The Nikon Coolpix P510's photo quality is very good to excellent and significantly better than the model it replaces, the P500. Now, that doesn't mean it's as good as a digital SLR; pixel peepers might be disappointed by what its shots look like at 100 percent. For the P510's price and features, though, most people should be more than happy with its results.
These are 100 percent crops from our test scene. Subjects look sharp with fine detail good enough for large prints up to 11.5x15. Things look slightly softer as noise reduction increases as you go up in sensitivity, but it isn't until you reach ISO 800 that subjects lose significant detail and look a little smeary at smaller sizes on screen or in prints.
ISO 1600 is OK for Web use, but colors look muddy. The highest sensitivities--ISO 3200 and ISO 6400--really aren't usable. That's unfortunate because once this camera's lens is fully extended, they would be helpful.
The P510's lens is the longest currently available on a point-and-shoot. It goes from an ultrawide-angle 24mm (top) to 1,000mm (bottom). It's a bit like having a small telescope attached to a camera. The camera's image stabilization worked well, but trying to keep a subject framed using the camera handheld is very difficult. I took the telephoto shot 10 times before I got the one I was after, and I was leaning against a post and using the viewfinder.
This is a 100 percent crop from the inset photo, which is from the previous slide. If you ever wanted to take pictures of the observation deck of the Empire State Building from nearly 10 blocks away, the P510 is your camera.
Taking a closer look, things appear more like a painting than a photo, but at small sizes, they're usable, even if you heavily crop.
Unless you have good light, the camera will need to use higher ISOs and/or slower shutter speeds to get a proper exposure when the lens is extended. This is at ISO 800 and you can see you lose a lot of the texture and fine detail that you get at ISO 100.
The P510 takes sharp close-ups, too. (This is a 100 percent crop of the inset photo.) At its widest position, the lens is able to focus as close as 4 inches from a subject. With some help from the zoom it can get as close as 0.4 inch.
The P510, in general, is a fast-shooting camera. From off to first shot is barely more than a second, and shot-to-shot times both with and without flash are about 1.7 seconds. If you need to shoot faster, the camera's high-speed burst will capture at 6.5 frames per second at full resolution for up to five frames.
While this camera is quick to focus and shoot, the AF system does get slower at the telephoto end. In this case, it shot before it focused, but in general it just takes longer. That's not unusual, but something to be aware of if you're considering the P510 for fast-moving subjects.
Nikon includes Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-speed-priority, and Manual modes on the P510. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 8 seconds to 1/4,000 of a second. Apertures at the wide end go from f3.0 to f8.3 with a total of 10 stops. The telephoto end has just four stops: f5.9, f6.6, f7.4, and f8.3. Beyond aperture and shutter speed, Nikon includes manual adjustments for noise reduction, sharpening, contrast, and saturation, color filters and toning for monochrome photos, and things like exposure bracketing and flash exposure compensation. And if you come up with a set you like, you can store them to the Custom mode for easy recall.
Fringing in high-contrast areas of photos is visible with the P510, especially when the lens is fully extended. The purple fringe on the right side of the statue is noticeable even at small sizes. However, Nikon does seem to be controlling it some, because it's not as bad as in past models.
Colors are bright and pleasing without looking unnatural. The default Standard color mode isn't necessarily accurate, mainly because most people like their colors a bit punchier. However, if you want more-neutral or -vivid colors, Nikon allows you to adjust them in camera and save them as custom color options.
A Special Effects mode gives you some creative options like High-contrast Monochrome and Selective Color, which turns everything black-and-white except a color you specify. (The playback menu also has other effects filters you can apply after you shoot like Painting for a hand-painted look and Fisheye.)
Nikon's Active D-Lighting helps preserve details in highlights and shadows for more natural contrast. However, if you don't want to turn it on while you're shooting, you can apply a similar D-Lighting effect in Playback mode, which is what I used here on the top photo. You'll also find enhancements for contrast and saturation in Playback.
Somewhat hidden in the P510's Backlighting mode is an option for high dynamic range (HDR) photos. Press the shutter release and the camera takes photos at different exposures and combines them into one shot to help bring out highlight and shadow detail (bottom). It also stores a normal photo taken at a normal exposure (top). The process takes several seconds, so don't use it if you're in a hurry.
Nikon includes two panorama modes: Easy and Panorama Assist. The latter uses a ghost image on screen to help you line up your successive photos. The former, used here, just requires you to press the shutter and pan the camera left, right, up, or down to create a panorama in camera. These modes never handle movement well, so they're best used on scenery without movement in it.