Nikon Coolpix S500 review: Nikon Coolpix S500

A painfully slow shutter capped off the S500's consistently poor performance in our lab tests. The shutter lagged a slow 1.1 seconds with our high-contrast target and a full two seconds under low-contrast conditions. After a 2.9-second time to first shot, the camera could snap off only one shot every 2.8 seconds without flash, and once every 3.1 seconds with the flash enabled. The burst mode was quite fast at least, taking three full-resolution photos in 1.1 seconds for a rate of 2.8 frames per second. Still, it fires off only three shots at a time, so the burst mode isn't nearly as useful as some other cameras' continuous modes that can take many more pictures in one burst.

While the S500 can reach ISO 2,000 sensitivity, we wouldn't recommend it. The ISO 1,600 and 2,000 settings produced some of the highest levels of noise we've seen in the last year; photos taken at those sensitivity levels look more as if they were painted on shag carpets than shot with a digital camera. Shots taken at lowers ISO levels don't look quite as bad, but the noise is still present. A gentle grain starts to show up in shadows at ISO 200, and becomes quite noticeable on computer monitors at ISO 400. At ISO 800, that grain becomes full-blown fuzz that dulls colors and destroys details.

If you can stay at a low ISO setting and keep your subjects well lit, the S500's photos can actually look quite good. Fine details come out crisp and sharp, remaining generally unmolested by processing artifacts. Colors appear neutral and saturated. Of course to get these results, you need to keep your ISO sensitivity low or you'll just find yourself with a noise-filled mess.

The stainless steel body and handy click wheel are two great touches I'd love to see on any camera, but they can't make up for the S500's flaws. It shoots too slowly and generates unreasonable levels of noise at ISO 400 and higher. It's a nice, if sluggish, snapshot camera in bright light, but don't expect to get any decent fast or low-light shooting done with it.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Shutter lag (low light)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Time to first shot  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot SD750
0.9 
1.6 
1 
0.5 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80
1.4 
1.2 
1.8 
0.6 
Nikon Coolpix S200
2.6 
1.9 
1.7 
0.6 
Nikon Coolpix S500
2 
2.8 
2.9 
1.1 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Nikon Coolpix S500
2.8 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W80
2.7 
Canon PowerShot SD750
1.6 
Nikon Coolpix S200
1 

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