Cameras

Nikon Coolpix P510 Digital Camera Review

The 42x-zooming Nikon P510 boasts the world's longest zoom range and the longest focal length.

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Video Review

Introduction

Nikon sure puts the "zoom" in superzoom. Nobody had even caught up to the 36x lens in last year's Coolpix P500, but the new P510 pushes the bar out even further: out 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 would be a strong buy on the length of its zoom alone—that's how its predecessor succeeded, despite middling image quality. But Nikon got a lot of other stuff right this time around. Read on to see why the P510 works.

The Nikon Coolpix P510 is available now in black and red for a suggested price of $429.95.

Front

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Back

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Sides

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Top

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Bottom

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In the Box

Box Photo

• Nikon Coolpix P510 digital camera

• strap

• lens cap and tether

• rechargeable lithium-ion battery (EN-EL5)

• AC adapter

• USB cable

• A/V cable

• software CD-ROM

• user's manual

Lens & Sensor

As with any superzoom, the lens is the centerpiece of the P510. This thing has an enormous 42x zoom range, stretching from a 24mm equivalent wide angle out to a staggering, symbolic 1000mm equivalent telephoto setting. Nikon markets it as a glass lens—the implication being that other superzoom lenses have plastic elements, though we're really not sure if that's usually the case). It's an electronic zoom control, so no twist-barrel unfortunately, though there's a secondary zoom tilter on the lens barrel. The aperture is nothing special, at f/3-5.9.

The sensor is a 16.1-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS sensor. That's a decent chip, though not as noteworthy as it would've been last year; most worthwhile superzooms are built around something similar. We have a hunch that it could be a similar sensor to the one used in the Sony HX100V, since Sony is known to supply sensors to Nikon for their DSLRs.

Viewfinder

Some viewfinder is better than no viewfinder, but the P510's EVF is small, low-res, and a bit laggy. The plastic eyepiece is smooth and rounded but still not particularly comfortable. There's no eye-level sensor, so you'll have to manually switch between the LCD and the EVF. The one bit of good news is that there is a diopter adjustment dial to accommodate four-eyed photographers.

Display(s)

On the other hand, the LCD is higher quality than we're used to seeing on superzooms. It's a 3-inch, 921,000-pixel articulating panel, bright enough to see outside in anything besides direct sunlight. Colors are vibrant and the lag is minor enough to ignore.

Flash

The P510 comes equipped with a pop-up flash on the crest of the camera. It has a manual release button on the left side of the body. The spec sheet claims that the flash is effective out to 26 feet, which is powerful for a small, built-in bulb.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

Connectivity

Like most compact cameras these days, the P510 has two ports: one mini-HDMI jack for high-def video output, and one micro-USB jack, for everything else (charging, transfers, and the A/V cable).

Durability

The P510 is not rated for any kind of waterproofing or shock resistance, so don't drop it or splash it with water. The chassis feels a bit cheap and plasticky for a $430 camera, but we didn't come across any serious weaknesses or design flaws.

Image Quality

The P510's image quality is quite solid, all things considered. Shots generally look clean and detailed in most settings, and colors are realistic. 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, though not this camera's strong suit. We were particularly impressed with the quality of telephoto shots. They're as sharp as at any other point in the focal range.

Sharpness

The P510 earned a great sharpness score, currently tied for the best in the superzoom class with the Canon SX40 HS. We measured an average of 1622 MTF50s across all focal lengths and all areas of the frame, and a maximum of 2072 MTF50s at the center of the frame at the middle focal length. (We tested with the default sharpness setting and the standard color profile.)

At any given focal length, sharpness is pretty consistent across all areas of the frame. As we expected, sharpness drops notably at the telephoto setting, but only down to an average of about 1260 MTF50s—we've tested plenty of superzooms that don't even average 1200 MTF50s, so the P510 is a legitimate sharpshooter by those standards.

All that said, the real-world images don't look as crisp as the test scores let on. There's some noticeable edge enhancement at work—notice how the edges of the black squares in the crops look darker than the center of the squares, and there's a bright "halo" effect right beyond the borders. Even if the details are technically sharp, the noise reduction (even at base ISO, like here), smudges away the finer points. More on how we test sharpness.

Image Stabilization

Our stabilization test measures how sharp images are with stabilization turned on compared to sharpness with stabilization turned off. The P510 didn't perform well on this test, but quite frankly, our test scores aren't worth a toot in this case.

The image stabilization on this camera is excellent. We could shoot perfectly crisp shots at 1000mm without a tripod, so that's what should matter. It's by far the longest-reaching superzoom on the market, and we didn't run into any trouble shooting telephoto shots with IS activated.

Color

The Nikon P510 can produce very realistic colors. We measured a minimum color error of 2.59, captured in the standard color profile with all of the default settings. Under 3.5 is decent, under 3.0 is very good, and 2.59 is excellent. Saturation was near-perfect, at 97.44 percent. More on how we test color.

The score could have been even better if yellow was more accurate—it was way off the mark, much paler than the ideal shade of yellow. Blues and reds are very slightly exaggerated (as they almost always are in point-and-shoot cameras), but just about every other hue was right on the mark.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The Sony HX100V (which we suspect uses the same sensor as the P510) earned an even better score, but the P510 came in with more accurate results than any of its other main competitors. Notably, it's a big improvement over its predecessor.

Color Modes

Other color modes include neutral and vivid presets, as well as a monochrome setting. Users can adjust sharpening, contrast, and saturation for any of these color profiles, and save their favorite profile as a custom setting.

White Balance

White balance performance is decent. There's room for improvement, but it isn't problematic to the point of ruining any photos.

The default auto mode does a reasonably good job of compensating for the most common types of lighting (daylight, fluorescent, and incandescent). We didn't test the auto warm lighting setting, but we imagine it would compensate better for incandescent lighting. With a custom white balance, the results are even better, but not as strong as we'd hope they'd be.

White Balance Options

A total of 7 white balance presets are available, including two auto modes (one normal, one for warm lighting), daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, and flash. All of the modes aside from the auto settings are adjustable. And of course, there is a manual white balance option.

Noise Reduction

Without considering the competition, the P510 earned a strong noise score in our test. At the default noise-reduction setting, the noise-to-signal ratio didn't cross 1 percent until ISO 400, and maxed out at just 1.44 percent at ISO 3200, the top native ISO setting. That's very good for a point-and-shoot. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The native ISO range is 100-3200, selectable in full stops, which is typical for a superzoom these days. There's also an extended setting, Hi 1, which boosts the sensitivity to ISO 6400 at full-res. Although these are still 16-megapixel shots, we didn't consider this extended setting in our noise tests, because Nikon wisely leaves it as a last-resort setting.

Auto ISO selection is available, as are automatic caps at ISO 400 and ISO 800.

Dynamic Range

We don't factor dynamic range results into our overall score for point-and-shoots, but we've recently started to test it when we can. Predictably, the P510 earned a pretty mediocre result. At base ISO, we measured just 3.69 stops of the dynamic range. In real world terms, this means the P510 will struggle shooting scenes with bright and shadowy areas in the same frame—usually at the expense of bleaching out the bright areas.

More on how we test dynamic range.

We only recently started to test point-and-shoots for their dynamic range, so we don't have other superzooms to compare it with. We do imagine that this is a pretty typical result.

Low Light Performance

The P510 is fine for taking shots in low-light, especially using the night landscape multi-shot composite mode. Noise is kept under control and colors stay mostly saturated. But with a maximum aperture of f/3.0 (and that quickly drops as the focal length extends), there are limits. Moving objects will still blur, and telephoto shots are very, very iffy.

This is typical for a current superzoom (some of them start at a paltry f/3.5), and honestly, everyone should be reasonably satisfied with the P510's low-light performance; even just two or three years ago, superzooms couldn't do much of anything useful in marginally poor lighting.

Noise Reduction

Without considering the competition, the P510 earned a strong noise score in our test. At the default noise-reduction setting, the noise-to-signal ratio didn't cross 1 percent until ISO 400, and maxed out at just 1.44 percent at ISO 3200, the top native ISO setting. That's very good for a point-and-shoot. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The native ISO range is 100-3200, selectable in full stops, which is typical for a superzoom these days. There's also an extended setting, Hi 1, which boosts the sensitivity to ISO 6400 at full-res. Although these are still 16-megapixel shots, we didn't consider this extended setting in our noise tests, because Nikon wisely leaves it as a last-resort setting.

Auto ISO selection is available, as are automatic caps at ISO 400 and ISO 800.

Focus Performance

In good lighting, at the wide end of the focal range, focus is as quick as we'd hope for out of a superzoom. It slows down notably in dimmer lighting, and especially as the focal length extends. But generally, it's quick and accurate.

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

As usual for a compact still camera, the P510 isn't particularly sensitive to light. It bottomed out on our sensitivity threshold at just 38 lux, barely enough to earn any points in the test. Camcorders can pick up enough light even down around 15 lux, by comparison.

Chromatic Aberration

The P510 earned a strong chromatic aberration score, but looking at the fringing on our resolution crops, it's obviously a case of hot-and-cold performance. It's excellent in some parts of the frame and awful in others. The problematic areas, no surprise, seem to be toward the edges and corners.

This is a pretty common phenomenon with superzoom cameras, though this is a particularly strong case. Just keep in mind that this score is an average; in real-world use, it's going to produce noticeable aberration at times.

Distortion

Distortion is not a problem with the P510. We measured 0.76 percent barrel distortion at the wide angle setting, which is right on the cusp of what is visible to the human eye. At the middle and telephoto settings, the pincushioning is so slight that it's impossible to see without actively looking for it.

Motion

We spotted trailing, stuttering, color bleed, and artifacting in our standard motion test. None of them are so severe as to really hamper the video quality, but they add up to give the P510's video a definite amateurish feel. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video Sharpness

The P510 captures 1080p video at 30 frames per second. At rest and in bright light, it resolved about 625 lw/ph vertically and horizontally, which is about right for a compact still camera. In motion, sharpness dropped to 350 horizontal and 400 vertical lw/ph, also pretty typical for this class of camera. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

In poor lighting, sharpness dropped to 500 horizontal and 450 vertical lw/ph at rest and 200 horizontal and 300 vertical lw/ph in motion. These are mediocre results, but we can't say that we're surprised.

Low Light Sensitivity

As usual for a compact still camera, the P510 isn't particularly sensitive to light. It bottomed out on our sensitivity threshold at just 38 lux, barely enough to earn any points in the test. Camcorders can pick up enough light even down around 15 lux, by comparison.

Usability

The P510 offers a standard mix of auto modes, scene presets, and PASM manual modes, with a few fun filters and useful extras thrown in for good measure. It works great as a straightforward point-and-shoot, but there's enough control to possibly hold the attention of more serious photographers. Handling is comfortable thanks to a big grip and textured surface. It's a quick shooter too, with short shot-to-shot times and a speedy burst mode.

Automatic Features

The Nikon P510 has one straightforward auto mode. It takes care of everything besides framing the picture and pushing the shutter, so beginners will have no trouble at all shooting with this mode. There are also about 20 scene-specific presets (landscape, portrait, night portrait, sports, and so on) for casual shooters who want a bit more control over their shots without having to worry about ISO settings, white balance, and f stops.

Buttons & Dials

The button layout isn't so much different from a regular point-and-shoot, though there are a few extra buttons and an extra dial. It's pretty typical of a superzoom, maybe even on the sparse side compared to the highest-end competitors.

The mode dial makes it easy to keep track of which mode you're in, and easy to switch quickly if need be. The selection dial is useful for cycling through photos in playback, or through the menu. There is a jog dial, which is helpful for cycling shutter or aperture settings in manual exposure modes, and it also helps switching settings within the menu system.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The P510 has a handful of fun filters and a slew of scene modes, including a few very useful multi-shot composite modes and a sweep panorama setting.

The menu system is typical Nikon compact fare; it's basically unchanged from the P500 or any of the recent S-series travel zooms, so Nikon loyalists should know what to expect.

Since there aren't too many direct-access controls, and no quick menu, users are forced to spend a fair amount of time in the full menu system. It's 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. On the bright side, the jog dial can cycle through options without diving into the specific sub-menu—it will cycle through ISO settings without opening up the ISO sub-menu, for example.

Barring more physical buttons, some kind of actual quick menu would have been helpful, and more thought should've gone into the menu layout.

Instruction Manual

While the manual looks helpfully thick, it actually contains four language versions of a very short user's guide. It doesn't cover most settings, features, or shooting modes in any kind of detail. The full manual is available as a PDF online and with the CD-ROM, but a $430 camera should include a paper copy of something more substantial than this.

Handling

The P510 handles well, thanks to a large grip and a textured coating, though it's more like a cheap superzoom than a high-end one. It's light and comfortable enough for one-handed point-and-shooting, though you'll need two hands to adjust any settings.

Handling Photo 1

Despite the huge focal range, it's on the small side for a superzoom, so the button layout is a bit cramped. It's actually small enough to fit into a baggy coat pocket, but the shoulder strap is a better option.

Handling Photo 2
Handling Photo 3

Buttons & Dials

The button layout isn't so much different from a regular point-and-shoot, though there are a few extra buttons and an extra dial. It's pretty typical of a superzoom, maybe even on the sparse side compared to the highest-end competitors.

The mode dial makes it easy to keep track of which mode you're in, and easy to switch quickly if need be. The selection dial is useful for cycling through photos in playback, or through the menu. There is a jog dial, which is helpful for cycling shutter or aperture settings in manual exposure modes, and it also helps switching settings within the menu system.

Buttons Photo 1

Most of the buttons are pretty straightforward—menu, trash, playback, movies, and a display toggler. The EVF/LCD works fine, though it really just makes us wish that there was an eye-level sensor, so we wouldn't have to remember to press it.

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. It's a nice touch that makes manual shooting a bit easier on a camera without many external controls.

Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

On the other hand, the LCD is higher quality than we're used to seeing on superzooms. It's a 3-inch, 921,000-pixel articulating panel, bright enough to see outside in anything besides direct sunlight. Colors are vibrant and the lag is minor enough to ignore.

Viewfinder

Some viewfinder is better than no viewfinder, but the P510's EVF is small, low-res, and a bit laggy. The plastic eyepiece is smooth and rounded but still not particularly comfortable. There's no eye-level sensor, so you'll have to manually switch between the LCD and the EVF. The one bit of good news is that there is a diopter adjustment dial to accommodate four-eyed photographers.

Image Stabilization

Our stabilization test measures how sharp images are with stabilization turned on compared to sharpness with stabilization turned off. The P510 didn't perform well on this test, but quite frankly, our test scores aren't worth a toot in this case.

The image stabilization on this camera is excellent. We could shoot perfectly crisp shots at 1000mm without a tripod, so that's what should matter. It's by far the longest-reaching superzoom on the market, and we didn't run into any trouble shooting telephoto shots with IS activated.

Shooting Modes

The control scheme is competent, but nothing special. It's a standard mix of auto, manual, and scene presets that we've come to expect from any reasonably well-equipped superzoom.

Manual Controls

The P510 has a few noteworthy manual controls. The jog dial in the upper-right corner of the rear panel helps to cycle through aperture or shutter settings, as well as the menu system. There's an auxiliary zoom tilter on the lens barrel as well, which can be reassigned as a manual focus adjuster (though manual focus is predictably useless, as it is with most compact cameras).

A user-definable custom setting is available on the mode dial, too, as is a customizable color profile setting.

Focus

In good lighting, at the wide end of the focal range, focus is as quick as we'd hope for out of a superzoom. It slows down notably in dimmer lighting, and especially as the focal length extends. But generally, it's quick and accurate.

Recording Options

The P510 maxes out at 16.1 megapixels in a standard 4:3 aspect ratio. It can also shoot in a few lower resolutions, as well as in 16:9, 3:2, and 1:1 aspect ratios. It's a JPEG-only camera; no RAW capture.

Other Controls

In addition to typical controls like autofocus, white balance, ISO, bracketing, and so on, the P510 also allows user adjustments to higher-level parameters including noise reduction, sharpening, contrast, and saturation.

Noise Reduction Filter

There are three noise reduction settings: Normal (the default setting), High, and Low.

Sharpening

Sharpening can be adjusted on a scale of 1 to 5 in the Picture Control (color mode) menu.

Contrast

Contrast can be adjusted on a scale of 1 to 5 in the Picture Control (color mode) menu.

Saturation

Saturation can be adjusted on a scale of 1 to 5 in the Picture Control (color mode) menu.

Speed and Timing

Like most higher-end superzooms today, the P510 is built around a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, which affords speedy burst shooting and short shot-to-shot times (among other benefits).

Two full-res burst modes are available, Continuous H and Continuous L. The slower setting is more of a true continuous mode, able to sustain shooting indefinitely as far as we could tell, while the quicker setting takes five shots in rapid succession, then stop while the photos get saved to the memory card.

A handful of other burst modes are available, including 120fps and 60fps modes (at reduced resolution, of course), a best-shot selector, and a pre-shooting cache mode.

We clocked the P510 at a respectable 5.22 frames per second. As we mentioned, the camera is completely incapacitated for a few seconds after that five-shot burst (and our test measures the speed over five shots, lucky for this camera).

As speedy as it seems, it's actually the slowest of all the top-tier superzooms—not by a wide margin, but its competitors from Sony, Canon, and Panasonic are all quicker, and even its predecessor, the P500, was faster.

The P510 has a pretty standard self-timer: 2 seconds, 10 seconds, and a smile detector. It also has an interval timer for time-lapse photography. Available intervals are 30 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, and 10 minutes.

Focus Speed

In good lighting, at the wide end of the focal range, focus is as quick as we'd hope for out of a superzoom. It slows down notably in dimmer lighting, and especially as the focal length extends. But generally, it's quick and accurate.

Features

Because it's trendy, the P510 has a built-in GPS logger for geo-tagging photos. Otherwise, it's a standard set of superzoom features.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The P510 has a handful of fun filters and a slew of scene modes, including a few very useful multi-shot composite modes and a sweep panorama setting.

Other Features

GPS

Because it's trendy, the P510 has a built-in GPS logger for geo-tagging photos. Like most GPS systems on cameras, it doesn't work particularly well in urban areas. Unlike newer, more advanced GPS systems, this one simply tags shots with longitude and latitude information; no altitude, no navigation, and no built-in mapping.

Recording Options

The P510 records 1080p video at 30 frames per second in the h.264 compression standard. There are two 1080/30p quality levels. It can also record at 720p, iFrame, and VGA, as well as several high frame-rate settings. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

Users can adjust exposure compensation prior to filming, but that's pretty much the only manual control we found that made a difference, and it's locked in once the clip starts.

Auto Controls

Auto mode is effective; there are keys for triggering autofocus or locking the auto-exposure.

Zoom

The full 42x zoom range is available during filming. The speed at which the lens extends is significantly slower than it is for still-photo shooting, but it adds a nice cinematic effect.

Focus

Autofocus can get wonky, particularly as the focal length extends, but it's pretty effective by still-camera standards.

Conclusion

Superzooms are popular for plenty of good reasons, but the main attraction is always the huge zoom range. The Nikon Coolpix P510 certainly has that part covered. Its massive 42x, 24-1000mm equivalent lens has the longest reach of any camera out there by a long shot. We've worried that zoom ranges are getting out of hand, and it might be coming at the cost of image quality. But if we keep getting cameras like the P510, we're along for the ride.

The P510 can stand on the merits of its huge zoom range alone, but it's a solid all-around camera. Image quality is strong for a point-and-shoot. Photos are clean and nicely detailed in most situations, with realistic colors. Handling is comfortable thanks to a big grip and textured surface. It's generally easy to use, too.

Battery life should be better on an expensive camera like this, and the build quality feels a bit cheap for the price point too. As is almost always the case, GPS doesn't work well in cities. And without RAW capture or more on-body controls, it 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.

Warts aside, the P510 finishes with a very strong overall score. It may not offer everything that everyone wants in a superzoom, and there's still room for improvement. But the enormous zoom range and strong image quality are reason enough to put the P510 toward the top of the superzoom heap, especially for casual photographers.

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