Monday, November 7, 2011

Nikon Coolpix P500 Review

I've always got the P500 handy
I bought the Nikon Coolpix P500 camera last May because of its 36x optical zoom.  I've used it for work and travel over the past six months and am happy with it.  Most of the summer and fall photos on this blog have been taken with the P500.   Its basically an upgraded version of Nikon's P100 (read my P100 Review here), with an improved zoom and a bit of a jump from 10.3 to 12.1 megapixels.

Nikon Coolpix P500 
The 36x zoom is great.  Its a noticeable improvement over the 26x optical zoom on the P100. There are a few other changes, additions, and improvements from the P100, but most of these are pretty minor.  Its also available in black and red.  I bought the red one, because marketing works on me.

I like seeing individual feathers
I was happy with my Nikon P100, but the big boost in the zoom was too tempting to pass up.  I like taking wildlife shots and filling the whole frame with the animal makes me happy.  The 36x zoom is great for getting these types of shots, but requires a tripod in order to be practical.  With so much zoom, the field of view is very tiny and its easy to lose track of your subject.  Small movements at 36x zoom also translate into big motion blur.

I was 250m away for this shot
I primarily use the camera for web ready images, although for work, I do need photos that can be printed at a good quality resolution.  I find that the 12.1 megapixels on the P500 gives sharp enough images that I can do a lot of cropping and framing on my computer and still end up with a good crisp image.  At least, compared to other point and shoot cameras that I've used. All three of these surfing photos were taken from the same spot.  I can't recall if I was using full 36x magnification on the close-up shots, but it was probably pretty close.

This photo was cropped a bit, but I wasn't using the zoom.
This photo and the one above were taken from the same place on the boardwalk.  For this photo, I used a lot of zoom, cropped the image to frame it and the end result looks crisp enough for online viewing.

I used the Dusk/Dawn setting for this shot
All of the things that I liked about the P100 were carried over into the P500, including the HD video, panorama assist, autofocus, and flip viewfinder.   I've been using the dusk/dawn setting a lot more on the P500 than I did on the P100.  The HD video is still a favourite of mine.  For some reason they've reversed  the switch position of the Standard Definition video and High Definition video compared to the P100, which made me lose a few HD moments when I first got the camera.

Here's an example of video from the Aquarium in San Sebastien, Spain. It looks like Blogger processed some of the definition out of it, but its still pretty vibrant.

Dead batteries at remote sites suck
There were some recharging problems with the P500s when they first shipped.  The batteries wouldn't charge properly and died quickly, but a software upgrade a few weeks after they were released cleared up that problem.  I had to download and install the upgrade manually, but newer versions of the camera should be shipping with the updated operating system.  Luckily, the P100 and and P500 use the same batteries, so I always have lots of back-ups.  If I'm shooting occasionally, like in the field, I can go several days at a time before the battery dies, but on vacation days where I'm taking hundreds of photos a day or lots of videos, I'll need to swap in a fresh battery before the day is through.

One of the new settings that I've made frequent use of is the Easy Panorama feature.  You just point the camera and turn through 180 or 360 degrees and the camera takes a continuous panorama around you.  Its quick and fast.  If you want a higher resolution photo, the Panorama Assist option is still there to help you take pictures in sequence that can be stitched together later.

The harbour at San Sebastien, shot using Easy Panorama

Baby Snowy Owl
Despite the shape of the camera, this is still a point and shoot and not an SLR.  I like the versatility of the point and shoot and appreciate not having to carry around a lot of extra lenses and filters to get the shots I want.  But I do feel that the P500 is about as much as I want to invest in a point and shoot.  Many of the features that I like using the most, like the powerful zoom and the low light settings, require a tripod, so I'm already committed to carrying around extra equipment.  If I decide to upgrade again, I think I'll switch up to an SLR.   It means carrying more stuff, but I'm already doing that to take the sorts of photos that I want to take with the P500.

It works on small stuff, too.
Is this a good review or a bad review for the camera?  I like the P500 and I'd recommend it, but maybe I'm feeling like I'm outgrowing point and shoot cameras.  But that's not a knock against the P500 - its fun to use and I like the pictures it takes.  I thought the P100 was an excellent camera and this one is marginally better, so I guess that I think that the Nikon Coolpix P500 is marginally better than excellent.

Photo Credits:
1: Lori White
2-10, video: Tim Rast


  1. I moved up from an awesome point and shoot (the canon G9) to an SLR (canon EOS 5D Mark II) - and I've sort of moved back to the point and shoot! I do use the SLR at excavations and around the house, but WAY too much to carry when traveling and too fragile for hunting/camping/field work.

    And what do you use for a tripod? I've found that finding a good, lightweight, and compact tripod is VERY difficult! I use one of those tiny 5 oz jobs that only extend 8 inches or so and fit in my pocket are perfect for my point and shoot. I use a larger slik that weighs around 20 oz and extends to 30 inches or so for my bigger camera and spotting scope.


  2. The tripod I'm using now is a small gorillapod, but the camera is too heavy for it. The legs are flexible enough that I can usually wad them up into some sort of support, but it doesn't work the way a gorillapod is supposed to. I'm thinking about getting a monopod.

    I still have a giant bag of lenses for my old Pentax SLR that changes my mind every time I start thinking about getting a digital SLR. I know I wouldn't take as many photos if I had to carry all that stuff again.

  3. I went from an SLR and all the added bells and whistles (and weight!) back to a simple Canon A480 point and shoot. Its a lot tougher and can handle the bush. Great post, as usual.

  4. Thanks Ron. The stuff they can pack into a small point and shoot these days makes going back to an SLR a tough sell.


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