side of the frame. Minimum coverage area is 1.40 x 1.05 inches (36 x 27mm), which is excellent (though at the cost of exposure here). The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens (we can see the rounded edge of shadow at the top left corner), and the overall exposure is a little dim.
Nikon Coolpix P510 Viewfinder Accuracy
33x Tele: EVF
33x Tele: LCD
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Nikon Coolpix P510's electronic viewfinder and LCD monitor both showed approximately 100% coverage at wide-angle and at telephoto, with just a small offset between the two viewfinders. Very good results here.
Nikon Coolpix P510 Image Quality
Color: The Coolpix P510 produced very good overall color, with oversaturation in strong reds and blues (which is fairly common among consumer digital cameras). Bright yellows are actually muted. Surprisingly, the P510 doesn't strongly push cyan toward blue, as many cameras are wont to do, and there are really only minor hue shifts around the graph. Darker skin tones do show a small nudge toward orange and red, while lighter skin tones have a tiny shift toward magenta. Still, very good results here.
Good, though slightly red
A little warm, but good
Accurate, but a touch cool
Incandescent: Neither of the three white balance settings tested produced overly strong color casts here, though each had a noticeable shift. Despite its slightly warm tint, the Incandescent setting produced the most natural results, as the Auto mode was a little too reddish and the Manual setting a bit too cool.
Horizontal: 1,900 lines
Vertical: 1,900 lines
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,900 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,200 lines per picture height.
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows uneven results here, with bright exposure on the white doors and wall, but a very dark test target at the center of the frame despite using spot metering. (Wide angle rated distance is 26 feet, and the camera only bumped ISO to 200.) The telephoto test came out fairly dim at the rated distance of 14 feet, despite a slight ISO increase to 250.
Auto flash produced dim results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining only a shade of the ambient light at the 1/60 second shutter speed, ISO 200. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Though just slightly soft, detail is quite good at ISO 100 and 200, and really on into ISO 400. Noticeable smudging from noise suppression begins at ISO 800, and increases from there. Chroma (color) noise stays fairly low key, though luminance noise visibly increases. By ISO 3,200 and 6,400, results are quite soft and blotchy. See Printed section below for more on how this affects printed images.
ISO 100 shots are quite good at 16 x 20 inches. Not perfect, because the occasional softness in certain elements, but there's no single element in the images that would keep me from being satisfied with the image.
ISO 200 shots are usable at 16 x 20 inches, but reds are soft enough that I prefer the 13 x 19-inch print. Those not knowing the elements in our targets as well would find both prints just fine.
ISO 400 images still look good at 13 x 19 inches.
ISO 800 images look better at 11 x 14 inches, though 13 x 19-inch prints would look good with a dark subject.
ISO 1,600 shots are very good at 8 x 10, but some detail in solid colors is soft. Still, the overall impression is appealing.
ISO 3,200 shots look quite good at 5 x 7 inches.
ISO 6,400 images look okay at first glance when printed at 4 x 6, but the softness in solid colors is a little too much, making even our smallest print size less than acceptable.
Image quality from the Nikon P510 is surprisingly good. Images that look a little soft onscreen print quite well. As we've come to expect from Nikons, the approach to noise suppression is even-handed, even if it's a little different from how Nikon SLR images look. Its print quality is just another good reason to like the Nikon P510.
Nikon Coolpix P510 Performance
Startup Time: The Nikon Coolpix P510 takes about 1.5 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's fairly quick for an ultrazoom digital camera.
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good, at 0.54 second at wide angle and 0.66 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.106 second, not the fastest out there, but reasonably quick.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is fair, capturing a frame every 1.94 seconds in single-shot mode. The Nikon P510 offers are number of continuous modes, with the fastest burst speed at full resolution rated at 7 fps for 5 frames.
Flash Recycle: The Nikon Coolpix P510's flash recycles in about 5.1 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is about average.
Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/2 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.
USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Nikon Coolpix P510's download speeds are quite fast. We measured 10,391 KBytes/sec.
Battery Life: The Nikon Coolpix P510's battery life has a CIPA rating of 240 shots per charge, which is much lower than average for its class.
In the Box
Included in the retail box are:
- Nikon P510 digital camera
- Camera strap
- Lens cap LC-CP24 with cord
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery EN-EL5 with terminal cover
- Charging AC adapter EH-69P (which requires the USB cable)
- USB cable UC-E6
- AV cable EG-CP16
- ViewNX 2 installer CD
- Reference manual CD
- Warranty card
- A plug adapter for certain countries
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Protective case
- Large capacity, high-speed SDHC/SDXC memory card, with a 4 to 8GB card a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. Look for Class 6 or faster to record HD movies.
Nikon P510 Conclusion
It used to be that shooting with a superzoom meant compromising. With each new generation of superzoom, though, fewer compromises are required.
With the Nikon P510 I was, for the first time, not keeping score so much as exploring a new way to see. It wasn't just the 1,000mm equivalent reach of the lens, either. It was the results I got at ISO 800 and 1,600. And the detail the 16-megapixel sensor captured. No doubt it was also the serious polishing the image processor was doing before it wrote the JPEGs to my card.
Nikon didn't scrimp on the release modes either. They're tuned to action photography, whether it's sports or birding. And the video modes are comprehensive, too.
The Nikon P510 handles exceptionally well. The camera's size, weight, and grip felt great, both while shooting and even just carrying it around. It isn't heavy, but it has the heft you need to stabilize the shot. The controls are right where you expect them to be, and they function smoothly. Even when you need to dip into the menu system it's a pleasant experience, which is saying something.
The Nikon P510 is greater than the sum of its parts, in short. And that means instead of debating compromises, you gain a new way to see the world. Which, in my book, certainly merits a Dave's Pick.