cameras

Nikon Coolpix P510 Review

Nikon's P510 sure puts the "zoom" in superzoom. Its 42x lens has a staggering 1000mm telephoto focal range.

April 06, 2012
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Introduction

Nikon sure puts the "zoom" in superzoom. Nobody had even caught up to the 36x lens in 2011's Coolpix P500, and the new P510 pushes the bar even further: to 42x, with a staggering and symbolic 1000mm telephoto focal range. The sensor also gets upgraded to a 16.1-megapixel BSI CMOS 1/2.3-inch chip, and Nikon threw in some on-board GPS for good measure, too.

The P510 looks like a strong buy based on the length of its zoom alone, but this Nikon needs to match its far-reaching lens with quality images too. We got to work testing this ambitious camera to see if the "super" in superzoom could back more than just range. The Nikon Coolpix P510 is available now in black and red for a suggested price of $429.95.

Design & Usability

Buttons are cramped and there isn't a quick menu, but handling is comfortable and the LCD is excellent.

Superzoom design doesn't vary much, yet the Nikon P510 is surprisingly small, especially given its 42x zoom range. Unless you have roomy pockets though, a shoulder strap is a better option. Grip and a textured coating make for nice handling, but buttons are a little cramped. The build quality is feels cheap too—the body gives if you squeeze it—but that's part of what makes this camera light. An electronic viewfinder, although low-res and laggy, offers a diopter adjustment dial to accommodate four-eyed photographers, but the real gem is the bright, 921,000-pixel LCD—one of the best in the class. A pop-up flash boasts a 26-foot range, which is powerful for a small, built-in bulb.

A detail that's sure to please hands-on photographers is the assignable "Fn" button next to the shutter. Tweet It

The button layout is pretty typical, with straightforward keys—Menu, Trash, Playback, Movies, and a Display toggler. A detail that's sure to please hands-on photographers is the assignable "Fn" button next to the shutter. We typically used it for changing ISO settings, though it can bring up menus for Autofocus, White Balance, Burst Shooting, Metering, Color Mode, and Image Size as well, easing manual shooting considerably. The menu system is laid out well, with tabbed navigation. But some tabs contain nearly two-dozen options, and there isn't a clear rhyme or reason to their order. Barring more physical buttons, some kind of actual quick menu would have been helpful.

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Features

DSLRs and higher-end superzooms offer a wider range of control, but the P510 still has a fine and varied assortment of features for both new and experienced photographers.

As with any superzoom, the lens is the centerpiece of the P510; it has an enormous 42x zoom range, stretching from a 24mm equivalent wide angle to a staggering 1000mm equivalent telephoto setting. The sensor is new and improved—a 16.1-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS. That's a decent chip, and though it certainly isn't the best available, it affords speedy burst shooting and short shot-to-shot times (among other benefits). The control scheme is a standard mix of auto, manual, and scene modes. The available shutter and aperture options are limited compared to DSLRs and higher-end superzooms—shutter speeds won't slow more than 1/30, and the minimum aperture is just f/8.3, but that beats most point-and-shoots. In addition to typical controls, users can also adjust higher-level parameters such as noise reduction, sharpening, contrast, and saturation. The wonky on-board GPS doesn't really work in crowded urban areas and it simply tags shots with longitude and latitude; no altitude, navigation, or built-in mapping.

Multi-shot composite modes [...] take a handful of shots and combine them into a single photo with less noisy grain. Tweet It

As for the fun stuff, about 20 scene-specific presets (landscape, sports, and so on) will satisfy casual shooters, as well as a handful of fun filters like fisheye. There are multi-shot composite modes too, which take a handful of shots and combine them into a single photo with less noisy grain. Eight familiar special effects are available, like sepia and silhouette, as well as basic in-camera edits, like quick adjustments for brightness, contrast, shadow boosting, and skin softening. Average HD video capability is also amongst the P510's many offerings.

Performance

For once, the "super" in superzoom describes more than just sheer focal range.

Big zoom too often compromises great image quality, but the P510 forms clean, detailed photos in most settings, and the telephoto shots look great too. Image quality is solid overall, with sharp, detailed images and realistic colors, and unlike so many models, this Nikon's telephoto shots are as sharp as at any other point in the focal range. For a 42x lens on a compact body, this is absolutely stupendous.

The widest aperture and the longest zoom struggle noticeably when lights are dim. Tweet It

This camera's noise handling software, while certainly not terrible, is below-average compared with competition, scrubbing out detail at high ISOs. Viewed at the full 16 megapixels, photos look a bit soft even at the lowest ISO setting, but the problems disappear when the shots are scaled down to regular, realistic viewing and print sizes. Indoor and low-light photography are decent, however the widest aperture and the longest zoom struggle noticeably when lights are dim. As for the video mode, we spotted trailing and stuttering during testing, and though these don't hamper quality greatly, the final product feels a bit amateurish.

Conclusion

Finally, a big zoom that doesn't stomp on image quality.

Superzooms are popular for plenty of great reasons, but the main attraction is always huge zoom. The Nikon Coolpix P510 certainly has that covered. Its massive 42x, 24-1000mm equivalent lens has the longest reach of any camera out there by a long shot. We've been very critical of big zooms recently, because they frequently come at the cost of image quality, but if we keep getting cameras like the P510, count us in.

Battery life should be better [...] and the build quality feels a bit cheap for this price point. Tweet It

The P510 is a solid all-around camera. Image quality is strong for a point-and-shoot, and handling is quite comfortable. Photos are clean and nicely detailed in most situations, with realistic colors too. Battery life should be better on an expensive camera like this though, and the build quality feels a bit cheap for this price point. As is almost always the case, GPS doesn't work well in cities. Without RAW capture or more on-body controls, the P510 doesn't offer quite the same level of user control as some of its competitors, including the Panasonic FZ150, Sony HX100V, or Fuji X-S1.

Nevertheless, the P510 finishes with a very strong overall score. It may not offer everything that everyone wants, but the enormous zoom range and strong image quality are reason enough to put the P510 toward the top of the superzoom dog-pile, especially for casual photographers.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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