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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nikon Coolpix P500 Review

The Nikon P500 got angry the first time we pushed its power button. It seems we had forgotten to remove its lens cap, so it angrily demanded that we shut it off, remove the cap, and turn it back on again. If the camera had a voice, we imagine it would have yelled "Hey, dumb-ass!" with a thick Brooklyn accent.
That is an amazing range of focal options in a non-SLR body, which right away makes this camera worth considering as a "does everything" option for when you do not want to tote a big SLR body and more than a few lenses with you. The P500 is easily dense enough to fit in a small knapsack, purse, or large jacket pocket.
Ergonomically, the P500 is a mixed bag. The camera basic ready controls are all located in intuitive, easy-to-reach locations on the body; but settings for ISO and white-balance values are buried in deeply nested menus. We were also surprised to discover that the camera cannot store still images in raw format. The camera instead compresses every photo into a JPEG before writing it to memory. Videos are stored in QuickTime format (H.264/MPEG-4 AVC, to be precise).
Image quality was a mixed bag, too, but that’s almost to be expected from a compact camera packing such a massive zoom. The high pixel count (12 megapixels) is probably more hindrance than help here, because the sensor itself is no larger (1/2.3 inch) than the one used in earlier models in this same product line. The P500 produced noticeably soft images throughout its focal range. The relatively poor ISO performance doesn’t help: Noise is noticeable, but acceptable, at 400 and 800 ISO. Things get ugly in a hurry in suboptimal lighting conditions with ISO values higher than 800.
The P500’s autofocus is fairly slow and had difficulty tracking fast-moving subjects such as aircraft and birds in flight. And while the camera’s sensor-shift image stabilization helped, we needed a tripod to achieve sharp results toward the extreme end of the zoom.
On the flipside, the P500 boasts a number of handy features such as in-camera panoramic image stitching and a HDR (high dynamic range) setting that creates a composite of two images captured in rapid succession using different values. This is useful when gunfire scenes containing both very dark and bright areas. These features, combined with a bevy of pre-programmed shooting modes and a number of excellent video-recording features, render many of the P500 shortcomings easier to overlook.
Speaking of video, the P500 produced imposing high-definition videos, and we appreciated the breadth of options for trading higher frame rates for lower resolution. We also found the second zoom rocker; mount on the left side of the camera’s lens, exceedingly handy while working in video mode. We will pick this nit, however: The onboard stereo mic readily picks up motor noise as the lens zooms out and back.
We did score the Nikon Coolpix P500 higher if it shaped better quality photos they are average at best for this price point. But it produces strong videos for a still camera, and it is well on top of average when measured in terms of overall suppleness.
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