Nikon COOLPIX P500 12.1 MP Digital Camera - Black Reviews
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Nikon COOLPIX P500 12.1 MP Digital Camera - Black

61 ratings (7 Epinions reviews)
Epinions Product Rating: Excellent
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Great camera with monster zoom and minimal shutter lag

Dec 9, 2011
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Ease of Use:
  • Durability:
  • Battery Life:
  • Photo Quality:
  • Shutter Lag

Pros:Good picture quality, minimal shutter lag, easy to use

Cons:A bit pricy

The Bottom Line: This is a solid camera.  Picture quality is good, shutter lag minimal, and loaded with optional features.  Easy to use for a beginner, enough features for an enthusiast.

I bought this camera in August, 2011 for use during a trip to Alaska.  It replaced my Olympus SP-800 which suffered from a major case of shutter lag (see my separate review this camera).

Shutter Lag:
For those not familiar with shutter lag, it is the delay between the time you press the shutter release button to the time the picture is actually taken.  On my Olympus, the lag was well over one second.  Consider it like dead time.  You press the button, but nothing happens for a second or two, then you hear the picture being taken.   I missed countless shots due to this issue.  It was virtually impossible to take an action shot.  Don’t be fooled by a specification that the camera can take rapid shots of several per second.  This is different from taking individual pictures, one by one.

After much research, I found the Nikon P500 had one of the best performances in shutter lag.  It does not equal that of my wife’s Canon EOS 60D Digital SLR (DSLR) which is virtually instant, but then this camera is easier to use, is much lighter and smaller and costs one fifth the price.

After taking several thousand pictures in Alaska, this camera is a keeper.   On average, without using the flash, the camera will take about 2 separate pictures per second.  It will vary based on the actual shutter speed.   (If you are taking indoor shots without a flash, and the camera sets the shutter speed at 1 second, you obviously will not be able to take 2 pictures a second.)  With a flash, it will take about one picture every 2 seconds.  This is due to the recharge of the flash.  Again, this is slow compared to an expensive  DSLR, but is many times faster than any other  standard digital camera I every owned.

Don’t underestimate how important shutter lag is.  With a 2 second shutter, I guarantee you will never be able to take any action shot successfully.  By action, I mean trying to take a picture of your kid in a school play.  You press the shutter release button and by the time the shot is taken, you kid is in the next scene.  Frustrating!!

Monster Zoom:
As for the other features, this camera has a monster, 36X optical zoom lens.  A secondary digital zoom feature increases this even further.    My wife’s Canon DSLR has a 200mm lens.  My Nikon P500 far exceeds this.  At maximum optical zoom, it appears that my shots are approximately 2x closer than my wife’s.  The digital zoom brings things even closer, but loses picture quality.  As with any high power zoom, you need a very steady hand or a tripod to take shots that are not fuzzy.  The P500 has a digital image stabilization feaure, but at maximum zoom, the camera still needs to be held steady.  Sometimes you can get away by resting it on something.  It is not impossible to get clear shots at maximum zoom without a tripod, but you should expect to delete some of your work.

The manual states that the lens is the approximate equivalent of a 800mm on a DSLR.  I think this is an exaggerate of the performance.  I was testing the P500 against my daughter’s Nikon D90 with a 300mm lens.  My shots were closer that the 300mm lens but certainly not more than 2.5x closer.  I would estimate that the P500, at maximum optical zoom, may be the equivalent of a 400mm lens on a DSLR.  This, of course, is only a guess.

As expected, the P500 can quickly focus when shooting at low or moderate magnification.  At greater magnifications, the focus is a bit slower.  At maximum magnification, the P500 sometimes hesitates and has problems getting a good focus.  Some of this problem is likely due to holding the camera without a tripod.  

You will notice that when you look at the display screen at near maximum magnification, the picture may appear out of focus.  Pressing half way on the shutter release button causes the camera to focus.  The image stability feature helps a great deal, especially with those high magnification shots.  I would say about half of my shots at maximum magnification are successful without a tripod.

Shooting Features:
The camera has more features than the average armature  user will ever need.  For those like me that want to take most pictures without thinking about shutter speed or f-stop, just set the dial to the green camera symbol and begin shooting.  If you manually raise the flash, the camera will use it if necessary.  The Auto mode does a great job, but to get a bit more fancy, set the camera to the “Scene” mode and hit the menu button.   You can toggle through various types of shots such as “Portrait”, “Pet Portrait”, “Sunset”, Dawn/Dusk”,  “Close-up”, “Fireworks” and more.  The benefit of selecting a scene rather than just relying on “Auto” is that the camera adjusts the shutter speed and f-stop to better match the type of shot.  For example, when on the “Pet Portrait” the camera may favor a faster shutter speed so you are more likely to get a clear picture of Fido who is apt to move.  For ease of use, on the setting dial, there are a few of the more common scene types that you can just dial to without going to the menu.  For example, you can quickly dial to “backlight” if your subject is backlit without going to the menu.

There is also a Panorama and Close-Up mode.  Panorama allows you to take a 180 or 360 degree photo.  There is a “easy” mode where the camera does everything.  These is an optional “assist”  mode that allows you to build a Panorama from individual shots and assemble the picture in the software provided.  The “Close-Up” mode is allows you to place the lens of the camera within an inch or two of your subject.  Great for getting a close up of a flower for example.

For those that are comfortable manual controls, there is a “Shutter-priority”, “Aperture-priority” and full manual mode for those who dare.

Lastly, the camera has a self timer that delays either 2 or 10 seconds to allow you to get into the picture.

Picture Quality:
I find reports on picture quality to be very subjective.  If you compare my pictures to that of my wife’s Canon DSLR, there are subtle differences that would favor the DSLR.  Not surprising when you rank a $1500 camera that weighs over 3 lbs against a much smaller, lighter, and cheaper camera.  However, I would say if you took two similar photos and placed them side by side and asked 10 people to select which is best, some might not be able to tell the difference, and some would pick the Nikon P500.  Overall, I find the color, clarity, sharpness of pictures from the P500  to be very good.  On our trip to Alaska, my wife and I took many shots of the roughly the same picture.  It is difficult to tell them apart.  Even with the good shutter lag of the P500, my wife’s DSLR was able to get some shots I missed by taking many rapid fire shots with virtually no lag.  On the other hand, I got many close-up that even the 200mm lens on my wife’s DSLR could not match.  I believe that for 95% of the people using the P500, you will be very happy with your pictures.  For the others, I doubt anything less than a DSLR will satisfy them.

The camera comes with the ability to take movies, both in high def mode or standard definition.   The movie mode is activated by simply pressing a separate shutter release button.  Press once and it starts recording, press again and it stops.  Movie quality is very good.

View Finder and Display Screen:
The camera has both a 3” full color display screen and a standard view finder.  The display screen resolution is very good, even in sunlight.  For those that prefer a viewfinder, you simply press a button and it toggles the display screen off and the viewfinder on.  You cannot use both at the same time.  I would assume the viewfinder takes less battery power than the display screen.

One extremely nice feature is that the display screen can be pulled out and tilted up or down.  This is extremely useful for trying to take pictures in crowds of people.  You can pull the display screen out, tilt it down then raise the camera above your head, and take your shot.  No more point and hope.

Battery Life:
Battery life is good.  I don’t have a actual picture count, but on my Alaska trip, I shot hundreds of pictures using two batteries.  I bought the extra battery for the Alaska trip.  I knew I would not be able to recharge throughout the day.  I never completely discharged the second battery even after hundreds of pictures.  Most people may not find a second battery necessary.

Nikon Software:
The P500 comes with software for editing pictures and creating panoramas.  The software is OK, but I just prefer to use the windows software that loads faster and gives me most of the same editing features.  Nothing wrong with the software, I just prefer to use what I know.

The panorama software allows you to create custom panoramas in the “Assist” mode.  With the “Easy” mode, the camera does all the work.  You just aim the camera and slowly move your body either 180 degrees or 360 degrees.  With the “Assist” mode, you take a series of pictures, aligning them with the help of the camera.  After the individual pictures are shot, you use the panorama software to merge them into one custom panorama.  I tried this a few times with mixed results.  If you are a bit off in aligning the shots, it is difficult to get a good panorama without overlapping images.  I suppose with some practice you can get better  panoramas than with the easy mode, but I rarely shoot panoramas so I never put the time in to get this right.

I am very happy with the P500, and unlike my Olympus, I will likely keep this camera for many years.  There are a few annoyances however.  Here they are:
1. Lens cap does not automatically pop off when you start the camera.  If you power the P500 up with the lens cap on, you get an error message on the display screen and must power it down, remove the lens, they power it up again.

2. Flash does not pop up automatically if needed.  If the camera is on automatic and the flash is not up, the camera tries to compensate with a longer shutter time.  This often leads to a blurry picture.

3. There is no remote shutter release.  Most DSLR’s allow you to release the shutter with a manual or electronic switch.  This is used primarily while the camera is on a tripod and you want to avoid any shake caused by pressing the shutter button.

4. USB cable is a proprietary Nikon cable.  Leave it at home, don’t expect to pop into a computer store and buy a mini USB cable.  You will need to get a Nikon cable.  If you don’t have it, you can’t charge your camera.

5. The P500 has a rapid fire mode, where many pictures are shot with one press of the shutter release.  I find the procedure for getting to this overly complicated.  You need to access the menu and select one of the various modes.  I doubt I will use this feature.

6. This is not a pocket camera.  No camera with a large zoom lens is.  It weighs just over 1 pound.  A third the weight of a DSLR, but no light weight.

Recommend this product? Yes

Amount Paid (US$): 349
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Easy Enough for Anyone to Use

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