Nikon COOLPIX P510 review

The Nikon Coolpix P510 is a new super-zoom compact camera designed to appeal to the keen enthusiast photographer. The P510 has a mechanically-stabilized 42x optical zoom with a massive focal range of 24-1000mm and an innovative side zoom control. It also offers a 1/2.3” Back Side Illuminated CMOS sensor with 16.1 megapixels, sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 6400, full 1080p HD video recording with stereo sound, slow-motion video at up to 120fps, manual shooting modes, burst shooting at seven frames per second, 99-point autofocus system, 3D shooting mode, built-in GPS and a 3-inch 921K-dot tiltable LCD screen.

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Handling and Operation

Weight in at 555 grams, the Nikon Coolpix P510 is slightly heavier than the previous P500 model, but its design is only minimally different. Like most high-end superzooms, the Nikon P510 has the typical bridge camera look, with a chunky hand-grip, large lens barrel, pop-up flash and an eye-level electronic viewfinder. The deep grip is moulded to fit comfortably into your right hand, and is rubberised in a textured material for added comfort.

The other dominant part of the P510 is the 42x zoom lens, which goes from an ultra-wide 24mm to a frankly incredible 1000mm in 35mm terms. Considering that with an SLR, you would need at least 3-4 lenses to cover the same focal range, the single, fixed-mount lens of the Nikon P510 can be described as remarkably compact, even if it does extend quite a bit when zoomed to full telephoto. Superzooms have always had a reputation for having a high “fun factor”, and the P510 is no different. The ability to quickly go from wide angle to ultra-telephoto is something that has to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated. It certainly gives you a kind of freedom you do not feel with any other type of camera.

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For its size, the P510’s lens is also respectably fast, with maximum apertures of f/3 at 24mm and f/5.9 at 1000mm. Note that the lens cap has to be removed before turning on the camera – failing to do so will result in an error message being displayed, and you’ll have to turn off the camera before you can turn it on again, which is a bit annoying. Although if you only want to review what’s already on the card, you can also power on the P510 by holding down the Playback button, in which case the lens won’t extend.

There are two different ways of composing images with the Nikon Coolpix P510: you can use either the eye-level electronic viewfinder (EVF) or the rear screen. Unfortunately, there are no eye proximity sensors that would allow the camera to toggle between the two automatically – you need to press a button every time you want that to happen.

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In the Backlighting mode, the P510 captures three consecutive shots at varying exposures and combines them into a single photo with a broader range of tones. Three different HDR settings are available for selection. When the Night Landscape scene mode is selected, the P510 takes several shots at a fast shutter speed and then combines them to create a single optimized photo, allowing you to shoot after dark without having to use a tripod. The Easy Panorama scene mode allows you to take vertical or horizontal panorama photos simply by moving the camera in the direction of the on-screen guides. Multiple shots are then combined into a single panorama photo. The angle of view can be selected from 180° (normal) and 360° (wide).

The rear controls are also laid out very similarly to those of the preceding model. There is a well-positioned control wheel in the top-right corner (when viewed from the back), which makes it easy to change the aperture and shutter speed in A and S modes respectively, but there’s still no second dial on the hand-grip which would have made operating Manual mode much easier. The familiar multi-selector with its centered OK button is similar to the P500, with the same individual functions that are mapped onto the Up, Down, Left and Right buttons. These include the flash and focus modes, the self-timer and exposure compensation, respectively. The multi-selector is now a much nicer rotating wheel with an audible click and a textured surface to aid operation. There is still no obvious shortcut key to ISO speed, which is only accessible from the menu (as is white balance) or by assigning it to the Function button.

The P510’s focus modes include AF, Macro, Infinity and Manual. AF can be center-spot, user selectable from 99 focus points or camera selectable from 9 points. In Face Priority AF mode, the camera can detect up to 12 human faces and will focus on the one closest to the camera. We found that regardless of AF area mode, auto-focus speed was satisfactory for still subjects, but a little too slow for fast-moving ones. Manual focusing is also possible, though a bit awkward: you get a rudimentary distance scale on the right-hand side of the screen, and can adjust focus via the Up and Down buttons. The centre of the picture is enlarged to aid you with checking focus, but unfortunately this is achieved by  way of interpolation rather than real magnification. The whole process is pretty slow, but can still be a godsend when the auto-focus system starts acting up.

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The flash of the Nikon P510 has to be popped up manually, using the button on the side of the mock pentaprism housing. You can set the flash mode to auto, auto with red-eye reduction, fill, slow sync and rear-curtain sync via the Up button on the multi-controller, but only when the flash is raised.

The P510 has a built-in Global Positioning System (GPS) that records the exact location (latitude and longitude) where a picture was taken, recording it in the image’s EXIF data. You can also use it to record your route even if you don’t take any taking pictures. The GPS does take a while to lock onto a satellite in city centers and it doesn’t end to drain the battery if left on all the time.

The P510 has the ability to shoot full-resolution stills at up to 7 frames per second (fps), slightly slower than it predecessor. Alas, the camera can not keep up this speed for long, as the buffer fills up after just 5 shots. Disappointingly the P510 doesn’t support the RAW file format, something that all of its main competitors offer, and a prosumer feature that frankly we’d expect on this class of camera.

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The P510 can shoot Full HD (1920×1080-pixel) movies at 30 frames per second, with stereo sound and full use of the optical zoom. It also offers a 720p mode at 1280×720 pixels (30 fps) and VGA mode at 640×480 pixels (30 fps). Nikon’s smart designers put the stereo microphone on the top of the camera right behind the flash.

The P510 is also capable of high-speed (HS) movie recording, albeit not at Full HD resolution. VGA videos can be shot at 120fps, VGA movies at 120fps or 60fps, HD (720p) clips at 60fps or 15fps, and HD (1080p) movies at 15fps. When these videos are played back at 30fps, they become slow-motion or super-fast movies. The maximum recording time per clip is limited to 10 seconds in the HS video modes. Sound is not recorded and no form of VR is available.

Recording movie clips is very easy on the Nikon P510 via the one-touch Movie Record button on the rear of the camera. By pressing this button, you can start recording a clip no matter what shooting mode you are in. You can use the optical zoom while filming, and full-time AF is also available. The P510 supports the CEC feature for HDMI which enables playback control using your TV’s remote control.

The Nikon Coolpix P510’s familiar Menu button accesses the usual Nikon menu system, which is clear and easy to navigate. Press this when in any of the shooting modes and there are three menus, Shooting, Movie, GPS and Setup, with two menus, Playback and Settings, available when you’re reviewing an image.

On the right flank of the camera – still viewing it from the rear – there’s a metal eyelet for attaching the supplied shoulder strap and a plastic cover protecting the HDMI port and A/V out / USB port. On the left hand flank is another eyelet. There’s a centrally positioned, metal tripod mount on the bottom of the camera. The P510 is powered by a 1100 mAh lithium ion battery, good for around 240 shots, that slots into the base alongside the SD / SDHC / SDXC card slot. There is a small internal memory too, but it will only hold a few photos at full resolution, so you’ll definitely need a memory card. Note that recharging the P510 is a somewhat convoluted affair, with the battery remaining in camera and requiring the battery cover to be closed.

The performance of the Nikon P510 is mostly satisfactory. It starts up in under two seconds and zooms pretty quickly yet accurately for a power zoom. As noted earlier, its autofocus speed is not the greatest despite the inclusion of a subject tracking mode, but you’ll only notice that when trying to capture fast action. We found the high-speed continuous shooting mode brilliant but sadly limited by a small buffer. The only truly frustrating design flaw is the lack of direct access to ISO speed and white balance.