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Nikon Coolpix P520 review:

All-around very good megazoom

Design and features
The body design has barely changed since the P500, remaining amazingly compact considering the lens. And the lens is really the bulk of the weight, which makes the rest of the body feel lightweight and cheaply constructed. However, the right-hand grip is deep and comfortable with a textured rubber piece on front and the large lens barrel gives you ample space to hold and steady the camera with your left hand. The controls are comfortably placed and responsive.

There's a small, but decent, electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a Vari-angle LCD for framing up your shots. The LCD flips out from the body and can be rotated up or down. Nikon removed the button to switch back and forth between the EVF and LCD and instead you have to flip the LCD so it faces into the body to activate the viewfinder, which is a pain if you like to use the larger LCD for settings changes or reviewing. And, like all LCDs and EVFs, the screen blanks out for a second once you've taken a shot, but it's reasonably fast to recover. To the left of the EVF is a diopter adjustment dial and to its right are a Display button for changing what information is viewed on the displays and a movie record button.

Key specs Nikon Coolpix P520
Price (MSRP) $449.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4.8x3.3x4.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 1 pound 3.4 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 18 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3.2-inch LCD, 921K dots/Yes, electronic
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 42x, f3.0-5.9, 24-1,000mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 AAC (MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,608x3,456 pixels/1,920x1,080p at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 200 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; wall adapter or computer via Micro-USB
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC

The rest of the controls haven't changed from the P510 (it's a pretty standard digital camera control layout). There is a rocker switch on the lens barrel for controlling the lens. It can be used to zoom in and out (handy when shooting movies), to snap the lens back a bit in telephoto should your subject move out of frame, or for manual focus. There is also a programmable function button just behind the shutter release; its default is changing continuous-shooting modes, but it can be set for ISO, white balance, metering, AF area mode, color mode, or image size.

The camera's interface is easy enough to navigate that first-time users should have no trouble getting around. Navigation is a bit sluggish, though, with a slight delay with every button press. For those who like to actually take control away from the camera and change settings, this can be somewhat frustrating and it doesn't help that outside of the aforementioned function button, there are no buttons for direct control of ISO, white balance, metering, or AF area modes.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The battery compartment and card slot are under a door on the bottom, right next to the tripod mount, so you can't remove the card or battery while it's mounted. The battery life is fairly short at 200 shots (I got to 240 before the battery was exhausted). The battery is charged in-camera and the wall adapter takes more than 4 hours to fully charge the battery from zero. If a typical day of shooting for you will include the high-speed burst modes and movie capture and using the 3.2-inch LCD and the zoom a lot, you'll want a backup battery.

Outputs are under a cover on the body's right side; you get a Mini-HDMI and a Micro-USB/AV port, the latter of which can be used with Nikon's WU-1a Wi-Fi adapter so it can communicate with Android and iOS devices for viewing and transferring photos and videos. There's no accessory shoe for an add-on flash, limiting you to the onboard pop-up one. It doesn't automatically rise when needed, instead remaining off until you push a button on the left side of the camera. It's adequately powerful and there are flash exposure compensation settings available.

Lastly, the P520 has built-in GPS. It's strictly there for geotagging photos, so no fancy maps or anything like that. But it was relatively quick to lock onto a signal, even in the middle of New York surrounded by tall buildings. Nikon wisely gave it its own tab in the menu interface, making it easy to turn it on and off. It will drain your battery fast, so make sure you shut it off if you're not using it.

General shooting options Nikon Coolpix P520
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
White balance Auto (normal), Auto (warm lighting), Custom, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Flash
Recording modes Auto, Scene Auto Selector, Scene, Special effects, Night Landscape, Landscape, Subject backlighting/HDR, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, User, Movie, High-Speed Movie
Focus modes 9-point AF, Manual AF (99-point selectable), Center AF (wide, normal), Subject tracking AF, Target finding AF, Manual
Macro 4 inches (Wide); 0.4 inch (at 3 increments from the maximum zoom position to the telephoto position)
Metering modes 224-segment matrix, center-weighted, spot
Color effects Soft, Nostalgic sepia, High-contrast monochrome, High ISO monochrome (ISO 12800), High key, Low key, Selective color, Silhouette, Cross process; Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome (customizable)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 7 shots

The P520 has a nice mix of shooting modes, making it a good choice for both snapshooters and those who want a little more control. There are two Auto modes on this camera. One is Nikon's Scene Auto Selector, located in with the other Scene modes. It adjusts settings appropriately based on six common scene types. If the scene doesn't match any of those, it defaults to a general-use Auto. Then there is an Auto mode, which shuts off all photo settings from the user except for image quality and size.

Outside of the Scene Auto Selector there are 16 other scene modes, such as Landscape and Portrait as well as a Pet Portrait mode that will automatically shoot when it detects a cat or dog face, as well as two panorama modes: Easy and Panorama Assist. The latter uses a ghost image on the screen to help you line up your successive photos. The former 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. Nikon also added a simple 3D photo mode. It works like the Panorama Assist mode; you take one shot, and move the camera slightly to the right, and it fires off a second shot and combines them into one MPO file for viewing on a 3D display.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you want to do more than just point and shoot, the P520 has Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-speed-priority, and Manual modes. Shutter speeds are adjustable from 8 seconds to 1/4,000 of a second (though ISO must be fixed at 80 or 100 to access the full range). 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 in the Custom mode for easy recall. It's not as much as control as you'd find in the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 or Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR, but more than you get from lower-end models like the Nikon Coolpix L820.

For video, you can record up to a resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels at either 30p or 60i. There are also a couple of high-speed recording options, including 720p at 60fps and VGA at 120fps. The camera's Special Effects modes, such as Soft, Selective Color, and High-contrast Monochrome, can be used for shooting movies, too.

Overall, the Nikon Coolpix P520 is a very good megazoom. It doesn't have the higher-end features or deeper controls of the Fujifilm HS50EXR, Panasonic FZ200, or Canon PowerShot SX50 HS, but if you don't need or want those, it's not an issue. The only real concerns I have are the slow autofocus in telephoto and the long shutter lag in low light. But, again, if you don't shoot anything that's terribly fast-moving, it probably won't be an issue.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
Fujifilm FinePix HS50EXR
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS
Nikon Coolpix P520

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

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